So, I’ve been to Denver more times than I can count in the winter months for skiing. However, this was my first trip without snow on the ground to the area! And oooooh, it was even better than I imagined.
I don’t think there’s another US city that’s going to give you BOTH a vibrant downtown scene and the serenity of nature. With National parks, mountains, rivers, lakes, and a full 4 seasons, there’s nothing Denver can’t offer. If you’re going to Denver in the winter time and looking for a skiing adventure, I recommend the Breckenridge Travel Guide here. This post is covering downtown Denver – what to in the city and quick day hikes within driving distance.
WHAT TO DO
The list could go on and on and on. There’s too much to do in one weekend, so definitely prioritize. Our top 3 ideas we were thinking about outside the city:
- White water rafting (ideal May – July) – Clear Creek is only 30 mins from Denver!
- Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park closer to Boulder
- Hiking Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs – anyone any age or fitness level can do this since they have varying trails from pavement to moderate hikes – this is what we did!
- Concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater
For inside the city, our focus revolved around food and drinks! The free public bus up and down 16th Street Mall made it easy to get around quickly. We also scootered to neighborhoods farther away. Neighborhoods to check out:
- 16th Street Mall
- Union Station
- LoDo (Lower Downtown)
A few hotspots we found walking around were free putt putt golf at Skyline Beer Garden, and a perfect view of the baseball stadium at the Tavern if you don’t want to actually go to the game. Specific recommendations on where to eat and drink are down in the “Where to Eat” section!
WHERE TO STAY
The “where to stay” section is sponsored by Hilton Garden Inn Union Station. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.
Hands down – Union Station area, which is basically in LoDo. Funny story on how I discovered this place. A lot of times I travel solo, and meet family and friends when I arrive as we’re all coming from different locations. There’s always something interesting with logistics. This trip, my dad coordinated his co-worker to pick me up from the airport and show me around Denver for a few hours while I waited for their flight to get in. The first place he took me to was Union Station, and I thought it was the COOLEST thing in the world that they turned an ACTIVE train station into an area to hang out. The Terminal bar inside allows you to order drinks, and grab a seat inside on the lounge couches. The station is filled with restaurants – some of the best in town! All of them have outdoor patios, which is a must in the summer.
When coming back to Denver this trip, I knew I had to stay in the original area I fell in love with. The Hilton Garden Inn just opened earlier this year, minutes from Union Station. It was the perfect location for the weekend, equipped with a modern and clean vibe. Since Ross & I usually spend half of our vacations working, we like a spot that has a designated desk, and this one was large enough for both of us to sit at! The best spot in the room though? An extra large walk in shower with a rainfall showerhead. They had a full breakfast in the morning for us to quickly grab something to eat before we headed out for our hike, giving us everything we needed for our stay!
From the Hilton Garden Inn, we were able to walk or scooter to tons of bustling neighborhoods – Union Station, LoDo, 16th Street Mall, and the Highlands. These are all areas I would recommend checking out for dinner and walking around! Denver was such a walkable city – large sidewalks and pedestrian only areas like 16th Street Mall.
WHERE TO EAT
I make restaurant picks based on other blog reviews, Eater city guides, Thrillist guides, Yelp, and Open Table. Yes, I have to triple cross reference everything I spend half my time just googling where we are going to dinner – because it’s not just about the food, its about the ambiance and experience too!
With Denver being such a walkable city, Ross and I ended up exploring walking around and finding places that had a good patio, then walking up to check out the menu! We ended up finding a ton of wonderful dinner spots this way, and only planned brunch ahead of time with a reservation.
Union Station Area
- The Kitchen – Loved everything from the drinks to each small plate we ordered. We sat inside at a high top, but they also have great outdoor seating options. Lamb meatballs, Pork belly skewers, and lettuce wrap Rockfish tacos had me drooling.
- Mercantile Dining & Provision – recommend both brunch and dinner! We eat breakfast here every time in the winter before we head to the mountains. Because we’ve eaten here for brunch, and we wanted to experience something new, we didn’t eat dinner here. It was one of the top-rated restaurants in Denver from my research, and I already love the brunch, so I know it would be delicious. 2nd best outdoor patio in Union Station.
- Snooze AM Eatery – Denver brunch staple with a ton of locations throughout the city. It’s almost guaranteed to have a wait on the weekends. More of an elevated traditional diner style with an amazing selection of pancakes.
- Next Door Community Pub – More of a casual place to grab a quick bite or a drink, but also healthier than your average pub. The Happy Hour menu runs 4-6, and the kale chips were so dang addicting. Tons of outdoor seating available with a view of the Union Station courtyard and water fountains.
- Ultreia – best cozy patio ambiance in Union Station, great for drinks and small bites. We sat down to eat, and normally love Portuguese small plates, but nothing really stood out on the menu. We ended up enjoying the patio for drinks and went to dinner at The Kitchen instead. The drink menu was primarily wine and gin cocktails, with one mezcal tequila cocktail that was amazing.
- Hopdoddy – Ross & I’s favorite Austin staple has planted roots in Denver. If you haven’t experienced Hopdoddy in Austin, Dallas, or Nashville, check out their Denver location for the perfect burger experience. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, miss out on the parmesan truffle fries. The hands down best truffle aioli dipping sauce to ever exist, paired with parmesan crusted French fries. You will lick the French fry bowl, because yes they are served in a bowl.
- Milkbox Ice Creamery – Sweet tooth cravings like me? Milkbox creamery inside Union Station has a variety of homemade flavors from vegan to full-fledged dairy. The salted cookies and cream can be too salty for some, but it hit the spot for me!
16th Street Mall
- Earl’s Kitchen – We were walking along 16th Street Mall and instantly knew we wanted to eat here for the outdoor tables with comfy couches. Definitely one of better atmosphere’s on the block – it’s chain that started in Canada. Loved the coconut shrimp!!
- Linger – Brunch, dinner, and drinks. Everayyyyything here! The menu feels healthy yet still super flavorful. This place HAS to be the best rooftop patio in Denver, with the most instagramable giant sign to pose in front of. Order the Adobo Pork Benedict. Do it. Trust me. To be honest, I ordered the Breakfast Dosa and I thought that’s what I was eating somehow. After I finished, I saw them bring my dish to a different table and said here’s the pork benedict. LOL I reread the menu and realized I definitely ate the pork. Very happy with the mix up though! Also $16 bottomless mimosas. Please & thank you!
- Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox – brunch and dinner. Allllllmost went to brunch here but opted for the patio vibes of Linger. It’s definitely on the list for next time, so I recommend you check it out!
- Habit Doughnut Dispensary – Yes, CBD donuts you can also get spiked with alcohol. Denver comes up with everything.
& That’s a Wrap on a Weekend in Denver…
Overall, Denver exceeded my expectations in a city. If you know me, you know Austin is one of my favorite US cities, and Denver comes up as a close second. I felt almost “at home” in Denver, with restaurant staples from other cities (Hopdoddy from Austin, Mad Greens salad bar from AZ, and Giordano’s Pizza from Chicago to name a few) all transplanted to one place. We can’t to come back and explore more – next year we are planning on white water rafting sometime in May – July when the water is high!
Have you been to Denver? What are your favorite spots? We loved it so much, we’re thinking we need to add an annual trip in the books….