An Insider’s Guide to Denver, Colorado

Laura KrudenerLaura Krudener at El Five. Photograph by Sara Ford.

Spectacular mountain scenery and a steady growth streak make Denver, Colorado, a popular destination for visitors in town for business, pleasure, or both. Here to help travelers to the Mile High City make the most of their trip, Denver-based fine artist and Among the Colors blogger Laura Krudener shares what to do and see while visiting her town.

Colorado has been long known as an outdoor-lover’s playground, but Denver’s expansive growth over the past ten years has made it a destination in its own right, merging a growing restaurant, brewery, and cocktail scene with art, culture, and all the outdoor activities one can imagine. For locals, this means finding a work-life balance can be challenging—when you live within two hours of the country’s best skiing, thirty minutes from Red Rocks amphitheater, and close to hiking and biking trails, it’s hard to hustle too hard and not take advantage of all that Colorado has to offer. This laid-back, active lifestyle is also what makes it a great place to vacation.

What to Do

Colorado’s backdrop of the Rocky Mountains provides countless places to explore, which makes Denver a great city to visit year-round. The list of what to explore outdoors is never-ending; I have lived in Colorado over a decade, and I feel like it would take several lifetimes to take in all the outdoor beauty of this great state. For skiing, I recommend Beaver Creek Resort just west of Vail, as well as Snowmass in Aspen. Snowmass has a lot of hotels right on the slopes and can be a fraction of the cost of staying in downtown Aspen during peak visit weeks. Outside of ski season, if you’re interested in hiking, Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing destination. For a relaxing outdoor excursion, Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood is a great place to soak any time of year. And the best way to explore the neighborhoods outside of downtown is on two wheels, so rent a bike from one of the stations located all over the city and pedal your way around town.

Where to Stay

Since I am an artist, my favorite option is The Art Hotel (1201 Broadway). Positioned within a few hundred feet from the Denver Art Museum, The Art Hotel houses a very impressive collection of contemporary art itself, and the rooftop patio is a great place for happy hour after spending a few hours taking in the Denver Art Museum (100 West 14th Avenue Parkway) and the Clyfford Still Museum (1250 Bannock Street). I also love The Maven (1840 Wazee Street), a new hotel located a short walking distance from the recently renovated Union Station. This hotel is perfect for design lovers thanks to beautiful details in their lobby restaurant and bar, curated art exhibitions, and stunning interior design. Last but not least, Hotel Teatro (1100 14th Street) is located in the Denver Theater District and is one of LoDo’s oldest buildings. The lobby is a wonderful place to have coffee and plan your excursions for the day, and the hotel’s restaurant, The Nickel, is a great spot to grab a cocktail and a bite before heading to a concert or play.

The Maven Hotel DenverThe Maven hotel. Photo by Sara Ford.

Where to Eat

Located in RiNo (short for River North), Denver’s growing art district just five minutes north of downtown, Hop Alley (3500 Larimer Street) is widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Denver for its artistic take on traditional Chinese food. They cater to gluten-free, vegetarian, and meat-eaters alike. (Their octopus and bone marrow fried rice are pretty special.)

Bar Dough (2227 West 32nd Avenue) is a casual Italian restaurant in the Lower Highlands neighborhood of Denver, just a few minutes west of downtown. I recommend their pizzas and their daily specials, and be sure to ask for one of their spritzers with their house-made limoncello.

Historic Union Station (1701 Wynkoop Street), a must-visit destination that merges the history of Denver with the contemporary craft renaissance happening in the city packed with locally-owned restaurants, bars, and flower shops, is home to Mercantile Dining & Provision and Stoic & Genuine. At modern seafood-focused Stoic & Genuine, try the custom seafood platter and wash it down with one of their specialty Granitas. At Mercantile, which is part European-style market and part seasonally-driven comfort food restaurant, indulge in one of their delicious craft cocktails—like a martini with house-made pickles—with dinner before purchasing some of their cheeses and meats to take back to your hotel for a late-night snack.

I also recommend dining on the patio at The Populist (3163 Larimer Street) in RiNo. The ivy-covered setting and great service pair perfectly with their delicious food, and it’s great for gluten-free folks.

Where to Wet Your Whistle

In addition to earning a reputation as a craft beer destination, Denver is rapidly gaining recognition for its craft cocktail movement. Williams & Graham (3160 Tejon Street) in the Lower Highlands was awarded best American cocktail bar a few years ago, and the energy put into creating delicious and innovative cocktails seems to be contagious. Other local award-winning cocktail masters include McLain Hedges and Alex Jump of the RiNo Yacht Club (3350 Brighton Boulevard), who have recently won bartending awards and represented the state in national competitions. In addition to the Yacht Club’s excellent drinks, it’s worth visiting to check out the location. Housed in The Source, which is home to several restaurants, breweries, and an art gallery, the area is a fine example Denver’s growing locally-focus business community.

For sweeping city and mountains views, pay a visit to El Five (2930 Umatilla Street, 5th Floor) in the Lower Highlands. The Mediterranean tapas bar’s rooftop patio overlooks the ever-changing Denver skyline, making it an ideal spot to grab a drink while taking in the scenery. Ask about their custom gin and tonic menu, and definitely try the baba ghanoush. For libations in another stylish setting, visit The Cooper Lounge (1701 Wynkoop Street) in Union Station, which offers bountiful cocktail and beer options in a stylish setting.

Get a taste of Denver’s growing craft beer offerings at Ratio Beer Works (2120 Larimer Street) and Crooked Stave (3350 Brighton Boulevard), both of which provide unique beer-tasting experiences—and delicious brews.

There’s a craft scene around most things in Denver, and coffee is no exception. For a caffeine fix, I highly recommend Amethyst Coffee (1111 North Broadway, Suite 101), Crema in RiNo (2862 Larimer Street), and Black Eye in LoHi (3408 Navajo Street) .

Where to Take in Some Culture

Clyfford Still Museum ATC DENLeft: The Clyfford Still Museum. Photo by Kristen Hatgi. Right: ATC DEN. Photo by Meredith Broower.

Denver is a city that is truly supportive of the arts, and there is no shortage of museums to explore. Must-visits include the Denver Art Museum (100 West 14th Avenue Parkway), the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (1485 Delgany Street), and the Clyfford Still Museum (1250 Bannock Street). The Denver Botanic Gardens (1007 York Street) is also a wonderful place to take in the beauty of the area, especially if you can catch an outdoor concert or sculpture installation. For more art, Robischon (1740 Wazee Street) and David B. Smith (1543 A Wazee Street) art galleries downtown both run impressive curatorial programs of both local and nationally accredited artists. In the RiNo art district, visit my own art gallery, ATC DEN (3420 Larimer Street), as well as Visions West (2605 Walnut Street) art gallery. September 11-17, you won’t even need to go to a museum or gallery to experience art, as the annual art festival Colorado Crush will transform the streets and alleys with graffiti and street art.

Where to Shop

Denver’s fashion scene fits its active and relaxed ethos, but still saves plenty of room for creative style and designer pieces. A Line Boutique (5375 Landmark Place and 2445 East 3rd Avenue) caters to Denverites looking for comfortable yet fashion-forward looks for day to night with local and international designers including RtA, Golden Goose, and Iro. For more great apparel, check out LoHi’s fashion darling Goldyn (2040 West 30th Avenue) for cool brands like Rachel Comey and Mara Hoffman.

Vert Beauty (3442 West 32nd Avenue) in the Highlands is a great destination for organic and natural skincare products, and a fabulous place to get a hydrating facial. Just down the street, The Perfect Petal (3600 West 32nd Avenue, Suite B) is my favorite floral shop-meets curated gift and stationery shop. For more natural beauty products, check out Fig + Yarrow apothecary (3600 Tejon Street) in LoHi, as well as AILLEA (3000 East 1st Avenue and 1408 Larimer Street), which is like the Sephora of the natural skincare world (think makeup, skincare, hair products, and nail polish, but all without the toxic chemicals). Sacred Thistle (1110 Acoma Street), another beautiful floral-meets-gift shop, is a hidden gem worth exploring thanks to their curated collection of wares.

See and learn more about Laura Krudener’s work here, and check out her blog, Among the Colors, where she discusses fashion, recipes, and other things that inspire here, here. Laura Krudener is featured in The Scout Guide Denver.