I recently spent a couple of nights in Denver. I took the trip just before leaving on an epic trek in the Himalayas. The visit was designed to get me up in the air, so to speak—a way to spend time at high altitude to prepare for this beast of a hike.
Though it was a quick visit, I was able to combine my day of hiking with some sightseeing. I loved this city of health-conscious, outdoors-loving people.
The altitude in Denver—literally a mile high, at 5,280 feet—can be a challenge for those arriving from sea level (I live in Seattle). To make the most of your 24 hours, drink copious amounts of water and take things a bit slower than you might otherwise. If you do so, you easily can snap right into high-altitude life.
I’m a sucker for a big biscuit, and Denver Biscuit Company is the spot in the city to get my fix on. But the place sells more than simply biscuits; it also offers biscuit sandwiches, biscuit platters, biscuit French toast, biscuit desserts, and even a biscuit cinnamon roll. Visit one of their two locations (Broadway or Colfax) or try to catch the “Biscuit Bus” that sets up at various events and locations around the city.
Denver Botanic Gardens
After you’ve loaded up on carbs, you’ll want to do some sightseeing. The Denver Botanic Gardens comprise a lovely, 23-acre respite in the middle of the city. The exterior gardens are themed and well-marked, but you might be most dazzled by the attraction’s 50,000-square-foot complex of greenhouses with a dozen climate-controlled areas.
The Japanese Garden
Don’t miss the Japanese Garden, located in a quiet area toward the back of the Gardens. At this permanent fixture, you’ll find the only nakakuguri (a type of gate found in Japanese gardens) in the United States, as well as a tea house, which opens for special occasions. Take a moment to sit and enjoy the craftsmanship of the woodwork, all handcrafted without nails.
I was lucky enough to visit during the area’s first major outdoor exhibition by renowned glass artist, Dale Chihuly. The exhibit was a spectacular display of large hand-blown glass placed throughout the Gardens. The larger displays most impressed me—how these pieces can be shipped and installed without breakage boggled my mind.
16th Street Mall
This is a (mostly) pedestrian mall lined with high-end shops, restaurants, cafes, and vendors. I say “mostly” because—watch out!—a free shuttle runs up and down the mall throughout each day, dropping off and picking up passengers. The 16th Street Mall is a great place to enjoy a light lunch and to people-watch.
Denver Art Museum
Now that you’ve spent some time walking outside, head inside, to the Denver Art Museum. If you go for nothing else, see the Hamilton Building, which is part of the Museum. This building is a piece of art onto itself. Fashioned after the Rocky Mountains, the structure incorporates bold angles and is covered in titanium panels that reflect the sun (with 300 days of sunshine, you can understand why this is a sight to behold). Regular exhibitions of world-class artists show here, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Van Gogh, and Matisse. You also will see a wide range of permanent collections, from African to Oceanic Art to Textiles.
Viewfinder Tip: Be sure to look west during your visit to Denver; more than 200 mountain peaks are visible from within the city limits.
Banjo Billy Bus Tour
This is no ordinary bus tour. No, on a Banjo Billy Bus Tour, you have your choice of a couch, recliner, or saddle (yes, saddle). These 90-minute tours take place on a bus designed to look like a hillbilly shack. There’s a roof but the windows are open for easy viewing. The Denver tour (the company also offers tours of Boulder) emphasizes Denver’s history as a popular spot in the Wild West. The guides are entertaining and tell ghost stories. They also share historical facts.
Dinner at Watercourse
I was happy to discover that a number of restaurants in Denver specialize in vegan food. My recommendation is Watercourse. The food is friendly to meat-eaters in that it mimics favorite comfort foods such as corndogs, green chili burgers, po’ boys, and sliders. Hard-core vegans will love it, too. The restaurant is large with plenty of seating, but it was full the night I visited (yes, they take reservations).
I stayed at The Curtis hotel in downtown Denver. This is a Doubletree by Hilton hotel, but is extraordinary in that all floors and rooms are themed. For instance, you might find yourself on a music- or movie-themed floor. I had a Ghostbusters room. I look forward to returning just so I can experience another theme. Maybe even the Spice Girls (seriously).
What activities do you enjoy most in a new city?