With a backdrop of the incredible Red Rocks and endless mountains, Denver is an outdoor lover’s dream. There are rapid waters to raft through, scenic road trips to take and vibrant organic food to try. Famous for its designer skiing destinations like Aspen and Vail, Colorado is no wallflower when it comes to showing off its assets in every season. And why would it be? With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, Colorado has every reason to shine. From downtown city tours to mountain hikes, spring and summer in Colorado offer a bounty of activities for locals and tourists alike. So whether you’re visiting for a breath of fresh mountain air, or looking to make a permanent move to one of the country’s fastest-growing destinations, Denver offers plenty of memorable experiences.
On a sunny Friday in late June, my smile widened as the gorgeous Colorado mountains came into view. My Delta flight landed smoothly, and soon I was in the cool, evening air of downtown Denver. I met friends at Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a local favorite with delicious Southern food and a covered rooftop patio. I had never been to Colorado in warm weather before and already loved it as much as I do come ski season. The streets are clean, everyone and their dogs are outdoors, and daily life has a natural ease to it.
After calling the night early, I awoke on Saturday morning bright-eyed and ready for coffee. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to establish a morning coffee spot for the duration of my trip. Even if it’s only a weekend getaway, this simple habit has allowed me to observe my temporary environment as if I truly lived there. Talking to the same barista, seeing the same shuffle of the crowd, it really creates a grounding sense of wherever you may be at the time.
A short walk from the two-story apartment I was staying at in the up-and-coming LoHi neighborhood is Black Eye Coffee. Featuring roll-up garage doors, brick walls and industrial-style seating, Black Eye Coffee serves up house-roasted beans and light bites for laid-back customers. I had an iced, almond-milk coffee and dense chocolate chip cookie before continuing on a neighborhood stroll. With a kombucha bar, American Cultures, in the area, and easy access to great restaurants and bars, LoHi is a great alternative to staying downtown.
While Denver offers a great balance of healthy and indulgent, I was about to go up a pant size with the Taste of Denver Food Tour. The 3-hour guided tour took nine others and myself on a deep-dive into Denver’s history and top city eats. We had six tastings, ranging from succulent ribs to heavenly ice cream. I had a salted Oreo cookie ice cream from Little Man Ice Cream and suffice it to say, I’d come back to Denver just for more of that frozen goodness in a cup. We also sampled curated olive oils, cheeses and the best Asian noodles from Zoe Ma Ma. The $60 tour is well worth it for a happy stomach and enriched mind. I learned how Denver became the thriving city it is today while visiting Larimer Square, Union Station and the Oxford Hotel.
Here are some gems from the tour:
Milk and Honey: Short rib and shishito pepper with bonito flake.
EVOO Marketplace: Finely pressed extra virgin oil.
Zoe Ma Ma: We met Zoe Ma Ma herself and loved the authentic Asian noodles she served!
Mercantile: The open view of cheese making and train station bustle make this place a true must-visit.
Sufficiently full from the food tour, I bid adieu to the group and casually strolled around lovely Union Station. There was a band performance in the main square, attracting a foot-tapping crowd. Later on, I stopped at Senor Bear for a cocktail before heading to dinner and libations at Williams & Graham. Deemed a speakeasy, the open door and visible desk check-in didn’t exactly scream discreet, but it’s a charming spot nonetheless. When you enter the bookstore front, the attendant scrawls your name on a card and then files it away in a drawer. Moments later, the bookcase on the left opens and a different attendant greets you by name, whisking you down the short hallway to a dark, snug bar. There are booths along the wall and tables to stand at, but I always like to sit where I can see all the action—at the bar. The artisanal cocktails in the weathered menu all sound delicious and I highly recommend the Corn on the Macabre. For food, you can’t go wrong with the mac & cheese and roasted bone marrow. The unique watering hole definitely made for a great nightcap to a wonderful and delicious day.
Sunday morning, I woke up early so I could visit Boulder before heading back to Denver for an evening cooking class. I walked to Black Eye Coffee for a hot latte and poked my head into another nearby coffee. The drive from Denver to Boulder is only 30 minutes, and I may have been too eager. Being Sunday, most shops wouldn’t be opening for another hour until 11 a.m. I didn’t mind waiting and walking the main street, as Boulder is full of beauty and style. I equate it to New York's West Village of Colorado. There are cute independent bookstores, cafes galore, and many boutique shops. Not to mention, the mountains in the background make for a perfect photograph at any angle. I went inside an ornate chocolate shop for some treats, and spent the next hour slowly meandering the side streets.
Back in Denver, I couldn’t wait for my cooking class at Stir Cooking School in LoHi. It was a quick walk from my weekend apartment and the space was open, colorful and inviting. The agenda for the evening was barbecue, and I was hungry. Yes, it was a full-on foodie weekend and I loved every crumb of it. There were several cooking stations for students and a larger demo kitchen towards the back. The class was cozy and intimate with only seven of us, and there was a lively bartender making drinks that you could take out onto the porch.
To start, we made the potato salad and homemade BBQ sauce for the ribs. Everything we were cooking I could see being the perfect outdoor summer meal. And for only $75 for the 3-hour class plus leftovers, Stir Cooking School is an ideal itinerary-add to your Denver vacation. When everything was whipped, battered and cooked, we made plates of our creations and took them up to the second floor dining area. The menu consisted of: Sweet and Spicy Baby Back Ribs with Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce; Grilled Corn on the Cob with Garlic Butter and White Cheddar; Potato Salad, Citrus Grilled Chicken with Bacon Peach BBQ Sauce; and Strawberry Shortcake with Buttermilk Biscuits. Everything was delicious and I was able to bring two full plates of leftovers for my gracious hosts.
Whether you come to Denver for the views, clean air or mountains, you will stay for the people, food, and endless activities. Denver really has it all when it comes to living simply but also living well, and I can’t wait to return.