Ah, Colorado. Home, sweet home.
I’ve spent the majority of my 31 years in Colorful Colorado — a state known long and far for South Park, skiing, and legal weed. It’s no secret: these things are all wonderful, but, I know first-hand that Colorado, (and its capitol, Denver) have much more to offer than just cartoons, snowy mountains, and marijuana.
When the economy tanked in 2008, Denver began a mini-renaissance. The years following, Denver’s economy exploded and put it on the map as one of the U.S.’s best cities to live in. An ever-evolving food culture, a world-class music scene, several professional sports teams, a bustling night life, happy and healthy people — these are all reasons Denver is a place you need to see.
Getting to Denver
Most out-of-state visitors arrive in Denver via Denver International Airport, one of the biggest air traffic hubs in the U.S. From there, it is possible to hop on the light rail to Union Station or rent a car and make the 40 minute trip to the city. Visit Rtd-Denver.com for bus and train schedules.
Union Station sits conventiently in the heart of the city, surrounded by restaurants, bars, live music venues, and sports stadiums. This is a great place to start exploring.
Luckily, Mile High House exists, where you can find a reasonably affordable bed to sleep in. Because I am from Denver, I haven’t stayed there myself, but I’ve done my research — they have fair pricing and great reviews.
For travelers that find Denver’s hotels and hostels too expensive, I encourage looking into Couchsurfing, where you are bound to meet some entertaining and like-minded people that can help you navigate the city.
Activities and Entertainment
Crepes. Brisket. Popsickles. Honey. Arepas. Fresh produce. Juice. Tacos. Pizza. On Sundays, it’s all waiting for you on South Pearl Street. That is, if you’re ready to navigate through the thick swarms of stoned and ravenous market-goers.
What I Recommend: A Palisade Peach – $1.50 – drizzled with CBD infused Colorado Hemp Honey – $3 a stick
City Park is more than just a park. Not only does it offer over 300 acres of grass, lakes, monuments, playgrounds, basketball courts, and more, but it is also flanked by the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science — the city’s most impressive museum.
What I Recommend: Throw a frisbee around and soak in the sun or stroll over to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science – $16.95
Whether you are a baseball fan or not, you will have a memorable time at a Rockies game. Buy a $5 Rockpile ticket and wander the stadium with a cold Colorado beer at your side. Watch the sun set over the Rocky Mountains and feed off the electric energy of the optimistic crowd.
What I Recommend: A Rockpile ticket – $4 – and a cheeseburger at CHUBurger – $8.75
Food and Drinks
Start your day at Stella’s — a beautiful house-turned-coffee-shop. Their delicious selection of pick-me-ups never failed to help me through a rough morning when I worked across the street. Grab a seat on the patio and watch the day go by as you sip and soul search. That’s what coffee is for, right?
What I Recommend: Iced chai – $4.15
Black Sky is far from your typical Denver brewery. Run by a welcoming, yet no-nonsense staff of heavy metal enthusiasts, this stop will be a memorable one. Sip an Apricot Weiss, order a pizza, and ask to peruse the infamous ‘Nomicon’ as metal (and only metal) fills the confines. Stop by during their next heavy metal flea market if you want to see this place at its best.
What I Recommend: Hot Beef Injection (shot of Jameson with an au jus chaser) – $12
If you visit Denver without stopping by one of its many Santiago’s your cheating yourself out of Colorado’s best Tex-Mex. Whatever you decide to order, smother it in their famous spicy green chile and let fate take care of the rest.
What I Recommend: Beef soft taco smothered with spicy green chile and crispy chile relleno – $8.25
Finish your night here — trust me. Jerusalem has been serving Denver fast and flavorful Middle Eastern food since 1978. No need to rush over after the bars close, this Denver fixture keeps its doors open until 5:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
What I Recommend: Combination “Super Dish” – $14.95, and homemade baklava – $2.50
Ok, I’ll admit it: this place can’t offer you the most delicious breakfast on Colfax, that’s just not their thing. This is morning-after-a-wild-night food. Visit Tom’s Diner for an opportunity to join Denver’s most eccentric and hungover for a cheap meal with great people watching inside Colfax’s beloved 24-hour diner.
What I Recommend: French toast with bacon – $9, coffee – $2, and a window seat
Bars, Music, and Restaurants on Colfax Ave.
Forget downtown. If you want a genuine Colorado bar experience visit Colfax Avenue — a long stretch of bars, restaurants, and music venues that will keep you entertained late into the night.
Spots I Recommend:
- Sancho’s Broken Arrow: An eccentric Grateful Dead themed bar with a heavy psychedelic vibe.
- Bluebird Theater: A once dilapidated music venue that sat empty for nearly 80 years before it was rebuilt in 1994. It now brings in a steady stream of great music.
- Atomic Cowboy: A bustling bar serving some of Denver’s best late night pizza with countless local beers on tap.
- P S Lounge: Its jukebox — full of CDs from the ’80s and ’90s — is the best in town. Ladies receive a free rose and everyone gets a house Alabama Slammer with their first drink.
Behold! Denver’s most old-school jazz bar. A staple downtown since 1933, El Chapultapec pumps out soulful live jazz seven nights a week. Its red leather walls and intimate dance floor make this cash only establishment as good as it gets. Arrive early and snag a booth. Music starts at 9:00.
What I Recommend: Your favorite cheap beer and Freddy Rodriguez Quartet (Wednesdays and Thursdays)
Enjoy Denver on a Budget!
Denver takes travelers by surprise.
While many people simply pass through on the way to the mountains or fly in only for the marijuana, they are bound to see that Denver has more than they realized.
So, come to Denver on a budget — it’ll work out. See a baseball game at Coors Field and take a culinary tour of a booming city on the rise. Stop by a brewery and drink some craft beer. Walk the streets in search of cheap live music. Stroll farmers markets and drink fresh-brewed coffee as you soak in the crisp-aired city that keeps on growing.