Hidden Gems in Metro Denver
Denver prides itself on being a big little city, and that means we are stuffed to the gills with things to do, places to go and yummy stuff to eat, only without all that NY or LA ‘tude. Before I get started, here’s a public service announcement. Elevation sickness is a real thing. So if you’ve never been to the Mile High City or are a returning champion, please, please, please drink lots of water! Also, some of these places might not be quite so ‘hidden,’ but just enlighten me. Onto the good stuff, here’s my birds-eye-view of hidden gems in metro Denver.
REI Flagship Store
Whether your idea of being outdoors is sleeping under the stars or reclining on your room’s balcony at the Four Seasons, you really ought to take a spin over to the REI Denver Flagship Store downtown. With 100,000 sq. ft. of camping, hiking and skiing retail bliss, did I mention there’s a 50-foot rock climbing wall? Now, I’m not in the business of promoting national mega brands over local mom and pops, but I’d be lying if I didn’t add that it’s awfully nice to grab a sip from the Starbucks in REI and cool off in the shade overlooking the Platte River behind the store.
Just up the hill in LoHi is a beloved bar called Forest Room 5. It’s hard to do justice to this eclectic adult beverage playground but let’s just say you will always see something new each time you come. With a camper, a teepee and a river on the back patio, and dogs running freely, you won’t forget it.
On the other hand, if you like your happy hour to be a bit more formal, the two places I recommend are Williams & Graham and Terminal Bar. W&G is an old-school speakeasy where the mixologists will make you the meanest martini or lemon drop you ever thought possible. They don’t take reservations, so you have to get there right when they open, or you may never get in. Terminal Bar is upstairs at Union Station. Reservations are mandatory. Speaking of which, Union Station is incredible. Recently renovated, this turn of the 19th-20th century masterpiece ranks up there with any iconic train station in the country. With lots of boutiques, bars and food, there are plenty of sofas and comfy seats to post up on with your laptop or a book. I highly recommend it.
I know we just skipped over dinner, but life’s short, so let’s go straight from Happy Hour to dessert, and there’s no place yummier than Sweet Cow Ice Cream. With locations all around the city, what more can I say about a place that makes everything from scratch, including its hot fudge?
The Santa Fe Art District is the centerpiece of our home-brewed arts scene. First Friday Art Walks bustles when the weather is good, and my favorite two galleries there are at Mountain State University and Bit Factory. If a big, beautiful museum is more your speed, the Denver Art Museum is just up the road, as are the wonderful Kirkland and Contemporary Museum of Art.
The newest star in our entertainment galaxy is the world-famous Meow Wolf. I haven’t been, but there is nothing like it in the world from what everyone says. It just opened, so definitely get your tickets ahead, if you can at all.
As for shopping, an old Denver mainstay still rules. Cherry Creek North is a quick ride from downtown and this outdoor district is a mix of national and local brands. If your debit card is still breathing, you can always go across the street to the Cherry Creek Mall, which has everything from Tiffany and Tesla to Levi’s and Lush bath bombs. Lemongrass is my fave.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
If I were only going to pick a couple of destinations (and I have to because they said to keep this at 800 words), it would have to be the one and only Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Everyone from the Beatles and Colorado Symphony to U2 and Van Halen has played this visually stunning, acoustically perfect venue nestled in the red rocks overlooking all of Denver. The good news is you can visit Red Rocks during the day for free, and it is a favorite spot for yoga, hiking and general gawking. Sloan’s Lake is our biggest park, with a 2.5-mile-long path around the water. On a clear day, the view of downtown is stunning.
Last but not least, let’s zoom through some places to grab a bite or two or three. For Mexican, there’s nothing like La Loma downtown. Italian? That has to be Gaetano’s in the Highlands. They openly admit they’ve been a “family” business since the ’40s. Get the lasagna! If sushi floats your boat, there’s none finer than Sushi Den in Wash Park. For Middle Eastern, there’s a beloved institution called Jerusalem Restaurant near Denver University and also check out Zaidy’s Deli by Crestmoor Park. Save room for dessert. If something a little more active (they have a sand volleyball court!) is what you had in mind, try out Number Thirty Eight in the River North Art District (Rino). No list like this would be complete without a nod to Steuben’s. This “modern diner” is located on Colfax, and don’t say I didn’t warn you. There’s always a line for a reason. Finally, there’s a hole-in-the-wall pizza place on Colfax and downtown called SliceWorks. It’s the best NY Pizza on this side of the Rockies. Wait, which side of the Rockies are we on anyway?
That’s my round-up of hidden gems in Metro Denver, now go enjoy the Mile High City and remember, drink water!