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Create an entire weekend of retail therapy with these shopping and lodging suggestions

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Hear that tick-tock? It's the clock, counting down to the winter holiday shopping season. Now, don't groan. I think gift shopping can be fun this time of year, if you can make a mini-vacation out of your shopping to-do list or you seek out other fun things to do (read: wine bars) near popular urban malls to help maintain your sanity amid holiday shopping crowds.

Since I live in the sticks in the Colorado mountains, when I want to give my credit cards a workout, I head to Denver, which is chock-full of shopping centers that are especially festive during the winter holidays. Here's my guide to popular places to shop in the Mile High City, complete with lodging suggestions if you want to combine an overnight with two days filled with retail therapy.

Viewfinder Tip: Have a bookworm on your gift list? Denver's favorite indie bookstore is the Tattered Cover, whose downtown location has antique furnishings, cozy reading nooks, and a coffee shop.

Larimer Square

Denver's downtown area is filled with a variety of shopping options, from major clothing brand stores to little gift shops. Consider the clusters of stores along the 16th Street Mall and in Denver Pavilions. But for some of the most chic stores, surrounded by some superb spots to take a break with a bite to eat, head over to downtown's Larimer Square. Here, you'll find funky and fun things to purchase - from upscale jewelry at John Atencio to contemporary furniture at ELEMENT to Western wear at Cry Baby Ranch (whose cowboy boots are pictured above; photo courtesy Visit Denver). When you're finished shopping, order a flight of wine and appetizers at CRU Food + Wine Bar. Then rest your head at the moderately priced SpringHill Suites Denver Downtown, just a seven-minute walk away.

Festive holiday lights in Cherry Creek. Photo courtesy Visit Denver.

Festive holiday lights in Cherry Creek. Photo courtesy Visit Denver.

 

Cherry Creek

For one-stop shopping for everyone on your list, Denver's Cherry Creek neighborhood is probably your best bet. On center stage is the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, an indoor mall that shines especially when it comes to women's togs: Ann Taylor, Burberry, Juicy Couture, Urban Outfitters, Talbots, and Athleta, are just a few of the clothing shops. There's also a full movie theater for taking a load off in between shopping stints. Cherry Creek North is the name given to the retail-centric city blocks adjacent to the mall. Here, find dozens of boutiques, day spas, and art galleries for your shopping pleasure. And smack in the middle of it all is the swanky JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek, where I like to stay when I'm in the neighborhood, not only for its convenient location, but for its on-site Second Home Kitchen + Bar. The hip joint serves comfort food with a modern twist, and often has a rockin' happy hour around its fire pit.

Park Meadows Mall

The Park Meadows "retail resort" - with its huge stone fireplace and massive timber architecture - closer resembles a National Park lodge than your typical suburban shopping mall. Anchored by big names like Dillard's, Macy's, and Nordstrom, the two-level retail center 17 miles south of downtown Denver also features stores that range from Pottery Barn Kids and Pedigree Pet Shop to Michael Kors and M.A.C. Cosmetics. For a nearby hotel, I recommend the modern Element Denver Park Meadows: every guest room has a kitchen with full refrigerator, the included buffet breakfast is plentiful, there's a free shuttle to the Park Meadows Mall, and since Element falls under the Westin umbrella, you rest your head on a Heavenly Bed each night of your stay. Oh, and Wi-Fi is free - always a huge bonus in my book.

Other cool places for holiday shopping in Denver: South Broadway's row of antique shops; REI's flagship store for outdoor gear; and gift shops at renowned museums, such as the Denver Art Museum, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and History Colorado Center.

What's your favorite shopping locale?

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