Note – During COVID15, many of these things to do around Denver may not be operating. Please check the business’s website prior to going. Please also bring a mask and socially distance as required.
Even though I moved to Denver in June of 2017, I actually feel like I’ve only been here in the mile high city for a few months. I’m still trying to get to know my new city and find some balance in my life of travel and work. As you’ve likely noticed if you follow my social media (and you should be!) – I still am traveling 50% of the time, and that makes it hard to get to know my new city of Denver and make it my home.
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. Therefore, when I am home, I try to get out and try new places as much as I can, and I also try to get out of the city to get to the rocky mountains whenever possible.
This summer I went hiking in Crested Butte over the 4th of July, and I took a little road trip this fall to Rocky Mountain National Park and Fort Collins for some Autumn hiking. Both trips were great and they make me want to get out more to see the state that I now call home!
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.
Get a Foster Pet and Get Involved with the Community
The absolute best thing I’ve done so far to settle in and bring me immense happiness is become 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.
So far I’ve had 4 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 for the community.
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 visit me! This summer I had a few visitors, which allowed me to spend more time exploring my new city 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.
I went to museums, gardens, restaurants, 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!
17 of My Favorite New-to-Denver Things to Do
I’m constantly updating this 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 by 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 city’s welcomes and commissions. 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 was 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. O
n the tour you learn the story behind the 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 – the 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 the 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 it.
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
PIN IT FOR LATER!
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 in to 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 for myself!
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!
Or just get a pass to the Botanic Gardens here and skip the lines.
4. Get High In Denver At the 5430 Rooftop Bar
Sorry – not that kind of high…I’m talking about height. I went to the opening of 5430 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 5430. 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 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.
More info on 5430 Rooftop Bar
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 volunteering on their big Valentine’s Day fundraising campaign handing out roses to seniors at nursing home 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 on 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 mothers. 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 at 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.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
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; it’s also a real train station! Amtrak leaves out of Union Station as well as a hub for RTD. 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 the the best known breakfast 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!
And while you are downtown, why not have some fun with this Scavenger Hunt – explore Lower Downtown Denver, to the Coors Field, Union Station, the Confluence and much more!
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 the 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 their 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 its 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!
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 brew 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! Or let someone else lead you to delicious brews with this Denver 3 Hour Brewery Walking Tour.
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 Martini’s – 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.
PIN IT FOR LATER!
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’s 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 – the have both! This small chocolate-centric restaurant near City Park is known for their 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 desert, 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.
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 went into science as a career!
It’s a small space, so make a reservation and come hungry!
Chocolate Lab website
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 back.
When you are let through the plain white door that says “Employees Only”, you will not only find a dark stockroom, 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 boozy cocktail world.
And don’t miss these other 8 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 in 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 is has a lovely patio that is set aside Bear Creek that 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!
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!