posted on February 15th, 2017

Mile high hijinks

A city perpetually itching to get outside, Denver has a lust for nature stitched into it. From endless hiking trails in the surrounding mountains to abundant rooftop restaurants, brewery patios, and outdoor murals, the city knows how to make the most of the great outdoors like no other.

Here are the can’t-miss things to do in and around Denver:

One of the nation’s most arresting outdoor amphitheaters, Red Rocks (18300 W. Alameda Parkway) is a local gem. Melding music with a jaw-dropping backdrop of towering red rocks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another venue so visually appealing. The calendar doesn’t kick into high gear until a little later in the spring, but the park is open year-round to take in the scenery — dine at Ship Rock Grille, or take advantage of the new semi-annual cooking demonstrations, kicking off with Bubbles + Bites. Whether dining on the Grille’s deck or dancing the night away at a concert, the sight of the starlit sky against majestic rock formations won’t be soon forgotten.

The arts are everywhere in Denver, both inside and out. Stroll through the RiNo Arts District, where massive murals overtake brick buildings, depicting everything from activist portraits to color-soaked, larger-than-life chickens. On first Fridays, many venues open their doors for live music and more. Through the end of February, the Drink RiNo Circulator provides free eTuks with stops throughout the neighborhood so you can make the most of the neighborhood galleries and breweries without worrying about driving. The Art District on Santa Fe offers its own First Friday, with over 60 art galleries, studios, and more connected by a free luxury shuttle — plus a special section just for food trucks. For a more intimate experience, check out Third Thursdays, where galleries preview their upcoming exhibits and the friendly vibe and smaller crowds make it easier to chat with owners and artists.

You don’t have to venture far outside the city to trek the surrounding hills and glimpse the postcard-perfect views that give Colorado natives indisputable bragging rights. Lair o’ the Bear is ideal for families or hiking beginners with a shaded 1.7-mile trail rife with picnic spots. Alderfer Three Sisters Park offers over 15 miles of trails, including Mountain Muhly, a shady 2.3-mile trail marked by rock formation views — also a great spot for trail running if you want to kick it up a notch. For a challenge, try the Shanahan Ridge route in Bear Peak, a demanding 6.8-mile loop. The 2,490 feet of climbing will feel well worth it when you’re doing your best Simba impression at the top (everything the light touches is yours!).

Staying inside the city itself also provides plenty of options to get out and explore. The Cherry Creek Trail traces 40 miles through the heart of downtown to historic neighborhoods, finally winding its way to cottonwood groves and high prairie grasslands — biking the paved path is the best way to take in the sights. Washington Park (affectionately nicknamed just Wash Park) is chock-full of green goodness. The Cherry Creek Trail makes its way through the northern part of the 165 acres, so you can easily detour while cycling. If you want to really get in touch with your outdoorsy side without actually straying from the urban, bring your fishing rod to take advantage of the few places in the park where fishing is permitted.

Arguably a mini-mecca for craft beer lovers, Denver’s beer scene is like Disneyland with hops. Breweries and taprooms abound — to help you narrow it down, we’ve collated a few favorites. Ratio Beerworks (2920 Larimer St) brews on-site in a 20 barrel system with standouts like saison Dear You and IPA Antidote. Declaration Brewing Co (2030 S Cherokee St) serves up fine beers in cans, and has a rotating selection of food trucks so you can munch while you sample. The selection of craft ciders at Stem Ciders (2811 Walnut St #150) is an equally appealing option for gluten-free drinkers — you’ll find mainly apple with some special notes of citrus and berries. Haven’t gotten your fill yet? Epic Brewing Co (3001 Walnut St) hails from Utah but has made a welcome home in Denver, Denver Beer Company (1695 Platte St) has a dog-friendly beer garden, and Historians Ale House (24 Broadway #102) highlights local beers on its 40 tap list.

Not to be outdone by the craft beer, the culinary scene is worth a visit in its own right. Once a mortuary, Linger (2030 W 30th Ave) has transformed into a can’t-miss eatery serving dishes from around the world both inside and on the rooftop. Avanti (3200 N Pecos St) boasts a rooftop of its own (sensing a theme?) and a variety of cuisines in a food hall form: vendors dishing up everything from sushi to Neopolitan-style pizza rub shoulders so everyone can have their favorite food. Denver Central Market (2669 Larimer St) is another such communal space — grab a meat and cheese plate from Culture and top it off with an ice cream flight from High Point Creamery.

For all its newness and endlessly hip eateries and breweries, Denver has not forgotten its history. The art deco Mayan Theater (110 Broadway) was built in 1930 and meticulously restored in 1986 to a three-screen movie house showing the best in indie and mainstream films. For the rarity factor, it’s one of only three remaining Art Deco Mayan Revival style theaters in the country. The Skylark Lounge (140 S. Broadway), built in the 40s, is another throwback — a mainstay of the Broadway corridor, the bar and poolroom hearken back to years gone by with vintage movie posters, photos, and decor.

Although beer is the drink of choice in this town, wine-lovers won’t go wanting. In fact, Balistreri Vineyards (1946 E 66th Ave) is located right in the city, a family-owned winery run by, you guessed it, the Balistreri’s. The family emigrated from Sicily early in the 1900s, and today John, his wife Birdie, and daughter Julie still greet guests and perform tastings. Infinite Monkey Theorem (3200 Larimer St) is a more modern vino haven where wine is canned for a more casual approach to the finer things in life — Denver in a nutshell.

Strolling the South Broadway neighborhood yields some of the city’s most interesting shopping. Antique Row houses shops like Spencer House Antiques (1420 S Broadway), a favorite for English Victorian-era furniture, while Gallagher Books (1454 S Broadway) is a go-to for rare and out of print volumes — bookworms beware of being sucked in. Outside Antique Row, boutiques abound, like Ironwood (14 S Broadway), which feels like a modern-day apothecary with taxidermied butterflies and rambunctious plants overflowing from unique vessels.

Not like that, guys (though Denver is a prime choice if that is your goal). To feel like you’ve truly been to the Mile High City, climb the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol (200 E. Colfax) to stand at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, then take in the panoramic vista of the snow-capped peaks from the rotunda, where it’s illegal to block the view of the 200 named mountains visible from the dome. Once you’ve checked that off your list, head to The Rooftop at Coors Field (2001 Blake St) to toast to a trip well spent in Denver.

Virginia is equally enamored with words and globetrotting. Whenever possible, she likes to combine the two through travel writing to help other wanderers discover and fall in love with the world.