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Our Favorite Places to Eat, Sleep, and Explore in Denver

The Mile High City has serious range, from Michelin stars to performing arts.

<p>Brad McGinley Photography / Getty Images</p>

Brad McGinley Photography / Getty Images

You might be tempted to skip right over Denver and head straight to one of Colorado’s many mountain towns. We get it. But the Mile High City is so much more than just a pitstop on the way to the Rockies—and it’s certainly worth its own itinerary.

Brimming with arts, food, sports, and culture, Denver provides the perfect setting for a getaway that seamlessly combines urban amenities with outdoorsy adventures. Peruse modern art at a quiet museum in the morning, trek along a sunny hiking trail in the afternoon, and indulge in a Michelin-starred tasting menu for dinner. And there’s no need to stress about what to pack—Denver’s dress code is strictly casual.

In a city with so much range, it can be tough to whittle down a cohesive plan. I’ve lived in Denver my entire adult life, and these are my recommendations for where to eat, sleep, and explore.

Where to stay

Denver’s hotel scene includes a healthy mix of historic properties and contemporary lodgings. One notable newcomer is the Clayton Hotel & Members Club, which is located in the upscale Cherry Creek neighborhood just southeast of downtown. As the name suggests, the Clayton is part hotel and part social club, giving out-of-town visitors a good chance to mingle with Denver residents at the rooftop pool and multiple on-site bars and restaurants. Stay here if you plan to do some shopping while you’re in town—Cherry Creek is full of shops and art galleries.

The Rally Hotel takes America’s favorite pastime (baseball) to a whole new level. From its name (for the uninitiated: wearing your hat backward and inside-out, known as a “rally cap,” is an old superstition) to its design elements, this new-build in Denver’s LoDo neighborhood is the perfect home base for taking in a Colorado Rockies game across the street at Coors Field. Don’t worry if you’re not a sports fan; you’ll still feel welcome here. The 182-room hotel is part of MacGregor Square, a car-free, one-block development with shops, restaurants, bars, events, and a sunny plaza.

If you’re hoping to skip the rental car counters at Denver International Airport, consider booking a room at The Crawford. From the airport, hop on the A Line light rail train to Denver Union Station. Once you arrive at the city’s 142-year-old transportation hub, it’s just a short walk up to the 112-room property, which pays homage to the glamor of train travel. You could spend your entire trip at Union Station—which is home to numerous bars, lounges, restaurants, and boutiques—but The Crawford’s central location is ideal for exploring Denver’s many walkable and bikeable neighborhoods.

If you’re torn between booking a vacation rental and a hotel while visiting Denver, check out Catbird, which offers a modern, whimsical take on the typically drab, cookie-cutter extended-stay hotel concept. Situated in Denver’s River North Arts District (RiNo), its bright rooms are like chic, fully equipped studio apartments, right down to the thoughtful half-teaspoon portions of seasonings in the kitchenettes.

Where to eat

Denver’s dining scene got a major boost in 2023 when Michelin released its first Colorado guide. Three restaurants in the Mile High City got coveted Michelin stars—set up reservations early. Brutø is an intimate, 16-person chef’s counter serving up Latin-inspired fare in a buzzy downtown micro-district called Dairy Block. Beckon, situated in RiNo, offers a contemporary tasting menu that changes with the seasons, while The Wolf’s Tailor, in Denver’s up-and-coming Sunnyside neighborhood, draws inspiration from East Asian, Italian, and Nordic cuisines.

For something a bit more casual, head to one of the city’s many food halls, which range from hip and trendy (Avanti) to industrial (The Source). If you’re craving international flavors—and you’d like to support a venue with a good mission—head to Mango House, which is run by members of Colorado’s refugee community. Here, you can nosh on Ethiopian, Syrian, Nepalese, Burmese, or East African cuisine. I recommend going for a little bit of everything.

Other can’t-miss restaurants include Annette, a beloved Aurora eatery helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef-owner Caroline Glover, and Noisette, which offers classic French comfort food in a romantic, mid-century modern setting. Don’t miss MAKfam, a lively spot on South Broadway specializing in tradition-inspired Chinese cuisine where husband-and-wife owners Kenneth Wan and Doris Yuen are campaigning to erase the racist stigma surrounding MSG.

No matter where you choose to dine, wash it all down with a pint or two of craft beer, for which this state is so widely known. The metro area has more than 150 breweries, so take your pick. Lady Justice Brewing is a woman-owned, queer-owned operation in Aurora that supports nonprofits that empower women, girls, and nonbinary individuals. For family-friendly vibes, head to FlyteCo, an aviation-themed brewery with a location inside an old air traffic control tower with bowling, mini golf, and other games. Cap off your self-guided brewery tour with a trip to Raices Brewing Company, which uses beer as a window into Latin, South American, and Caribbean culture.

Things to do

The best thing to do in Denver is anything that involves being outdoors. This active city is crisscrossed with paved trails for walking, running, cycling, or rollerblading, like the 40-mile Cherry Creek Trail, the 71-mile High Line Canal Trail, and the 36-mile South Platte River Trail. Denver is also dotted with parks, open spaces, off-leash dog parks, and hiking areas where you’re guaranteed to find locals enjoying the fresh air on any given day—even in winter, as Denver’s weather is mild and sunny.

When the weather is not cooperating, visit one of Denver’s many museums, which range from the broad Denver Museum of Nature and Science to the niche Clyfford Still Museum, which celebrates the life and work of a prolific 20th-century abstract expressionist painter. If you’re specifically interested in learning more about the Centennial State, hit up History Colorado, which explores Colorado’s past through permanent and rotating exhibits. For a natural escape right in the heart of the city, head to the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Denver is also known for its live music scene, which regularly draws crowds to its array of historic and open-air venues. The most iconic is Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a city-run venue formed by craggy red sandstone rock formations protruding from the earth. Live shows aside, you can also visit during the day for hiking, yoga, fitness classes, and events. If you’re a music aficionado, bookmark the calendars at Mission Ballroom, Ogden Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Fillmore Auditorium, and Ball Arena to see who’s playing during your trip.

Depending on the timing of your visit, you may also be able to catch a game and cheer on the home team: the Denver Broncos (football), the Colorado Rockies (baseball), the Denver Nuggets (basketball), and the Denver Outlaws (lacrosse). If college athletics are more your style, venture up to Boulder to watch the University of Colorado Buffaloes or stick around the Mile High City to cheer on the University of Denver Pioneers.

The performing arts are also well represented, from touring Broadway shows to intimate stand-up comedy sets and everything in between. A good place to start is the Denver Center for Performing Arts, a multi-venue downtown facility that hosts musicals, Shakespeare plays, symphony concerts, and more.

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