What makes the beautiful Mile High City of Denver so unique? The reasons are many. This Western city sets exactly at the one mile mark and is located along rolling hills that are surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. If you visit the state capitol, the 11th step marks the one mile mark. It has the 10th largest downtown in the country where you can shop, take in a show, bar hop, and enjoy endless restaurants and entertainment. If you plan to visit this amazing city, make sure you pack for the weather. Layers should be worn in all seasons because Denver can be temperamental. It can be rather hot in the summer, but there will still be times when you will need a jacket. It can also be very cold in the winter, but there are days when all you will need is a lightweight coat.
If you decide to vacation in Denver, you will not be sorry. The only drawback will be that there is so much to see and do that it may be difficult to pick and choose the best attractions to see or the best restaurants to eat at. Below are a few highlights that Denver has to offer. From major attractions to little known districts, make sure to choose what fits your vacation style and personality! Denver offers some amazing attractions to people visiting the city. Narrowing these down to the “top” selections of attractions can be extremely difficult, so consider this an “editor’s choice” of the top attractions, restaurants, and shopping. Denver’s a 1½ hour drive from Vail (100 miles), which is the nation’s most visited ski resort, a 3½ hour drive from Aspen (200 miles), 8½ hour drive from Kansas City (600 miles), a 10½ hour drive from Yellowstone National Park (560 miles), 13 hours from Dallas (800 miles) and 11 hours from Las Vegas (750 miles).
The iconic sign sets the mood for a vacay of a lifetime.
Top 12 Attractions
1. Coors Field and LODO – Lower Downtown is a must see if you are visiting Denver. LODO is home to Coors Field where the Colorado Rockies play. Denver is a professional sport’s mecca with 8 professional teams. Although Coors field is one of the older stadiums in the National League (built in 1995), it is close to the top of many lists of the best Major League Stadiums in the country. Eating a burger and having a brew before or after the game has to be at the top of your list if you are visiting Denver in the summer. You can also purchase Rockpile tickets, which are only $4. LODO is also the main place to go for some lively night life including live entertainment, night clubs, various bars and pubs, and restaurants. It also has several places to shop and is only four blocks away from the 16th Street Mall.
2. The 16th Street Mall – This pedestrian mall lined with outdoor cafes, shops, historic office buildings, fountains, plazas, restaurants and retail stores has to be at the top of your list to visit. There is a free shuttle that goes up and down the mile long street 7 days a week. It is centrally located within walking distance of The Pepsi Center, the Colorado Convention Center, and The Denver Performing Arts Complex. Restaurants such as Maggiano’s Little Italy and Rock Bottom Brewery are both great places to visit. The 16th Street Mall can give you a real feel of Denver and what it has to offer and you could spend a whole day there exploring the area.
3. Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park – If you are looking for a downtown theme park to experience on your vacation, then you have to visit Elitch Gardens! Elitch Gardens is the largest downtown theme park in the country offering numerous thrill rides and a water park. It is also family affordable with tickets starting at only $31.99 per day, but if you ask around there are many ways to save off of that price.
4. Denver Zoo – The Denver Zoo attracts many visitors throughout the year, and is one of the most popular zoos in the country. It has an emphasis on conservation with a 21 year plan and vision in place to turn the zoo into a true conservatory. This 80 acre zoo offers the visitor an opportunity to see 3500 different animals within naturally built habitats including Tropical Discovery, where you can see a diverse population of sea creatures, Predator ridge, where you can see lions and tigers frolicking in the sun, and Primate Panorama where you can take in all the diverse apes and monkeys. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children.
5. Denver Botanical Garden – This 23-acre park is home to more than 500 tons of rock and 2,300 species of plants. It features North America’s largest collection of plants from cold temperate climates around the world, along with 7 various gardens that mostly include plants from Colorado and neighboring states. Succulent collections are situated in the Dryland Mesa and include cacti, yucca and other xeric plants. Among the newest additions is The Bill Hosokawa Bonsai Pavilion and Tea Garden. Other favorites include the Boettcher Tropical Conservatory, Marnie’s Pavilion and the Orangery. Visit during the holidays to experience their Blossoms of Light and Trail of Lights, which are both illuminating nighttime light displays that take you to a dazzling winter wonderland. It was featured as one of the 12 Best Botanical Gardens In The USA. Admission is $12.50 for adults and $9 for children.
6. Sports Authority Field at Mile High – Bronco fans unite! Commonly known as Bronco Nation, Denver is home to some of the most dedicated football fans in history. Given the high altitude, fans have been known to weather rain, snow, and freezing temperatures to watch their beloved Broncos in this 12 year old stadium. Many visitors to the area come specifically to go to the Bronco stadium, and although the official name is Sports Authority Field, you will most likely still hear the stadium called Mile High.
7. Coors Brewery – Coors Brewery is located in one of the most historic towns in the state: Golden. While Golden is not in Denver, it is still something you do not want to miss if you are visiting. It is less than an hour away from Denver. Coors Brewery is the largest single brewing site in the world. Some have called this area (between Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins) the “Napa Valley of Beer”. Planning to tour Coors is an experience that you will want to do, but you can also partake in all types of “Brews Cruise” tours, either by bus or self guided on foot, or just go at it on your own, sampling among award-winning brewpubs and microbreweries.
8. Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Just a short distance from Golden is Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. It is a concert venue set within the natural red rocks and absolutely spectacular. Easter morning there is a sunrise mass that is absolutely breathtaking. It is free to visit and you will see all types of people exploring the area, including joggers, yoga enthusiasts, and tourists. If you get lucky enough to take in a concert, you will not be disappointed. I know of no other venue that compares to this natural Amphitheater so close to a city. Well known bands such as U2, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles have all played there.
9. Golden Triangle Museum District – If exploring local museums is your passion, then this district offers eight not to miss museums including over 50 fine-art galleries, specialty shops, restaurants, nightclubs and coffee houses. Museums include the Denver Art Museum, the “unsinkable” Molly Brown House, the Byers-Evans House Museum, the Clyfford Still Museum, the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, the Denver Firefighters Museum, and the History of Colorado Center. You cannot go wrong with a day of exploring some of Denver’s best museums and learning about the history of the Centennial State.
10. Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum – A place gaining popularity over the last few years is this museum whose mission is to educate and inspire people of all ages. Its emphasis is on flight and space travel of the past, present, and future and offers many fun and interactive exhibits including “Aviation Xtreme” which is a flight simulator experience. Admission is $11 for adults and $6 for children.
11. Children’s Museum of Denver – With permanent exhibitions consisting of 13 “Playscapes,” catering to different ages and interests, these exhibitions start with the Center for the Young Child, for newborns through age 4, who can crawl through a storybook landscape of lily ponds and bridges, while slightly older aspiring engineers can design and build their own structures, vehicles and even helicopters using blueprints and real tools in The Assembly Plant. We consider it to be one of the 10 best children’s museums in America.
12. Coming Soon!
Diamond Grand Hyatt – This awesome hotel offers many different packages to some of the premier attractions in Denver. With spacious rooms and near the 16th street mall, you can opt for packages such as a self-guided walking tour to sample premium micro-brews, receive VIP tickets to Denver’s Art Museum (currently the Passport to Paris Exhibition), or if you are on a trip with your spouse, you may opt for the Romance Package which includes dinner at Pub 17 on Welton Street.
SpringHill Suites Marriott – SpringHill Suites Marriott is a new hotel that is offering many attractive deals and offers. It is the closest hotel to Elitch Gardens and only two blocks away from Larimer Square. You can opt to get an Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Package with rates beginning just a little over $200. If theme parks aren’t your cup of tea, there are other appealing packages such as the Larimer Square Experience Shopping Package, and Dinner Packages that begin at $169.
HIlton Garden Inn Denver Downtown – If you are looking for comfort and convenience that is a little more budget friendly, then Hilton Garden Inn may be a good choice for you with rates starting just over $100 per night. In addition, they also offer packages to Elitch Gardens (only one mile away), Romance Packages (with dining specials at PI Kitchen + Bar), and other restaurant and dining packages. They are located right across from the Colorado Convention Center, close to Cherry Creek, and only one block from the 16th street Mall Shuttle where you can hop on for free and experience the rest of what downtown Denver has to offer.
Residence Inn Denver City Center – From Romance Packages to Sports Packages, this centrally located hotel is close to the 16th street mall and other major attractions. They offer a free buffet breakfast, on site fitness centers, and complimentary evening receptions with appetizers, wine, and beer. The Residence Inn offers extended stay packages as well if you are looking to relocate. Rates begin at $149 per night.
Courtyard Downtown Denver – Another high quality downtown hotel is the Courtyard Marriott. It is close to the best restaurants and attractions that Denver has to offer. From here you can visit Pepsi Center, Coors Field, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. It is located on the 16th street Mall and is set in a renovated historic building which adds to the hotel’s boutique-style feel.
What makes the Mile High City a well-known culinary center of the West is that Colorado is home to many of the produce that chefs use in their unique and everyday dishes. The trend across the country has moved towards locally grown ingredients and Denver has always been ahead of the game using locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables, free-range meat, artisan cheeses, and more. To narrow restaurants down to “the best” is virtually impossible. Given the rich cultural heritage of Denver, you will find amazing dishes that will range from Italian, Mexican, and Japanese to American, Irish, and French. An unofficial vote among Facebook friends who live in and around Denver has told me the restaurants NOT to miss include: The Cherry Cricket, Stueben’s, Maggiano’s Little Italy, The Buckhorn Exchange (serving a variety of wild game), the Elephant Bar (specifically for their calamari appetizer), and the Hickory House. All of these restaurants are either a short walk, shuttle, or taxi ride away from the Downtown area.
Elway’s – We recently reached out to celebrity restauranteur John Elway, the Executive VP Of Operations for the Denver Broncos and the oldest quarterback to win a super bowl, to ask him about his favorite restaurant in America. He said his favorites are his very own, stating “They all have a little bit of a different flair based on their location. It is fascinating how restaurants can take on the personality of their locations, but I believe that to be true with each of them. Rather than brag about the food, just go try them. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Frasca, Boulder, CO – Located in nearby Boulder, John Elway says this is another of his favorites (he is not an owner of this one). He states “It’s a great little escape for me when I decide to venture out from Denver. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere which serves amazing Italian food. The quality and diversity is something you’d find in New York or San Francisco.”
The Cheesecake Factory – Since first opening in Beverly Hills in 1978, these restaurants have become well known for their fun atmosphere, huge portions and more than 200 menu selections to choose from. They offer 50 cheesecakes and specialty desserts, with some that are only offered seasonally. These include: Key lime cheesecake, Chocolate Chip Cookie – Dough cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake (available from October – holidays), Pineapple Upside-Down Cheesecake, and after thanksgiving they even have a peppermint Bark Cheesecake!
SAME – Those looking for something truly out of the ordinary may want to dine at SAME, which is the first nonprofit restaurant in Denver, allowing you to pay whatever you like. If you are completely broke, they allow you to exchange an hour of volunteering for a great meal.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. – Owned by the people who own Rainforest Cafe. Since 1996, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has been entertaining guests with a charming down-home style that’s a hit with eaters around the globe. Their menu offers a number of items for the shrimp lover in all of us. Boasting creative seafood dishes inspired straight from the movie Forrest Gump and a fun family atmosphere, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. will have you running to the nearest location you can find! Although that movie came out around 20 years ago, this popular restaurant never fails to delight.
Casa Bonita– Celebrating 40 years of family fun! Delicious Mexican food comes together with an extraordinary atmosphere. They have an all-you-can-eat dinner option with their popular sopaipillas with honey. This restaurant has it’s very own 30 ft waterfall! It is famous for its live show of Acapulco-style cliff divers, as well as strolling musicians, an arcade and a portrait studio. It’s also known to South Park fans as Cartman’s favorite restaurant, from the episode entitled “Casa Bonita.” They seat 1,000 diners but still often have long waits so call ahead to be sure there’ room for your clan!
Hard Rock Cafe – Located in Denver Pavilions, this two-story walking mall on 16th Street was recently rated Denver’s #1 tourist attraction, but that doesn’t mean locals don’t hang out here, too! We’re the #1 spot for everyone, and as always, the Hard Rock Cafe is easy for everyone to find. Just look for the 20-foot neon guitar and spread the word that there’s still gold to be found inside our doors! (Gold-album recording artist memorabilia, that is.) So if dry mountain air has left you parched, unhitch your wagon and have a seat at our handcrafted oak bar for the tastiest drinks and the best grub this side of the Mississippi. No horses inside though, please, just the occasional pony keg.
Ted’s Montana Grill– Owned by CNN founder Ted Turner, this restaurant has become famous for its delicious bison, burgers, and salads. This chain has grown to have dozens of restaurants around the country.
Aquarium Restaurant – Downtown Aquarium was purchased by Landry’s Restaurants, Inc. in 2003, when it was Colorado’s Ocean Journey Aquarium. On July 14, 2005, Landry’s reopened the redesigned complex as Downtown Aquarium. The entertainment and dining complex features a public aquarium boasting more than a million gallons of underwater exhibits that highlight fascinating ecosystems around the world. Downtown Aquarium houses over 500 species of animals, the interactive Stingray Reef touch tank, Aquarium Restaurant, Dive Lounge, the Nautilus Ballroom and amusements for the entire family. With a full-service restaurant, an upscale bar, a fully equipped ballroom, aquatic & geographic exhibits and shopping, Downtown Aquarium has it all! You can also come just to visit the aquarium; aquarium adult admission is $17.99.
In all the different areas listed above and below, there is a place to shop in Denver. With that being said, the most popular well known places to shop are at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, along the 16th Street Mall, and at the Belmar Outdoor Shopping District.
Cherry Creek is an upscale shopping mall with countless fine dining options among 169 shops including Neiman Marcus, Tiffany & Co. and Burberry. Only 3.5 miles from Downtown it is connected with a 22 mile bike path. The Cherry Creek Shopping Center is home to at least 40 independently owned shops, boutiques, and galleries that are exclusive to the area. Cherry Creek has been labeled as the only “real” place to shop between San Francisco and Chicago. Along with shopping, you will also be able to eat at some of the renowned eateries in Denver.
The 16th Street Mall has many shopping options. It includes H&M, Banana Republic, NikeTown, and the Virgin Records Megastore.
The Belmar Outdoor Shopping District is located about 10 minutes from downtown and is a 22 square city block of pedestrian shopping paradise. It offers shoppers more than 60 stores including the latest fashions, furniture, and outdoor gear.
There are other places to note that may fit your style a little more. Larimer Square offers many hip clothing and accessory stores and will allow you to experience a unique shopping experience with locally owned shops and boutiques. Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops both offer the outdoorsman an enjoyable shopping experience as there are interactive exhibits, museum-type displays, and more than one story of outdoor and hunting gear.
Denver can be split up into at least 20 major areas, all of which offer something different when it comes to shopping, food, and entertainment. Below are some of the more well known areas and the major attractions they have to offer.
LoDo – As mentioned above, this lower downtown district may be one of the better known areas of Denver. LoDo is home to the Colorado Rockies Stadium: Coors Field. If you are a baseball fan, schedule your vacation anywhere between April and September and you most likely can catch a game and also experience some of the LoDO pubs and restaurants. The nightlife in LoDO is lively and fun and is often the place to be on a Saturday night.
Riverfront – Close to LoDo, the Riverfront area includes many fun family attractions. Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park is the only downtown amusement park in the country. With a long and successful history, it offers many thrill rides, entertainment, and a water adventure park. Also in this area is the Children’s Museum of Denver which is a fun learning environment for kids of all ages. You can play fireman, paint, create woodworking projects and train tracks, or just play in the interactive play areas. The Downtown Aquarium offers some extraordinary marine life exhibits and also fine dining where you can sit around a 150,000 gallon aquarium while you eat. The Museum of Contemporary Art offers inspiring pieces about contemporary art.
Larimer Square – If you are looking for a unique shopping and dining experience, then this is the place to go. The regionally chef-owned and local merchants offer a truly unique selection of boutiques, eateries, and shops.
Uptown – Uptown is an amazing area to explore where you can take in the beautiful Victorian, Queen Anne, and modern high-rise apartments. It is the oldest residential neighborhood with bike and jogging paths where you can take in the panoramic view of 120 miles of the snow capped Rocky Mountains. It is home to City Park, the Denver Zoo, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Uptown also has many trendy restaurants, shops, and clubs.
Highlands – This area is split into three distinctive neighborhoods: Lower Highlands (LoHi), Highlands Square, and Tennyson Street. Situated northwest of Denver’s downtown, it is the largest neighborhood. It has experienced many changes over the last few years with hip restaurants, bars and shops. Two cultural districts you do not want to miss here are Tennyson Street Cultural District where there are numerous art galleries and antique shops and the Navajo Street Art District. The Navajo Street Art District is in LoHi and is a must see with fine dining and performance art.
Art District On Santa Fe – This district has the largest concentration of art galleries in Colorado. It is a mixture of everything including painting, sculpture, graphic and even performing arts ranging from traditional to modern to contemporary. The first Friday of every month crowds gather as the galleries host an Art Walk. Su Teatro (The Theater) offers a unique experience telling the story of the Chicano Movement on stage. The Museo de las Americas also has art from all areas of Central and South America.
Five Points – Often known as the “Harlem of the West” because of its jazz history, five points is one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods. It is one of the predominantly African American owned strips in the country. The story of the African American in the West is told at such places as The Stiles African American Heritage Center and the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center. There is also The Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, If you are looking for some authentic soul food, catfish or BBQ, this is the place to visit!
Capitol Hill – This neighborhood is home to an eclectic and urban culture, and a hub for both punk culture and the GLBT scene. There is plenty of music, shopping and restaurants and many of the historic mansions have been turned into office space or bed and breakfasts. There are historic mansions along with new apartments and condos. There is the Colorado State Capitol where the 11th step marks the mile high step, the 210 foot high French Gothic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Kirkland’s Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, and the Molly Brown House who was famous for being the “unsinkable Molly Brown” from the Titanic.
East Colfax – It is interesting to note that Denver has more live music venues than Los Angeles. Many of the best live music options can be found on East Colfax. You will find intimate settings and awesome acoustic sounds in the Ogden, the Bluebird Theater and the Fillmore Auditorium. In the day, you can shop the popular indie shops, and by night you can enjoy the bars, clubs, and live music. Something else that East Colfax is known for is its famous Tattered Cover Bookstore, which was recently moved to the Lowenstein Theater. It includes a coffeehouse in the theater’s old lobby and bookshelf after bookshelf where the orchestra pit was. There are comfy chairs to read in and unique architecture to admire in this area known as Greek Town.
Old South Gaylord – Old South Gaylord is another of Denver’s oldest shopping and dining districts. It is just a few minutes from Cherry Creek and only ten minutes from downtown Denver. The neighborhood in general offers a relaxed and laid-back feel, but it also offers 60 shops, restaurants and bars. It includes Denver’s number one park: Washington park which is just four blocks east. The park has two lakes, formal flower gardens, awe-inspiring landscaping and lawns, and can be a beautiful place for a family picnic. You are also able to rent bikes or paddle boats to explore throughout the park.
South Broadway (SoBo) – This area includes 18 blocks of over a 100 antique stores. You can find anything from silver, furniture, pottery, books, and many other collectables. If antiquing is your thing, then you cannot miss visiting “Antique Row”. Along with the antique shops, you will also find art galleries, used bookstores, and grand sized sporting good stores.
Stapleton and Northfield – If you are looking to get away from some of the hustle and bustle of downtown, then Stapleton and Northfield may be just what you are looking for. 30% of the land in this neighborhood is preserved for parks and open space. There are numerous biking and hiking paths that connect to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. You may see Golden Eagles, bison, deer and other wildlife. It is also home to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, the 2010 MLS Cup Champions, the Colorado Rapids. The Shops at Northfield Stapleton provide a laid-back outdoor shopping experience. Bass Pro Shop is a must see in this area. Bass Pro Shop is part sporting good store and part museum. It also has a wonderful dining experience where you can eat in front of a large aquarium.
Central City and Blackhawk is 34 miles west of Denver and has over 30 casinos and 10,000 slot machines. They are also both historic mining towns from the 1870s and have the best preserved Victorian architecture in the West. You can take mining tours and even receive instruction on how to pan for gold.
Georgetown is another Victorian village located a little over 40 miles west of Denver. Much of main street has been turned into antique stores and is must to walk down if you visit. You can also take the Georgetown Loop Railroad (narrow gauge steam locomotive) which operates during the summer months.
Mount Evans has a paved road that can take you up some winding mountain roads up to 14,260 feet. It is so high that it usually has snow on it year round and the road is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The summit is about 60 miles from downtown Denver. Hikes are also available.
Pikes Peak is located 60 miles south of Denver and has more than 40 attractions including the Garden of the Gods and Broadmoor Resort.
Rocky Mountain National Park which is 71 miles northwest of Denver is a spectacular drive. You can cross the continental divide and visit Estes Park. You can also take Trail Ridge Road which is the highest continuous highway in the world and over 2 miles above sea level