Aaron’s been traveling pretty frequently for work since he graduated college in May. In less than two months he’s been to Denver twice and is working there this week too. I’ve never been to Denver and it’s been on my bucket list for nearby trips with a quick flight for some time. We figured it was the perfect opportunity to do a 48-hour weekend trip since Aaron’s flights were already paid for and I was able to secure mine through airline points.
When I started receiving recommendations from friends about what to do in Denver, I heard a lot about all of the micro-breweries downtown. I’m not a big beer person because it doesn’t sit well with me, so I wanted to focus on exploring the city and checking out the sights instead of going from brewery to brewery, which I’m sure is also super fun for beer lovers. Another element of the trip I was hopeful for was hiking nearby. I was told by a few friends that the closest hikes were accessible by rental car, so I nixed that idea since we wanted to focus our short timeframe for exploring to the city instead.
If you’re a quick flight or drive from Denver and only have a couple days to explore, I’ve outlined some of our favorite items below. I’m sure if you really want to pack in the fun you could fit in more activities than what we did. We found time to fit in naps on both days too.
Day 1: Downtown Denver; 16th Street Mall, Riverfront Park, Millennium Bridge, Platte Street, and Larimer Square
We took a 7am flight leaving Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix on Saturday, July 6th and arrived to Denver a little before 10am, which includes a one-hour time change and a one-hour delay on the tarmac before takeoff. Thankfully Aaron was able to check-in early from his phone for our hotel room at Aloft Downtown Denver (at 15th Street and Stout.) After dropping our bags off and getting ready for the day, we went to a very popular restaurant a block away called Sam’s No. 3 (images above.) It seemed as though this restaurant always had a line outside every time we walked past during our weekend stay, but we only had to wait about 15-20 minutes for our table. It is a large diner with many different food options including Mexican breakfast items. I got apple sausage & eggs with a short stack of sweet cakes that tasted like cake batter. Aaron got chicken fried steak with over easy eggs, home fries and English muffin.
After breakfast, we walked to the 16th Street Mall, which is an outdoor mall on 16th Street that has a large pedestrian walkway and isn’t accessible to public motor vehicles at certain parts. There are quite a few shops, restaurants and bars lining the street mostly with chains, but a few unique spots too. I loved how people congregated to hang out in this area. It was very lively with street performers too. We continued walking the path down to Millennium Bridge, which is the first cable bridge. The main part was near Union Station as it was a bridge over train tracks, but there were two other sections farther on that went over the river and over the freeway. As we walked over the main bridge area, it took us to a cute little square and across the street was the Riverfront Park / Commons Park where people were lounging on a grassy knoll. We continued walked to the second part of the bridge that crosses the river. To our left we could see the amusement park Elich Gardens, which I heard will be torn down by the end of the summer 2019. Once we got to the other side we found ourselves on Platte Street, which is so cute! It’s a smaller area, but is filled with little shops, restaurants and breweries that seemed to be all unique single location spots. Down here is where Denver Beer Co. and Avanti are (both are Aaron Fox recommended spots), along with a couple others that looked cute from the windows; BriDer Kitchen and Maria Empanadas. Just before getting to the third section of the bridge, we decided to walk home as the storm clouds were rolling in and our legs were getting tired. We made a stop at Tattered Book Store as I read about that being a historical spot to see. The building was old and the maze of books were cool to see, but we didn’t spend much time here. Although, I did see a section for greeting cards and I could spend hours reading cards all day! Other than this building, the architecture in downtown Denver is really new, which was definitely surprising to me. The vibe is very modern with some artsy or eclectic areas as well. After that we made it back to our hotel room with only a couple sprinkles and took a nice two-hour nap before dinner.
When we were walking down 16th Street earlier in the day, I noticed an adorable clean, modern, but farm fresh looking restaurant called The Kitchen. Aaron checked out the menu before our nap and booked us a 7pm reservation. Walking down 16th Street Mall at night was so fun. The restaurant patios were filled since it stopped raining and created amazing weather and I loved the string lights. We walked past a beer garden with live music too. Dinner at The Kitchen was definitely my highlight of the trip so far. The food was so fresh and it seemed like farm to table (I’m not 100% sure as I didn’t see it listed anywhere, but it definitely gave the impression.) The food and drink offerings were very unique and so was the way that the food was cooked. It was all very favorable. I had the striped bass with Yukon gold potatoes, Aaron has the steak and we shared grilled Chinese broccoli. The cocktails hit the spot and were very refreshing. There was a delicious dessert menu too. We shared a salted chocolate chip cookie, which was almost cake-like. I was so excited for my food that I did a bad job of taking photos. As you can see we were about halfway done with our meal when I remembered! I was surprised that the indoor restaurant space was so large with a decent sized private dining area for events. The restaurant took up a corner and had a wrap around patio which is definitely what brought me in as well as the modern farm house vibe.
After dinner, we made our way back to our hotel with a quick stroll through Larimer Square, which is a street off of 15th Street and Denver’s most historical block. It gave me a Little Italy feel as it had a very international vibe with the different country flags, strung lights and variety of specialty restaurants. I felt as though the crowd in this area was pretty different from the typical Denver crowd, which was neat to see some variety in the city. I’m sure it’s just as cute during the day, but I loved walking through here as the sun was setting. After that we headed back to the hotel for an early night in. I really wanted to go to a roof top bar, but I didn’t have any recommendations and the closest ones nearby were by the Rockie’s Ballpark, which wasn’t very close to us. Unfortunately I don’t have any suggestions here, but a quick Google search of “Denver Rooftop Bars” will give you many options.
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Day 2: Cherry Creek District & Cherry Creek Art Festival
Sunday morning we woke up well rested and ready for more adventures. The Women’s World Cup was going on, so Aaron watched the first half of the game as I got ready and found us a great breakfast spot on Yelp called gRind Kitchen & Water Hole. During halftime we made our way to breakfast, which is in the Cherry Creek District. I couldn’t believe how big Downtown Denver is. We drove about 10-15 minutes in an Uber from our hotel, which took us slightly outside of downtown into Cherry Creek District, which is still considered Denver towards a city called Glendale. We drove along the river for most of the ride and saw a park filled with a yoga festival. There are a lot of big gorgeous houses in this area and the Cherry Creek indoor mall along with a Whole Foods. This is actually the area that Aaron stayed during his last work trip at the Moxy Cherry Creek hotel. He said that he ate at Syrup for every breakfast too!
The main reason we came to this area is because I wanted to check out the annual Cherry Creek Art Festival and gRind Kitchen & Watering Hole was lining a street of the art fair. This restaurant was really good! They’re known for their fried chicken and have a unique breakfast menu. One of the things that sold us were the unlimited Mimosas, Sangria or Bloody Mary’s for $15. You can mix and match your drinks, but we decided to stick to mimosas. We had every flavor it seemed like from orange to grapefruit and even mixes like cran-orange and pineapple-orange. For food, Aaron got corn beef hash and I got a honey butter chicken biscuit sandwich with a side of cheesy grits. Mine was delicious and Aaron said his were too except that there were mushrooms in the hash that wasn’t mentioned on the menu (I ate them and they were perfect!) We ended up staying here for hours. Literally we lost track of time. We lost track of our mimosas around the time when I had my fourth or fifth and Aaron was on eight or nine. We also noticed that the tables next to us turned over at least 2-3 times too! In our defense, they were playing the Women’s World Cup, so we were able to see USA win!
We could see the art festival getting busier and busier outside of our window, so we decided to leave the mimosas behind and explore. We ran into an old friend who was supporting her boyfriend (James Randall Paintings, @jamesrandleart), whose art is amazing! The art festival was a few streets long with beer gardens, live music and tons of art and jewelry. We discovered that you can walk around with open containers if purchased by the bars inside the festival. It started to get really hot so we ducked inside The Cherry Cricket for drinks, a chicken sandwich and pretzel knots with queso. The atmosphere was super fun with arcade games and late 90’s music. We considered going to North or True Foods, which was in this area too, but wanted to branch out since we eat at Fox Restaurant Concepts religiously back home. After our snack we continued to explore and found live music and a kettle corn stand. We hung out until the 4pm rainfall started and I took cover inside a Kendra Scott store then we Ubered back to the hotel. I’d love to say that I got to go to a rooftop bar that night, but after a nap and more rainfall we called it a night as my hangover started to set in. The next morning I was up by 5:30am MDT, in the air by 8am MDT and working in my home office by 9:30 PST! Talk about a whirlwind of a trip, but so worth it.
It’s so hard to do everything in 48-hours, so my suggestion is figure out what your “must visits” are and take a look at the map. Try to figure out how you can do groups of things based on location. I’m okay with leaving things undone because it gives me a reason to go back. The items on my list for my next Denver visit are going to Red Rocks for a concert and exploring RiNo District. After that I think I’ll explore other cities in Colorado for more nature activities!
Here’s an easy reference of all the things we did, recommendations we received and some things Aaron’s done during his work trips: (If it says “recommendation” next to it, that means we didn’t get to it this trip.)
- Magnolia Hotel
- Moxy Cherry Creek
- Renaissance (Large hotel halfway between airport & downtown. Aaron stayed there because the Cubs were in town and downtown hotels were very expensive.)
Lunch / Bar:
- The Cherry Cricket
- Steuben’s – Recommendation
- Sliceworks Pizza – Recommendation (jalapeño popper pizza with grape jelly!)
- bd’s Mongolian BBQ – Recommendation
- 16th Street Mall
- Millennium Bridge
- Union Station – Recommendation
- Platte St. (16th St/Highlands)
- Tattered Cover Book Store
- Larimer Square
- RiNo District – (I haven’t been, but Aaron has)
- Improper City – (Aaron went and said it’s in RiNo District – looks awesome!)
- Cherry Creek District
- Cherry Creek Art Festival – early July
- Slow Foods Nation – Food Festival mid-July
- Denver Art Museum – Recommendation
- Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Recommendation (concert venue that is also open during the day)
- Bike & Brew Tours – Recommendation
- Colorado Rockies Baseball Game
- Denver Nuggets Basketball Game
- Denver Broncos Football Game
-Other Items- We walked past these places and they looked interesting, but I did not actually go in so proceed with caution.
- Deep Roots – winery & bistro
- Roosevelt Cocktails
- The Front Porch
- Mermaids Bakery
- Illegal Pete’s
- Frinje – boutique
- Bouquets – cute flower shop
For more food recommendations, visit Mack Jean’s blog post by clicking here!