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.
But why Denver for a Bucket List Trip? I’ll explain.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to take a trip to a city I’ve never been to and see a concert. So, when a band or a musician I like goes on tour, I always look at the entire list of the cities they’re visiting to see what might work for a possible Bucket List Trip.
Several years ago, I booked a Bucket List Trip with my best friend to Las Vegas to see John Mayer. I bought our concert tickets and was ready for the trip of a lifetime.
And then John Mayer had to have surgery on his vocal chords, and he cancelled his tour. I refused to believe it until I checked my email and saw the refund from the ticket company. My friend and I still went to Vegas, and we had a blast, but it didn’t end up being one off my Bucket List.
As many of you know, I’ve been going through it (what I would consider Hell) since September, when my dad had brain surgery to remove a mass. He passed away in February, shortly after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
I am still very much in pain, and sometimes it feels worse than it did the day he died.
In November, after my dad’s surgery and diagnosis, I saw on Twitter that R&B artist Khalid was going on a new leg of his tour. I’d wanted to see him so badly, but the tickets were always so expensive.
I looked at the stops on his tour, and yes, he was coming to Austin, but he was also performing at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre – a place I have ALWAYS wanted to see a concert. If you’re not familiar with Red Rocks, it’s the only natural acoustically perfect concert venue in the world. Basically, it’s at the bottom of a canyon, and the pictures look insane.
The tickets for the show went on sale just a few weeks after I saw the tour list, and I vowed to get myself a ticket. So, on a Saturday morning between dance classes, I locked myself in a dressing room at the studio and purchased a ticket for the show at Red Rocks.At the time, I had no idea I’d be grieving, no idea that I would so desperately need a vacation, but alas, here we are, and I’m so thankful I’ve planned this trip for myself!
But I’ve been waitin’ all year to get the hell up outta here
and throw away my fears.
I started listening to Khalid about a year ago. I heard his single, “Location” on the radio during my commute to work and I liked it so much, I wrote it down in my phone.
Months later, I took a trip to Indianapolis to see friends, family, and a guy I liked. Well, one of my friends refused to see me, my family lied to me, and the guy turned out to be an asshole with a house straight out of an episode of “Hoarders” (and recently confessed to my best friend that he actually liked her all along).
I couldn’t get out of Indiana fast enough. When I got to the airport, I decided to download “Location” and I had it on repeat for a few days. Slowly, I started buying other songs off his album, “American Teen”, and before I knew it, I was listening to the entire album on a loop.
In September, when I flew to Chattanooga to see my dad before his surgery, I was listening to his album to comfort me while I was hysterically crying in the airport:
I cried for my entire Lyft ride to the airport, through security, and once I got to my gate, I found a corner and cried. I cried so hard that someone from TSA came to talk to me to see if I could calm down.
The truth is, how could I be any semblance of okay after what had just happened? In just four days, I’d received the news about my dad AND all of this drama that comes along with my dad’s side of the family had come crashing into my face.
I felt alone; I feel like I don’t have anyone rooting for me; and I was scared shitless that I’d never hear from my dad again. I knew one thing for a fact: I wouldn’t be getting updates from his partner anymore.
Two things stopped me from crying for my six hours of travel home: my trusty Khalid album, and the Dallas Cowboys’ burger kiosk at gate A21 in the DFW airport. It’s the second time I’ve eaten there, both times I was upset, and both times I’ve abandoned my vegan lifestyle to get the Cowboy Blues burger and it is so worth it.
It’s cheesy, but music has always comforted me, and it’s something my dad and I had in common. He loved all sorts of music, and my very first concert was with my parents, seeing one of my dad’s favorite bands, Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs.
So yes, I’m AMPED to see Khalid, and I’m as equally excited to see Red Rocks… I will probably cry over stimulation overload and I’m okay with that.
The thing about Red Rocks is that there’s always a 99% chance of rain given its location and natural setup. Part of planning for this trip meant reading lots of guides and other blogs from people who’ve been to Red Rocks before. From that, I learned what kind of shoes to wear, and what to pack: an empty water bottle, warm clothes, and a rain poncho.
The concert is rain or shine, and many times it does rain, and the concert keeps going. But sometimes, they cancel it. And I will be damned if this turns into another John Mayer/Vegas/Non-Bucket List trip!
I’ve kept this trip very close to my heart – I’ve only told a few people – because, well, this trip is for me. I’m traveling alone, as I often do, and I’m experiencing this on my own. So many people I know have been to Denver already and I wanted to keep things new to me – sometimes it puts a damper on things when people share their experience with a place before you even get there.
Ever since my dad’s passing, I’ve been very aware of my own mortality. I’ve always felt some sense of pressure to live life, and do things, and don’t regret a moment… but that feeling is very amplified as of late.
I’m also very aware of people around me and what they’re doing with their life: whether it’s planning and taking trips, or building a business, or having a family… I’m just here, and I feel like I’m being left behind. So, this trip is coming at a perfect time – a time when I feel like I need to just get out there and live, and do something I have only dreamt of doing.
I wanted to plan my own activities and make this trip a complete getaway. So, aside from the concert, I do have a list of restaurants and breweries that I want to indulge in, and I’ve got a few sightseeing things on my list. I also treated myself to a fabulous hotel right in Downtown Denver. I’m looking forward to a true adventure.
For the sake of being present, I’m keeping the social media documentation to a minimum. I plan on posting a few Instagram pictures (@OrangeJulius7), but will be staying off other channels.
I’ll tell you all about it when I get the chance.