The Denver Guide
LA may be filled with New Yorkers seeking better weather and quality of life, but for real progress in the area of work/life balance, you’ll want to book a trip to Denver. After all, how can anyone justify hanging around the office past five when there are three hundred days of sunshine and some of the country’s best skiing less than two hours away? In addition to the ski resorts, the front range is an easy drive from sight-seeing and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, fly fishing and rafting in Routt National Forest, and the sand dunes and Sangre de Cristo Mountains of Southern Colorado. The laid-back, active style and unmatched natural amenities have made Denver one of the country’s fastest growing cities for the past several years. On your way in from the airport, keep an eye out for all of the cranes looming above the city: In the past ten years, there’s been a complete transformation of the downtown area, a process that was bolstered by a redevelopment of the historic Union Station—now home to several new restaurants, a sleek bar, and a new hotel. Luckily, the food and culture in the Mile High City have more than kept up with the influx of newcomers—expect plenty of future updates to this guide, as great restaurants and hotels continue to open at an inhuman pace. And since nearby Boulder, a thirty-minute drive or bus-ride north, is a gateway to accessible hiking and home to a dynamic food scene of its own (note Frasca Food & Wine, which is often cited as the best restaurant in the state), we’ve included our favorite picks there, just for good measure.
Chautauqua TrailheadBluebell Rd., Chautauqua | 303.441.3440
In addition to hosting the Chautauqua Organization's lectures, films, and musical performances, this little enclave of summer homes (many of which can still be rented) is home-base for some of the best hiking in Boulder. The classic trail here is the Royal Arch, a two-mile out-and-back that climbs several switchbacks to a section of the flatirons that forms a golden, natural arch and offers sweeping views of the plains, with the city of Boulder laid out below you. From this trailhead, you can also link up with the Mesa Trail, a 7-mile stretch that crawls along the base of the mountains and runs the entire length of the city from North to South. Sure, it's a Boulder pilgrimage to complete the entire thing (down-and-back) in one day, but you can also access it in small pieces.
Clyfford Still Museum1250 Bannock St., Downtown | 720.354.4880
Clyfford Still sold very few of his paintings when he was alive, believing that they were best shown only alongside his other paintings, under very specific conditions. When he passed away in 1980, he left his entire estate (which represented more than 95% of his total output) to whichever city would mount a permanent museum devoted to his work. The city of Denver was selected to receive the collection in 2004, and in 2011 opened a Brad Cloepfil-designed building to house the collection and rotating exhibitions of Still's artwork. Strolling through the rooms filled with Still's toweringly big pieces is unlike anything else—and something you truly can only experience in Denver.
MCA Denver1485 Delgany St., LoDo | 303.289.7554
MCA Denver Director Adam Lerner first got the attention of the museum world with his quirky "Mixed Taste" program, which presented talks by lecturers from completely different fields on topics like "Porcini Mushrooms & the American Ideal," "Ukulele & Afrofuturism," or "Tomatoes & Leonardo da Vinci," which had the effect of making contemporary art more accessible by infusing it with laughter and lightheartedness. Since then, the museum (which occupies a gorgeous David Adjaye-designed building and is marked by a giant, blinking, rotating heart sculpture by Tim Noble and Sue Webster) has garnered further attention for some groundbreaking exhibitions, including originating the first Marilyn Minter career retrospective, and an exhibition of Basquiat works from the critical, formative years of 1979 and 1980. Parents of Denver teens should know about Failure Lab, their internship program for a select group of Denver teens who spend the year making artwork, planning programming and drop-in events, and working with professional artists to create new projects. Oh, and if you happen to be in town for one of their openings, locals will tell you they throw the best parties in town.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science2001 Colorado Blvd, City Park | 303.370.6000
One of the better nature and science museums we've visited, the scientists at DMNS lead globally significant work, including the excavation of an important archaeological site at nearby Snowmass Village, called the Snowmastadon Project, where they excavated thousands of fossils, including the bones of a Columbian mammoth. In addition to the requisite planetarium, gems and minerals collection, fossils, mummies, and taxidermy, they also have one of the region's only IMAX theatres. In 2014, the museum completed the brand-new Discovery Zone, a totally interactive space for kids ages 3-5, where littles can excavate fossils, play with water features, and create art projects.
The Denver Art Museum100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy, Downtown | 720.865.5000
Denver's big encyclopedic museum (which has more than 70,000 works in 10 permanent collections) is one of the biggest museums between Chicago and the West Coast. The museum itself is made up of two architecturally significant buildings: the 1971 Gio Ponti-designed North Building, covered in more than one million shimmering gray tiles and the modernist designer's only completed work in North America, and the dramatic and iconic Daniel Libeskind building, reminiscent of the Rocky Mountains, with sharp angles jutting out from the center in every direction. They always have a few selections on display from the permanent collection, but you can also see major traveling exhibitions here—a few of their recent blockbusters have included an exhibition of Star Wars costumes, a exhaustive collection of vintage Cartier jewelry, and a selection of Van Gogh works in an exhibition titled Passport to Paris.
Denver Botanic Gardens1007 York St., Cheesman Park | 720.865.3501
Located adjacent to (and really a part of) Cheesman Park, the botanic gardens are nestled into one of Denver's nicest and most historic neighborhoods. The gardens themselves are a perfect combination of locally inspired (the Gardens of the West are inspired by Colorado's arid landscape and the hardy plants that evolved to thrive here) and lusher, more ornamental gardens that typify classic gardens anywhere. There are plenty of magical little pockets to explore, and it's particularly beautiful to visit at night. In the summer, they host a live concert series in the round on their largest lawn—arrive a bit early so you can set up a picnic and a lawn chair near the stage.
Eldorado Canyon State Park9 Kneale Rd., Boulder | 303.494.3943
Located on the Southern edge of Boulder along the road you'd take if you were going skiing, Eldorado Canyon is one of the most challenging rock climbing destinations in the world. Within the canyon, you'll find a cozy little town with a few small homes cluttered along the creek and a public swimming pool with a slide, diving board, and a gorgeous mountain backdrop. Non-climbers can get in on the action by walking along the hiking trails at the edge of the canyon, where you can catch people hanging from the rocks high above you—we like the Eldorado Canyon trail for beginners. For a hike with more dramatic views, stop at the Doudy Draw trailhead on the way in and do the Spring Brook Loop, which offers sweeping panoramas of the flatirons and the mesas below them (it's particularly perfect around sunset).
The Mayan Theatre110 Broadway, Speer | 303.744.6799
This Art Deco movie theater, which is a short walk (and even shorter Uber) from the shopping and food on South Broadway, first opened in 1930 and is on Denver's list of historic landmarks. They're always screening hard-to-find shows, and the fact that they're one of the few theaters in town with a liquor license also makes it a great place for date night. Check out their schedule during the Denver Film Festival, when the local film society brings in a slew of interesting indie movies you can't find any other time of year. A warning to the long-legged: The vintage rows are pretty close together.
Red Rocks18300 W. Alameda Pkwy, Golden | 720.865.2494
This natural amphitheater is surrounded by dramatic red rocks that, in addition to being stunningly beautiful, reflect sound back onto the stage, giving it the best acoustics of any outdoor arena in the states. Red Rocks is famously a bucket list venue for many performers, so the lineup is a little of everything—everyone from The Beatles to Daft Punk to the Grateful Dead—and, for a few nights in the summer, the Colorado Symphony—has played the stage. Arrive early so you can tailgate in the parking lot and admire the sunset, then head into the venue where you'll be able to see every single star above the performers' lights. If you can't catch a concert, it's worth stopping by during the day to admire the rocks—you'll find plenty of locals here around sunrise running the stairs.
The Mount Sanitas Trail1777 Broadway, Boulder | 303.441.3388
Mount Sanitas is a classic Boulder hike, in part because it's located walking distance from the center of Pearl Street. The trail itself is a brutal climb, but making it to the top, where you can see the entire town to the east and Long's Peak to the west, is more than worth it. This is a popular route for locals around lunchtime, and don't be surprised if you see people running the entire loop (comfort your wounded pride by reminding yourself that they're likely professionals). Photos: Victoria Garcia, Mario Lurig
Washington ParkS. Downing St. & E. Louisiana Ave., Wash Park
Washington Park (known affectionately as Wash Park by Denverites) is one of those places that seems to be busy no matter when you visit. The 155-acre space centers on a lake, complete with a boathouse and swans, and surrounded by well-manicured gardens and plenty of green space where you'll find neighbors throwing the ball for their dogs or picnicking on warm summer nights. The entire park is encircled by a 2.5-mile dirt running path that's always packed with runners, parents with strollers, and power walkers, plus an inner, paved loop that's perfect for roller-bladers and cyclists. There are basketball courts, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and grills on site.