Denver is as well known for its natural beauty as it is for arts and culture. The largest city and state capital of Colorado, Denver is located in the region known as the Front Range Urban Corridor, between the Rocky Mountains to the west and the High Plains to the east. Featuring world-class entertainment venues, a wide array of dining and lodging options and some of the most famous teams in professional sports, Denver is one of the top destinations in the Southwest and the entire country. This practical guide serves as the perfect introduction to the city affectionately known as the Mile High City.
Getting To Denver
By Air: Incoming flights arrive at the Denver International Airport, America’s largest airport in total area. The airport is one of the world’s busiest, having served more than 52 million passengers in 2013. Several forms of ground transportation are provided at the international airport, including car rentals, hotel shuttles, taxi and public transportation provided by the Regional Transportation District (RTD).
By Rail: Amtrak passengers on the California Zephyr will arrive at the historic Union Station, first opened in 1881. Prior to February 2014, Amtrak was serving passengers at a temporary location on 21st Street since 2011. The 19th century station is served by Denver’s RTD – providing commuter light rail, the free 16th Street MallRide and public bus service.
By Car: The City of Denver is served by a large network of interstate highways and state highways. The primary routes for motorists traveling into the city are Interstates 25, 70, 76 and State Highway 87.
Getting Around Denver
While driving around Denver is much easier than many other American metropolitan regions, the city has an exceptional public transportation system, a number of taxi companies, as well as Uber, the popular transportation startup. The Downtown Denver Partnership provides a useful interactive guide to parking lots throughout the city.
Where To Stay
The best place to stay is in downtown Denver near the 16 Street Mall and the primary location for most of the city’s top-end hotels. However, low-budget hotels under $110 and moderately priced hotels are also available. Here is just a small sampling of the best accommodations in the Mile High City.
Where To Eat
Based upon user ratings from multiple online travel sites, the following are among the best places for dining in a diverse collection of cuisines, in three separate price categories.
16th Street Mall
Although Trip Advisor rates the 16th Street Mall far down the list of top attractions in Denver, for first-time visitors, it’s a must see spot. Featuring more than 50 dining options, over 300 shops and many top hotels, the popular promenade is the center of activity in downtown Denver. Extending nearly 1.5 miles from Union Station to Broadway, the 16th Street Mall is within walking distance to many of the Mile High City’s prominent landmarks, including the Denver Performing Arts Center, Denver Convention Center, the Daniel and Fisher Tower and Coors Field.
Colorado State Capitol
The Colorado State Capitol is home to the Colorado State Assembly and houses the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s offices. First opened in 1894, the structure is 180 feet high and its dome is plated with 24 carat gold. On the grounds of the Civic Center, the State Capitol is open for free tours Monday through Friday. Nearby is the U.S. Mint, one of the world’s largest manufacturer of coins, with tours available by advance reservation only.
First opened in 1995, Coors Field is home to baseball’s Colorado Rockies. Due to Denver’s high elevation, the popular ballpark is regarded as the top hitter’s ballpark in Major League Baseball. Located in the oldest section of Denver, Coors Field is just two blocks from Union Station and the 16th Street Mall. One of the Colorado Rockies’ greatest ballplayers, Todd Helton, is scheduled to have his jersey retired in August, the first player in team history to receive the prestigious honor.
Denver Art Museum
The Denver Art Museum is just one of a number of attractions within a few blocks of each other, including the Colorado State Capitol and the U.S. Mint. One of the largest museums between Chicago and the West Coast, the Denver Art Museum was founded in 1893. The museum has a permanent collection of more than 70,000 works of art, including an impressive collection of American Indian art. Many prominent artists have works featured in the museum, such as Jackson Pollock, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keefe, Edgar Degas, Ruth Thorne-Thomsen and Winslow Homer. One of the most impressive structures at the museum is the Frederic C. Hamilton building, completed in 2006.
Denver Performing Arts Complex
With 10 performance stages and more than 10,000 seat on 12 acres, the Denver Performing Arts Complex is the second largest performing arts complex in the world after the Lincoln Center in New York City. The center, also known as The Plex, DCPA and the Denver Center, features the Denver Center for Performing Arts, showcasing Broadway shows such as “The Lion King,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Little Mermaid,” “The Book of Mormon” and “Peter and the Starcatcher.” The center features a Performing Arts Hall of Fame, honoring Coloradans and non-Coloradans that have made significant contributions to performing arts. Among the former Colorado residents in the Hall of Fame are Douglas Fairbanks, Glen Miller, playwright Mary Chase, John Denver and Helen Bonfils, the center’s co-founder and former owner of the Denver Post.
Larimer Square is Denver’s oldest city block and a fabulous destination for shopping, upscale dining and live entertainment. As news of Pike’s Peak Gold Rush spread, settlers arrived to create a mining town, first named Camp Auraria. Denver City was founded in November 1858, on what is now Larimer Street, from 14th Street to 15th Street. Notable choices for food are the Market at Larimer Square and the previously mentioned Osteria Marco and Ocean Prime.
Known as the Road in the Sky, at 14,240 feet, Mount Evans is the highest paved road in North America. About 60 miles west of Denver, Mount Evans is reached via the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, described as passing through five climate zones. Due to snowy conditions, the road leading to the summit is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. However, once atop the summit, visitors will be rewarded with some of the most breathtaking views of the Colorado Rockies. Along the way, motorists should stop to visit Echo Lake, a popular destination for picnics and Denver’s only subalpine park. If traveling to Mount Evans from Denver, an excellent side trip is visiting the City of Boulder, featuring the beautiful University of Colorado campus.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
An enormous rock structure 10 miles west of Denver, Red Rocks is unquestionably one of America’s finest concert venues. First opened in 1906, Red Rocks has a seating capacity of 9,450 and draws the biggest names in entertainment. In 1964, The Beatles performed one of the earliest rock concerts at this venue, described as the world’s only naturally occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater. Other world-class performers who have appeared at Red Rocks include Jimi Hendrix, Sonny and Cher, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks and Carole King.
Sports Authority Field At Mile High
The home football stadium to the Denver Broncos, Sports Authority Field at Mile High first opened in 2001. The stadium replaced the legendary Mile High Stadium, the home field for the Bronco’s two consecutive Super Bowl victories in 1997 and 1998. While the Broncos, lead by quarterback Peyton Manning, is the top draw, the facility also hosts the Denver Outlaws professional lacrosse team. Sports Authority Field is open for public tours with advance reservations strongly recommended. The stadium is also houses the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, whose notable inductees include Don Baylor, Todd Helton, Yolanda Johnson, Floyd Little, Ceal Barry and John Elway. Denver’s other top sports venue is the nearby Pepsi Center, home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
U.S. Olympic Training Center
Located 70 miles south of Denver in Colorado Springs, the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOC) is one of three campuses for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic team members. The USOC in Colorado Springs also serves as the headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Founded in 1894, the USOC draws about 130,000 visitors annually and free guided tours are offered during the summer and winter. Visitors can purchase Olympic and Paralympic souvenirs in the Team USA Shop. Colorado Springs is also home to the nation’s official governing body of triathlon – USA Triathlon and USA Cycling, as well as the U.S. Air Force Academy.
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Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.