I’ve had a few days to marinate on my trip to Denver last week, and wow, it was a good one! I really needed a break from work, and well, from my life in general, and I’m feeling so much better.
I spent a good amount of time planning the things I wanted to do while in Denver (I like to plan, I admit it), so I wanted to share everything here in case you’re ever planning on heading to the Mile High City!
Getting there: Denver Airport + RTD A Line
I’ve been to many airports over the years, but you should know that the Denver airport is pretty massive. It’s the 18th busiest airport in the world, and the 6th busiest in the country! It took me at least 30 minutes to get from my plane to the baggage claim, so plan accordingly. When you’re flying out of Denver, I wouldn’t cut things close – stick to the 2-hour rule.
I planned to take the RTD A Line from the aiport to downtown and found out beforehand that the train is by the Westin Hotel – this helped a lot when I was making my way through the airport, because it never says “RTD” – look for the Westin signs instead. It’s a $9 ride all the way downtown, which is a steal. It’s a 38 minute ride, so again, plan accordingly.
Hotel: The Curtis
The A Line’s last stop is at Union Station and my hotel was just 1 mile from there. I picked The Curtis, owned by DoubleTree, because it was close to so many things I wanted to see. It was decently-priced, and very cute. It’s known for its fun-themed floors – I was on the Dance Floor, which I knew was fate, but other floors include Star Wars, Superhero, Hair, Rock n’ Roll, and Chick Flick – among several others. The bed was super comfy, it had a very modern bathroom, and they had Bravo, so basically, it was perfection!
After ditching my bags, I skipped over to Syrup! You can get breakfast, brunch, and lunch at anytime here, and feel free to inhale their many house-made syrups including butterscotch, khalua, blackberry, apricot, and coconut among others. I went for the waffle flight and washed it down with their Ultimate Bloody Mary. Delish!
Sight to See: State Capitol Building
I grabbed a Lyft from Syrup to the Colorado State Capitol Building. My Lyft rule while on vacation? If it’s around 1-mile away, I’ll walk it – unless I feel unsafe (like at night, or in a bad area), otherwise, I grab a ride. Most of my rides in Denver were around $4 ($3 ride + $1 tip).
I already live in a state that has an amazing, beautiful Capitol Building, but Colorado’s notoriously sits at 1-mile above sea level, specifically the 15th step at the west entrance, which sits at 5,280 feet above sea level. You’ll know the step, because it is engraved and the view from the step is impressive. If you catch it at sunset, you’ll be able to see the sun sink behind the Rockies.
Icon: Big Blue Bear
From the Capitol, I strolled right over to the Denver Convention Center – home of a Denver Icon: the big, blue bear. Officially named, “I See What You Mean”, artist Lawrence Argent created the bear and it was installed in 2005. It’s 40 feet tall, but adorable – this was on my must-see list, and I’m so glad I got to see it, because when it first came into view as I rounded the corner, I couldn’t stop smiling!
Meeting Spot: Union Station
After seeing a few sights, I walked back to my hotel for a little rest before getting ready to head back out for the night. When I bought my Red Rocks concert ticket in November, I also purchased a round-trip ticked on a CID shuttle that would take me from Union Station to Red Rocks and back. Before I get into it, I’ll say this was a solid way to spend $40.
Union Station has several restaurants, coffee shops, gift shops, and a cool-looking Terminal Bar. Even if you don’t eat or drink there, stop in just to see the decor – it looks like the train stations you’ve imagined/seen in movies.
I walked to Union Station, specifically to the Thirsty Lion, where there was a check-in for the shuttle. Upon checking in, I got a wristband (which earned me a free appetizer). I had around an hour to eat dinner, so I stayed there and enjoyed a few local beers and apps (I got a Cali roll and Calamari). I also dropped my debit card and someone immediately turned it in – which proves what I’d heard about Denver: everyone you meet is genuinely kind.
The shuttle, which was a huge coach bus, picked us up around 6:15 – the doors at Red Rocks were scheduled to open at 7:30. The ride to the venue is around 15-20 minutes.
Event: Red Rocks Amphitheater
Ah-ha! The moment I’d made this entire trip for! Upon entering Red Rocks, there’s immediately breathtaking views. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The shuttle parked, and as we were told, we would still have a bit of a hike ahead of us, and we were to be back on the bus 30 minutes after the music ended.
I’ll admit it: the hike to the venue is not a joke. At 6,450 feet above sea level, Red Rocks is a little higher than Denver itself, and many people – travelers mostly – can suffer from altitude sickness if their bodies haven’t adjusted yet.
But hey, I made it to the top, and the line to get into the concert was LONG. It took almost two hours to get inside the venue, meaning once I got to the seating area, it was already dark – I don’t think I got to see everything you’re supposed to see.
Red Rocks is the only perfectly acoustic concert venue in the world… but honestly, I was not impressed with the sound whatsoever. It could have been the band’s fault, or technology, or weather… but it was nothing to brag about.
Speaking of weather, I read several guides on what to expect when you’re going to Red Rocks, and quickly learned that it might be a battle with the elements. Because of the geography, weather inside Red Rocks can change very quickly, and it will most likely be chilly. I wore a t-shirt, but packed a flannel shirt, jacket, rain poncho, and a hat – I wore everything. It was cold, raining, and windy for a majority of the night. Getting back on that heated bus was a blessing!
As far as Khalid, he sung his ass off. I hate admitting this, but I think the venue was a bit of a distraction for me. It was difficult to pay attention, but I got to see the entire show, and he sang all the songs from his album, along with three new songs, and some of his popular collaborations. He also said he’d be releasing his new album this fall.
I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t have a good time – I did; I’m still thinking about it. But, I don’t think I’ve ever waited in line for 2 hours to see a show. I would have liked to have been inside during the sunset. It was fun, yes, life-changing? No, but it was a night I’ll never forget.
Breakfast: Denver Biscuit Company
I got back from the concert around 1am, and had been up since 4 that day, so I went to bed hungry, but too tired to deal with it. So, when I got up, I knew I needed a feast. This is exactly why I headed to Denver Biscuit Company!
I started things off with an adult iced coffee (I believe it was called “Mom’s Iced Coffee), and I ate The Dahlia with a side of grits. So. Freakin. Good!
Experience: Botanic Gardens at York Street
From there, I walked off my feast and headed to the Botanic Gardens at York Street. I didn’t plan it, but the walk from Denver Biscuit Co. to the Gardens was so great – I saw Denver East High School (which looks like a university) and walked down York Street, where there were adorable homes with lush landscaping.
The Botanic Gardens are public, and take over 24 acres of land, showcasing flowers and plants from around the world. It was a beautiful day, and although I was incredibly sore from Red Rocks, I enjoyed walking around the entire place and seeing so many beautiful things. The gardens are divided up by region/type of plant. I loved their Japanese Garden, but my favorite spot was the Rock Garden, which showed plants and succulents that thrive in high altitudes. I’d never seen anything like it!
Rooftop Drinks: Avanti F & B
From there, I needed to sit down, and I wanted to visit the Highland area of Denver. So, I headed over to Avanti F & B. Avanti is a collective eatery, meaning it’s basically a trendy, stand-alone food court. You can sit wherever, eat whatever (there’s 7 different restaurants), and drink whatever from the various restaurants and bars there. I got a local beer and a local cider (one at a time, ha) and sat on their rooftop deck for a view of the city. It was gorgeous!
I wished I would have been hungry, because the food options looked great – sushi bowls and fish tacos were a few of the things I saw at the tables nearby, but I was still stuffed from The Dahlia.
Dessert: Little Man Ice Cream
From Avanti, I walked to a place I’ve wanted to go for probably two years: Little Man Ice Cream. Little Man opened in 2008, and I saw it on an episode of “Haylie’s America” and knew I had to visit one day. This iconic ice cream shop stands proudly in a 28ft tall ice cream can, and serves homemade ice cream (and vegan flavors)!
The other awesome thing about Little Man is, they have a Scoop for Scoop program, meaning that for every scoop of ice cream served, Little Man donates a scoop of food (rice or beans) to someone in need around the world. To date, Little Man has fed thousands of people in 9 countries.
It was a difficult decision, but I got a scoop of banana pudding in a waffle cone… I ate every bit!
Dinner: Bar Dough
I stomped around the highland area for an hour trying to drum up an appetite because I had been looking forward to an authentic Italian dinner at Bar Dough for AWHILE. If you’re a fan of “Top Chef”, you’ll know why.
Bar Dough is located in a cozy neighborhood, and inside, it’s fresh and full of white marble. This is the place for top notch bar service (the bartender uses tweezers for straw placement), unique wines, and a unique twist on Italian cuisine.
I started things off with the castelvetrano olives, tried a few new wines, and went for it with a spicy clam pizza – let’s pause for a moment to honor thy dough.
Do yourself a favor, and use the oil they serve with the pizza. DEVINE. If you’re looking for a brunch spot, Bar Dough serves bottomless aperol spritz and I’m pretty sure there’s no other way to pretend you’re in Italy proper.
Coffee: Mercantile Dining & Provision
The next morning was my last moment in Denver, and I needed a real latte. I headed back to Union Station and stopped in Mercantile Dining & Provision. There were so many yummy things to choose from, but I went for the vanilla latte with the house-made almond milk… le sigh. It was fantastic – and it was the first time I’d had a latte with the sweetener served as a cube on the side.
General Tips + Capturing Memories
- Traveling solo: Many people questioned about my plan to travel alone. However, I’ve done it many times (wrote a guide on it here), and it sounds cheesy, but traveling alone is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. I live alone, and although I even do lots of things by myself, going to a new place is completely freeing. I met new people, but I also learned a lot about myself, and it felt like one giant reward.
- Packing notes: I bought a little backpack before my trip and used it along with a tiny wallet purse everywhere I went. It was perfect for the concert, but also for all of the walks and places I went during the day.
- High altitude: I wasn’t too bothered by the altitude, but I packed an empty reusable bottle that I always kept full with water. I also brought packets of Emergen-c, which helped before the hike at Red Rocks.
- Being present: I made it a mission to be present on my trip, and not be on social media or checking email too much. I brought a book with me, but I found it so nice to just observe everything around me everywhere I went.
- Videoshop App: I took pictures, but I also wanted to create a video of my trip because I knew it would be special to me (it’s the video at the top of this post). I used the Videoshop app to string together clips I made.
And that’s that! I am so happy I was able to make this trip and see everything on my list. All in all, Denver is a pretty cool place – one I’ll remember for a long time.