Denver is in demand; people are flocking to the mile high city and calling it their new home. Maybe it’s the mountains, the great weather (sshhh…that’s supposed to be a secret), or the outdoor culture that drew you here – whatever it is – you are not alone. Denver was recently named the 6th fastest growing city in the US which means everyone is thinking the same thing…what should I do first in Denver?
I moved to Denver because it was completely new to me and I wanted to explore a new region and city when I wasn’t traveling; I thought it would ease my transition from ‘Nomad to Normal’. I still travel a lot, but when I am home, I try to get out and try new places and neighborhoods as much as I can, and I also try to get out of the city to get to the rocky mountains whenever possible.
Settling into Denver as Home
However, Denver is my first priority – I’m still really discovering what the mile-high city is all about and trying to meet new people. This hasn’t been an easy process for me for various reasons. But I made a big step and got a used bike this summer so that it was a little easier to get around and to get a bit more active in the city.
Hosting Visitors is the Fastest Way to Learn What to do in Denver
One of the great things about having a home for the first time in a decade is that I can actually invite people to come to visit me! This summer I had a few visitors, which allowed me to spend more time exploring my new city and discovering some new things to do in Denver. Being new to Denver, it was a great excuse for me to get out and see the city through a visitor’s eyes.
If your visitors need a place to stay, be sure to check out the Flora House Bed and Breakfast in Uptown. It’s in a perfect location near downtown, parks, and uptown. It’s what I always recommend to Denver visitors.
I went to museums, gardens, restaurants, and bars, and even visited the Rockies Baseball field a few times with my visitors! From that, I’ve started to compile a great list of favorite things to do in Denver with visitors.
And if you want to take yourself or your visitors outside of Denver, check out my best day trips from Denver article!
Get a Foster Pet and Get Involved with the Community
Another way to learn about the city (and make new friends) is to get involved in the city and volunteer somewhere. The absolute best thing I’ve done so far to settle in and bring me immense happiness becoming a kitty foster parent through Dumb Friends League. I started fostering kittens this summer whenever I was home for a week or two at a time.
As a foster parent, my ‘job’ is to socialize them and get them fattened up to 2 lbs so that they can be adopted. Their ‘job’ is to make me laugh, smile, and cuddle with me…they are really great at their jobs.
I’ve fostered so many different kittens and each one brought me so much joy, AND so many tears when I had to take them back to the shelter. Giving them back is one of the hardest things to do, but I know that I’m playing an important role in the Denver community.
19 of My Favorite New-to-Denver Things to Do
I’m constantly updating the best things to do in Denver list as I discover more places. This is a mix of Denver experiences to take and great food and drink around the city. I’m discovering more unique and fun things in Denver every day. This isn’t your normal best-of list, you’ll find things here that aren’t listed on any other things to do in Denver list!
1. Discover Denver Through Street Art in RINO
I don’t have a car in Denver, so that makes it a bit hard to discover is the various neighborhoods of Denver except for mine. I walk around my neighborhood (Capital Hill) all the time and can do pretty much everything on foot.
But there are a lot of great neighborhoods in Denver with snazzy New York City-esque names like LODO (lower downtown Denver), LOHI, RINO, Uptown – I honestly can’t remember what they all stand for, but I am starting to somewhat know their general direction. So when I heard about a Denver Graffiti Tour through the RINO neighborhood I figured this would be my chance to learn about a new neighborhood.
I love street art, and I find its transformation fascinating. It went from being a plague on cities in the past to something now that cities welcome and commission. It’s as if suddenly the Coyote became best friends with the Road Runner and started to pay him to hang around. Denver has one of those stories for sure, and you’ll learn a bit about it on this cool 2-hour walking tour.
Not only will you learn about the evolution of street art around the world and in Denver, but you’ll also learn about the evolution of the RINO neighborhood into an art district. RINO is the like the ‘Lower East Side’ of Denver; it’s where all the grit and crime were years ago and has now slowly transformed into a hip area. Old warehouses are now home to breweries, cool bars, start-ups, galleries, and markets – and the whole neighborhood is covered in street art. On the tour, you learn the story behind street art and graffiti based on the guide’s research and interviews with the street artists personally. It’s a nice inside look into the street art culture.
Prior to the tour, I had only been in the RINO area at night going to bars or new restaurants, this was the first time I had walked around it in the daylight and suddenly it all started making sense. It’s like seeing that one-night stand the next morning clearly.
What started years ago with alley walls as a canvas has moved out to all the main buildings and establishments of RINO – street art was everywhere. Some of it still represented the roots of the graffiti culture, some of it was commissioned work, and most of it was from prior CRUSH WALLS festivals.
I recommend anyone new to Denver check out a Denver Graffiti Tour and then hang out in the RINO neighborhood for brunch or local beers!
2. Don’t Miss Denver’s Crush Walls Festival (September)
Prior to the tour, I had never heard of CRUSH WALLS, but I soon learned about this cool street art festival unique to Denver that brings in commissioned artists every year to repaint the walls around RINO (many of them large-scale installations). They have it in Denver every September and this year I went to watch.
They paint many of the walls black again and bring in local and international artists to repaint them in the course of a week. I biked to RINO midweek during the festival to see the progress and then on the last day. It was such a fun way to experience the neighborhood.
Learn More About RINO and its Street Art
3. Smell the Flowers in the Denver Botanical Garden
I had passed by the Botanical Gardens in Denver more times than I could count. I even went to it last winter for their Holiday lights, but I had never been to the Botanical Gardens in the summer (or in the daylight!) to actually see the flowers and plants…until late this summer. My mom came to visit me and I figured it was the perfect time to go visit since my mom is a flower nut.
We picked a perfect blue sky day to go to the gardens and I had a Denver CityPASS we used for entry. I learned that the new Denver CityPASS lets you into a variety of museums and sites around Denver for discounted prices for a week timeframe – perfect for when I have Denver visitors!
The Botanical Gardens exceeded my expectations in every way. I thought it might be sort of boring, but the grounds were lovely and vast. They have several outdoor areas/gardens with different types of plants as well as indoor gardens. The whole area was so relaxing and beautiful that I found myself looking into membership!
They even offer yoga classes in the botanical gardens during the summer!
Get a Denver CityPASS to Explore More of the City
Denver CityPASS Information:
Tickets include one-time admission to any 3 of the following attractions:
1. Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus
2. Downtown Aquarium
3. Denver Art Museum
4. Denver Botanic Gardens
5. Denver Museum of Nature & Science
6. Denver Zoo
7. History Colorado Center
8. Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum
Buy A Pass here!
4. Get High In Denver At the 54thirty Rooftop Bar
Sorry – not that kind of high…I’m talking about height. I went to the opening of 54thirty rooftop bar this summer and I must admit it sort of made me miss NYC for a hot second. I normally wear pretty casual clothes around Denver – you’ll often find me in flip-flops. However, this is one time when I felt like I should get properly dressed up.
Situated on the top floor of the Le Méridien Hotel is the swanky rooftop bar 54thirty. You can sip fancy drinks in tiny glasses, sit on modern couches, and watch the sun go down over the rocky mountains on one side while being wowed by downtown Denver’s big city lights on the other side – all while listening to a hip DJ.
It’s a great place to go for the views and some fun cocktails. Obviously, this is more of a summer place, but the rooftop is open even in the cooler months for the truly hearty.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Denver? Check prices and availability for The Crawford Hotel at Union Station | Read reviews for The Crawford Hotel on Trip Advisor | Search for other hotels in Denver
5. Volunteer in Denver to get to Know Your Community
I think an important part of putting down roots is finding ways to give back to the city you call home; I choose to do that through volunteering (and kitten fostering). I’m still learning about various opportunities to volunteer around Denver, but I did come across a great Denver-based non-profit organization, Wish of a Lifetime that resonated with me.
I was happy to spend my time and effort in order to help fight senior isolation by volunteering on their big Valentine’s Day fundraising campaign handing out roses to seniors at nursing homes all over the city! I plan to continue to work with them throughout the year.
If you are looking for more outdoorsy volunteering – I have my eye on VOC – Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. VOC organizes projects across the state at various difficulty levels. The majority of their volunteer projects involve trail work in the rocky mountains, but they also have ecological projects such as planting native species or clearing invasive weeds, as well as forest health projects, where volunteers remove dead trees to mitigate wildfire risk.
See their current outdoor projects here.
6. Tour the Molly Brown House
This little piece of history was right in my Capital Hill neighborhood and I had no idea! That’s that fun thing about discovering a city – you have all kinds of little surprises. My mother and I went to do a tour of the historic Molly Brown house in Capital Hill and I was pleasantly surprised to learn of this progressive woman and her history with Denver and politics.
Molly Brown was a tough woman, and her home is only a few blocks from my little apartment. Not only that, she was a survivor of the Titanic (played by Kathy Bates in the movie). The tour was interesting, the home was beautiful; however, old home tours are not as much my thing as my mother’s. But I also learned all about other historic tours in the neighborhood that I’ll be trying out this winter!
7. Have Dinner in Larimer Square
One of those places I want to take a historic walking tour is Larimer Square. It’s a one-block area of downtown that is lined with historic buildings that have now been converted into restaurants, bars, and a few hip stores. Lights are hung across the block giving it a lovely, warm, welcoming feel. It’s there where you’ll find one of my favorite restaurants – Tamayo Modern Mexican Kitchen and Tequileria. This corner restaurant also has rooftop and outdoor seating in this prestigious block. It’s a great way to get a different perspective on Larimer Square…while sipping some tequila!
My mother and I went to dinner there to try out their Mexican cuisine and I was won over by their unique marrying of flavors like bacon and guacamole, and carnitas with an orange and habanero reduction. All of the dishes had a spicy flare tamed by a sweet fruit of some kind – the flavors were refreshing. In addition, they had a wonderful selection of tequilas and utilized them in some surprising drinks, like my tequila old-fashioned.
8. Get Familiar with Union Station – Denver’s Living Room
They call it Denver’s Living Room for a reason – it’s cozy, welcoming, lots of seating, and you can sit around as long as you want! Constructed in 1881, it was renovated in 2014 and which was the beginning of what we now know as the resurgence of LODO – lower downtown Denver.
Not only are there tons of things to do, drinks to have, and places to eat; but it’s also a real train station! Amtrak departs from Union Station, and it’s a hub for RTD as well. In fact, Union Station is normally the first thing a visitor sees in Denver since the train to the airport drops people off here! It also offers free wifi and shuffleboard! Just check out the shuffleboard pucks at Terminal Bar inside the station
I’ve slowly been discovering the restaurants and bars at Union Station too and they have turned into some of my favorite places in the city. Don’t miss Snooze for some of the best-known breakfasts in Denver, and I’m a HUGE fan of cocktails at the retro-cool Cooper’s Lounge upstairs.
Finally – Union Station is the place to be at Christmas time – it’s beautifully decorated and festive!
9. Visit the Ice Core Lab and Ice Millions of Years Old
If you can’t go to Antarctica, then do the next best thing – visit the National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility (NSF-ICF) in Lakewood. It is responsible for curating and studying meteoric ice cores recovered from the glaciated regions of the world. Why is this a ‘thing to do in Denver’ – because you can actually tour this ‘cool’ facility!
NSF-ICF provides scientists with the capability to conduct examinations and measurements on ice cores, and it preserves the integrity of these ice cores in a long-term repository for future investigations. Not only do you learn about the research being conducted, but you also learn how they get these ice cores from places like Antarctica and Greenland. These ice cores actually give us the ability to study the ancient atmosphere trapped in the ice.
It’s a fascinating tour, but bring your warm clothes as you’ll be going into rooms that are over -20 F.
Here’s how to take a tour of the facility
10. Do a Denver Brunch Experience at Tupelo Honey
They had me at bottomless Bloody Marys. When my friends from NYC were here visiting, we went to brunch at Tupelo Honey near Union Station in LODO. I had been to their martini lunch there before but had also heard they had great brunch. And everyone else must have heard the same things as there was a 40-minute wait that Sunday morning for us!
No problem though as it’s a great area to walk around, so I showed my friends Union Station (one of my favorite places in Denver!), and Confluence park by the river not too far away. The time will fly by while in LODO there’s always so much to see.
Tupelo is known for its southern food menu. We enjoyed the bottomless bloody marys, fried green tomatoes, sweet potato pancakes, grits, and omelets.
11. Bike the Cherry Creek Trail out of Denver
This paved trail goes right past my apartment – so I’ve started exploring it more in the hopes to learn my way around Denver a bit better! Cherry Creek trail stretches 42 miles, following its namesake stream from Denver’s Confluence Park in downtown Denver to Castlewood Canyon near Franktown.
It’s paved the entire way and it’s meant for bikers, runners, and walkers – you just have to be courteous of the people you are sharing the trail with. It’s relatively flat and has underpasses to get past all of the major highways which makes it really efficient!
Explore these Denver hikes for visitors
The first 3 miles from downtown is a great place to see more street art as you ride below the traffic on Speer street and enjoy the stream. Then you transition out of the city to the suburbs past golf courses, warehouses, and suburban homes. Once you get out of the main part of the city – you also have spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains! It’s a great way to see different parts of the city and get exercise at the same time!
12. Find a Favorite Local Brewery
If you are going to live in Denver, then you have to find your favorite neighborhood brewery. I’ve never lived in such a beer-crazed city; there are 72 breweries in Denver alone. And it’s beer–crazed for good reason…because the breweries and the brewing culture are really phenomenal here.
The variety of beers and specialty beers you can find in little breweries around the city is pretty impressive. In fact, I’ve been spoiled because you can walk into practically any brewery here and ask for a sour beer (my favorite) and they have one. My favorite neighborhood brewery, Baere Brewing, actually specialized in sours. And the best part is they are only a short 10-minute walk from my apartment. Just type in ‘breweries near me’ in google maps and start taste tasting to find your favorite local brewery!
13. It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere – Martini Time
One of the most important things for me to find upon moving to Denver was a martini bar. Martini’s make me happy, especially if you throw a blue cheese stuffed olive in there. It didn’t take me long to find The Corner Office near Denver Center for the Performing Arts. You know it has to be good if they have a whole part of their menu dedicated to ‘Martini Experiences’.
In addition to Martinis, they have other incredible cocktails – especially their winter cocktails. They change their menu often and I’m always surprised by new items and drinks on their menu! The bartenders there are really knowledgeable and eager to share; I could just talk to them for days about cocktails.
Discover Denver’s coffee-flavored whiskey
14. Get in Touch with Denver’s Western Side at the National Western Stock Show Parade
Denver (and Colorado) is technically considered the West. You don’t have to go too far out of Denver to find huge ranches and the ‘western’ side of Colorado. However for a couple of weeks a year in January/February, the ranchers come to Denver for the National Western Stock Show.
The Stock Show is kicked off every year with a parade down 17th St. from Union Station (see above!) through downtown. However there aren’t bands and big floats, instead, there are longhorn cattle! I went to this parade the first year I lived in Denver because I had heard about the cattle parade – but it was much more than just cattle. It was a fun chance to see Colorado’s western culture in an urban setting and it reminded me that Colorado is much more than what I see in Denver!
15. Don’t Miss this Hidden Gem – Chocolate Lab
Sometimes a girl just needs chocolate. And sometimes a girl just needs a good cocktail. At Chocolate Lab – they have both! This small chocolate-centric restaurant near City Park is known for its craft cocktails and chocolate shop (this could be the best idea ever!). That’s right, you can go have an incredibly unique craft cocktail, dinner, decadent chocolate dessert, AND take-home hand-made truffles.
They call it a lab because it does feel like a big science experiment. The décor is even sort of sterile like a lab, and they use beakers and various tubes that I barely remember from my high school chemistry class to mix drinks.
Discover more things to do in Denver
How about a S’moretini (marshmallow vodka, chocolate, coffee, cream, and toasted marshmallow), or a Flaming Queen (Scotch, Rye, maple, blackberry, vermouth, and citrus)? Their food is also quite experimental in nature. Tortellini with dark chocolate shavings that bring out the flavor, or bourbon chocolate BBQ sauce pulled pork.
I never liked chemistry in school, but had I been able to experiment with chocolate in chemistry – I’m pretty sure I would have gone into science as a career!
16. Have a Progressive Dinner in Olde Town Arvada
If you are itching for some smaller town charm, then just hop on the G train from Union Station in downtown Denver and in 20 minutes you’ll get off and enter historic and adorable Olde Town Arvada.
Arvada was the site of the very first gold strike in Colorado. Downtown Arvada is also designated on the National Register of Historic Places, which means that many of these buildings on Main Street are original and add to that small-town feel.
Olde Town isn’t just charming, it’s tasty! There are so many incredible restaurants and bars there, you can’t go to just one of them. Instead, I suggest you go to multiple places and make it a progressive dinner so you can try out many of these cool establishments.
In addition, Olde Town is pedestrian friendly and as of 2021, they allow open containers! So you can sip a drink as you stroll to your next course!
Make sure you check out the Stockroom. Spirit Wine Provisions is a liquor store specializing in whiskey, natural wine, and mixology…and it has a dark secret. There may just be a speakeasy in the back.
When you are let through the plain white door that says “Employees Only”, you will not only find a dark stockroom, but you’ll also find tables, a smooth bartender, and a simple-looking bar stocked with the largest variety of bitters I’ve seen – 160 to be exact. In lieu of a password, all you have to do is stop at the cash register of Spirit Wine Provisions and ask if you can “help stock boxes” and you will be led through the unassuming Employees Only door into the boozy cocktail world.
Don’t miss these 8 other surprises you’ll find in Olde Town Arvada!
17. Switchback Smokehouse for Incredible BBQ
Just follow your nose to this short jaunt out of Denver, for some of the best-smoked meat you’ll find in Denver on the western slope! Switchback Smokehouse is in the little town of Kittredge located in the foothills just past Red Rocks and Morrison.
In fact, the drive from Red Rocks to Kittredge is also pretty special as it winds through the canyon!
The town of Kittredge is really small and the whole town smells like BBQ when Switchback has the smoker going outside! The restaurant is small but it has a lovely patio that is set along side Bear Creek which is pet friendly and just darn serene.
Everything is good here, and the BBQ sauce is homemade. I love the fried pickle chips, as well as the BLT with thick-cut, smoked bacon. Plus – you can just go and get the smoked goodies by the pound too!
18. Take a Trip to Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station
Meow Wolf’s third permanent exhibition is now open in Denver! Convergence Station is unforgettable, transformational, and not to be missed. This was my first time experiencing the Meow Wolf universe and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting.
Be prepared for things to be weird and a bit overwhelming!
This is a huge building with 4 different ‘converged worlds’ filled with thought-provoking interactive installations from local and national artists.
In addition, to simply walking around and interacting with all of the art, there is also a mystery storyline to solve for those who really want to dig in. Buy a QPASS card at the transit station’s information counter, which is your ATM card to collect “mems” throughout the exhibition, and view or exchange them at ATM kiosks throughout the building, or at home on their website. This will help you completely interact with the story, and will keep you coming back for more and more until you solve the mystery!
Get tickets in advance here and plan on going back multiple times!
19. Take a Walk through History…if you Dare! Capital Hill Walks
I was able to learn all about my neighborhood history and haunts by taking this Ghosts of Capital Hill Walking Tour. This tour is the perfect way to experience Denver’s mystery, history, legend, and lore, and is perfect if you’re looking for a fun night out… if you dare.
Our guide, Anna, really made the tour by telling us scary stories with the right amount of humor and drama. And my favorite part was that the tour was at night, making it even more intriguing.
In addition to the scary stories, she shared a ton of history about the area. I was surprised to learn that Denver (and specifically Capital Hill) was the inspiration for two horror movie classics – Poltergeist and The Changeling.
Check out this Denver Mile-High Ghouls Haunted Walking Tour!
I have so much more to discover in my ‘New To Denver’ life, but it’s a slow process sometimes due to my work schedule. However, I’m making progress – at least now when visitors do come to Denver I have some great ideas on where to take them for fun things to do! Consider that an invitation – come visit me and we’ll explore together!