10 Things to Do in Denver [Before] You’re Dead


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Thank God for Denver.

After we left the Bowerbirds, our cross-country road trip took on a more decidedly “Southern” tinge.

A few hours from North Carolina, a heavy storm forced us to pull over somewhere near Whitesville, West Virginia, where we stayed in a Super 8 motel and ate Hooters for dinner. The next morning, we continued on towards Central City, Kentucky, where Katie’s grandma was waiting for us. The two days spent there were filled with eating out (McDonald’s happened twice), playing Continental Rummy, shopping at Wal-Mart, and definitely not drinking (the county just recently went from dry to damp). That was followed by the long drive across Missouri and, more notably, Kansas, which never fucking ends and is home to apocalyptic storms that you can see yourself driving directly into from miles away.

Thus, Denver was like an oasis in the vast cultural desert of middle America. We were expecting snow-capped mountains and skiers and weed and stoned skiers skiing down snow-capped mountains smoking weed, and all the other things people who’ve never been to Colorado’s capital associate it with.

So we were surprised when we realized those mountains were kinda far in the distance, and that it was 90+ degrees, and that Denver is pretty awesome.

It’s a young, hip town (in that totally gentrified, non-threatening, kinda frat-bro way) that’s super dog-friendly — dog dishes outside most businesses, pet-waste stations scattered around town. And it’s also just super friendly, in general. Ice cream stand employees ask you about your plans for the day, everyone wants to pet your dog, and the guy working the pizza counter hands you free snacks when you walk in.

Everyone there drives a Subaru and loves beer and playing frisbee in the park.

Denver is kinda like what we hear Portland is like: a place “where young people go to retire.”

In short, we had a great time in Denver, thanks largely to Mark’s friend Ben, who he met in Israel last year, and Ben’s girlfriend Kacey (thanks again guys!).

A city is always better when you’ve got locals to show you around.

Denver Friends

Here’s 10 things to do in Denver that you can do to ensure your time in the Mile High City is just as good: 

1. Start the morning by hitting Snooze.

 

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

You just have to go to Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, for breakfast. To satisfy your sweet tooth, you can’t go wrong with the sweet potato pancakes (pictured below) with homemade caramel, pecans, and ginger butter.

Best brunch in Denver

For those that prefer their breakfast on the savory side of life, the chilaquiles benedict (pictured below) is off the hook. We had more traditional chilaquiles in San Francisco’s Mission District, but Snooze takes the concept to another level. The ranchero-sauced tortillas are stacked and topped with cheese, barbacoa beef, and poached Niman Ranch eggs, which are then topped with pico de gallo, cotija cheese, and a cream cheese hollandaise.

Just don’t try to count the calories.

Snooze Eatery's Chilaquiles Benedict

 

 

2. Reduce, reuse, B-cycle.

 

Denver Bike Rental

Don’t be an asshole gasoline-waster guy. The best way to see the city (while burning off some of those breakfast calories) is by renting a bike from any of the Denver B-cycle stations around town. Rides under 30 minutes incur no usage fee, so keep that in mind. Return your bike to any station when you’re finished with your ride.

 

3. Pretend you’re in an architectural rendering.

 

Denver architecture

One of Denver’s newer neighborhoods, The Highlands, was almost so perfect it looked like one of those renderings you’d see city planners publish. We seriously felt like we were walking onto someone’s drafting board!

Denver architecture

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4. Take in a work of art…

 

Masterpiece Delicatessen, Denver

…of the sandwich persuasion.

Here are the required steps:

a) Go to the Masterpiece Deli.

b) Order a Cuban sandwich.

c) Eat it with gusto!

d) Ignore the impulse to get another one. (Or don’t. Whatever. It’s your life.)

Masterpiece Deli, Denver

 

5. Give your dog a bone.

 

Dogs of Denver

Just up the hill from the Masterpiece in the Highlands, you’ll spot a 28-foot-tall old-fashioned cream can. That’s Little Man Ice Cream. Take your dog up to the window and the employees will likely offer him/her a drink of water and a milkbone.

The only catch: You’ll have to buy yourself some ice cream or gelato. (Damn!) Luckily, two giant scoops of gelato (toasted coconut and chocolate for Katie!) and two scoops of strawberry ice cream for Mark only set us back $5 and change.

 

Little Man Ice Cream Denver Colorado  Traveling with your dog

 

 

6. Get really, really high.

 

Alpine Slide Denver Colorado

Technically, if you’re in Denver, you’re already pretty high at 5,280 feet above sea level. But if you drive about 15 minutes west on the expressway to the town of Golden (home of Coors Brewing Co. and the birthplace of the Jolly Rancher), you can get even higher — on the Heritage Square Alpine Slide.

And, despite what Tom Petty says, coming down is the funnest part.

You get a great view of the city below and can pretend like you’re part of some sort of concrete bobsled team.

Alpine Slide Denver

 

7. Take up a hobby in parks and crafts.

 

Argonaut Liquor Denver Colorado

Denver loves beer, which is very convenient because so do we!

The best selection of craft beer is at Argonaut Liquor (skip the Scotch in a can, trust us), and the best park to drink it at while people-watching is Cheesman Park, where, in the span of 15 or 20 minutes, we saw one couple bust out their wine glasses and cigars…

People watching in Denver

…while these guys performed acrobatics about 50 yards away.

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9. Pub pedal.

 

Denver Bike Bar

Image source: denverbikebar.com.

Crawling is for babies. Be an adult and take a trip on the Denver Bike Bar, which will take you from one drinking hole to the next while you burn off calories pedaling and chatting with friends in transit.

 

9. Eat some ‘Fucking Tacos,’ man!

 

Pinche Tacos Denver Colorado

Image source: blogs.denverpost.com.

Pinche Tacos, which loosely translates to “Fucking Tacos,” started as a food truck a few years back. Now, it’s a brick-and-mortar restaurant serving what it calls Mexican-style street food, although it’s really more like southern California-style tacos.

Despite the misnomer, you can have a great meal (and a few margaritas or variations of the Moscow Mule) here for pretty cheap. Mark highly recommends the cow tongue taco. When going to salsa, skip the yessina abuela (“grandma’s recipe”), which is totally flavorless, and go for the one with the radishes (forgot the name), the molcajete, and the xnic-pec.

 

10. Power up before turning in.

 

1up Arcade Bar Denver

Image source: voiceplaces.com.

The 1Up Arcade Bar is one of the only places where you can play classic arcade games (including Skee-ball!) at classic arcade-game prices ($.25) while drinking a 40 oz. of your favorite malt liquor.

As you can see, Denver is one classy city.

NOW GO TO BED!

Have some favorite Denver spots to share? Is it anything like Portland? Do you drive a Subaru? Let us know in the comments!

40 Comments

  1. My son Rob sent this to me. I love it. I am going to retire there in 2015. I will try to visit the sites.
    Thanks

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    • Cheers, Jim! It seemed like the perfect place to retire to us. Good luck to you!

      Reply
  2. LOVE this list…but my fave part is “Denver is where the young go to retire”. I have lived in D-town my whole life, and this is such a great way to describe it. Totally stealing and giving y’all credit. Nice blog!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Stacie! We appropriated it from the show Portlandia, because that’s what they say about Portland. It seems to apply well to Denver, in our opinion!

      Reply
  3. The things this yuppie douchebag failed to write about is the high cost of gentrification. I grew up in the Barrio (aka The Highlands) you couldn’t sit at your front window at night because of gang violence. But through it all it was a neighborhood. You could walk to your local butchers (Carbones on 38th and Lipan but the hipsters pathetic irony is that they only went to big bars and eateries) and get a sandwich. In my Barrio you could get authentic Italian and Mexican. What is this Pinche Tacos? Should be called Pinche Wueros.

    Gentrification is also displacing disadvantaged people. The public transport is finally nearly flawless in DTown, but not in the run down suburbs where
    impoverished people have to move. This makes it difficult to work, as jobs in DTown not so much the suburbs unless you like working at Chik FilA.

    Let the hipster douchebags enjoy their craft beer and wearing ironic TShirts. The real art, the authentic and genuine is nowhere near these places.

    Reply
    • I’m confused … you’d prefer the gang violence at night?

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    • I am a Denver girl born and raised and I totally understand what Kerri means. All of these places you guys mentioned have undergone enormous transformations at the expense of the locals. Every where I go, the people I talk to aren’t from CO. I’m a stranger in my own court. I get strange looks from yuppie morons remembering the wonderful panaderias that once lined 32nd Ave. LoDo used to be a multi-cultural haven and now it’s littered with drunken frat boys and hipsters with jeans so tight their nuts are squeezed inside their scrotum. Even my beloved Colfax avenue is turning into some Orwellian nightmare. I understand that change is good and inevitable but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the soul of Denver. All of you folks moving here, do so because of what Denver is and should be. Not what you want to turn it in to. Build your damn preppy housing in the inner city I know and love but don’t start bitching when you wake up to find some genuine street art all over your fence. THAT’S DENVER. Not this Pleasantville-esque, guerro paradise.

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      • i just wanted to point out something that is really bothering me. All of the people complaining about the yuppies and hipsters mention how the places listed are not the real Denver. They complain about the touristy niche shops and restaurants but offer very little in authentic alternatives. Hating something because its new or popular just makes you like the hipsters you claim to despise. Thank you for shitting all over someone elses experience. You are very cool.

        Reply
        • “I just wanted to point out something that is really bothering me. All of the people complaining about the yuppies and hipsters mention how the places listed are not the real Denver. They complain about the touristy niche shops and restaurants but offer very little in authentic alternatives. Hating something because its new or popular just makes you like the hipsters you claim to despise. Thank you for shitting all over someone else’s experience. You are very cool.”

          Pretty sure it was not the tourists, Luna was yelping about poor quality of individuals MOVING into denver and looking at us as hooligans since we paint our streets with art and like to relax and dance at Lodos without a bunch of drunken fools drunk prancing about. Starting to get crowded y’all :oD

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    • This is a response to Kerri & Luna… this was someone who VISITED your city and enjoyed it enough to write about it. This was what they did in ONE day. This is how you respond to tourists in your city? I have a feeling the attitude and chip on your shoulder has nothing to do with anyone else and is a direct result of your own behavior. I guess your mother never taught you any manners and that if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. GO AWAY.

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    • @Kerri & Luna – if your concerns want to be heard and taken seriously , less generalizations and name calling is needed for your position. Otherwise, M.F. Is right, it comes across as having a big chip on your shoulder .

      Reply
      • Born and raised Denver and I can only agree with Kerri and Luna, even if reactions seem harsh. This list is exactly what you would expect a tourist to do in a day their first time in Denver, and its saddening to any local. This city has, and had, so much to offer, and seeing the local culture paved over by destinations that err on the side of novelty would make any native bitter, myself included. Snooze and Pinche are not what should leave an impression of “Denver” in someones mind if they are trying to get a sense of local culture. Though they may be good spots, there are so many other places to go to and experience that merit being placed on a list named “10 things to do in Denver before you’re dead” Which, ironically, is a play on the name of a movie shot in historically and culturally significant locations around Denver. There is a rift between local and transplant culture, and it has created a lot of resentment that we aren’t entirely sure where to place. Yes Denver is awesome, yes come check it out, but get out of the superficial transplant bubble that is slowly, but successfully, pushing local culture out. I think we are all just scared of what this city will turn into. If you come to Denver try to learn more about the history, go to the places that have been around for years, seek out the historic architecture (it’s a little offensive calling the highlands one of Denver’s “Newer” neighborhoods when the houses being torn down and bought out were built in the early 1900s. Generations of people grew up there. New name, not a new neighborhood.) Denver has always been a tourist destination, and it totally makes sense why, but consider revising your list, or at least changing the name of it.

        Reply
    • 1. It’s “guero.”
      2. Feeling as you and Luna do about what the hipster/crusty/gentrifying-nouveau-carpet-bagger plague has done to my beloved New Orleans and having just gotten a job that will take me frquently to Denver, I would like to know where to find the remnants of old Denver’s dark and dingy. Gangs do not scare me at all–walk through the fire, fly through the smoke, as we say.

      Reply
    • Wow! Bitter remarks. I’ve lived in Denver since the late 80’s. Awesome perspective in my opinion by the Swoonies.
      True the Highlands used to be dangerous, and yes downtown wasn’t always as desirable, true there were and are still very authentic eateries throughout Denver metro. Gentrification is good for communities. Not displacing the impoverished to run down suburbs: that would be their choice. And personally…what suburb are you referring to? I can’t think of any run down suburbs. Regardless of your opinion Ms Kerri: I believe Denver is awesome! Inviting! Great for young and old to retire or keep working after retirement. I look forward to reading additional blogs by “swoon divers” on additional cities to visit.
      BTW: Pinche taco is awesome!!!

      Reply
  4. Heading to Denver in May for a nursing conference & can’t wait to check off some of your top 10’s!!!! Thanks so much!!! A very special thank you for the tip on the B-cycle!!!!!

    Reply
    • Have a great time in Denver, Candy!!

      Cheers!

      Mark & Katie

      Reply
  5. Cool list! I was visiting Denver for a few days for work and had one day to kill. I tried to goto Masterpiece Deli but unfortunately they’re only open till ~3:00pm or so. Instead I went to y’all second suggestion, Pinché Tacos! I showed them this site and they were super excited about the fact that I found them through here! (they had never known they were mentioned on here).

    Pinche Tacos was awesome. I too highly recommend the Tongue Taco! Their beef Slider was also really good.

    I talked to the bartender at Pinche – Jason – and asked where I should go next for shopping/walking around. He recommended CHERRY CREEK MALL. I put it in caps because it was exactly what I was looking for and was a damn good suggestion. I ended up at this modern hipster-ish wine bar called Vinue there. Cherry Creek is a district of a number of blocks with shopping, boutiques, bars and restaurants. A must visit for newcomers.

    Cheers to swoondivers for posting their recommendations!

    Reply
    • Denver was totally and unexpectedly awesome! So glad you liked the tongue tacos at Pinché They are killer! And thanks so much for the tip about Cherry Creek. We’ll have to check it out when we pass through Denver next.

      Cheers to you!

      Mark & Katie

      Reply
  6. I’m from Detroit and I’m moving to Denver in June! Absolutely love it there!

    Reply
    • That’s great, Kenzie! We loved it too! Good luck with the move!

      Reply
  7. I have a trip to Denver planned and I searched for “Cool things to do in Denver” and this excellent post was right at the top! Thank you for highlighting some very cool looking suggestions.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Robert! We hope you enjoy your trip. Denver is awesome!

      Reply
  8. Hello! I was just searching up fun things to do with my bf on an upcoming trip to Denver and I found your blog. I think it is beautiful and that you guys have done a great job. I particularly like how your photos invite you to imagine yourself in them by picturing an empty seat or a long staircase waiting to be traveled. #randomactsofkindness

    Reply
  9. Loved this round-up! Nice work (in the greatest city ever?!)

    Reply
  10. I will be visiting in literally hours and have made my itinerary based on this blog! Freaking awesome.

    Reply
  11. Aside from the highlands area and the getting “really high” in Golden, the things on this list can be checked off in almost any major city. As I went through this list, the first thought that came to me was “I can do this in Austin.” I’m from Texas, and visited Denver a couple months ago.

    Instead of having a beer at an arcade or a new-age Mexican restaurant, why not have a beer where Jim Carrey uttered the famous line, “we landed on the moon!,” and the same place that inspired The Shining? The Stanley hotel may be over an hours drive but it’s something unique to the area.

    Going up into the mountains after recent snowfall is another thing that should be done. How many places in the country offer that? And if you want to stay in the metro area, it’s worth mentioning that Denver has A LOT of microbreweries.

    If I wanted to eat tacos and have a beer in the park, or on the beach even, Id rather stay in Texas. Thinking about it now, I think in NYC most of these things can be done.

    Reply
  12. I forgot to mention the one thing colorado has over all the other states in the union: the dispensaries! It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but like casinos to Vegas, it’s outlawed almost everywhere else.

    Reply
  13. I’m thrilled to find this list just days before my trip. We are lucky to have a local driving us around for two days – so she is sure to know many of the best spots to see…but these will be nice to mention to her.

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  14. Loved your post on Denver! Heading there this weekend and you gave me so many awesome ideas! Very excited about my trip now. Going to keep following your blog! xo Hailey

    Reply
  15. Found your blog through Pinterest. I’m from Denver and I guess it would appeal to young yuppies which seem to be pouring into Denver. You mentioned nothing of what Denver has to offer except like that Kerri and Luna said, what yuppies do – beer and eateries with their dogs. All the establishments you mentioned are new and aren’t what make Denver great and have a cultural memory. I like that money is pouring in with the yuppies to revive neighborhoods but how many breweries, eateries does a block need? How many out of place apartment condos must be built in a brick house neighborhood?

    The only people who drive Subarus in Denver are yuppies, btw.

    You did not get a great look at our city. You got a glimpse of Denver’s “I have a trust fund” new residence.

    I know this blog is just what you experienced and I wouldnt bash someone for not knowing the city but you must understand that people born and raised in Denver, especially North Denver, are very sensitive about their city and their new residence buying out local establishments and tearing down their neighnorhoods. Many families had to move out of their homes because the value went up and they couldnt afford $1500-$2500 rent. I’m sorry but the yuppies cater to each other and seems like thats all you blogged about.

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  16. Great article. I have a King Charles as well so I had to say hello. I’ve lived in Denver for 10 years & loved every one of them. I reside in the City Park neighborhood now & would encourage anyone planning a trip to Denver to take in a show at Red Rocks, do some people watching, piano playing, and public transit using on the 16th Street Mall, which drops you close to the newly renovated & revitalized historic Union Station, and end the weekend at City Park Jazz which runs Sunday evenings in the summer. Denver is a beautiful, clean, vibrant & incredibly friendly city & thank you for featuring it on your blog!

    Reply
  17. I’m lucky to have gotten a nasty nasty bug from Pinche Tacos. I was the only one in my group that was in the bathroom for 2 weeks after eating here, and I was the only one who had the tongue taco…

    I later read that this place has failed health code violations. Google it.

    Reply
    • Oh no! So sorry to hear that, Melissa! Thanks for the update about the restaurant. We didn’t experience any problems or notice anything unsanitary, but appearances are not always what they seem!

      Reply
  18. More Denver-ish thing too do in the mile high city… Browse the Tattered Cover..Great world known bookstore on the 16th street mall… look up in the Brown Palace atrium while having one of their pretzels and hot chocolate.or from above look down on all the ladies having high tea…have a cocktail in the not so hidden anymore Oxford hotel’s speak easy….and hit the REI satellite store down on the S. Platte on a Sunday morning…and then have a coffee on the patio amongst the dog walkers and early morning road bikers.

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  19. Thanks for sharing this amazing list, the next time i visit Denver i will surely visit these awesome places.

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  20. Great blog post on Denver. I just recently sold my home in Highlands and agree with the changes that are occurring, but I believe so many are for the good. Little Man Ice Cream is just one of them…scoop for scoop! I have known the owner for over 20 years and his heart and generosity is incredible – you failed to mention that when you eat there, they donate a scoop of rice to a third world country for every scoop they sell. And, while in Highlands, go to Gaetanos – once owned by the Denver Mafia family, the Smaldones – great food and rich history!

    Also, Jolly Ranchers was not born in Golden, but in Wheat Ridge by the Harmon family. Unfortunately, Heritage Square is losing the cute stores and Opera House this year. Most of the rides will remain but the original attraction will be gone.

    Enjoy your visit to the state, but remember, those who live here have seen a lot of changes and many are still having a hard time accepting them.

    Reply
  21. Clearly you haven’t been to Kansas City if you consider the Midwest to be void of culture. And if you have, you clearly didn’t do it right. Next time you’re in KC, hit me up and we’ll show you around all the best sights, bites, and (local) beer!

    Reply

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