Tell me about living in Denver (after living in SF)
June 28, 2015 4:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering moving to Denver from the SF Bay Area, to take advantage of an amazing career opportunity. But this would be a huge change and I have a lot of questions! If you live in Denver or have recently lived there, can you help?

I have the career and logistics stuff sorted, I just need to know more about the lifestyle aspects, because I'll need to make my decision before I have a chance to spend much time there. So, my questions:
  • Is it really possible to get around on a daily basis (not counting road trips) without owning a car? I'd be working downtown and I will have a bike and a transit pass.
  • How much difference does the elevation really make? How long does it take to acclimate, particularly for someone in slightly-less-than-average physical shape?
  • Is the weather really as mild as I'm reading it is?
  • SF's thriving queer/kinky/poly/generally sex-positive community is important to me, and I would miss that a lot. A bit of research seems to indicate that Denver has these things, too. Is that true? How visible and accessible is it? Are these communities more open and diverse, or more cliquish and insular?
  • What's the political climate like? On an everyday, on-the-ground, walking-around basis, does it feel more conservative, or liberal, or libertarian, or something else entirely?
  • Something I will NOT miss about SF is having to make the decision several times a day whether to step over people sprawled out on the sidewalk or stop to ask if they're OK. Does that happen on the same scale in Denver?
And more generally, what awesome things make you love Denver? What things make you unhappy about it? If you moved there from somewhere like SF or NYC, how was the transition for you?
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I live in NYC, but I do go to Denver a lot to visit a brother and his family, and I think I can answer some of your questions (they've lived in a few different areas around Denver).

- I don't think it is at all realistic to live there without a car. There is a light rail in the city that you might be able to use for commuting, and I know that people are trying to take advantage of it, but for even little day-to-day things like when you run out of milk, you will need to get in a car.

- The elevation never seemed to affect me physically, and I was totally waiting for it. I always felt fine. My brother does complain that you can't get decent fresh bread there because of it though.

- It seems like the weather is fairly mild, though not as mild as SF. It does snow. My brother was complaining about how cold it was in NYC and I was surprised. He said oh yes NYC gets much colder than Denver.

- I don't have experience with the sex scene there :)

- It feels very conservative - at best libertarian - to me. Coming from SF you may be a little surprised at how many conservatives you will meet.

- Homelessness does not seem to be on the scale it is NYC.

I think the best thing about Denver is that it's so close to the Rockies and outdoorsy things, and that is what people there seem to value the most about it. The thing that most makes me unhappy is the impossibility of doing anything without a car.
posted by maggiemaggie at 6:07 PM on June 28, 2015


Getting around without a car in Denver's generally very easy depending on where you live, and we've got a ton of car share options. Working downtown makes it very likely that you'll have no problems with that. Just check out the bike maps and transit maps before you rent a place (Walk Score is very good for finding areas that fit your desired commute).

Some people acclimate very quickly and will start hiking fourteeners their first weekend here. I took maybe a month to feel generally decent. Just drink lots of water and take it easy for a bit and you should be OK soon. The payoff you get for it is that you'll feel like you have superpowers when you visit low-altitude places again.

The weather's generally very sunny and dry, but this year's been one of the rainiest on record. Probably it'll be more variable than you're used to in SF, but it's not that bad. Snow tends to disappear very quickly (but it'll snow surprisingly late in the year. It's not uncommon to get a last snowfall after Mother's Day.) Extremely cold temperatures (sub-freezing) don't seem to last all that long either, but they do happen and it's good to have warm gear to deal with that. (Not so necessary to bundle up on days you're biking. Just get studded tires and you're good to go through whatever winter throws at you.)

Politically it's pretty varied. At last count only 42% of Colorado residents were actually born here, so people come from all over with all kinds of beliefs. I suspect that number declines every year with the enormous increases in population we're getting.

I moved to Colorado without having ever visited it before, and it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. Jobs are relatively plentiful, there's major investment happening in public transportation, and it's pretty easy to get involved in things here since most people you meet will also be from somewhere else. It's great how many people are interested in all sorts of outdoor activities. Pretty much any sport you could possibly be interested in is played here. It is scary/awesome to look west from anywhere with an unobstructed view and, boom, mountains!

The biggest downside right now is that the housing market's a total mess and is unlikely to improve anytime soon, whether you're renting or buying. I also really wish the other states would hurry up and legalize marijuana so that we lose the "ha ha, that's what you moved there for" jokes and at least part of the population explosion (I'd like to be able to afford to keep living here!)
posted by asperity at 6:09 PM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


1. That depends on where you live and what sort of schedule you have. Yes, if you are downtown or along a major transit route, you can do without a car. I've voluntarily gone car free on weekends, getting errands and grocery shopping and all that on bicycle and foot near the University Hills area. But that is really dependent on where you live, work, and shop. It is not the default.

2. For Denver, I've been here too long to remember anything about that. Look up some symptoms of altitude sickness, though. People get it even at just a mile above sea level, and I know a Colorado native who got it on a ski trip an extra 1000 feet higher than he was used to.

3. How mild are you reading it is? We have a semi arid climate, so high temperatures in the summer usually don't feel as high as they do in more humid areas. I'm tempted to tell you that it was like living in someone's lower intestine today, but I just looked and it was 86F and 40% humidity, so I guess I am being a giant diaper baby about that. We get snow, and temps will usually get down to -10 to -15 at the coldest in the winter, and that's rarely. One thing that stands out is that, while we can get decent amounts of snow, it usually warms up in between them and melts off so that snow doesn't really accumulate over the winter like it does in other places.

4. Yes, those are there. I, however, am an old lady, and have no helpful information for the youths of today.

5. Denver itself leans kind of liberal, I'd say, with a little-l libertarian tinge. Suburbs and rural areas can get more conservative. We're usually a split state. Denver has a lot of different areas, though, so the political climate can change block by block really.

6. It happens, but not on the scale it does in SF. Of course, different neighborhoods are different, but apart from a couple areas, usually surrounding the shelters, you're not going to have to step over people too often.

I am super fond of Denver. There are things to do here, it's very clean for a city its size, and it is really pretty friendly and casual, for the most part, which I like a lot.

The one deal killer, and the reason I cannot live there anywhere, is that Denver has a breed ban, and they can and do confiscate and kill dogs that they think look like 'pit bulls.'
posted by ernielundquist at 6:15 PM on June 28, 2015


1. Yes! We came from Atlanta with one vehicle and I can go a couple of weeks w/o driving. If you have a bus pass too, you'll be fine. That is if you can get used to it, a big if, considering the snow. I got used to it, but I only have a1.5 mile commute so I can just walk if it's truly terrible out. I find snow pants over my outfit, water roof boots and a ski mask make it doable.

2. It took me a couple of weeks to be able to really exercise, some people dont notice, others really feel it, but regardless, it fixes itself eventually.

3. It is often mild, more often it's terrible. Ha. We get snow 8 months a year. I am not shitting you, it is intense if you aren't used to it. We do usually get above freezing part of the day, but honestly as a cyclist and pedestrian, a foot of slush is even harder to navigate. Summers are nice though.

4. Cliquish, somewhat, but you can find your people. It's a different scene. All together Denver is very not like a big city on either coasts.

5. Liberal libertarian is about right.

6. The amount of homeless and drunk on the street is not like in a big city, you won't see it as often unless you are right by a shelter or some liqour stores.

Truth time, I don't love Denver. It's a fine place to visit, but it's much smaller than it seems and ,in general, culture isn't going to be what you are used too. Denver is very literally in the middle of nowhere. You may miss tacos, good grafitti, and truly weird people. I do.
posted by stormygrey at 7:43 PM on June 28, 2015


I moved away from Denver a few months ago for work, but I lived there for five years before that! I lived without a car for the entire time I was there, and it was never much of a problem. The caveat is that you will probably need to live close to downtown as well as work downtown. I don't know if you have thought about neighborhoods yet, but the places you want to look if you want to be careless include Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park, Uptown, Baker, Golden Triangle, and maybe Congress Park, Highlands and Washington Park. All are easy bikes or walks downtown, all connect to downtown via bus well, and there's fairly easy access to grocery stores, plenty of places to eat, and other things to do. We have car2go, GoCar, ZipCar and other car sharing services, too. The one thing you can't do without one is go visit the mountains -- I usually ended up renting a car to do that.

I'm a native Coloradan, so I can't tell you much from personal experience about adjusting to the elevation, but most people acclimate in a few weeks or so.

Our weather is pretty nice most of the year, but we do get a decent amount of snow in the winter and there's often a spell of really cold weather in January or so. But the snow generally melts pretty quickly and is usually followed by sunny, warm-ish weather. The best part, though: very little humidity.

Denver is about as liberal as it gets for the inter mountain west, which means liberal libertarian, as other people have mentioned.
posted by heurtebise at 8:04 PM on June 28, 2015


I have lived in SF and NYC as well as Denver. I think in general you should be OK commuting to work and probably running your daily errands without a car if you are at all strategic about choosing a place to live, but you will probably end up wanting to go to a lot of places that will require some kind of motorized transport or putting together a fairly arduous series of bus trips. People tend to work from the assumption that you have access to a car and so work parties will be at held 3 miles from your office, or people will want to get together at a bar that's halfway across town because the independent film you want to see is only playing at one theater and the bar is near there. That kind of thing. If you drive there are several car share services available, and if you don't it's pretty easy to take your bike on the bus, but to say that it's easy to live car-free is probably overselling it. Especially if you want to take advantage of any of the amazing terrain around Denver. Depending on what you're into culturally, Denver is likely to have one of it, not five or 10.

It always takes me about 2 days to acclimate, as a middle-aged healthy but not really "fit" person. Drink lots of water, avoid alcohol, and don't overexert yourself for a couple of days and you should be fine. It is very dry in Denver. Even if you aren't a user of lotions or chapsticks, you will become one. Also sunscreen--the sun is deceptively strong at altitude and because it's dry, your sweat actually does the thing it's supposed to do and evaporates, so it feels cooler than it actually is.

The weather is not as mild as SF's single season, but it's pretty mild. It snows frequently in winter but usually the sun comes out and melts it pretty fast, so you don't get the giant bergs of filthy rock-hard snow that last till Spring that you get in East Coast cities. (That said, when the snow does stick, forget about getting anything but the main streets plowed). Usually all traces are gone within 3 days. It can be hot in the summer but again not that bad. A lot of older homes in Denver don't have AC and that's mostly OK.

I can't really speak to the politics--most of the people I know who live in Denver proper (and Boulder) are pretty liberal but I think politics turn red pretty fast as you get into the suburbs and beyond (but mostly libertarian red, not Bible-thumping red). You will be startled to see signs on store entrances requesting that people not bring their guns onto the premises.

My impression of Denver has been that it's pretty queer-friendly but can't speak to any of the specifics.

There is much less visible, omnipresent homelessness than in SF but there are a few areas where you will encounter homeless people.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 8:20 PM on June 28, 2015


I lived in Denver for many years. I had no car. I used free transportation/my feet/public transit to do everything. On weekends I took the bus to Boulder to eat awesome food and enjoy the scenery. Coming from CNY, I rarely even felt the need to wear a winter coat most of the time, but most people did. Not much snow, but the weather can be crazy due to the effect the mountains have on local climate. Like, random massive hailstorms with huge chunks of ice were a thing. I can't speak to the gay community issue, though I did have several gay friends in Denver and I never really heard too many complaints about the scene. Denverites were quite liberal but many of the people I worked with were from much more conservative places (Colorado Springs, Grand Junction, etc.) and commuted in to work. The homeless population when I lived in Denver was pretty visible, mostly kids. We called them the "urine kids" because they tended to congregate in this rundown park the locals called "The Urine Pit." They were aggressive and pushy and liked to get in your face.
posted by xyzzy at 11:40 PM on June 28, 2015


How much difference does the elevation really make? How long does it take to acclimate, particularly for someone in slightly-less-than-average physical shape?

I am really out of shape and recently visited (also from there) and would not worry about this at all. Acclimating is relatively quick and largely painless. Drink plenty of water and listen to your body when it comes to exerting yourself and drinking alcohol. Don't plan a 3 mile hike in the mountains for week one, or any long bike rides. I'd maybe move a week before I started commuting to work if I planned a bike commute, and I'd give myself plenty of time to bike for the first few weeks I was there. Other than that you'll be totally fine. I can't emphasize enough to DRINK WATER though. DRINK WATER ALL THE TIME, even if you're not thirsty.

(I went there for a weekend trip recently, including time up in the mountains, and I was completely fine to walk around normally and have some drinks--I just paid attention to how the alcohol was hitting me and gave myself a break for being a bit slow/winded when walking uphill in the mountains. No big.)


Is the weather really as mild as I'm reading it is?

The weather is actually really good in a lot of ways. You can comfortably go outside pretty much every day without dealing with wetness, rain, lots of snow and mush on the ground and things like that. However, it does get cold and windy and DRY in the winter, and that can be really uncomfortable. I personally hate the chapping and dry skin and prefer a wetter winter. The nice thing about winter in Denver is that there's still plenty of sun. That's really nice if you get seasonal depression or are generally bummed out by cloudy, grey weather.

Sun safety is also a MUCH bigger deal then it is on the coasts. Sunglasses, hat, sunscreen--get used to them if you don't want a lot of skin damage and uncomfortable sunburns. This is a real downside of the climate. The upside is that you're warm in the sun and cooler outside of the sun, so you can keep cool just by sitting in the shade. It's also easier to cool via evaporation, so similarly high temps can feel much more comfortable in the summer. Overall, the weather is good.


What's the political climate like? On an everyday, on-the-ground, walking-around basis, does it feel more conservative, or liberal, or libertarian, or something else entirely?

Uh, well, currently walking around you will see a ton of dispensaries which gives it a totally surreal and very libertarian feel!

With the caveat that I am from there and visit, but don't live there now and there may have been changes that I'm not aware of in the culture, typically you won't know the political positions of strangers. The region is politically mixed, making political topics a bit riskier than they would be in more homogenous regions. People definitely do not assume political agreement and will feel you out to see if you are likely to agree before they take positions on political issues.

They will also couch their opinions in a lot of "well, I tend to think that it might be better to..." This is not necessarily reflective of the strength of their actual beliefs, just that it's not safe to assume agreement. The nice thing about that is that people typically don't try to foist their beliefs on you or tell you aaaalll about their bigoted beliefs. Walking around you get very, very little sense of anyone's politics. People are also typically very friendly and polite, at least compared to the East Coast--don't know about compared to SF. But people will smile at you and be friendly as the default which can feel very accepting and welcoming. They might not necessarily feel that way deep down inside, but oh well.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:07 AM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, if you like Mexican food, there's excellent Mexican food in CO--there's a huge Hispanic (mostly Mexican-American or Mexican immigrant) population. However, it is NOT SF style Mexican food so you may get pretty homesick for Mexican food anyway!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:11 AM on June 29, 2015


Welcome!

Is it really possible to get around on a daily basis (not counting road trips) without owning a car?

Sure, if you're choosy about where you're living and working. And car share options are becoming more prevalant. But it's not terribly common, at least in my circles (though that's informed somewhat by the fact that I do outdoorsey things that generally require a car, like whitewater kayaking).

How much difference does the elevation really make? How long does it take to acclimate, particularly for someone in slightly-less-than-average physical shape?


Not that big of a difference once you've acclimated after a few days, at least in Denver. Standing on top of a mountain is a different story, however. Remember that Denver is not in the mountains; it's just directly in front of them.

Is the weather really as mild as I'm reading it is?

Yes. We have four seasons, but none of them are extreme. Snow tends to melt within a matter of days.

SF's thriving queer/kinky/poly/generally sex-positive community is important to me, and I would miss that a lot. A bit of research seems to indicate that Denver has these things, too. Is that true? How visible and accessible is it? Are these communities more open and diverse, or more cliquish and insular?


I can't help you here.

What's the political climate like?

Liberal-ish, though there are definitely some libertarians in the mix. Colorado tends to be blue in Denver/Boulder/Fort Collins, and redder in other areas of the state.

Something I will NOT miss about SF is having to make the decision several times a day whether to step over people sprawled out on the sidewalk or stop to ask if they're OK. Does that happen on the same scale in Denver?


We have a homeless population, but it's not at the same scale, no.

And more generally, what awesome things make you love Denver?

The easy access to big mountain outdoor activities is excellent. I whitewater kayak and can run Class V rivers after work, or mountain bike after work, or even ski before work if I want to put in some effort. It's big enough to feel like a city without being impossible to get out of.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:19 AM on June 29, 2015


Is it really possible to get around on a daily basis (not counting road trips) without owning a car? I'd be working downtown and I will have a bike and a transit pass.

It’s definitely possible. Working downtown helps, since it offers the most transit options to other locations throughout the city. Just pick a neighborhood with good connectivity to downtown. However, do note that the transit here can be relatively slow compared to NYC or SF. When my wife and I lived downtown for a year, I started out taking the light rail to my office in the suburbs, only to give up after a few months once I realized that I could make the trip by car in half the time.

I personally wouldn’t want to live here without a car, but if it fits your lifestyle, it’s doable.

How much difference does the elevation really make? How long does it take to acclimate, particularly for someone in slightly-less-than-average physical shape?

For the most part, you’ll acclimate to the reduced oxygen levels after a couple of weeks. However, the dryness can be problematic. Even after living here for 10 years, I still need to soak my hands in lotion every night before bed during the winter months, lest they start to crack and bleed. I also have more sinus trouble (and the headaches that come with said sinus trouble) here compared to other places I’ve lived. Overall, I don’t think Colorado has been kind to my body, but I know plenty of people who say they feel so much better living up here. YMMV.

Is the weather really as mild as I'm reading it is?

The summers are lovely, thanks to the low humidity. That said, it is warmer than SF, and the sun can roast you alive if you’re out and about during the middle of the day.

Winter is… not as mild as advertised. For one, it’s long. Be prepared for freezing temperatures and snow any time from September through May. Cold snaps with subzero temperatures occur once or twice a year. There are a lot of minor snow storms (I’m reluctant to use the word storm, but they can be intense when they occur) of 2” to 5” with the occasional 10”+ storm. Every few years, there will be a storm with accumulation measured in feet. Some years are markedly worse than others.

After living here awhile, I don’t find the snow too big a deal (if it looks bad enough, we stay home), but the long winters do get me down. Spring and Autumn can be fleeting – Spring, especially. In fact, rather than the traditional four seasons, I like to think of Denver as having two seasons: warm and cold. And the cold season is several months longer and is only saved by the fact that there are some genuinely mild days (occasionally, weeks) scattered throughout.

SF's thriving queer/kinky/poly/generally sex-positive community is important to me, and I would miss that a lot. A bit of research seems to indicate that Denver has these things, too. Is that true? How visible and accessible is it? Are these communities more open and diverse, or more cliquish and insular?


Most of my queer friends appear to be comfortable here. Note that they mostly live in Denver proper. My impression is that the community is there, but it’s (obviously) more subdued than in SF. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the details.

What's the political climate like? On an everyday, on-the-ground, walking-around basis, does it feel more conservative, or liberal, or libertarian, or something else entirely?

Denver is definitely liberal with some libertarian leanings. The established suburbs are middle of the road. Exurbs and rural areas are fairly conservative. The mountain areas and the stretch from Boulder to Fort Collins are kind of all over the map. It’s a purple state that bounces one way or the other depending on the current political atmosphere (although, from a pure numbers standpoint, it’s probably trending blue). As a result, I don’t feel that folks out here cling to their political identity quite the same way people do in places with more homogeneous politics. The biggest political divide I see is urban vs. rural.

So, walking around, it’s kind of a relaxed “live and let live” sort of place. Perhaps less so during election season and in discussion on specific hot button libertarian interests (e.g., gun control and taxes).

Something I will NOT miss about SF is having to make the decision several times a day whether to step over people sprawled out on the sidewalk or stop to ask if they're OK. Does that happen on the same scale in Denver?

There’s a decent homeless population downtown, but it’s concentrated in certain areas. It’s not SF level, by any means.

And more generally, what awesome things make you love Denver?

It really is a relaxed and welcoming place. Being a stressed out, ladder climbing workaholic takes some genuine effort. It’s not the default state of being. Hell, even the stressed out, ladder climbing workaholics that I know out here are still pretty chill, all things considered.

What things make you unhappy about it?

It’s cliché, but I can’t stand the traffic. Lots of transplants = lots of different driving styles. Traffic simply doesn’t make sense out here and drives me bonkers. And I’ve lived in Southern California.

Also, “native” Coloradans are obnoxious. Note that “native” means you moved here in the 80s or something. True Native Coloradans are an OK bunch.
posted by jal0021 at 3:02 PM on June 29, 2015


In fact, rather than the traditional four seasons, I like to think of Denver as having two seasons: warm and cold.

Yup, I agree. I never understood the whole "spring" and "fall" thing until I moved out of Colorado!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:41 PM on June 29, 2015


Traffic simply doesn’t make sense out here and drives me bonkers.

Also, the worst-designed parking lots in the history of humankind.

One other pointer on the car thing: the Bustang should be operational in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately it's weekdays only to start, but I'm hoping that it'll eventually be a more sensible way to visit places that aren't Denver on weekends. Because doing those intercity drives sucks and blows, whether you own the car or not.

And a recent piece on car-free life in Denver. These people thought about it way more than I ever have.
posted by asperity at 5:44 PM on June 29, 2015


A question I actually know something about! I live in Denver but am not a native, and have visited SF several times over the last few years:

1. You can totally get around without owning a car, but you'll want to live close to downtown if you're working downtown. Look in Capitol Hill, Uptown, Five Points, maybe Baker (I hate Baker but I seem to be the only one). I've lived in Capitol Hill/Uptown for several years and can walk to work, my boyfriend takes the bus to work, we can walk to restaurants/grocery stores/movie theaters. We basically drive on the weekend to buy groceries and put a few miles on my car (I drive about 3000 miles a year, on average, but my car is old and paid off and never gives me any trouble). Car2Go is everywhere here -- I see 5-10 every time I walk anywhere. There are lots of car rental places downtown that you can walk to when you need to get a car to go out of town.

2. I had more trouble acclimating to the dryness than the altitude. Do yourself a favor and get a warm mist humidifier if you find your hands/lips drying out and cracking, or just get one before you start having problems. I run mine all night and use a heavy-duty lip balm before I go to bed, and it works pretty well. Elevation only really gets to me if I'm going somewhere at like 8-10,000 feet and doing an "easy" hike. Hydrate hydrate hydrate and you should feel okay within a week or two.

3. Winters are beautiful here if you've ever actually lived somewhere where "winter" is a thing. Denver gets snow, but it melts quickly, and it can be snowy one day and then 65 the next. If you haven't ever lived somewhere that gets real winters, then you might be disappointed. I have a friend from Oakland and he bitches and moans about the snow here, but I'm from the Midwest, so this is nothing.

4. Uptown is very gay-friendly. The Wranger is a huge bear bar that is packed on the weekend -- I see a low of Wyoming cowboys there on Sundays whenever I walk past. Not sure if that's your scene or not but I have a number of gay friends and think it's a pretty open city.

5. I think it's fairly liberal, at least if you're downtown. I like the other comments calling it "liberal libertarian."

6. There are A LOT of homeless people here. They are not as scary/in-your-face/off-their-heads mentally ill as the ones in SF, but they are visible and there are a lot of them. Rumor has it that some smaller Colorado/Nebraska/Kansas towns give their homeless people one-way bus passes to come here. The legalization of pot has brought a lot of teenage gutter punks to town. If you're working downtown or near the 16th Street Mall, you will see hundreds of homeless every day. I have to step over a puddle of vomit on my way in to work at least twice a week, but I have never seen human feces on the sidewalk as I once did in the Tenderloin. I get asked for change pretty much every day; you just get used to it. I am a fairly small female and have never been frightened by a Denver homeless person, for whatever that's worth.

What I like about Denver: the climate is great if you're from a place that has Real Winters (there's sun! in December!); most people are transplants so it's easy to meet people and I find most people are pretty friendly here, and there's no stigma attached to outsiders; the city is laid out on a grid and it is phenomenally easy to get around; parking is easy in most parts of the city outside of downtown/Uptown/Capitol Hill; people are fairly healthy here and there's a definite culture of physical fitness, so it's actually surprising when I go back to the Midwest and see how fat most people are; since it's kind of in the middle of nowhere (I'm guessing it's the biggest city between Kansas City and Las Vegas), most bands will stop here on tour.

What I don't like about Denver: it's in the middle of nowhere, so weekend road trips are hard unless you want to ski/hike/etc; it's getting bigger and busier, and rents and increasing much faster than salaries; a lot of people move here from places like California where there is no winter and are terrible drivers in the snow (I've seen SUVs with California plates barreling down the interstate at 80mph in a snowstorm); outside of the Hispanic population, it's a pretty white city.

Overall I'm really happy in Denver, but due to the cost of living increases probably won't be here for more than a couple more years; I'm solidly middle-class and just can't afford to buy a place in a neighborhood I want to live in for a reasonable amount of money. MeMail me if you have any other questions!
posted by jabes at 9:10 AM on June 30, 2015


I recently lived in Boulder/Denver for 8 years, and absolutely loved it... I miss it pretty bad, to be honest. There is some good advice here, but some I disagree with. To answer your questions directly:

Is it really possible to get around on a daily basis (not counting road trips) without owning a car? I'd be working downtown and I will have a bike and a transit pass.

Yes, it is very possible, but like others have said, it depends on where you live and work. For years, I lived just north of LoDo near the border with Five Points, and worked in the Tech Center, using the light rail more often than not to commute. T-Rex (huge construction project upgrading the north-south I-25 corridor through Denver) was in full swing, and often made commuting that direction through town difficult. The light rail was a great option that I really enjoyed, and was definitely usable in the winter. RTD, Denver's regional public transportation system, has been among the top in the country for a while. That said, you would have to carefully pick where to live, or be OK with a semi-regular car rental/carshare program, if you want to go completely carless. It will be almost impossible to enjoy the mountains without a car. It will be more time-consuming to get around the suburbs relying on public transportation alone. It all depends on what you want your lifestyle to look like. I'd suggest taking a good look through the RTD routes via their website, and plug some sample trips into Google maps - you can filter for public transit options, and specify when the trip will take place, I've found it's pretty accurate. The Walk Score is another accurate, more comprehensive tool that you should definitely use.

How much difference does the elevation really make? How long does it take to acclimate, particularly for someone in slightly-less-than-average physical shape?

You will definitely notice it whenever you do something active. Coming from sea level, you're probably going to need a few weeks to a month to acclimate. It's a pretty dry climate to boot, so drink a LOT of water. You might want to use a humidifier at night, or you may find a place to live that has a swamp cooler. I would go for short runs in your neighborhood, and get into the hills (not the mountains) to take a few easy hikes during those first few weeks - just be prepared to take it slow and not venture away from the trailhead too far. Don't do anything super strenuous during those first few weeks. There are a lot of options to get outside and enjoy Colorado, including hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, skiing...

Is the weather really as mild as I'm reading it is?

It's not as mild as, say, southern California, but it is pleasant for sure. It's pretty consistently sunny - I think the statistic is more than 300 days/year of sunshine. There are four seasons, though fall could stand to be a bit longer in my opinion. The winters are mild for a mountain-esque environment - like others have said, they do get snow (maybe 6x per season on average?), and it's typically melted off by the next day or two. It doesn't get very cold in the winter, compared to places like Chicago, NYC, Detroit, etc. but you do get the occasional winter storm that brings low temperatures for a bit. I really enjoyed being close to the mountains to enjoy the snow, while not having to consistently deal with the headaches of snow on the ground and persistent cold/wind where I live. It gets hot in the summer, but it's dry heat. Coming from the SF Bay, you'll probably all the sun to be very pleasant.

SF's thriving queer/kinky/poly/generally sex-positive community is important to me, and I would miss that a lot. A bit of research seems to indicate that Denver has these things, too. Is that true? How visible and accessible is it? Are these communities more open and diverse, or more cliquish and insular?

I can't really speak to this with any authority, sorry. I'm aware that these communities do exist in Denver, but didn't really rub shoulders with anyone in them. Having spent some time in the Bay area, my guess would be that you would have more options and more welcoming communities to choose from in number in SF than Denver.

What's the political climate like? On an everyday, on-the-ground, walking-around basis, does it feel more conservative, or liberal, or libertarian, or something else entirely?

Liberal libertarian, as others mentioned. On an everyday basis, you can tell it's the West. Denver is basically a liberal heart of a conservative state, so venturing outside the city (except for Boulder, which is very liberal at first blush) it will feel quite different and more conservative. The mix makes it overall a purple state, but in the city it will feel more liberal than conservative. People are a bit more uniform, though, less extreme than the Bay area, and like internet fraud detective squad said above, you may find it harder to tell a person's political leanings at first glance. Day-to-day, walking around, you MIGHT find Boulder to be similar to SF proper, or Berkley - but you will likely never think it's as liberal in Denver as it is in SF. Culturally, it's certainly less international than SF. You will see fewer non-white people, especially Asian people, in Denver than you do in SF, but there are a lot of Mexican people. Note that the Mexican immigrant culture in CO is different than in CA (which is not uniform either), and this applies to the food as well.

Something I will NOT miss about SF is having to make the decision several times a day whether to step over people sprawled out on the sidewalk or stop to ask if they're OK. Does that happen on the same scale in Denver?

Definitely not on the same scale. There are parts of downtown that homeless people consistently inhabit, but even there it's less than what I've seen in many places in the Bay area, and more localized. If their presence is something you want to avoid or minimize, you should be able to do that. There are also a lot of outreach options where you can volunteer and contribute.
posted by hootenatty at 10:47 AM on June 30, 2015


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