Its skyscrapers marking the final transition between the Great Plains and the American West, Denver stands at the threshold of the Rocky Mountains. Despite being known as the "Mile High City," and serving as the obvious point of arrival for travellers heading into the mountains, it is itself uniformly flat. The majestic peaks of the Front Range are clearly visible but begin to rise roughly fifteen miles west of downtown, allowing Denver plenty of room to spread out.
Mineral wealth has always been at the heart of the city's prosperity, with all the fluctuations of fortune it entails. Though local resources have been progressively exhausted, Denver has managed to hang on to its role as the most important commercial and transportation nexus in the state. Its original "foundation" in 1858 was by pure chance; this was the first spot where small quantities of gold were discovered in Colorado. There was no significant river, let alone a road, but prospectors came streaming in, regardless of prior claims to the land – least of all those of the Arapahoe, who had supposedly been confirmed in their ownership of the area by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.
There was actually very little gold in Denver but the city survived, prospering further with the discovery of silver in the mountains. When the first railroads bypassed Denver – the death knell for so many other communities – the citizens simply banded together and built their own connecting spur.
These days, Denver is a welcoming and enjoyable city, with a fairly liberal outlook. Tourism is based on getting out into the great outdoors rather than on sightseeing in town, but somehow the city's isolation gives its 2.5-million population a refreshing friendliness; and in a city that is used to providing its own entertainment, there always seems to be something going on.
Denver is a geographically isolated city sitting exactly one mile above sea level and over 600 barren miles from the next closest major city. Concealed from the west by bold foothills and towering 14,000-foot peaks, and protected to the east by an expansive and unforgiving high desert terrain, it is a place where everybody seems to be from somewhere else. Today, modern-day pioneers flock to Denver for world-class skiing and biking, serene hiking and intense rock climbing. They travel here from far and wide to imbibe famous microbrews, stand in the humbling presence of massive peaks or find prosperity in the booming computer and telecommunications economy. The end result: blended but cohesive neighborhoods, brimming with a diverse collection of cultures and exuding character and charm.
Anchored by Civic Center Park and the 16th Street Mall , a mile-long, tree-lined pedestrian promenade, downtown is the perfect place to begin exploring the Mile High City. Downtown's vital mix of government, entertainment, business and sport make Denver's central business district the envy of the West. Take a tour of the Colorado State Capitol Building , where the 18th step places you exactly one mile above sea level, or stroll through the nation's best collection of Native American art at the Denver Art Museum . Shop away at the Denver Pavilions and Tabor Center or take in a Broadway show at one of the eight theaters comprising the Denver Performing Arts Complex . Spend a day wandering the shores of Downtown Aquarium or seek adventure at Elitch Gardens . After a long day of sightseeing, kick back in a brewpub and enjoy a microbrew, or treat yourself to a fine dining experience at one of downtown's excellent restaurants.
Historic Lower Downtown (LoDo)
The ghosts of the red light district from Denver's gold rush days may still haunt the streets of lower downtown, but they are not alone anymore. The area, termed LoDo by locals, was virtually empty 10 years ago. But since the opening of Coors Field , home to baseball's Colorado Rockies, this 20-block district of 19th-century brick buildings has come alive with energy and entertainment. The original commercial core of Denver underwent a major renovation and now sports a seemingly endless variety of trendy pubs, restaurants, nightclubs, shops and luxurious loft apartments. Larimer Square , at the southern end of LoDo, occupies a portion of Denver's oldest street. Today, it radiates Victorian charm and bustles with the 80s disco flashback, Lucky Star . The buildings, now occupied by upscale chains, including Morton's of Chicago , and Denver originals like the Wynkoop Brewing Company , have long histories as former brothels, saloons and old-time general stores.
An eclectic residential district stretching east from downtown to City Park is home to Denver's famed Restaurant Row, a collection of elegant fine dining establishments, as well as a scattering of nightclubs and bars. It is also a great place to check out some of Denver's Victorian architecture and the impressive Cathedral of Immaculate Conception , a Romanesque masterpiece with towering, Gaudi-esque spires. A lively stretch of Colfax, Denver's longest and most eccentric avenue, wanders through Uptown. The area offers off-the-wall neighborhood bars, excellent ethnic cuisine, and the nation's best musical acts at the refurbished Ogden Theatre and Fillmore Auditorium . City Park , a beautiful legacy from the City Beautiful period, houses the Denver Zoo and the popular Denver Museum of Nature and Science .
Five Points/Curtis Park
Throughout Denver's illustrious history, Five Points and the Curtis Park district, northeast of downtown, has been a sanctuary for the African American community. Ever since Benny Hooper strolled into town in the 1920s and opened up his club/recreation center/hotel for black servicemen, the streets of Five Points have whispered jazz. Hooper's club underwent renovation a few years ago and reopened as the Casino Cabaret; it hosts some of the best jazz musicians in the country. The entire neighborhood is experiencing an urban renaissance as small businesses infiltrate the historic district and boost the economy. One of Denver's liveliest festivals, Juneteenth, fills the streets with laughter and frenzy at the dawn of each summer.
While walking the diverse streets of Capitol Hill, you might actually feel the city's pulse pounding beneath your feet. Once the neighborhood of Denver's wealthiest citizens, this area, which wears its decadent image with honor, blends the past with the present with ancient Victorian mansions and contemporary condos and apartment complexes. Although the streets are always filled with people at all hours of the night, the neighborhood is safe and friendly. Young hipsters brood along the same sidewalks that Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac treaded, searching for an evening fix of entertainment in one of the diverse array of clubs, coffeehouses, art houses, galleries and bars. It is a great place to observe the way Denver moves through day-to-day life. A wealth of historical sightseeing includes the Molly Brown House and tours of the Governor's Mansion , which resides in south Capitol Hill near the ultra-trendy Govn'rs Park.
Congress Park/Cheesman Park
A diverse mix of ethnic, age, and income groups populate these old neighborhoods bordering Capitol Hill, barely a mile from downtown. The area serves as a hotbed for Denver's gay community and fashionable 30-somethings. Cheesman Park , the former city graveyard, is now Denver's urban emerald. You will find the best mountain views in the city on the park's central acropolis. The Denver Botanic Gardens occupies the east side of the park and makes for a wonderful romantic stroll. The Congress Park vicinity encompasses Greek Town, a six-block section filled with eclectic festivities and animated diner-type restaurants.
This stylish district features some of Denver's best-known attractions, including the beloved Tattered Cover Bookstore , and Denver's number one tourist attraction, the Cherry Creek Mall . The open air-shopping plaza across from the mall, Cherry Creek North , is a menagerie of upscale boutiques, art galleries, fine dining and unique bars. It is a great local gathering place on the weekend. The Cherry Creek Bike Trail runs behind the mall and is a good place to begin a journey downtown or to other nearby destinations.
Residents of Denver are the leanest in the land which can be attested by the the active, healthy crowds that are always running or pedaling around the verdant landscape of Washington Park . Volleyball and soccer games fill the park lawns, and the bike path is always glutted with in-line thrill-seekers and fierce-pedaling road bikers. Numerous park benches and giant shade trees make for great places to chat with locals and relax on a weekday afternoon. The surrounding neighborhood is one of Denver's most affluent, yet is unpretentious and loaded with rare gems such as the hearty Italian restaurant, Carmine's On Penn .
Washington Park's wild southern neighbor is University Park, home of the University of Denver . The area is a hot spot of cultural activity, and displays some of south Denver's finest architecture, including the Ritchie Center, a mammoth copper and sandstone structure with a bell tower bedecked in gold. From booming concerts at Magness Arena to mellow, folk gatherings at Swallow Hill , to pizza and pool at Anthony's Pizza and Pasta, this neighborhood offers a little of something for everybody. South Pearl Street is a cozy little shopping spot and is home to the popular Japanese joint, Sushi Den .
Located on the western fringe of Denver, surrounded by a jagged hogback and a plethora of wide buttes, Golden is a charming small town (do not ever say it is a suburb) that echoes Colorado's gold rush heritage. Home of the Coors Brewing Company and the Buffalo Bill Museum , Golden is an excellent spot to experience a part of Western Americana. The locals have traded in their horses for mountain bikes, and the town boasts some of the best trail riding in the country at famed Apex Park and White Ranch Park .
Blend a deep Hispanic tradition with an Asian migration, mix it up with a big dash of sports frenzy and the Wild West, and Denver's dining scene begins to take shape. And do not forget the beer. Known for its casual atmosphere, brewpubs, and sports bars, the Mile High City has always been famous for good grub, but recently arrived culinary masters, attracted by the panoramic mountain setting, have vaulted Denver to the fine dining forefront. Although Denverites now enjoy fancier fare, they still love their beer.
Downtown has satisfied the appetites of Denver's business class for decades with an array of casual establishments providing comfortable atmospheres for relaxation and work. Still, if formal dining is on the agenda, there are plenty of options. The Palm takes care of the surf and turf crowd, while the staff at Bravo! Ristorante sings moving arias as they deliver Italian creations with a twist. Marlowe's huge neon martini sign overlooks the 16th Street Mall and attracts visitors for its continental cuisine. Bring a hearty hunger to the Rocky Mountain Diner for huge helpings of comfort food and some famous rainbow trout. Relax at Domo's authentic country house for a remarkable Japanese dining experience, or head down the street to the Buckhorn Exchange , Denver's first restaurant and a true meat-lover's paradise. Under the watchful eyes of big game trophies you can try all sorts of wild game including alligator, elk and rattlesnake. Dine with Denver's elite in the Napoleonic setting of Palace Arms , located in the historic Brown Palace .
Historic Lower Downtown (LoDo)
More restaurants, bars, bakeries, and coffeehouses inhabit these 20 blocks than any other district in Denver. There are so many, in fact, it is hard to choose just one. LoDo plays host to a multitude of brewpubs pouring homemade concoctions and cooking creative alternatives to traditional bar food. The Wynkoop , named after Denver's first sheriff, holds the honor as the city's oldest brewery, and fries a mean fish and chips. Its Railyard Ale is one of the area's tastiest brews. Or, for the closest thing to fine dining that a brewpub can get, see if you can get a table at the Denver Chophouse , which features steaks galore. If you want to enjoy a wide variety of ales, the Falling Rock Tap House has 69 beers on tap, including a wide selection from local breweries. Steak and potatoes are the thing at both Morton's and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse . McCormick's Fish House , located in the Oxford Hotel ,headlines a good group of seafood stops, including the Del Mar Crab House and Jax Fish House . Lim's Chinese Kitchen and P.F. Chang's are the places for a Chinese fix. The hip crowd hangs at the Purple Martini , which provides candlelight ambiance for romance, pizza and cocktails. After major sporting events, the streets of LoDo flood with hungry fans, and the restaurants fill at an alarming rate. Reservations are necessary everywhere.
Restaurant Row is a sanctuary for culinary artists. Chefs display their magic nightly at such exquisite haunts as Strings and the Avenue Grill , a favorite destination for couples, that features a varied menu with western favorites. For a quiet getaway, stop in at Dario's Restaurant, a quaint, family owned bistro full of knickknacks and heirlooms just west of City Park . Here you will experience Old World decadence as it serves heaps of Swiss-Italian fare. Or, head next door to the tiny Cafe Berlin for tasty wurst and strong German stouts. If pizza and crowds are on the menu, Pasquini's , located in an old house on 17th Avenue, is the place to be. After enjoying the restaurant's hip ambiance and vogue cuisine, wander next door to the Rhino Room for a Colorado microbrew and a game of pool in an environment straight out of the 1970s. As the night begins to wind down, relax at St. Mark's for a late night cup of coffee and a fresh baked muffin.
Cozy, family owned restaurants, friendly local pubs, and coffeehouses populate the streets of Capitol Hill. Most have been around forever and have developed a faithful following. Stop by Benny's Cantina for a fiesta of sloppy Mexican grub. Le Central is the place to stop for fine French delights. Dazzle , a newcomer to the scene, specializes in unique American cuisine. Sing bygone favorites at Charlie Brown's piano bar while deciphering the neighborhood's most complex menu, or head over to Watson's Pharmacy for some tasty ice cream. Gabor's keeps the locals happy by pouring beer and frying burgers into the wee hours.
Chessman Park/Congress Park
From quaint street-side cafes to elegant food extravaganzas, this district is sure to please. The Barolo Grill treats the palate to expensive but superb Italian cuisine and boasts the most extensive wine selection in Denver. The Satire Lounge serves a dash of dark ambiance with big dishes of Mexican standards, and the Grand China is the stop for authentic Chinese fare.
This is the Mile High City's dining central, where food designs are the norm and a simple ceramic plate becomes a canvas beckoning art. Dramatic? Maybe, but many of Cherry Creek's fine restaurants can make a dining experience into a thing of beauty. Expect to pay a hefty price, though. Delectable Indian delights are at the Bombay Clay Oven , and Little Ollie's sculpts healthy (nothing deep-fried here) Chinese food. If you are searching for the obscure, check out the underground RooBar for inventive martinis along with classic bar grub. The Cherry Cricket , a ruffian original in the upscale district, spices things up with burning batches of homemade green chili.
Old South Gaylord Street feeds the neighborhood with a myriad of timeless standards. Visit the Washington Park Grille , a crowded bistro with a flair for Italian, or wander next door for some seafood at Max Gill and Grill . Sushi lovers will delight at Japon's flavorful variety, while bike lovers enjoy the burgers at the HandleBar and Grill .
University Park is full of popular dives and down home joints serving burgers and pizza. Fagan's Restaurant and Bar is the place to get authentic Shepherd's Pie and a flavor of Old World Ireland. The Jerusalem Restaurant delves into exotic textures and fine Middle Eastern cuisine. Treehouse Cafe takes care of the heath food crowd, and Mustard's Last Stand specializes in hot dogs and Polish sausage. The Pearl Street Grill is a local favorite; the restaurant's back patio is one of Denver's most relaxing and intimate dining destinations.
An emerging hotspot for Denver diners, the Highland neighborhood in Northwest Denver offers a great selection of Mexican restaurants and an array of inventive, family-owned bistros. Pagliacci's serves old-fashioned Italian food in a homey, Tuscan ambiance. Bang! offers a small, 10 item menu in a lively atmosphere and is home to the area's best burger, as well as some spicy Cajun cooking. Common Grounds serves the art crowd with weekly poetry readings by local bards, acoustic jams for music lovers, and top-notch mochas.
For a real treat, head to the foothills and check out the historic Fort . Built atop a high slope, with picturesque views, this establishment is the ultimate in romantic mountain dining. The menu is extremely meat oriented and the chefs prepare venison and elk in wonderfully creative ways.
Denver boasts an interesting mix of attractions, providing visitors with many tour options.
Civic Center Park
Walk through Civic Center Park , where you'll see the Colorado State Capitol Building , a remarkable turn of the century Greek replica, the Colorado History Museum and the Denver Library . Have lunch at Dario's Restaurant, then explore the nearby Denver Art Museum .
Denver History Museum
Next door to the Denver Art Museum is the Byers-Evans House . The Colorado History Museum is also in this area. The City and County Building and the U.S. Mint are not far from the retro Bump and Grind restaurant.
Denver Performing Arts Complex
Enjoy breakfast at Hot Cakes , which is close to the 16th Street Mall and the Denver Pavilions , two popular shopping options. Nearby is the Paramount Theater, the Denver Performing Arts Complex and the Tabor Center .
Walk around Writer Square , which acts as a passage to Larimer Square . Dine at the Denver Chophouse and Brewery . Browse the Tattered Cover Bookstore , then walk to Union Station and tour Denver's first brewery, the Wynkoop Brewing Company .
Molly Brown House
In Capitol Hill, visit the Molly Brown House and St. John's Episcopal Cathedral. Discover the neighborhood's more modern offerings at Wax Trax , one of the city's preeminent independent record shops. Nearby is the Grant-Humphreys Mansion and the Governor's Mansion .
Gray Line Tours ( +1 303 394 6920/ http://www.grayline.com ) Banjo Billy's Bus Tours ( +1 720 771 0087/ http://www.banjobilly.com/ ) Pacesetter Coach Lines ( +1 303 289 5637 )
Black American West Museum and Heritage Center ( +1 303 292 2566/ http://www.blackamericanwest.org/ ) Grant-Humphreys Mansion ( +1 303 894 2505/ http://www.coloradohistory.org/ghm/rentalsGrantHum.htm ) Byers-Evans House/Denver History Museum ( +1 303 620 4933/ http://www.coloradohistory.org/ )
Columbine Air Tours ( +1 719 658 0659) Soaring Adventures of America ( +1 303 436 1436 ) Sunny Day Come Fly Away ( +1 303 456 5916 )
Platte Valley Trolley ( +1 303 458 6255/ http://www.denvertrolley.org/ )
Grand Adventure Balloon Tours ( +1 970 887 1340/ http://www.grandadventureballoon.com ) Air Time Balloons Incorporated ( +1 303 320 4400 )