How to Spend Your Three-Day Winter Weekend in (& Around) the Mile High City
It’s probably safe to assume that most travelers fall into one of two categories — they either like to plan every little detail of their trip or they prefer throwing caution to the wind and surprising themselves along the way. You may fall into one camp or the other, but here’s a little secret: both are good options. And that’s why it’s perfectly okay to do a little of each, to approach your trip with plans of the half-baked variety.
That approach, as always, was the one I used during a recent trip to Denver, the Mile High City. Making use of recommendations and helpful hints provided by The New York Times’ 52 Places Traveler, who stopped in Colorado’s capital back in May, and from Carey Jones, who authored a guide to Denver’s River North Art District, or RiNo, for GQ in September, I cobbled together a list of things to see and do in Denver during my short stay.
These weren’t must-see’s or must-do’s; they were simply suggestions so that I didn’t go in totally blind. My trip to the city (and surrounding areas) could have gone a number of ways depending on whatever we ultimately decided to do, and that’s just the beauty of it — you should have some idea what you’re getting into, but take advantage of those opportunities to surprise yourself, too.
If you find yourself heading to Denver anytime soon — during the winter, that is — allow me to offer the following itinerary for your three-day weekend stay. Just remember: these are only suggestions. Always feel free to choose your own adventure.
Your plane lands at Denver International Airport sometime in mid-afternoon, let’s say 3 p.m.-ish. If you scrimped on breakfast, neglected to have much of a lunch, or both, now is the time to grab a snack before you exit the terminal. That way, you won’t be sitting there with a rumbly tumbly when the rental car people inevitably waste more of your time than seems reasonable (or give you a Kia Optima with broken tail lights on the first go-around).
By the time you get into town, evening will have descended in earnest and if you’re not ready for dinner just yet, why not start your trip off right by grabbing an adult beverage at a local watering hole? If dive bars sporting beer pong tables, dart boards, and friendly bartenders are your thing, consider heading over to The Monkey Bar on Santa Fe Drive. Other nearby hangouts include Stoney’s Bar & Grill, a ski-centric sports bar, on Lincoln Street and Charlie Brown’s, an old-time-y piano bar, over on Grant Street.
Thursday’s main event, however, will be the show you catch at The Ellie Caulkins Opera House, whether it be the acclaimed Nutcracker, which is featured around the holidays on the regular, or something the likes of The Wizard of Oz, which will hit the stage for 10 performances in February 2019. Not into ballet? Lucky for you, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts always has something going on. If nothing else, you could always see if the Nuggets or the Avalanche will be lighting up the Pepsi Center.
After your long day of travel and taking in some of the city’s art scene or a sporting event, why not keep dinner light? Consider a local diner, such as Sam’s No. 3 or the old-school Denver Diner, which is open 24/7. After stuffing yourself, it’s time to make way for that cabin in the mountains that you rented on Airbnb.
Friday is all about enjoying the great outdoors — because this is Colorado, of course. That means waking up to the spectacular view of the mountains outside your cabin window and maybe even making use of the pair of binoculars that your host so thoughtfully left sitting near the window sill. After guzzling down some coffee and cramming a piece of toast or two down your throat, get out there and suck in some of that fresh mountain air. Hint: now is also the appropriate time to smoke that joint you picked up downtown the night before.
Your morning rituals out of the way, load the rental car up with all of your gear and make way for the ski resort/area of your choosing. The most affordable option you’ll likely find is Echo Mountain, a ski area featuring 12 runs varying in difficulty that sits just 37 miles west of downtown Denver in Idaho Springs. With single-day adult lift tickets coming in at just $55 and ski/snowboard rentals checking out at $35 per day, it’s probably safe to say you won’t find a better deal.
Other good options would be Loveland Ski Area in Dillon, Arapahoe Basin Resort in Keystone, and Eldora Mountain Resort. Wherever you end up, go ahead and make a whole day of it: get in as much skiing or snowboarding as you can, grab a bite to eat in between runs, warm up in the lodge with a cup of hot cocoa — the works.
Following a great day out on the slopes, find yourself a local grocery store (most places outside the city seem to close by 9 p.m., FYI) and pick up whatever you need to make a nice home-cooked meal back at the cabin. Groceries in hand, make your way back to your mountainside digs and get dinner fired up.
Traveling with your buddies? Eat, drink, and be merry, taking advantage of the ancient board games you find sitting on a shelf in the front closet. Traveling with your significant other? Enjoy your romantic dinner for two and then snuggle in for a movie. Fall asleep with the comforting knowledge that the money you saved making your own food can be used to go all out once you’re back downtown tomorrow night.
You’ve left the mountains behind and it’s time to let city life take over once again. First priority? Lunch. Now is the time to make your way over to Avanti Food & Beverage, a marketplace of sorts featuring a handful of culinary options. With American Grind, your one-stop-shop for burgers and sammies; BorraCho Tacos, an array of Mexican-inspired goodness; QuickFish Poke Bar, for all your sustainably-sourced undersea cravings; and four other restaurants providing even more options, there is literally something for everyone at Avanti.
Following your mid-day feeding, why not dive into some more art and culture with a visit to the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art? Containing over 30,000 works by more than 1,500 artists and designers, with about 4,400 works on view at any one time, Kirkland maintains an emphasis on the 1840s and onward, and showcases many works produced by Vance Kirkland, the museum’s namesake. General admission is $10 ($8 for seniors, teachers, and students) and the best part is that you can easily see everything in one to two hours, making it a perfect afternoon stop.
Eventually it will be time to check in over at the second Airbnb you booked for your trip, the townhouse or apartment or private bedroom — or whatever — that’s preferably located somewhere near the RiNo neighborhood. Why, you ask? Because that’s where you’ll be spending Saturday night.
You’ve set up shop at the new Airbnb. You’ve napped, showered, maybe had a snack, primped yourself, and you’re ready to roll. Dinner is next on the agenda and there are a few options on the table. Do you head to Super Mega Bien, the Latin American restaurant located within The Ramble Hotel that serves its food “dim sum” style? To El Five, the fancy fifth-floor penthouse dishing out Spanish and Mediterranean small plates and unobstructed views of the Denver skyline? Or maybe a brewery, such as Ratio Beerworks, Our Mutual Friend, or the Great Divide Barrel Bar?
If you’re me, the answer is none of the above (although they are all great options), because you’re headed to Work & Class, the “good food, no fuss” restaurant that reflects the personalities of its two owners: Tony Maciag, a Detroit native, and Dana Rodriguez, who grew up on a farm in Chihuahua, Mexico. Work & Class, located just across the street from The Ramble Hotel and right next door to another popular eatery, Cart Driver, promises patrons a “square meal, stiff drink, and fair price,” and oh boy do they deliver.
Once you’ve scarfed down some Cajun lamb sausage, gone to town on Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale Smoked Brisket, and wiped out those chickpea croquettes just minutes after they were set in front of your face, you’ll know just what I mean. And you’ll also know, after a drink or two or three, that it’s time to hit the town in earnest. Head outside and on down Larimer Street because the bars, the bars are calling. And the first place you may want to check out is Meadowlark Bar, a club sporting funky beats most nights of the week and, oftentimes, no cover.
Other nearby options include Nocturne, a cocktail bar with live jazz music; Voicebox Karaoke Lounge, which I’d imagine is self-explanatory; and, over by Coors Field, Beta NightClub, Denver’s self-proclaimed nightlife destination. Pick a spot, take a couple shots, and dance the night away, my friend. And when the morning rolls around and it’s time to head for the airport, you can leave confidently, knowing you did Denver right.