I love snow skiing and hiking, so I land in Denver pretty frequently. But even when I’m heading to the mountains, I try to tack on a night in the Mile High City.
My older sister, a scientist, and her husband, a computer guru, live there. As of last month, my 84-year-old mom does, too.
That gives me one more reason to stay a while, which is fine with me.
If you plan to visit Colorado anytime soon –– and you should, because round trip airfare from Austin is hovering at around $200 as of late –– factor in some time to explore this city nestled against the Rocky Mountain foothills. Below are some highlights to take in while in town.
Take the downtown train
From the airport, it costs $10.50 to hop a train all the way to downtown Denver, where you can step into a lively mecca of shops, restaurants and hotels at Union Station.
Trains have been zipping in and out of this location, at the intersection of 17th and Wynkoop Streets, since 1881. The original station burned, replaced by a new one in 1914. The structure was artfully renovated in 2012. Today you’ll find a splash pad outside, museums nearby, and lots of activity day and night. You’ll want to settle in with a book on one of the leather couches indoors, where you can admire the huge hanging lights, brass detailing, tile floors and a pair of shuffleboard tables. The whole place feels European, and if you told me I’d somehow been transported to Switzerland, I’d probably believe you –– until I noticed that the trains weren’t all precisely on time. (They’re close.)
Where to stay in Denver
Book a room at the trendy Le Méridien Denver Downtown, an ultra-chic hotel with a central location near the city’s Arts District and a popular rooftop bar, the 54thirty. While taking in the twinkling lights of the city and the starry sky above, I heeded the bartender’s recommendation and ordered a smokey and delicious Mez Tai Meets the Sky, a blend of mezcal, falernum, lime juice and dark rum, topped with a cloud of passion fruit honey foam. Don’t miss the champagne vending machine in the lobby, or the chandelier, which looks like chunks of glittering ice falling from the ceiling. Rooms are sleek, modern, and grey and white, with a slightly retro vibe.
I’m also a fan of Halcyon Cherry Creek, a boutique hotel in the trendy Cherrywood neighborhood. You can borrow a snow sled or cruiser bike from the gear garage, and play a vinyl record on a record player in your room. Either way, you’ll sleep in luxury.
Check out the Denver Art Museum
Spend a morning at the Denver Art Museum, 100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway. Many of the galleries have been closed for renovation, but on Oct. 24, all eight levels of the Gio Ponti-designed Lanny and Sharon Martin Building will reopen. You should go.
First, ponder gorgeous landscapes in the museum’s 19th Century European and American Art exhibit, featuring paintings by Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Edouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and more. Second, spend some time in the museum’s Petrie Institute of Western American Art, filled with paintings and sculpture depicting cattle stampedes, Native Americans and cowboys caught in driving storms. Finally, indulge your nostalgic side with a stop at the interactive “Memory Mirror” by Lares Feliciano, an immersive installation where you’ll feel like you’ve wandered into your eccentric aunt’s living room, complete with a box-shaped television, upholstered chairs and loud wallpaper. (The museum is operating under reduced capacity during Covid, so buy tickets online in advance.)
Take an ice cream break
Need a pick me up? You can’t miss Little Man Ice Cream at 2620 16th Street, which is housed in a 28-foot silver-gray cream can, a la one of those vintage, hotdog-shaped stands on Coney Island. Flavors rotate, but look for Salted Oreo, vegan-friendly Bees Knees, or Space Junkie –– a combination of black raspberry, marshmallow and brownie bits. Get a cone, then stroll the area, which bustles with action.
Get a glimpse of the past
Save a day to tour the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where you can ogle the skeleton of a huge whale, examine dinosaur fossils, or stroll the Wildlife Halls, where three-dimensional scenes make you feel like you’re brushing shoulders with walruses and bears. My mom wanted to see a temporary exhibit about Stonehenge, which we did, but her favorite was a permanent exhibit about Egyptian mummies. (The Stonehenge exhibit closed in September.) We learned about the lives and deaths of the two female mummies on display, and even saw the mummy of a baby crocodile.
The museum has an impressive exhibit about gems and minerals, one about space, plus an IMAX theater, currently showing two films: “Sea Lions: Life by a Whisker” and “Great Bear Rainforest.”
Explore Denver’s City Park
Just outside of the Museum of Nature and Science lies City Park. Take the time to stroll the paved pathway around the lake’s perimeter, where you can rent a swan-shaped paddle boat or a bicycle. Be sure to stop to check out the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr., too. The 330-acre park is also home to the Denver Zoo, as well as tennis courts, soccer fields, picnic sites and two playgrounds.
Every time I visit Denver, I find new reasons to return. Most recently, Meow Wolf opened its third permanent space in Denver. The four-story immersive exhibit, dubbed “Convergence Station,” took three years to build and looks like a mashup of an episode of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, a Disney castle, and a Target store that got turned inside out.
I can’t wait to explore.
If You Go
Frontier, United and Southwest offer non-stop flights from Austin to Denver. Once there, you can take the RTD train from the airport to Union Station in downtown Denver.