For solo travelers looking for a great US destination to explore, I highly recommend Denver, Colorado. This was my destination of choice on a recent solo road trip from New York, and along with the city being full of interesting restaurants, bars, events, breweries, shows and classes, the people were extremely welcoming; as in, within two days I literally felt like I had a friend’s circle.
That being said, there will be times when you’ll be exploring on your own. When this is the case, I recommend the following things to do in Denver.
1. Creative Craft Cocktails at Williams & Graham
I was taken here on a date, and I was extremely impressed. Named the Best Bar in America at the 2015 Tales of the Cocktail, you enter a “book shop” where a shelf opens into a moody speakeasy. Here, delicious plates of fois gras and croquettes pair with creative cocktails crafted with atypical tinctures and infusions, high quality spirits, classic bitters and hand-cut ice in beautiful glassware. The bartenders are uber friendly, so even if you go alone you’ll have a great time and get a cocktail education.
Pro Tip: For those wanting to make heavenly cocktails at home check out Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks 1862, the first cocktail book ever written!
2. Cycling Around Town
As I wasn’t directly in downtown I had to make use of public transportation (and the occasional car service). I would often take the train to Union Station in downtown and grab a B-Cycle from there, getting lost in the local parks and neighborhoods. You can download the B-Cycle app to locate nearby stations to check in the bike, which you should do every 30 minutes to avoid paying the $5-per-30-minutes fine. Otherwise, it’s $9 per day. This is one of my favorite things to do in Denver!
Pro Tip: Lyft is your cheapest bet for car services, and if you’re a new user can use code JESSIE299142 for $20 off your first ride.
3. Exploring Local Dispensary Culture
I’m not a big pot smoker; however, I was intrigued by the idea that you could walk into a shop and literally buy pot and THC edibles over the counter legally. While I was nervous it would be seedy or pretentious (I know almost nothing about smoking weed and thought it would be like when my aunt walks into a wine shop and asks for blackberry merlot and the clerks grimace), it was actually like visiting a friendly wine bar, at least at Native Roots. The place was squeaky clean, walls adorned with marijuana-inspired drawings (such as seen on the bag above) and translucent cases of paraphernalia manned by knowledgeable “bud tenders.” Shopping for pot is akin to shopping for wine in the sense there are different varieties with different profiles and percentages (although in this case it’s THC instead of alcohol). If you’d rather have a psychedelic snack, chocolate bars, mints, gummies and baked goods can fulfill your desires. Just be warned: eat with caution, they can be delicious yet potent.
Pro Tip: While it’s legal to buy and smoke/ingest weed in Colorado as long as you’re 21 years of age or older, it’s not legal to smoke/ingest weed in public. Use discretion!
4. Hiking Mount Falcon
While Colorado offers great opportunities to summit fourteeners, if you’re alone it may be a better idea to do something more populated and/or mild (or at least go on weekends when the fourteeners have more hikers). One scenic option: Mount Falcon. When I hiked this trail on a random weekday afternoon I saw other hikers, and the trails are really well labeled. For something leisurely the Turkey Trot is pretty easy, while the Castle Trail is slightly more challenging and takes you to castle ruins. On this path you can do the Walkers Dream, too, the highlight shown in the center photo above. I’d recommend using DayHikesNearDenver.com for hiking inspiration.
Pro Tip: Make sure to stay safe when out on the road or wilderness. Check out Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments featuring hidden interior pockets and the Vigilant Personal Alarm. The latter can be worn like a bracelet. When the pin is removed it blares like a fire truck, scaring away potential attackers.
5. Staying In A Share House With Awesome Strangers
Instead of opting for a hotel in Denver I chose an Airbnb that was actually more like a share house. Traveling solo, I wanted to make sure I’d be able to easily meet new people, and staying in the West Colfax neighborhood in this 5-bedroom house meant that after a day’s exploration I always had people to enjoy beer, bud and pizza with on the couch. This was hands down my favorite Airbnb I’ve ever stayed in. It was also a 2-block walk from the light rail, and a 10-minute train ride to downtown.
Pro Tip: First time using Airbnb? Click here for $30 off your first booking!
6. Have A Nostalgic Book Experience
Denver is home to one of the greatest book shops I’ve ever come across in my travels: Tattered Cover Book Store. The space has an old, worn feel — sort of like your favorite book — with weathered wood, shabby leather chairs and a slight must, with plenty of common spaces, free Wi-Fi and even a separate study-like room for history and travel books. Grab some Vail Mountain Roasters coffee, single origin chocolate, Colorado Nut Co snacks or a decadent pastry from their cafe and dive into staff pick’s, bargain books, classics, indie titles, and an impressive assortment from a variety of niches.
Pro Tip: Looking for a great travel read? Check out some of my favorites like Destinations of a Lifetime: 225 of the World’s Most Amazing Places, The Way of Wanderlust: The Best Travel Writing of Don George and Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?.
7. Attend Or Plan A Meetup
Meetup.com is full of fun things to do in Denver, and is how I met most of the friends I made while in the city (along with dating apps like Tinder and OkCupid). Unlike in NYC where you almost always have to be approved by the moderator to join a Meetup group, Denver’s typically allow you instant access, meaning you’ll be able to interact with group members and RSVP to events right away. I’d recommend starting your search by location (ie Denver) and interest, then searching or perusing for age to find others in your range. For example, you might search “Denver happy hour 20s” or “Denver hiking 40s.”
Pro Tip: If you’re documenting your trip, make sure to pack these unique photography items. All my favorites are listed!
8. Stay In A Social Hostel
While Denver has plenty of hotels, it’s also home to a few hostels. I didn’t stay in these myself — instead I opted for the Airbnb mentioned above; however, upon researching the amenities and reviews of the Mile High City’s hostel offerings, the Hostel Fish in the hip Lower Downtown (LoDo) seems to be the bet for socializing. The property includes a guest lounge, communal kitchen, onsite bar, free coffee and WiFi, shared and private rooms, and tours/bar crawls offered. Starting rates are $45 per night.
9. Dine Where There’s Communal Tables
No need to fret about dining alone, as it can actually make you more approachable — especially when dining at a community table. Luckily a number of restaurants in Denver have them. A few top picks:
- LowDown | Brewery + Kitchen (Golden Triangle): As the name states it’s a brewery (homemade beer typically = awesome) with atypical brewery bites. Picture a chickpea and butternut squash hummus duo, peppadews stuffed with gorgonzola and apricot and wrapped in bacon, and a dish called “You’re. F#@king. Welcome,” a local cheddar-based bacon-topped beer dip with pretzel loaf as the vehicle into your mouth.
- Black Eye Coffee Shop: A cutesy coffee shop by day that transforms into a poetry-themed bar at night (with some java-themed drinks, too!).
- Work & Class (RiNo): Delicious Latin/American fusion and a stellar happy hour called the Early Work Release Program (Tuesday-Sunday, 4-6pm) with $4-$6 drinks and bites like pigs in a blanket and chile rellenos.
Along with my recommendations Yelp also has a nice list of others.
10. Have A Unique Experience
One of the best parts of traveling is finding unique experiences you’ve never tried before. Whether you meet others (which you often will) or not, the novelty of these activities is often enough. Some ideas for things to do in Denver:
- Take a pole dancing class at Tease Studio
- Learn the art of acrobatics and silks at Miraas Circus Arts
- Head to Stir for cooking, mixology and baking classes. Go solo or find a cute date to take to their All About Aphrodisiacs course.
- Go ziplining, fishing, rafting or hot air ballooning with Arkansas Valley Adventures
- Get artsy (and buzzed) at Denver Drink & Draw
What are your favorite things to do in Denver when traveling solo? Please share in the comments below.
Weird Colorado: Your Travel Guide to Colorado’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Charmaine Ortega Getz [Great Reads]
Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments [Travel Safety]
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