Denver, Colorado is the gateway to the Western United States — with the Rocky Mountains to the West and the plains to the East, it’s a regional urban hub and a great place to spend a long weekend. Its arts and dining scenes are both flourishing, plus there’s easy access to outdoor recreation, ensuring that your 72-hours there are well-spent.
Denver started out in the 1850s as a center for gold mining. It was the crossroads of mining and fur trading done by Europeans and the territory of Native Americans and the descendents of Spanish conquistadors.
This guide (written by a lifelong Denver local) will give you a weekend full of options that will stimulate your mind and your tastebuds, plus lead you to a number of Instagram-worthy spots in various Mile High City neighborhoods and beyond.
Where to Stay
Want to be right in the heart of it all? The Crawford Hotel is located right in Union Station. Built in 1881, Union Station welcomed rail travelers from both coasts, then as cars became the preferred mode of transportation, fell into a derelict state for decades. Once a frequent hangout for area homeless, in 2014, the space underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation, completely transforming the LoDo (Lower Downtown) landscape. Inside the station, the Great Hall is a spacious, elegant spot to take a breather (and a selfie), play a round of shuffleboard, and recharge. Today, the hotel’s 112 updated rooms tie in pieces of local history, plus amenities include perks from local businesses.
If a luxurious retreat is more your style, head to The Halcyon in Cherry Creek, where you’re welcomed with a glass of bubbles (or a morning espresso) at the check in counter. The rooms are pure luxury, featuring marble, wood, and iron and turntables and records for an old-school touch. Bask in the Colorado sun at the rooftop pool and lounge, check out the two onsite restaurants (Local Jones and Quality Italian) plus the top-secret speakeasy with the alley entrance, Boys & Girls Club (B&CG).
Where to Eat
Denver’s dining options are seemingly endless, with offerings for everyone from the health-minded vegan to the steak-lover. Among the tempting choices, Kachina Cantina captures the spirit of the southwest with a range of lighter dishes like the baby kale salad to heartier fare like the adobada pork chop. A trip to Denver wouldn’t be complete without a taste of green chile, and you can find it (along with a slew of other Mexican favorites) at La Loma (right next door to the American Museum of Western Art). For breakfast, any craving from breakfast burritos to chocolate chip pancakes will be satisfied at Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, a localish restaurant with several outposts and a loyal following (bonus: they are big on sustainability and community giving).
What to Do
The question in Denver isn’t what to do, it’s how much you can do in the amount of time you have. For lovers of art and culture, the Denver Art Museum is a must (they have an extensive collection of Native American art, Western art, and unique exhibits both permanent and rotating). Across the street is the History Colorado Center, dedicated to the state’s history with interactive exhibits for people of all ages. The Colorado State Capitol offers tours and a glimpse into politics. The Denver Zoo is a world-class zoo, full of interactive exhibits and next-door, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science features IMAX, permanent exhibits ranging from dino bones and ancient Egypt to space, plus temporary exhibits.
For lovers of the outdoors, the area around Denver is a haven where a weekend can include hiking, biking, golf, horseback riding, kayaking–just about any outdoor activity that strikes your fancy. Lair O’ the Bear is close to the city but offers shade, a river, and a short, easy hike for people of all ages and abilities. Red Rocks is more than a world-famous concert venue. A natural amphitheater made from the red rock formations, there are multiple ways to explore the area, including hiking trails, a visitor center, private tours, and a trading post.
If you’re looking for a great way to spend an afternoon, check out Golden, a historic town just 20 minutes from downtown Denver. This former Gold Rush town’s Main Street is lined with shops, galleries and restaurants. You can visit any number of breweries (New Terrain is a favorite) and distilleries (I like Golden Moon, which features a speakeasy). Check out the Golden Mill, a former mill-turned-food hall, and take a stroll or a bike ride–you can borrow a bike at the visitor’s center bike library.