By Eric Peterson
Start on one of Denver’s oldest blocks, Larimer Square, where you’ll find standout restaurants in historic storefronts, such as Rioja, a Mediterranean small-plate specialist, and TAG, which melds classic and creative in a brick-laden space. After dinner, make your way to Lower Downtown (a.k.a., LoDo), a national model for urban revitalization that is a hotspot for dining and nightlife. The swank Cruise Room at the Oxford Hotel makes a mean martini — and the bar glows sinful red — and Wynkoop Brewing Company is one of the biggest and best brewpubs in the West.
Start your day with breakfast at Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, on the east side of downtown. (Pineapple upside-down pancakes, anyone?) Walk off the meal on a stroll south to the Colorado State Capitol, where the 18th step has a marker indicating that you’re exactly a mile above sea level.
Mid-Day and Afternoon:
Visual arts are on fire in Denver. After a visit to the Denver Art Museum, which has hosted internationally lauded exhibitions focusing on Yves Saint Laurent and Van Gogh in the last few years, take your pick between the Clyfford Still Museum and the Kirkland Museum. The former features more than 90 percent of the late artist’s works (he rarely sold his paintings), while the latter showcases Vance Kirkland, “the Dean of Colorado artists,” ranging from paintings of nebulas and galaxies to his aptly named “dot period.” Make your way back to LoDo to browse the racks of artfully embroidered shirts at Rockmount Ranch Wear — the company behind the Western snap shirt — before closing time.
Head south to the increasingly cool Baker neighborhood for the evening. Beatrice & Woodsley is one of the quirkiest and best restaurants in Denver, with an interior that features an aspen forest and a menu that veers from grits and greens to octopus-and-quail paella. After dinner, you’ll find an array of colorful watering holes lining Broadway, including nanobrewery TRVE Brewing, nostalgic Historians Ale House, and such music venues as Skylark Lounge, hi-dive and 3 Kings Tavern. If the stars align, Buntport Theater will be staging a play at its space near the Art District on Santa Fe. Expect smart and zany productions and possibly a life-sized Tommy Lee Jones puppet ruminating on the intricacies of opera. Some shows sell out, but on other nights tickets are available without reservations.
From downtown, take a trip over the Platte River and up the hill to the chic Highlands. This formerly up-and-coming neighborhood is now as elevated as it gets, housing some of the city’s best restaurants. Walk over to Lola for brunch. The guacamole is prepared tableside, the Bloody Marys have spicy shrimp, and the omelets are stuffed with lobster and green chiles. Another good brunch bet is Root Down, a repurposed garage that makes Philly cheesesteak benedicts and banana-bread French toast.
Mid-Day and Afternoon:
Owned by the City and County of Denver, Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater in Morrison, 15 miles southwest of the city, is one of the most renowned concert venues on the planet, with pitch-perfect acoustics and drop-dead scenery. Even if you don’t catch a show here it’s worth a trip to roam around; it’s open to the public when there’s no concert scheduled. Hike some of the 6 miles of trails on site, then explore the amphitheater and peruse the museum in the visitor center to learn about legendary concerts staged here by The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and U2.
Head back to downtown and grab a hot dog at Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs before catching a ride to the airport. It’s not just any hot dog — the casual eatery’s rattlesnake-and-pheasant bratwurst with cream cheese and caramelized onions is highly recommended.