10 Reasons Why Denver, Colorado Should Be on Your 2023 Travel List

10 Reasons Why Denver, Colorado Should Be on Your 2023 Travel List

Do your New Year’s Resolutions include getting healthier and happier? Does increasing your kale intake or daily steps make you yawn? Of course diet and exercise are important. So is investing in relationships and finding beauty and adventure in our own backyards. But science shows that we also need new experiences new horizons — for wellness. Travel improves mental, physical, and emotional health.

Neuroscientists used to believe that the brain could only change during childhood, but we know that our brain is continually changing through the process of “neuroplasticity.” Actually getting out of our comfort zone and embracing new experiences is integral to the experience of travel. If you are looking to make the most of your brain’s neuroplasticity — a new environment “wakes up” your brain.

https://brainworldmagazine.com/how-travel-benefits-your-brain/

Our world expands — literally and mentally — when we explore wide, open spaces and try diverse diversions. Offering plenty of both, Denver, Colorado is one of my favorite US destinations.

My initial encounter with the state was not love at first sight. Decades ago, a colleague and I took students to Durango, Colorado on a ski trip. As I peered up at the appropriately-named Purgatory Mountain, Mr. H said I didn’t need a lesson — You can water ski, right? So I hopped on a chair lift and we took off. How hard could it be?

As we neared the summit, I realized this wasn’t a ride at the Western Kentucky State Fair. No carnival worker was waiting to stop the lift and let me off. So I took the leap … and busted my tailbone on the ice. Groaning and groping, I managed to catch another chair. I was the only person who rode the lift down the slopes that day (or maybe on any day).

Determined to experience the thrill of victory and erase the agony of defeat, I soaked in the hot tub and the next day, attempted a lesson on the Bunny slopes. All you have to do is learn how to stop, Mr. H said. How hard can it be?

Ask the kids screaming and dodging the woman on runaway skis. They’ll tell you they were just thankful (as was I) for the concession stand at the bottom of the hill that stopped me. Humiliated again, I never planned to give the state a second look. But when my son moved to Denver in 2020, I learned you don’t have to be a skier to enjoy Colorado! Four stays later, I’m in love with the place.

WHY DENVER?

If you’re a beach person, I get it. I’m a Pisces, the “Dreamy Fish” who usually opts for escapes to the ocean. But around Denver, pristine lakes and rivers glisten under sun 300 days a year. From downtown in the Mile-High City, you can see 120 miles of The Rocky Mountains dolloped with snow and lush with green pines. Denver is base camp for exploring natural wonders — like Pike’s Peak, Old-West towns, and The Continental Divide.

Denver tourists and 2.8 million residents can enjoy six professional sports teams, 3 downtown stadiums, 6 art districts, 100 breweries, museums, botanic gardens, parks, animal sanctuaries, a bison preserve, an aquarium, butterfly pavilion, and (whew—let me catch my breath) a world-famous music venue.

What I love most about this area, is the eclectic mix of people. Big Tech Professionals, University of Colorado Students, Hippies, Hipsters, and Cowboys call the Denver area home. (As I write this, the National Western Stock Show Kick-Off Parade is happening at Union Station. Longhorn cattle and Yellowstone fans are everywhere.)

Something fun for everyone is always happening here! Choose upcoming events and festivals that interest you and consider these reasons for planning a 2023 trip!

1. A WINTER WONDERLAND (and Beautiful Ski Resorts Nearby)

Even if you don’t ski, snowboard, or snowshoe, you can watch the snow fall while sipping a toddy in the hot tub or tea beside a fire. Gourmet chefs make just a day trip worthwhile. Resort season is in full swing, so make plans now.

2. Magical Christmas Markets and Light Shows

After discovering the wonder of Christmas markets in London, England and Cologne, Germany, I was THRILLED to learn that Christkindlmarket is a Denver tradition. In a village of European-style huts lights twinkle, hand-painted and hand-blown glass ornaments shimmer, German candle carousels twirl, nutcrackers and nesting dolls grin. Brats, beers, Glühwein (mulled spiced wine), s’mores kits and fire pits to use them, cinnamon almonds… so much good food.

After roaming markets-by-day on foot, we enjoyed a warm drive-through of Denver- by- night aglow. Historic neighborhoods, Blossoms of Light at Denver Botanic Gardens, and Zoo Lights where families were lined up stroller-to-stroller were sights to behold. These, and other holiday traditions, like The Nutcracker, sell out early so plan ahead.

3. Fun Food Halls and Cozy Eateries

The Dairy Block, a food hall that’s fun year-round, has a small outdoor market during the Christmas season where you can get a photo with the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, buy a Be Hippy tee from the brand designer, or rock out with a swing trio.

Two of our favorite breakfast spots are just up the street from my son’s apartment in the Highland neighborhood. Rush Bowls are great for a fast, healthy fix. Or at decadent Carbon Cafe and Bar, you can

  • Have brunch with a Banana Bake Martini, Coffee Manhattan, or Chai Spiced Old Fashioned, then shop the eclectic area.
  • Work on your book, and if you get blocked, take a coffee break with David Hasselhoff.
  • Set up a remote office indoors, then scoot to the patio on warm days for Happy Hour 3:00-6:00

4. Iconic Hotels and Hubs for the Holidays

Reel

Rid a horse-drawn carriage or carousel at The Denver Pavilions . Wander decked halls at The Oxford Hotel, Union Station, and The Ritz Carlton. Cole warmed up at the piano and we watched a football game at the Elway’s Bar. Pop Up Bars are another holiday option, but you’ll need reservations for these so get on the mailing list at Miracle Denver.

5. Nearby DO- NOT- MISS ESTES PARK and THE STANLEY, Birthplace of Stephen King’s The Shining

OUR FAVORITE ADVENTURE on my last trip started with brunch at The Stanley. The 110-year-old hotel is located about ninety minutes north of Denver. The early morning drive through Boulder, farm land, and the Rocky Mountains is beautiful. As we neared The Stanley, we played the movie soundtrack.

After basing his first two novels, Carrie and Salem’s Lot, in his native state of Maine, Stephen King spread out a US map on his kitchen table and randomly pointed to Boulder, Colorado. In October 1974 King and his wife, Tabitha, checked into The Stanley. They were the only guests.

That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind”.

Stephen King (According to George Andrews’ biography, Stephen King: America’s Best-Loved Boogeyman, 1998)

No doubt the hotel has a haunted history. Book a tour if you want chilling stories and underground passageways. We learned that King was not happy with changes Director Stanley Kubrick made in the 1980 film adaptation. A major change was location. Shots of the Overlook Hotel were not done at The Stanley but in Oregon and the UK. Thus, King filmed the 1997 miniseries at The Stanley.

But if you’re into hardcore horror and want to be scared senseless …

Cue Psycho– shower- scene-sound-effect … then… RECORD SCRATCH

The warmth of cozy fires, stuffed red-nosed reindeer dolls, greetings from friendly servers, delicious food, and bubbly drinks, memorabilia from Dumb and Dumber which was also filmed here….

We had to smile.

The menu at Brunch & Co is so fun with dishes like Rise & Shining, Wendy Darling, and Danny Boy! Cole had The Falafel Bowl with RedRum Ale, and I had Belgium waffles, The Grady Twins (avocado crab cakes, poached eggs with tarragon hollandaise) with their Peach Mimosa.

Estes Park is beautiful in all seasons. You might just see elk, bighorn sheep, and moose. It was also home to the Denver Post Editor (Birch Ruins below).

6. Great small towns, like hip BOULDER, and Old-West Golden

Boulder is great for biking and people-watching. We also enjoyed the drive to off-the-beaten-path Silverton for a big breakfast. On the way back we stopped at Lookout Mountain outside Golden and saw Buffalo Bill’s grave.

7. Hiking and biking in the Great Outdoors, then sipping at breweries.

Biking around Boulder and Denver is one of my favorite things. Fall was perfect for a ride to the Blue Moon Brewery.

Garden of the Gods is a Must-See Natural Wonder.

8. Museums and the Arts

Street art is wall-to-wall in the RiNo Art District. Visual and performing artists are everywhere.

9. Cheer for Denver Sports or Follow Your Own Teams When They Play Denver.

DENVER IS A SPORTS CITY. We cheered on the Denver Nuggets at Ball Arena, home also of the Colorado Avalanche Hockey Team. Fans can get tickets to see the Colorado Rockies at Coors Stadium, the Denver Broncos, and more here.

10. Comedy, Yoga, Films on the Rocks at Denver’s Music Mecca, Red Rocks Amphitheater and Park.

The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead , The Rolling Stones… Johnny Cash, The Carpenters, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny & Cher. The list of legends who have played Red Rocks stretches miles back. So does ancient history (as in Greek and pre-historic) you’ll see at the Visitor Center (free when it reopens in April 2023). See a concert or just see the view.

Getting there: If you do’t want to do 15-mile drive to Denver, take the Red Rocks Shuttle, which offers round-trip options departing from Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill at Denver Union Station and Illegal Pete’s on Colfax Avenue.

Getting Around

If you don’t have a car, taking the RTD (Ride to Denver) app makes taking the train from the airport to Union Station a breeze. The commute is about 40 minutes and so smooth it reminds me of efficient public transportation systems in European cities.

Beautiful Union Station is a great place to unwind after a flight in restaurants and bars offering indoor and outdoor. My son lives in LoDo (Lower Historic Downtown Denver) which I love exploring. Whole Foods is located, just across from Union Station so if you book a hotel or rental in the area you can save money picking up groceries. Eating out and ordering takeout for every meal is tempting because the food is so delicious , but it can be expensive.

Denver neighborhoods are here. More accommodations are listed on Denver’s Official Tourist Guide below.

Other transportation options are here. With 85 miles of paved urban bike trails in metro Denver, I love renting a bike (scooters are also available) through the share program with Lyft and Lime.

Learn more on your visit with Denver Story Trek.

Reasons for a Road Trip (or Move) to Denver

Reasons for a Road Trip (or Move) to Denver

Disclosure: SouthernGirlGoneGlobal has an affiliate relationship with Amazon. If you make a purchase from Amazon from one of the links in this post, I will receive a small commission which does not affect your cost. 

Been holed up too long? Need a fall road trip?   Want to celebrate the holidays with a  family  experience to remember rather than  gifts no one needs and will soon forget?

Plan a  trip to Denver, the only US city named by Lonely Planet as one of the “Top Ten Cities in the World to Visit in 2020.” Situated between Boulder and Colorado Springs, the area offers a positive, laid back, vibe; natural beauty and outdoor attractions; and a creative and culinary scene. Or if you need an escape from the current climate,  channel Steinbeck and go all Travels with Charley in Search of America because Denver also made  Lonely Planet’s Top 10 List of Cities to Visit with your Dog.

If  the pandemic has moved you to make a bigger move… U.S. News & World Report ranked Denver the #2 best place to live in the country based on affordability, job prospects and quality of life. Read on and when you’re sold and ready to make the move, check out Hello Landing for Denver apartment options and enjoy your new location with their pro advice: 6 Fun Things to Do in Denver for New Residents.  

Prior to 2020, my only experience in Colorado was chaperoning a school trip at Purgatory Resort in Durango. The resort lived up to its name when  my first attempt at skiing was a bust (I may be the only person who has ridden a ski lift down the slope after thinking I’d broken my tailbone when I jumped from the chair). I wrote off Colorado thinking it’s all about skiing—one of those things, like eating with chopsticks, I’m just too uncoordinated to do. Until… one weekend last year when my son, Cole, visited Denver and Colorado Springs and decided he’d make the area his new home.

It was a fit for his IT career and healthy lifestyle. And he loved Denver (as he did Marrakesh, Morocco where I’d lived and he’d visited) for its arid climate; majestic, snow-capped mountain range; and sunny skies about 300 days per year. Bonus are flight schools so he can work on a pilot’s license—another goal. So he flew back to Tennessee on a mission.  By June 2020 he was hired by a large company in Broomfield, “The Silicon Valley of the Rockies,” and found an apartment there. Last July he packed his belongings into a moving truck and set out on a 1400- mile road trip from his home in Knoxville with his car (and me–a stowaway!) in tow. Seriously, I’m so thankful he allowed me to tag along to document the adventure. Doesn’t every mom want to see her adult child’s dream coming true? 

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Broomfield is 10 minutes from Boulder, 30 minutes from Denver, and #3 for raising a family in Colorado with great schools and low crime. Like many who have moved to new cities during Covid, he hasn’t met his coworkers in person since everyone works from home. But he likes that getting a driver’s license in his new state meant automatic voter registration and a mail-in ballot; that his electricity is powered by windmills nearby on clean, open spaces; that there are more vegan options than in Knoxville; that his company has a basketball goal and outdoor grilling area, that he has pro hockey, baseball, football, basketball and soccer teams. 

Reasons to Plan a Trip (Or Move) to Denver

Disclaimer: This list is not as comprehensive as other guides I’ve written on destinations in the US and abroad. Partly because Covid changes everything daily from what is closed, what is open, the whens and wheres.  But mostly my guide is a work in progress because I need to do more research on multiple visits.  🙂

Topping my list of why I love the Denver area so far are all the outdoor areas to explore–  hiking and biking trails, lakes and streams…street art and live music… and a multitude of restaurant and brewery patios. Hand sanitizer is as ubiquitous as masks, allowing everyone to chill for awhile and breathe. 

Boulder

Top of my must-do list on my first trip  was an electric bike tour of Boulder.

I’m a big believer in starting with a guided tour of any city to get the “lay of the land.” I hoped this one would be as fun and informative as the food tour I did in Madrid or the electric bike tour I did through Costa Brava hill towns.  Cole was a good sport to go with me (and the two other ladies my age we met on the tour) –especially on a record-high hot July day. He said later that coasting down hills made him feel like a kid again and I loved feeling that way, too. We learned a lot from our guide about these…

MUST-SEES:

Boulder Creek Path–Watch locals tubing down the stream.

The University of Colorado Boulder–The flagship of the UC system established in 1876.

Historic Hotel Boulderado

Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse— A gift from Dushanbe to Boulder, their Sister City, built by more than 40 artisans in several cities of Tajikistan. The hand-carved ceiling and woodwork is stunning.

The Flatirons–Amazing Photo Opp

Chautauqua–I couldn’t wait to see this given my love for the Chautauqua movement that started in the1890s and continues at Monteagle, Tennessee where I began solo travel trips in the 2000s and still love writing retreats in the Assembly today.

Bonus was a stop at The Sink, where  Robert Redford was a janitor in 1955 and famous guests include President Obama and Anthony Bourdain.

 

Note: This July bike tour was my first experience using the  GoPro Hero 8 and Performance Chest Mount. Because some shots were blocked when I also used my camera phone,  I plan to use the Head Mount for moving shots in the future.

And add to the list Pearl Street to hang out in a coffee shop or book store, dance to live music, skate, skateboard, shop, eat, or drink.

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Zeal’s Conscious Kale Salad and a Mojito–Loved Zeal on my first trip which was then located outside Denver. Though that location has closed, you can get their fresh fare in Boulder.

Colorado Springs

Last weekend Cole took me to the the place he liked most on his visit last year to Colorado. In 1859 after the “Pike’s Peak or Bust”  gold rush, men began looking for a site for a town at the mountain’s base. Two Kansas builders of what would become Colorado Springs happened upon red rock formations in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by nothing but trails the American Indians used.  One of them, Melancthon Beach, thought it would be an ideal place for a beer garden one day, while his partner, Rufus Cable, disagreed: 

          “Beer Garden! Why it is a fit place for the gods to assemble, and we will call it the Garden of the Gods.”

Postcards from Garden of the Gods

I hope to explore more off-the-beaten-path areas like the one above near Garden of the Gods –especially the hot springs.

Denver

This is a foodie town and we’re just getting started…

Brunch on the North Side

On the way to Colorado Springs, we stopped north of Denver in Sunnyside, a  neighborhood that has been revived over the last ten years with a strong sense of community. It  reminded me of East Nashville before the Music City boom. I’d read that Bacon had a huge patio and great food, but because the wait was so long, we went to El Jeffe next door and were glad we did.  I didn’t order the  Breakfast Burrito, a Denver delicacy, because the Pescado Tacos and Huevos Con Chorizo Tacos were too tempting.  We couldn’t do the Bottomless Brunch (you can mix and match Blood Marys, Mimosa, and Sangrias), but we did have a sangria before taking off and I’d love to return and try more good stuff on their dinner menu.

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Dinner Downtown

I didn’t realize that many consider Denver the #1 US City for Beer. I was there during Denver Beer Week, so when in Rome…

On the way back from Colorado Springs, we had some great pizza and brews– Pikes Peak Little London and Blue Mesa Tropical– outdoors at 16th Street Mall. 

RiNo Art District and Denver Central Market

Since covering a Street Art Exhibit in Marrakesh, I’ve loved seeing artists’ works in other cities. RiNo is a place to enjoy sunshine, takeout from Central Market, and the skyline.

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Cole’s grandfather/my dad was an outdoorsman who loved Colorado. He would have loved visiting Cole, too.

Next time I want to find the best Rocky Mountain Oysters and Green Chile in Denver–any suggestions?  I want to  buy a University of Colorado sweatshirt and learn to fly fish (know a guide)?   I love a mix of exploring new territory and enjoying family traditions, too–like last weekend when we watched Iron Man and SNL while eating takeout from  Tsing Tao and  Azitra.

Whether you travel or stay home for the holidays, stay safe and celebrate the good times that have happened despite a very difficult year. No matter what 2021 holds… remember…