Last fall I took a solo road trip from NYC to Denver, spending a month in the Mile High City.
I somehow ended up leaving with a serious boyfriend, and during the six months we were dating I returned to Denver numerous times, though never really solo because he was always there.
Well we broke up, and this summer I returned for a short trip on my own to reconnect with friends and my second favorite US city (after my native New York, of course).
I had a blast! I’ll admit I was a little nervous about how I’d feel about Denver now that it was tainted by broken love; however, the past didn’t change that the city has so much awesomeness to offer.
Below I share some of my all-time favorite experiences that you absolutely must add to your next Denver itinerary.
Denver Travel Video
Before we dive into this childish Colorado travel guide…
Check out the Denver trip video above.
You’ll learn 10 (of many!) things that make Denver so great.
After watching, continue reading the post.
Hallelujah! Denver International Airport finally got a train line into downtown. The fare is $9, and takes about 30 minutes to get to Union Station. Make sure to get your ticket before boarding and don’t try to be sneaky! The conductor will check, and if you don’t have a ticket you’ll get a $107 fine.
You can also do SuperShuttle shared van service to and from the airport for about $20.
I stayed in Capitol Hill, about two miles from Union Station. A Lyft Line (shared) cost $4.50, though when I did the same trip during “Prime Time” it was $9 (arg!). To help you save money, use this Uber link, or code “JESSIE299142” for Lyft, both of which provide a free ride for first-time users.
Denver is a very walkable and bikeable city, so my preference is my own two feet or the local BCycle Bike Share. Prices range from $9 for a 24-hour pass to $135 for an annual pass. If you need a car, ridesharing car service options are popular. Again, use this Uber link or code “JESSIE299142” for Lyft, both of which provide a free ride for first-time users.
Like my last solo trip to Denver, I once again stayed in an Airbnb. Instead of being super cheap and staying just outside the city, I “splurged” slightly for a place in Capitol Hill that was $49 per night (totally worth it and really not expensive). The room was small but comfortable with a fan and windows (no AC, but I wasn’t hot), high speed Wi-Fi, and a big bathroom with gorgeous clawfoot tub off the kitchen. I loved the central location, the quirky art and giant wheel bicycles, and BoomBox is a lovely host.
Budget Tip: If you’ve never used Airbnb before, signup through this link to save $30 on your first booking.
1. Get In Touch With Your Inner Child At Punch Bowl Social
One of my best nights in Denver was spent at Punch Bowl Social, which is the hip chain’s original location. The fun spot blends all the elements for a fun night out with friends: delicious made-from-scratch food sourcing local ingredients, games, creative cocktails and a variety of seating atmospheres.
Grab a table outside if it’s nice, or head into the “mountain lodge” and drink among stag heads and giant scrabble boards. I personally loved the mezzanine level full of retro video games, laid back karaoke rooms named after songs you’d never sing (Mr. Roboto, anyone?) and funky adirondack chair seating that took me back to my camp days. Nostalgic signs, antler chandeliers, old school elevator cages housing bowling shoes and balls, and communal areas full of reclaimed wood furniture really enhance the fun vibe.
My friends and I went to town on the menu, so I can make some personal recommendations: cauliflower nachos with uber creamy queso fondito and queso outija, dainty deviled eggs enhanced by bacon jam and tartar sauce, and a farmer’s board taking you from Italy (with pesto dip and burrata) to the Middle East (with Baba Ganoush) was a journey for the palate.
Jessie’s Tip: For your meal, don’t miss the sweet tea brined free-range chicken paired with one of their signature punch bowls. Burn it all off with a game of bowling or bocce! Oh, and don’t forget to take a photo with the Austin-inspired “I Love You So Much” mural, shown above.
2. Get Ice Cream For Breakfast At Thump Coffee Roasters
As a digital nomad I’m always on the hunt for a great spot to sip a thoughtful coffee and get work done. Thump Coffee Roasters in Capitol Hill was walkable to my Airbnb and was uber spacious with plenty of seating. There were also knowledgable baristas and lots of natural light, bare pendant lights and wood accents (a prerequisite for a great coffee shop). I went in at 7am on a Wednesday and ordered the Affogato, a scoop of lemon blueberry semifreddo aside an espresso shot, which you can choose to pour over the sweet treat or not. Before you judge me for having ice cream for breakfast, note I also ordered a poached egg salad with avocado and crusty toast to balance out the sugar.
Bonus: For the working adult in you the Wi-Fi is reliable and there are tons of outlets and seating options whether you want to people watch out the window or hide in a corner nook.
Jessie’s Tip: Along with the above-mentioned affogato, the paleo muffins and art-adorned vanilla latte (a latte with vanilla syrup) are da bomb!
3. Take A Free Yoga Class At Yoga Pod
When I was a kid I loved anything to do with dance, gymnastics and contorting my body into funky positions. Yoga Pod has locations in both LoDo and Cherry Creek, both of which offer a free class to first-time visitors (just make sure to print the coupon from their site). While I typically use YogaDownload for staying fit on the road without needing to leave my hotel room, I decided to try something new.
So awesome! It was great having an instructor there to guide my flow, and even greater that it was free. I’ll be returning to the studio next time I’m in town for sure.
Jessie’s Tip: There are an array of classes to choose from. I decided on PodFlow 2, which I found good for an intermediate yogi.
4. Play Bingo With A Sexy Twist At Maloney’s Tavern
I mentioned this activity in my Guide to Offbeat Denver, but I’m going to mention it again as it’s so much fun: Forbidden Bingo. It’s like being a kid again…with a sexy twist. The event takes place every Monday at Maloney’s Tavern. Erotic prizes like blow up dolls and glass dildos are donated by the local adult shop, Romantix, and games range from lines to black outs to boxes (or, as our host called it, “loose holes”). Even better, all drinks are 50% off until 11pm, making it the perfect night out with friend’s on a budget or an interesting date idea.
Jessie’s Tip: I wasn’t expecting much from the food as it’s a dive bar, but my cheeseburger served on a sourdough bun was actually quite tasty! As for drinks, stick with beer.
5. Get Your Game On At The 1up
Whether you’re traveling to Denver solo or with friends, this is a great spot. This dive bar has locations in LoDo and Capitol Hill, and is heaven for childish adults wanting to fill up on cheap drinks paired with Photobooth, Frogger and Galaga.
Jessie’s Tip: The four-person PacMan, a great way to make new local friends.
6. Make Your Own Slushie At Lollicup
In NYC I’ve done make your own cupcakes (Molly’s Cupcakes), DIY Prosecco at brunch (Sotto 13) and build your own Bloody Mary (Saxon + Parole). I’m a big fan of the do-it-yourself trend, as it’s both fun and helps connect you to your food. In Denver I had delicious self-assembled fun at Lollicup, a funky-Asian inspired drink spot. Start by choosing your drink type: snow bubble, slush, milk tea or iced tea. From there, you’ll pick your flavor and end by topping it with additions like lychee jellies, green apple poppers and taro pudding.
Jessie’s Tip: Order a honey milk tea with tapioca balls (boba) and mango jellies. Unique and delicious!
7. Feel The Beat Of The City By Bike
Cycling is a love of mine that started in childhood and has stayed with me into adulthood. One of my favorite things about Denver is how bike-friendly it is, with mainly flat roads and tons of bike paths and parks. Moreover the aggression I feel exists toward cyclists in my home of Brooklyn doesn’t exist in Denver.
Along Speer Boulevard below street level is the 24.6-mile Cherry Creek Trail. This rides through Speer Boulevard Park, a scenic pedestrian and cycling path great for adding some babbling brooks and small waterfalls to your commute.
Jessie’s Tip: The South Platte River Trail is another great cycling option running along the South Platte River from Thornton to Englewood, through Downtown Denver. Also, don’t miss the 317-acre City Park.
Bonus Tip: Wear your GoPro and capture the views, stopping off at the various attractions along the way of these trails. If you use the local BCycle Bike Share, don’t forget to dock your bike and take it back out every 30 minutes or you’ll get a $5 fine every half hour.
8. Pair Games & Gears At The Denver Bicycle Cafe
While riding my BCycle around Denver I was suddenly hungry. FourSquare notified me that a tasty eatery called the Denver Bicycle Cafe was nearby. How serendipitous! I thought.
What a great way to be a kid again; having craft beers from cans, breakfast burritos, locally-sourced pastries and latte-art adorned coffees in a space full of bicycles. In fact, half the space is a bike shop! Have your bike worked on while biting into a lava cookie and sipping a hard apple cider. There are also board games like Trivial Pursuit, Sorry and Connect 4.
Jessie’s Tip: $2 bottomless coffee? Even a broke blogger like me can afford that!
9. Order Artisanal Sodas & Pop Tarts At Weathervane
Homemade Italian sodas are one of my weaknesses! At Weathervane Cafe I got a unique “Desert Soda” infused with homemade sage, rosemary and rose syrup. The space is cozy and weathered, with worn brown couches and lantern lighting. Don’t miss a slew of kid favorites made adult, like a Serrano pepper-laced blueberry scone, a homemade raspberry pop tart with peanut butter, and a sweet pastry loaf infused with orange, chocolate and espresso.
Jessie’s Tip: Distressed wooden shelves showcase local handmade chocolates, preserves, strange print arts, locally made smoking herbs, herbal balms and other great gifts and housewares, also making it a great place to shop in Uptown.
10. Drink In History Over Foosball At Wynkoop Brewing
Wynkoop Brewing boasts being Denver’s first brewpub, opened in 1988. They were pioneers, as today Denver is a brewery hot spot home to over 50. What’s cool about Wynkoop — along with a history that involves four guys opening their venue in Denver on Skid Row in the century-old J. S. Brown Mercantile Building — is their top floor with over 20 pool tables and a bar to boot.
Jessie’s Tip: Order a beer flight and some pulled pork nachos and play the day away while immersing yourself in Denver culture.
11. Get Your Fix At Habit Doughnut Dispensary
Conveniently located next to Denver Brewing Co in the Highland neighborhood, Habit Doughnut Dispensary — which I believe is better than the uber popular Voodoo Doughnut without the line — is more than just creative sweets. The bright space is littered with doughnut murals and red medical + signs, and has a cute branding strategy full of puns. Think addiction to sugar highs in the Mile High City and pot capital of the USA. While there’s no weed in these decadent brioche doughnuts, the flavors make you think otherwise: “Blackout Chocolate” made with both chocolate icing and crumble; “Until 6 in the Mornin’” showcasing brown sugar buttercream, a cinnamon glaze and brown sugar streusel; and the “Blazed” featuring a malted milk glaze and hand torched brûlée. Necessities for curing hangovers, cravings and withdrawals — like condoms, cigarettes and ibuprofen — are also on hand in pretty candy jars.
Jessie’s Tip: The best part? A doughnut paired with any whiskey shooter is $7.50. You can also go next door to their affiliated Carbon Beverage Cafe for sweet syrup-laced sodas and cocktails — including a “Day Drinking” menu!
12. Have An Adult Milkshake At Milkbox Ice Creamery
One of the coolest things about Denver is that its major train station, Union Station, houses some of the city’s best restaurants. One of these is Milkbox Ice Creamery, a childish ice cream shop full of homemade waffle cones, pastel furniture, and cases of colorful candy and 100% natural ice creams. Some flavors to get you salivating include Fluffernuter, Salted Oreo, Cheesecake Brownie, Milk Stout Chip and Strawberry Balsamic. The best part: the boozy milkshakes!
Jessie’s Tip: I was obsessed with my Vegan Horchata ice cream laced with Mount Gay Eclipse Rum, enjoyed on their patio on a sunny Denver day.
13. Get A Beer At Grandma’s House
What kid doesn’t love going to grandma’s house? While the bowls of candy aren’t quite as appealing to an adult (well, okay, maybe they are), Grandma’s House, a collective brewery in Denver, also serves up beer. It’s a really neat concept where, along with their own beers, they allow newbie brewers to practice their craft and offer it to guests in jelly jars atop doilies on breakfast trays.
Sip your beer on a rocking chair overlooking Broadway, play some Mario Kart, complete a puzzle, or challenge new friends to board games while taking in the kitschy knick knacks, 80s toys, old televisions, night lights and quilts. That’s one cool grandma!
Jessie’s Tip: On Tuesday nights at 7pm they host a fun Bingo night, where with each purchase of a beer you get a card to play. Beers run about $5-$7.
14. Savor A Scrumptious Surprise At Rise & Shine Biscuit Cafe
There are a few foods Denver seems to be obsessed with; one of which is biscuits. Last time I was in town I tried the popular Denver Biscuit Co and enjoyed it, though this time I was even more impressed by the creative homemade biscuits and true mom and pop hospitality at Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Cafe in Sloan’s Lake. When I was there they were doing a fun partnership to infuse a local Locavore Beer Works Loggerhead Lager into a cracked pepper-fortified biscuit, part of their Beer Biscuit Friday series. Yummy and oh so Denver.
Jessie’s Tip: If it’s busy the back patio offers a quiet retreat to enjoy your food, maybe the rotating biscuit of the day? You can see what it is before you go by checking their website calendar. Some that sound exciting include Rosemary Olive Oil, Maple Pecan, Lemon Poppy and Cholula.
15. Make Your Own Bloody Mary At The Corner Office
Kids love crafts, and there are a number of restaurants that adult-ify this love of creation. If you’re on a budget head to The Hornet Restaurant for DIY Bloody Marys that are on the simpler side, but are only $2 during weekend brunch from 10am to 3pm!
Another option and my top pick is The Corner Office, serving make-your-own “I Will Survive” bottomless Bloody Marys during their Disco Brunch on Sundays from 7am to 3pm. Some of the many potential toppings for your morning cocktail include shrimp, ham and cheese skewers, pickled eggplant, shoestring fries and fried pork belly.
Jessie’s Tip: Disco Brunch also means Dead Head Waffles, decadently topped with Nutella cheesecake frosting and applejack syrup (and strawberries so you can tell yourself you’re being somewhat healthy).
16. Get Wet In The Union Station Splash Pad
Don’t get mad at me if people give you funny looks as it is mostly kids, but frolicking in this awesome splash pad will definitely make you feel like a child again. It’s also a great way to cool down on a hot day.
Jessie’s Tip: After burning off a ton of calories jumping around in the water, head over to Hopdoddy Burger Bar for made-from-scratch burgers (I love the “Magic Shroom” laced with mushrooms, goat cheese and basil pesto), boozy shakes, craft beers and cocktails, and menu items that donate to charity. I wrote about this amazing restaurant in my post, Things To Do In Austin Beyond Barbecue, as Austin holds Hopdoddy’s original location (though Denver holds the small chain’s only full-service venue).
What are your must do in Denver experiences for feeling like a kid again?
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