Welcome to Denver

Welcome to Denver! Home of the 2016 Superbowl champion Broncos. It’s also home to wonderful people, great food, plenty of skiing and lots of beer! We recently spent five days exploring Denver, and honestly, it wasn’t close to enough. There is so much to do and see. To make the most of our time, we got input from the locals (mainly my sister-in-law and her boyfriend) for the best places/things/food.

We stayed in the Lakewood area, just west of Denver. The location is great. It’s just far enough out that you avoid those downtown hotel prices, but close enough to everything that you don’t feel out of the way. Lakewood is a growing area with a wonderful mix of local and chain restaurants/pubs. The drive to downtown is only 15 minutes, and you are right next to the mountains. If you don’t have a car (which you should rent for a few days), there is a commuter train that will take you from Lakewood into downtown as well as the surrounding cities. Commuter train pub crawl anyone?

The best way to take in downtown Denver is by bike. I was blown away with how biker and walker friendly Denver is. Streets have bike lanes and wide sidewalks. There is also an extensive trail system that runs throughout the city. My favorite was the Platte River Trail which runs along the Platte River though downtown, connecting you to many of the city’s wonderful parks. That includes Washington Park, the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon and have a picnic.

Brought your skis instead of your bike? No worries. There are a few bike rental shops around downtown. We rented our bike from Bicycle Doctor. It came to $45 to rent 3 bikes with helmets and locks for the day (which is considered their half day since it isn’t a 24 hour rental). They had coupons on their website which took a little extra off too. There is a trail entrance right around the corner from their building, making it easy to jump right on and go.

Downtown Denver is awesome! It has this great blend of old and new and is wonderfully laid out. We spent hours walking/biking around. You don’t realize how much walking you are doing since nothing feels that far away.

One of my favorite stops was Union Station on Wynkoop Street. Denver recently renovated the train station and restored it to its beautiful past. It welcomes you in to have a seat, a drink and maybe a meal, which is exactly what we did. We got there early to have breakfast at Snooze. If there is one place I recommend you trying while in Denver, it’s Snooze. Oh man, it was delicious! There is a reason why the french toast is named OMG French Toast.

Another thing I loved about Denver was the mix of art in public spaces. This bear peeking in the windows at the convention center was one of my favorites!

It’s true! Denver is a mile above sea level. To prove it, they marked the exact spot. This is one of the steps up to the state Capitol building. I promise it’s worth the small hike up there. Not only do you get a picture of the “mile high” step, but you also get this spectacular view!

IMG_5831Of course, no visit to Denver is complete without visiting Coors Field!

Remember when I said that it was worth renting a car for a few days? Here is one reason why. Red Rocks! What a stunning place. Red Rocks is a city park which boasts great hiking and birding along with a beautiful amphitheater. There is a small music museum and clean bathrooms to use. Best part, free admission and parking (as long as there are no shows going on). The views at the top made the hike up well worth it. But be prepared! The thin air along with the steep hike can really take the wind out of you.

Another great reason to get a rental car… the mountains! There are dozens of great places to ski, snowboard and hike. You can also go stand on top of the continental divide at Loveland Pass. If you are brave enough, you can back country ski down. We were not so brave.

Loveland also has ski park. So if you are looking to do some skiing or snowboarding and want to avoid the resorts, this is a good place to go.

If there is one thing I took away from Denver, it’s that they love their beer! Breweries have begun popping up in the area like weeds. It’s crazy! So if beer is your thing, you will get more than your fill here!

The number of places to try/tour can be overwhelming. So why not start where it all began: The Coors Brewery in Golden. Even if you aren’t a fan of the beer, a day in Golden is still well worth the 30-minute drive. It has all the small town charm you could want. Grab some freshly made ice cream from Golden Sweets and take a stroll. Golden has a nice trail system along the river to enjoy and plenty of little shops to do your shopping at.

The view from the river walk.

Caution: you’re in bear country!

If you are interested in touring Coors Brewery, it’s free! It’s a 30-minute tour which includes a stop in their refrigerated beer room. Fun fact: the Coors Brewery is the largest single site brewery in the world. So you can say that you have been to it.

New Belgium also has a free brewery tour in Fort Collins. That is quite the tour. They are an employee-owned company that you will fall more in love with as the tour progresses.  The free samples and great tour guides make it a great experience.

Finding the best small brews in town can be daunting (there really are that many). So we gathered a group of locals together to get their recommendations. The first place recommended to us was Grist Brewery in Highlands Ranch. You may think you are in the wrong place when you first drive up (it looks like an office building). Don’t worry, we had to check too.

The inside is nice and open, very modern. There plenty of different seating to accommodate any size group. They don’t serve food, but there are normally food trucks stationed outside. Grist boasts a great atmosphere with friendly and knowledgeable bartenders. It’s a great spot.

The beer selection was impressive. I was surprised by the number of stouts on the menu, but it turns out February is National Stout Month. The breweries in Denver took that to heart, serving up a wide variety.  If you order a flight, it comes in this pretty awesome setup seen above. Picture worthy, right?

Next up was Jake’s Tap House and Beer Garden in Littleton. Now, Jake’s isn’t a brewery, but we were told it was a local favorite with lots of great Colorado beers on draft. Jake’s has a huge draft list featuring a mix of Colorado brews and beers from around the world. They also offer wines and an impressive whiskey collection. If you need a bite to eat to go with that drink, Jake’s does offer up a small menu of bar food. The queso dip with chips was amazing!

Jake’s is situated on an adorable street in downtown Littleton. I highly recommend going down for the evening and exploring the small shops before grabbing dinner followed by a drink at Jake’s.

On our last night in town, we were able to get down to Wynkoop Brewery. It came highly recommended by several people. So I was happy we were able to get it in. Wynkoop is located in downtown on Wynkoop Street, right up the street from Coors Field. For parking, I recommend finding a garage. You may want to hang out in this awesome bar for a little while.

Wynkoop was the largest brewery/bar we visited during our time in Denver. There is a ton of seating around the bar as well as a restaurant. We ended up there after dinner. So I can’t tell you how good the food was, but it smelled wonderful! If it is a nice evening, take advantage of the outdoor seating.

Wynkoop had an interesting selection of brews on draft. Each of us ordered a different one and passed it around. I didn’t really have a favorite. They were all pretty good. What ended up sealing the deal for me was the in-house root beer. This is a place I will have to come back to. So good!

Looking for a good bite to eat? I have two other recommendations besides Snooze. The first is Blackbird Public House. Blackbird came recommended to us by some fellow bikers at Washington Park. It’s fairly new, but the restaurant has a lot of charm.

We stopped by for a light lunch before continuing our ride. The menu is a good mix of pizza and sandwiches with some salads and fish thrown in. Our group favorite was the mac & cheese. It was out of this world!

One of my favorite pictures from our Denver trip came courtesy of the folks at 5280 Burger Bar. When I asked where the bathrooms were and the woman pointed to this wall, I had a hard time not laughing out loud.

Besides their great sense of humor, 5280 offers up some amazing food. The burgers were a hit as were the appetizers. Some how, we all managed to save room for dessert. 5280 is known for their incredible ice cream. It’s all made in house. So the flavors change often. Even if all you are craving is a really good milkshake, 5280 is the place to visit.

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