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.
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.
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.
- Ski and snowshoe tours from Denver.
- Amtrak Winter Park Express to Winter Park
- Echo Mountain
- Copper Mountain
- Beaver Creek
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
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.
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.
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.