Actually Cool Things You Can (Still) Do in Denver Right Now
All social distancing approved.
Exploring Denver looks a little different these days. Masks are required in public indoor spaces and lots of precautions are being taken when it comes to making social distancing easy. But the good news is that many go-to destinations and activities are back open, you’re living in a place where the sunshine is as plentiful as the Rocky Mountain views, and good times are waiting around every corner. All you need is this list, which covers the essential Denver things to do in these strange new times along with some hidden gems along the way.
Get the hell out of town for a day trip
As much as there is to do in Denver itself, escaping to the Rockies is one of the best ways to spend your time and options for day trips are plentiful. One five hour loop that packs in all the Colorado essentials (and offers gorgeous views of the changing aspens if you can catch them) starts with a trek out of town on I-70 to Winter Park for a glimpse of ski town life. Then head north toward Grand Lake and the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park -- just be sure to make a reservation ahead of time. Pay the $25 fee for a one-car day pass and head above timberline on Trail Ridge Road for classic high altitude views before making your way into Estes Park and back through Boulder to Denver.
Yes, what you’ve heard is true: It’s the best place to see music in the known galaxy. But, it’s also not hosting many events right now. But even if you can’t catch a live show (or drive-in movie), this iconic landmark is totally worth the visit for the view alone. There are also hiking trails where you can explore these sandstone formations beyond the stage.
A quick 30-minute drive from town, this small mountain town is the closest spot to enjoy a nice long soak in the waters from a natural hot spring -- which feel especially amazing on a cool fall day. Reservations for an hour-long session are available for $18 on weekdays and $20 on the weekend. If you score one, you’ll enter the jungle-like dome where a pool with an average temperature of 90 to 100 awaits. And when you’re done, you can make a pit stop at Tommyknocker Brewery for beer and a bite before heading back to town.
Hit up a historic hotel bar
There’s no doubt that the pair of marine-themed bars inside Denver’s two most historic hotels are worth checking out. At The Oxford Hotel, the Cruise Room’s Prohibition-era red hue and handcrafted cocktails are a cornerstone of Denver’s drinking culture. So it goes at The Brown Palace with Ship Tavern and all of its model boats (and if you fancy a cigar, head down the hallway to the Churchill afterward). But, we’d like to add another must-stop to the list: Charlie Brown’s, a piano bar with solid food, a two-for-one happy hour, and a patio where you can still light up (tobacco, that is). Bonus: All three of these joints are open on most holidays, so you can get your fix while you hide from your family.
Central Business District
This downtown icon is over 125 years old and a traditional afternoon tea here is still one of the classiest experiences you can have in Denver. You will need to book ahead, but it’s the perfect excuse to get dressed up in a town where jeans are typically considered acceptable for almost any occasion, and options range from a $40/person tea, scones, and finger sandwich-filled experience to the $250 option for four that includes a bottle of Moët. Masks are required when not seated at your table.
The Buckhorn Exchange is a classic steakhouse that’s been serving up bovine in town since 1893. Inside, you’ll find 575 pieces of taxidermy along with a whole lot of stories to be told from a history filled with presidential visits and frontier legends. And yes, they do serve the infamous “oysters,” breaded, fried, and served with a horseradish dipping sauce that briefly makes you forget what you’re actually eating. They’re open for dine in, though reservations are your best bet, and their most infamous dish is on the to-go menu as well.
The Denver Art Museum and Clyfford Still Museum may be better known (and are definitely worth your time), but this small yet mighty option is a must for any art lover. No need to be an art lover to have a good time here. The exhibits change regularly and feature a mix of local and national talent and never shy away from the controversial (you’ll see some conversation starters for sure). And if you need a break, you can grab a drink at the rooftop bar. Plus Colorado residents get in for just a penny on the first Saturday of every month.
Explore our amazing street art scene
RiNo and the Santa Fe Arts District
Over the past few years, Denver’s streets have become a whole lot more colorful thanks to a slew of new works by street artists, especially in these two neighborhoods. All you need is some free time to wander to find eye-catching examples painted everywhere from alleys and underpasses to the outsides of prominent businesses. If you’re looking for a socially distant friendly outdoor activity, these two districts are like open-air museums for modern art, just waiting to be (safely) explored.
Hop on an e-scooter
Before we had bigger things to deal with, many lamented the scourge of the Limes and Birds and other brands of rechargeable, shared scooters on Denver’s sidewalks. But after initially pulling their fleet from the city amid the stay-at-home order, they’re back and they offer a fun way to make your next essential business run. Skip the car and get some fresh air and a dose of excitement next time you’ve got an errand to run. It definitely makes going to the grocery store feel more adventurous.
With 41 State Parks in Colorado, including many close to the Denver area, it’s incredibly easy to get outside and spend some socially distant time in nature. And as the weather cools down, hiking these spots gets even better. Roxborough near Littleton has over 4,000 acres to explore that include forests, red rock formations, meadows, and the historic Waterhouse Homestead -- as well as birds, mule deer, fox, and a whole lot of wildflowers in the spring and summer. Cherry Creek, Chatfield, and Castlewood Canyon are also great, nearby options for hiking and biking trails.
Sample local eats at a food hall
The food hall craze is going strong in Denver, even if you’ve gotta mask up while deciding what to order. Avanti, an OG of the movement, boasts an impressive lineup of rotating concepts. Denver Central Market not only has prepared foods from their vendors, but also great items to take home and cook including meats, cheeses, and other provisions. Milk Market currently has 10 venues open from restaurateur Frank Bonnano serving everything from pasta and pizza to burgers and salads. Stanley Marketplace is not only home to eateries like Annette and Rosenberg’s, but also has shopping and is hosting a series of socially distant concerts. And there’s Zeppelin Station! And there’s The Source! And Broadway Market! And Tributary Food Hall in Golden! And… you get the point.
Go brewery hopping
The sheer number of Denver breweries can be a bit daunting, but with extra time on your hands, this is the perfect chance to explore as many options as you can. Many breweries are still offering to-go options, or you can once again visit tap rooms in person. Scan our roundup of the best breweries to check out now for good options to start with, from newer additions to the classics. Some, like Ratio and Breckenridge Brewery, have also added home delivery to the mix to make it even easier to sip local.
Go distillery, winery, and cidery hopping
Sure, beer gets most of the attention when it comes to boozy beverages, but the Mile High is also packed with plenty of locally made non-beer options that are absolutely worthy of your attention. Like breweries, many of these favorites have jumped bottle-first into the to-go game, but they’ve also been able to reopen for in-person sipping too. Some must-trys: Bigsby’s Folly and Infinite Monkey Theorem for a wine fix, Stem Ciders for bright, dry hard ciders, and The Block Distilling Company for vodka and gin made right in the neighborhood along with to-go cocktails.
Find your favorite bowl of Denver's most popular dish
Everyone who’s spent a significant amount of time in Denver has a favorite spot for green chile. Everyone. But even if you’re loyal to a certain bowl of this pork-studded regional go-to, there are countless options to try. Pretty much any restaurant with even a slightly Mexican or Latin slant will have a version so start sampling ASAP. Some must-visits on your green chile adventure? El Taco de Mexico, Uno Mas, and North County. Bonus: These spots are all offering to-go if you’re not up for in person dining just yet.
Crush a breakfast burrito
If you’ve accomplished the task of eating green chile on its own, it’s time to take it up a notch. Perhaps no dish is more uniquely Denver than a breakfast burrito with green chile piled in or atop it. And there are a ton of options to satisfy your quarantine hungover urges. Santiago’s handhelds are ubiquitous, while at El Taco de Mexico (yeah, we mention the spot a couple of times, you need to go) when they ask if you want it smothered and with onions and salsa, your answers should be a resounding “yes” and “yes.” They’re also a brunch go-to at spots like Bacon Social House and Sam’s No. 3.
If you’ve done even a minimal amount of research on Denver, you’ve probably read that the capital’s historic train station has been renovated and stuffed to the gills with awesome stuff to do. And it’s true! Grab a beer at the Terminal Bar, duck into the petite, Iberian Ultreia, where you can cop a gin & tonic as large as your head. Better yet, book a reservation at The Cooper Lounge, where you can watch the droves of people from overhead. If you’re hungry, head out the back of the station to Tavernetta, an Italian hot spot with a terrific happy hour.
Pretty simple instructions, right? Just go. Go for a late-night Johnny Burger. Go for the drinks. Go for the free popcorn, or for the classical music, or because Kerouac used to, or for the back patio. Just go.
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