Short vacation to Denver - first time, pointers?
December 4, 2014 4:15 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I are celebrating our anniversary- thinking about flying to Denver very early morning on Friday (Dec 19) and coming back late night Sunday (Dec 21). This is our first time in Denver!

We won't have a car so we want to stay where the action is and things are easily accessible by walking or taking public transportation (if it is recommended). We don't mind renting a car if absolutely necessary. We both are in our mid/late 20s and enjoy cultural things, being pampered, awesome food and sights. A little nightlife is good too. We don't mind light splurging either if it's for an extraordinary experience.

This is a well deserved, relax and recharge sort of vacation. I'm the one planning it and sort of lost. I would like to add a romantic surprise or two as well since it is our anniversary.

Other than wearing a heavy coat and warm clothes, any suggestions? Where to stay? Best way to get to hotel from airport? What to see and eat?

~ First time posting a question on metafilter, yay!
posted by BeSumr to Travel & Transportation around Denver, CO (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I like the Larimer Square area. Lots of restaurants and stuff to walk to. I see a lot of public transit in the area, but I haven't used it so I can't vouch for where it can get you.
posted by primethyme at 4:30 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty old so don't really have young people suggestions at the ready, but I've had guests from out of state visit and need to borrow t-shirts and light jackets because they packed for full-on winter weather, not realizing it's not like that all winter. It can get pretty warm here even in December. It was in the mid 60s the day before yesterday. It can get cold, too, though, so rather than warm clothes and a heavy coat, you might be better off with layers of medium warmth clothes and coat.

And you might want to stay in a hotel near the 16th Street Mall if you're planning on avoiding driving. It's just a longish pedestrian mall with free shuttle buses that run its length during the day, but there's a pretty good concentration of stuff to do in that area. And right by the end of the mall is Union Street Station, where you can catch a bus elsewhere if you want to get somewhere a little farther out.

If you have specific ideas of the type of place you want to go, it might be a little easier to come up with suggestions. There are almost too many options for generic suggestions. And really, you could probably find one special place for your anniversary and then just walk around and find stuff to do the rest of the time. (Again, though, maybe young people will have better ideas.)
posted by ernielundquist at 4:40 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

A new boutique hotel in the recently revamped Union Station might be the ticket: The Crawford Hotel. There are yummy foods in Union Station and it is in a good location Downtown. It partners with a spa about a block away, for the pampering part.

Some hot restaurants: Lower48 Kitchen; The Curtis Club; Los Chingones. And Jax Fish House is always delicious.
posted by crazy sniffable at 5:15 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm going to go from your being pampered comment, so what I'm about to suggest is not for those within a budget.

The Crawford Hotel is the new hotel at Denver's Union Station, which is the train and bus terminal. A bus from DIA will take you right there. They have a spa among other things; they're a few blocks and a bridge from parks along the Platte River, and you have access to all the amenities of Larimar Square, 16th street Mall, and any place the trains and buses can take you, including City Park, the Nat'l History Museum, or Denver's art museums if you're into that kind of thing, and Boulder. Nearby is also the Oxford Hotel which you might like. There are more hotels closer to the capital like the Radisson, and the Brown Palace Hotel, which is somewhat famous but some might consider a bit. . . stuffy? However, they do have some nice romantic and seasonal packages. Also many of the restaurants at that end along 16th street tend to be chains (but certainly not all).

In the downtown area there are lots of nice restaurants, including some in the Union Station itself. In the Union Station area alone there are ~10, including some interesting bars. There's a great Italian restaurant ($$$$) across the street which could be quite romantic, and a good oyster bar nearby called Jax, which might not be that romantic but would be fun for lunch or happy hour if you're splurging. There's also a nice upscale place called The Kitchen which would be a good brunch spot as well as for dinner. Snooze in the hotel is considered a "happenin'" place to eat so it will be pretty crowded. There's also all kinds of small bars and restaurants that entire area you will see as you walk around.

D Bar near the 16th street mall and the convention center has wonderful desserts for a post dinner or even a Friday night late splurge.
posted by barchan at 5:22 PM on December 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, wear and pack layers rather than warm clothes and a heavy coat. The cold here is not like the cold elsewhere - it's dry, and all the sunshine makes even cold days bearable.

Here's a list of boutique hotels. They are all downtown with the exception of the Inverness, the hostel, and the B&Bs; book the Warwick if you're interested in trying some legal cannabis. I've stayed at the Oxford and at the Brown Palace and both are recommended - there's a tour you can take at the Brown if you're interested in its history. The Hotel Monaco is home to Panzano, my favorite Italian restaurant, and it has a spa (so do the Brown and the Oxford).

Public transportation is very good, whether light rail or bus, but if you stay downtown there is plenty to see and do on foot. The Denver Art Museum, the Kirkland Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, and History Colorado are all within easy walking distance. I don't know whether you could still get show tickets, but you can check availability at the performing arts complex.

Larimer Square is a fine place to explore and eat. There are self-guided walking tours. There are tons of great restaurants in and near downtown; Bistro Vendome, Café Berlin, Euclid Hall, Rioja, Root Down, to name just a few of my favorites.

And of course, there's beer. If you're into microbrews you'll be in heaven. You like the outdoors? Stroll over the pedestrian bridge to the REI flagship store in a former streetcar power plant - there's a 47 foot inside climbing wall. Then maybe take a short stroll through the parking lot to My Brother's Bar, where Jack Kerouac used to drink. Now you're in Highland, where there are more bars, restaurants, shops, and cool old houses.

Welcome to Denver.
posted by caryatid at 5:37 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

One more thing I would like to recommend is a visit to the Buckhorn Exchange, which is right across the street from a light rail stop, south of downtown. It's a tourist trap, it's true, but not on the awful scale of Casa Bonita. The food can range from meh to very good (try the yak! Seriously, it's better than beef) but it's pricey. The real draw is the decor, the history (it's the oldest restaurant in Denver) and the entertainment (singing cowboys) in the upstairs lounge on Wednesday through Saturday night. Have the hot caramel apple pie.
posted by caryatid at 5:51 PM on December 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just to clarify, The Crawford doesn't have a spa, it partners with the Oxford for those services, which is a block or so away.

If you want to get some culture, Denver is the new-ish home to the Clyfford Still Museum. It's walkable from Downtown, but a long walk. Short cab ride, though, and it is next to the Denver art Museum which is adjacent to the Capitol, which was recently refurbished.
posted by crazy sniffable at 7:35 PM on December 4, 2014

I did a small tour of the American west a couple years back (Denver, Boulder, SLC, St George UT, Vegas), and Denver was absolutely the low point of the trip. It is not very walkable, the public transit along 16th is theme-parkish, and lots of the what I saw in town had a down-on-its-luck vibe. For a weekend away, I'd encourage you to visit nearby Boulder instead, as it is charming, has a counterculture ethos, and lots of outdoor activities to enjoy together.
posted by charlemangy at 7:54 PM on December 4, 2014

I like Euclid Hall for new food and creative drinks.

There is a whole smattering of art museums downtown. The Clyfford Still being the newest, but our Art Museum is pretty cool too.
posted by nickggully at 9:13 PM on December 4, 2014

I really enjoyed touring Great Divide, though the bar was incredibly crowded. Falling Rock has an excellent beer selection. Rackhouse Pub has great lunch food, but it looks like they're moving to a new location, so I'm not sure if they're open at the moment.
posted by neushoorn at 1:55 AM on December 5, 2014

Staying downtown near the 16th Street Mall and Union Station is certainly the way to go. You'll find lots of good food in the neighborhood (seconding Euclid Hall). Consider picking up one of the City Bikes for the day if you want to do a brewery crawl -- there are a ton of breweries around but only a few are within an easy walk from the mall. If you're into beer, in addition to Falling Rock check out Freshcraft, it's a newer beer-snob bar with a great selection.

Pick up a copy of the Westword, our free weekly paper, to check out what's going on for events, shows, etc. -- they also have a calendar online but it gets pretty crowded. We have a great performing arts center downtown that draws a lot of national shows (though you can probably skip A Christmas Carol; this year's production isn't particularly memorable). The art museum and the Colorado History Museum are an easy shuttle ride/walk from downtown as well.

If you ski or snowboard, you could also jet up to the mountains; our snowfall has been pretty good and a lot of resorts may still be running early-season deals; AirBnB or VRBO should also give you plenty of options this time of year. Check out Colorado Mountain Express for shuttle rides to the mountains; if you're only skiing one mountain you won't need a car once you're up there, depending on lodgings.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:14 AM on December 5, 2014

Best answer: Cheapest way to get downtown from the airport is RTD (public transportation). It will take you right to Union Station. You could also take a van like Super Shuttle but I don't know if I trust them. Once you are at Union Station, you can take the free 16th Mall shuttle and that will get you reasonably close to most places downtown.

I stayed at the Brown Palace for our wedding, and while it is impressive (read: Expensive), I don't know if it's for everyone.

Instead of taking cabs, download the Lyft app. Lyft is cheaper and the drivers are friendlier.

As for food, the previously mentioned Snooze is awesome for breakfast, although you have to get up early to beat the crowds. I also second the nomination of The Kitchen for good food at the Station. Also, Panzano is a great Italian restaurant and is located in the Hotel Monaco, which might be worth staying at. All the cool kids have dinner at Linger, and it's a cheap Lyft ride from downtown. It's very popular, so you might want to get a reservation now.

If you are into things like holiday lights, the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Denver Zoo both have evening light displays that might be worth checking out if it's not too cold. Added bonus for the Zoo is you can go into the animal exhibits as well.

Someone else mentioned Great Divide, and you must go there if you love beer. Get there early to beat the crowds.

My favorite bar in Denver is My Brother's Bar. Definitely old school, and they win the award for best website.

I second everything said about the weather, you don't know what it will be like, so bring lots of layers.
posted by subtlemel at 9:16 AM on December 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

December 19 in RiNo there is an Ugly Christmas Sweater Roller Skating party for polio. Well, for polio ERADICATION. PM me if you want details. Welcome!
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 4:56 PM on December 8, 2014

About the weather, it WILL be cold at night, so bring a warm coat. Otherwise, check the forecast before you leave.
posted by subtlemel at 12:17 PM on December 9, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you all for your answers. I took a lot of tips from you all and had a great trip in Denver- even got to see a bit of snow!
posted by BeSumr at 6:15 PM on December 25, 2014

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