After spending a wonderful couple days eating and hiking our hearts out in Fort Collins, we hopped in our rental car (which turned out to be a white Mustang convertible) and drove the 60 miles into Denver for the second leg of our journey. Although we only had a day and a half to spend in Denver, we managed to see and eat almost everything on our bucket list. Keep reading for the best things to do in Denver, Colorado!
where to stay
Denver’s trendy River North District, nicknamed RiNo, is filled with breweries, yummy restaurants and street art on every corner. It’s the perfect place to stay for any first-time Denver tourist! We settled on a charming Airbnb studio in the RiNo district and could not have been happier with our decision (although the parking situation was challenging at times). Check our Jorge’s charming Airbnb here.
things to do in denver
SAMPLE LOCAL BREWS
Denver is well known for its local brewery scene, and after our trip I can confirm that’s for a good reason! In our short time in Denver, we visited three breweries, each serving dozens of delicious, local brews.
One of our favorites was the Alpine Dog brewery, where all the beer was doggo pupper themed! We ordered three IPAs named Thunder Puppy, Poochie of Dogtown and, my personal favorite, Fluffy Boi.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the sign outside that read “SERVICE ANIMALS ONLY (not our rule, yes it’s stupid – take it up with the city).” They get me at the Alpine Dog Brewery.
A couple other breweries to add to your bucket list are 10 Barrel Brewing and Black Sky Brewery. 10 Barrel Brewing serves some yummy flights and a HUGE variety of tap beer. They also have an upstairs patio with some great views of Denver. One of my traveling buddies swears she had the best beer of her life at Black Sky Brewery so, if you visit, make sure to try the First Flight Citrus Wheat and find out if it’s as mind-blowing as she claims!
ADMIRE THE VIEWS FROM RED ROCKS AMPHITHEATRE
If you’re looking for a fun and free activity to experience in Denver, look no further than Red Rocks Amphitheatre. A huge amphitheater in the middle of nowhere framed by enormous, red and purple rock formations…Red Rocks is not to be missed. The best part is the gorgeous panoramic views of Denver on the horizon!
If you do plan on visiting, make sure to check the concert schedule ahead of time. They’re still holding (socially distanced) concerts at Red Rocks and they close the amphitheater to tourists in the hours before a show.
WANDER THROUGH DENVER’S CENTRAL MARKET
Another treasure found in the RiNo District, Denver’s Central Market features yummy eats from 11 different vendors. They’re currently offering outdoor seating so it’s the perfect spot for a quick bite to eat! If you can’t decide what to order or are just in the mood for some drool-worthy food pics, check out The Denver Central Market Instagram, it’s enough to make anyone hungry.
STROLL THROUGH DENVER’S BOTANICAL GARDENS
When we were in Denver, it was too beautiful not to be outside (I’m talking 75 and sunny). And what do you do in a new city when the weather is beautiful? Google botanical gardens of course!
Denver’s Botanical Gardens were enormous and absolutely beautiful. It was the perfect socially-distanced activity for a pandemic-conscious traveler and a gorgeous photo op as well (get that Insta shot). If you plan on visiting, tickets will set you back about $15 each and I would plan on purchasing them ahead of time (here).
SEARCH FOR STREET ART
Along with breweries, Denver is also well-known for it’s beautiful street art and giant murals. Take some time to wander around the city and enjoy the colorful art present on every street corner.
restaurants to try
Traveling during a global pandemic means expecting that not everything will go according to plan. Before we left, I did extensive research to find out the yummiest restaurants we should try in Denver. Unfortunately, due to outdoor seating restrictions and COVID-19 safety, a few of those restaurants were unexpectedly knocked off our list.
When things don’t turn out the way you planned on your trip, the only thing you can do is pivot and find the next best alternative! And although we didn’t get to try every single restaurant I had hoped for, we got the chance to try even more restaurants in Denver and had a wonderful time experiencing the local foodie scene.
THE BUCKHORN EXCHANGE
Before you read any further…scroll down and check out that picture of crispy and delicious fried goodness. Looks pretty yummy, right?
What if I told you what you were looking at was actually deep fried bull testicles?
Does it still look yummy?
Our answer was a resounding YES. If you’re able to get over the idea of what you’re actually putting in your mouth, Rocky Mountain oysters are de-lish and a must-try in Denver. Although we were disappointed to find out that Buckhorn Exchange had no outdoor patio and seated a seemingly full house, we compensated by grabbing an order of Rocky Mountain Oysters to-go and stopping by to pick them up in the ‘stang.
They’re crispy, delicious and served with a variety pack of four different sauces including ranch, cocktail sauce, honey mustard and a yummy house-made sauce!
You won’t find any normal hot dogs on this menu. Biker Jim’s is famous for their unique hot dog combinations and creations! Their menu includes ostrich dogs, elk dogs and the coveted rabbit & rattlesnake (depending on availability). You can choose between tons of different unique and delicious toppings! I went for the spicy Elk Jalapeño dog with their classic topping which turned out to be a mixture of caramelized onions and cream cheese. My friend opted for the ostrich dog topped with El Diablo, which included green chili salsa, sriracha lime mayo and smoked bacon bits.
ROSENBERG’S BAGELS & DELICATESSEN
I’ve never waited in line longer for a bagel in my life (which is shocking since I lived in Manhattan), but BOY was it worth it. Rosenberg’s Bagels is the place to be in Denver if you’re a bit hungover and in desperate need of a delicious breakfast on-the-go.
The bagels were FANTASTIC! We were also happy to find the staff was safety conscious and there were many pandemic measures in place.
When our reservations at The Buckhorn Exchange fell through, we headed to the next place on our bucket list…Steuben’s! Thankfully, Steuben’s was the complete opposite and had loads of outdoor seating for us to choose from. Steuben’s is a Denver staple and, after our meal, I can see why. The food was delicious, the staff was very friendly and our waitress knew to keep the Aperol Spritz coming! (Cue my friend spending $33 on Aperol Spritz ALONE.)
ANISE MODERN VIETNAMESE
Although Anise wasn’t on our original itinerary, that doesn’t make the pho any less delicious! We had originally set our sights on New Saigon but, after calling and learning there were no outdoor seating options, we headed on over to Anise instead. That night we feasted on fresh spring rolls, plenty of pho and a pho stir fry.
nightlife & bars
THE IRISH ROVER PUB
Experiencing local nightlife is by no means the same as it was before the pandemic. BUT there has never been a better time in history for…drumroll please…rooftop bar hopping. Denver’s famous 54 Thirty rooftop bar was on our original bucket list. However, after learning the bar is currently closed to anyone not staying in the hotel, we set our sights on The Irish Rover Pub instead. The Irish Rover has a great rooftop patio which was surprisingly empty. (Although now that I think of it, we were there on a Sunday night). The drinks are affordable and, sticking to true Denver tradition, they have lots of yummy beer on tap!
JUBILEE ROASTING CO.
Hungover and in desperate need of a pick-me-up, we stumbled into Jubilee Roasting Co. on our last morning in Denver. I can honestly say, I’ve never had a better latte in my life…and it wasn’t even mine. My friend ordered a caramel iced latte with oat milk and I’m pretty sure I drank 70% of it myself. The espresso was delicious and it wasn’t overpowered by the milk. In my experience, that’s hard to pull off in an iced latte.
Sometimes the best trips are the ones that don’t go according to plan! Although we didn’t get to try each specific restaurant on our list, we tasted some delicious food, drank some tasty beer and took advantage of the beautiful September weather. And let’s be honest, all trips are made better when the rental car company gives you a Mustang convertible instead of the Toyota Corolla you paid for.
Fort Collins is the perfect addition to your Denver trip! If you enjoyed my list of things to do in Denver, you may also enjoy my related posts…
And don’t forget to follow my adventures on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps.
Thanks for reading!