Where to Eat, Stay, and Play

Where to Eat, Stay, and Play

At 5,280 feet above sea level, the Mile High City offers culture, history, galleries, great restaurants, and brewpubs. A weekend in Denver is the perfect way to sample what the city has to offer. Denver is known as the Napa Valley of craft beer, where eating and drinking rank up there with biking and hiking.

With a backdrop of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, Denver worked its magic on me more than three decades ago, and I’ve called it home ever since. It’s fun for me to brag about the Mile-High City and its eateries, brewpubs, neighborhoods, and nearly every-day sunshine. I want visitors to love my city as much as I do.

So, order an IPA and get ready to grin.

weekend in denver

Nuts and Bolts for Your Weekend in Denver

The thin air in the Mile High City can make visitors feel light-headed. Remember to hydrate. The altitude can also increase the effects of alcohol. One Wynkoop Railyard Ale can equal two at sea level. Denver dining attire is casual, and jeans are acceptable at all but the finest restaurants. Neighborhoods like RiNo, Cherry Creek, and Lowry are easy 10-15 minute drives or Uber from downtown.

Visit Denver is the best resource for more information.

Map of My Recommended Weekend in Denver Spots

To make your time in Denver easier, here’s a map you can use to get around with my favorite spots listed. You’ll see that not everything is downtown. Instead, I like to encourage visitors to branch out and go beyond the normal stops in downtown Denver. After all, that’s how the locals do it!

Day One In Denver – Downtown is Where it’s At

Morning – Location, location, location

Start your weekend in Denver at Union Station, at 17th and Wynkoop Streets. Exploring a train station may not sound rousing, but Denver’s “living room” is an exception. The open-air, historic centerpiece of Denver offers the best in people-watching, dining, drinking, and lodging. Union Station underwent a major transformation and renovation in 2012 and opened to super reviews in 2014.

Check into Union Station’s Crawford Hotel with rooms that are small but well-appointed. Then explore the station, with shops to browse including a small version of Denver’s famous Tattered Cover Book Store, where they occasionally offer happy hour and encourage shoppers to bring a cocktail into the store and get a discount on books. During the holidays, a 40-foot tree with some 7,000 lights fills the atrium of Union Station.

Begin your day at either Mercantile or Snooze an A.M. Eatery, both wildly popular in Denver. Snooze has several locations in Denver, and there’s a line around the corner for each.

Restaurants in Union Station range from basic to pricey. My husband and I love to sit in a large wooden booth with a classic bacon burger and a craft beer at the Terminal Bar. You’ll also find another favorite, Stoic and Genuine. You may not even notice the octopus graphic on the walls, because you’ll be digging into the Thai green curry mussels or lobster roll. Curious about the name? The two owners described their personalities in a word, and Stoic and Genuine were born.

Afternoon – Calling all Foodies

Food tours are one of the best ways to get to know and meet other travelers. Delicious Denver Food Tours is my favorite. My friend Donna and I joined this husband/wife company on a tour of some of Denver’s most interesting eateries in 2019.

Even as a local I learned about restaurants I hadn’t been to, like Biker Jim’s.

As we walked into Biker Jim’s, onions sizzled in a large skillet in the open-air kitchen, and the place buzzed with people laughing, eating, and talking motorbikes. And, yes, Jim is a real person. He originally owned a hot dog stand on Denver’s 16th Street mall and found fame after Anthony Bourdain (RIP) stopped at the stand and devoured a dog on his show No Reservations. The list of kudos for Biker Jim’s includes being voted the best Colorado hot dog, by People magazine.

Our group had so much fun on the tour that 30 minutes after the tour ended, we were still hanging out and exchanging email addresses.

In 2021, Denver Delicious Food Tours served over 7,000 guests, and since 2017, they have spent $500,000 at local restaurants and bars. Prices run between $69-$100 per person and the meeting point is walkable from Union Station. Tours last three hours. They also have an evening cocktails tour, RiNo food tour, and a Saturday wine walk. Donna loved the tour so much that she bought gift certificates for her family.

Afternoon culture – Books and Art

Photo of Free Shuttle Ride in downtown Denver
RTD’s free mall ride on Denver’s 16th Street Mall (Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle)

After the food tour, catch the free 16th Street Mall shuttle to Broadway and walk two blocks south through Civic Center Park to 14th Avenue. Denver Art Museum is on Bannock. The newly remodeled museum opened to the public in June 2020. With $175 million in renovations, the museum dazzles.

DAM is located next to Denver Central Library with its own newly remodeled Children’s Library and renowned Western History & Genealogy Department that attracts scholars and history buffs from around the world. The Central Library is undergoing its own major renovation so some floors are closed to the public; however, many services are still available. The museum and library anchor the Golden Triangle neighborhood.

Evening – RiNo and Rhino Art

Your weekend in Denver just got even better. RiNo (River North) is the destination this evening. The first thing to know about River North is that to get there, you should bike, Uber, or Lyft. There’s construction on seemingly every street and little parking. Besides, you may have had an alcoholic beverage this afternoon, and you can enjoy another without getting behind the wheel.

River North is Denver’s newest and trendiest community and has it all: galleries, food courts, jazz clubs, breweries, coffee roasters, wine-makers…and rhinos.

Look for rhino art and murals as you stroll the streets of this community that Lonely Planet named one of the top ten neighborhoods to visit in the U.S. Or check out this Denver walking tour that includes both street art AND beer stops!

Dine at Safta, located in the Source Hotel and Market Hall. Safta serves a blend of Israeli and Mediterranean cuisine. Opened in 2018, Safta’s hummus is a world away from what you may have eaten from a plastic container. Pita bread is made from flour purchased from a farm in Kansas (you’ll smell the lovely aroma of wood-fired pita before you arrive). Safta is the word for grandmother in Hebrew, and Chef Alon Shaya named the restaurant for his beloved NaNa. There’s even a NaNa martini.

Day two in Denver – Check out the Nearby Neighborhoods

Most Denver itineraries don’t go beyond the downtown and RiNo area, but as a local, I want to take you further and find some of the hidden gems that only the locals know about!

Morning – North Cherry Creek for High-end Retail and an Affordable Burger

You could spend hours or weeks exploring the boutiques, galleries, and high-end stores in Cherry Creek North. Begin your day at Aviano with an espresso or cold brew, pastry, and people-watching. This woman-owned shop with its modern design and prime location is a local favorite

Sign that reads Cherry Cricket
The sign at the Cricket may have seen better days, but this place brims with character. And good beer and burgers (Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle)

Lunch is at Cherry Cricket, a lively local bar with 20 choices of beer including Guinness on tap. The cricket burger and chicken wings are crowd-pleasers. The always-packed Cricket is in the heart of the action in Cherry Creek North and was voted Best Burger in 2021 by 5280 magazine readers. If you want to take it up a notch, there’s also North or True Food, which both have patios next to the sidewalk.

Cross the street from Cherry Creek North to First Avenue and enter Cherry Creek Shopping Center, one of Denver’s top tourist destinations, which brings in some sixteen million visitors a year. With Neiman Marcus, Luis Vuitton, Saks Fifth Avenue, and dozens upon dozens of shops and restaurants, you’ll find no problem spending time-–and money—here.

Afternoon – Peddle the City

Mile High Bike Tours leads riders on tours around Denver’s neighborhoods on three-speed cruisers. Groups are ten people or fewer and you’ll bike about nine miles, so it’s a fairly mild day. Guides take riders on the excellent bike path system in Denver. Wheel Fun Rentals has great cruisers to rent for the entire family if you prefer to do a tour on your own. They offer information for an excellent self-guided tour that takes you from their location at City Park through town via the Cherry Creek Bike Trail.

If bicycling doesn’t sound good, visit REI, an outdoor recreation store that’s a tourist attraction all by itself. The flagship store is located on the Platte River at Confluence Park, west of downtown. REI has an indoor climbing route designed to resemble Boulder’s Flatirons.

Afternoon – Salute a Gin & Tonic in Former Lowry Airforce Base (just following orders)

Lowry, a neighborhood a 15-minute drive from downtown Denver, has restaurants, a beer garden, and one of my favorite places, Copper Door Coffee Roasters. Owner Hanna Ulbrich, master coffee roaster, knows her caffeine and is passionate about her product. She even chairs the U.S. Coffee Roasting Committee.

Formerly Lowry Airforce Base, the Lowry neighborhood celebrates the history of the base with places like the Officers Club. My friend Donna and I started going to the Officers Club mid-pandemic. It became habit-forming, and now, you can find us at the “club” about once a week. Here, you can get the best gin and tonic of your life. Simply called “The Gin,” the potency of this brilliant concoction is in the ice cubes. Made with top-shelf gin with a touch of lavender, you’ll salute this cocktail.

Officers Club in Lowry
Have a drink on the patio at the Officers Club in the Lowry neighborhood as part of your weekend in Denver (Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle)

Other cocktails include the “Flyboy,” (gin, lemon juice, lavender) or “Major’s Medicine,” (rum, pineapple, and orange juice served in a tiki glass). The “O Club” also makes an excellent Old Fashioned and has a year-round, flower-filled patio. The General’s bacon burger also commands a salute.

Evening – Larimer Square

Larimer Square, located between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets on Larimer, was once a disreputable and derelict area. Today, refurbished brick Victorian buildings, flower baskets, and chic cafés fill the oldest block in Denver.

Table covered with white linens and holding two cocktails with view of Larimer Street
Capital Grille serves excellent gin and tonics while you watch people walk by on Larimer Street (Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle)

It’s hard to decide between my two favorite restaurants in Larimer Square: The Capital Grille and Bistro Vendome.

With rich, classic décor and impeccable service, Capital Grille exudes a clubby vibe. Business lunchers power up on steak or lobster bisque, but my favorite thing to do is sit on the patio on a warm (or chilly, doesn’t matter) evening and feast on their classic burger. Since the pandemic, the street is blocked to car traffic, so you can watch the parade of people walking by wearing everything from evening gowns and stilettos to jeans and cowboy boots.

Bistro Vendόme is like your own little corner of Paris. Tucked in a nook just off Larimer Street, the bistro serves quiche with black truffles for brunch, steak tartare, escargot, and salmon grilled with artichokes, capers, and sun-dried tomatoes. Look for the red awning. Oui.

For dessert, Wednesday’s Pie is a hidden treasure in Larimer Square. Look for stairs that lead down to pie heaven. Here, you can order a slice of homemade pie, just like Grandma made, and savor it on the spot in this little place with a vintage feel and checkered floors. Why Wednesdays? Originally, the pie place was open only Wednesdays. Fortunately, you can delight in a piece of chocolate peanut butter pie any–or every–day of the week.

More Attractions for your Denver weekend

Meow Wolf, the four-story immersion art exhibition, opened in Denver in September 2021 and has created a fun stir, in its weird and wonderful way. You just have to go to see for yourself.

Denver Center for Performing Arts (DCPA) brings Broadway to Denver. Unless you want to see Hamilton or The Lion King, tickets are easy to come by. The DCPA also offers smaller, but excellent shows such as “Rattlesnake Kate.” 

Stanley Marketplace is a former aviation factory turned collective with more than 50 shops and restaurants under one roof. You’ll find everything from a cooking school to the Denver Biscuit Co. to Sweet Cow Ice Cream. Technically, Stanley Marketplace is located in Aurora, but it’s just a stone’s throw from Denver.

If you’re in town in January, the National Western Stock Show, billed as the best 16 days in January, is the place to see rodeo at its finest. The Grand Champion steer takes center stage in the lobby of the Brown Palace, the same place where guests gather for high tea.

Where to Stay on your Weekend in Denver

Lobby of Hotel Clio in Cherry Creek
The lobby of Hotel Clio in Cherry Creek North (Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle)

If you want to spend the night in Cherry Creek North, Hotel Clio is the place. Part of the luxury collection of Marriott, Hotel Clio is in the location formerly occupied by JW Marriott. Even the air smells lovely in the hotel, and the service is impeccable. Guests may join in a happy hour every day at 4 p.m., with epicurean themes such as great guac with the Chef or Latin wine-tasting.

The historic Brown Palace and Spa, Autograph Collection, downtown Denver, embraces visitors with charm. Ship Tavern serves their famous prime rib, or you can “take tea” in the hotel’s exquisite atrium lobby where guests sip properly steeped Earl Grey in a Bone China teacup and nibble dainty sandwiches and scones with Devonshire cream.

Denver Brown Palace
Brown Palace

More Denver Drinking and Dining Options

Deviation Distilling is located in the private alley of Dairy Block. (Enter the alley off of 18th or 19th Streets) Owners Cindi and Bob Wiley are passionate about their craft and what they do. This husband-and-wife team excels at not only the product but making guests feel welcome. Deviation does not serve food, but guests can bring their own.  Pizza, a charcuterie tray, or a burger and bag of chips are all fine.

Wynkoop Brewing Company. This place hops. Former Denver Mayor (and Governor, now Senator) John Hickenlooper founded this brewpub in 1988. The Wynkoop brews excellent beer and serves classic pub grub, including burgers, fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie.

Check out the Ottsworld favorite Unique Things to Do in Denver – this isn’t the normal list you see everywhere else!

Denver RINO street art

And now for a real local hidden gem – Magill’s World of Ice Cream, located in a small strip mall in Lakewood, is a 15-minute drive from downtown Denver. You won’t find this on any other Denver Weekend list! To experience a shop that feels like it’s right out of the 1950s, this is it. My sister, niece, and 13-year-old great-niece go to Magill’s about once a month during winter and a few times a week in the summer months. When temps are hot, the line stretches out the door.

Servers dish out giant scoops of homemade deliciousness. For a nostalgic feel, sit in one of the booths. Magill’s celebrated 40 years of business in 2021, and it looks like they haven’t done much if any, remodeling since they opened. The masses approve. That includes my 13-year-old great-niece who loves to order a scoop of double dark chocolate fudge crunch and a scoop of rocky road. My personal favorite is two scoops: mango sorbet and vanilla bean.

Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar is a bit of Havana in Denver and is situated in two Caribbean-style homes painted in crayon colors with a metal palm tree near the entrance. A good friend and I think of Cuba Cuba as our place and meet here several times a year to catch up. One sip of the signature mojito, the cocktail that originated in Cuba with rum, lime, sugar, and mint leaves, and I feel better already. Cuba Cuba serves plantains and delicious black beans and rice. (I don’t know how a simple dish like black beans and rice can be extraordinary, but it is.) Add a killer mojito and stir.

photo of restaurant named Cuba Cuba with sign in front for dining option for weekend in Denver
Cuba Cuba serves excellent rice and beans. And mojitos! (Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle)

Shanahan’s Steakhouse in Denver’s Tech Center is about a 15 to 20-minute drive or ride from downtown Denver but the service and steaks are worth the time and $$. My rancher cousin and his wife from western Kansas and my husband and I dined at Shanahan’s in January. My cousin—who knows a delicious, succulent steak—said it was the best he’d ever eaten. Shanahan’s entertains Denver’s movers and shakers, and Mike Shanahan makes the occasional visit.

More Denver Day Tours To Check Out

The Best Time to Visit Denver for a Weekend Getaway

Denver Capital Building
State Capitol

Even though winter sports attract throngs of visitors to Colorado, my favorite months in Denver are the warmer months, when dining outside is glorious and evenings are long. Temperatures are generally mild between April and October, although we can most definitely get cold and snow. If there is snowfall, it usually disappears by the following day.

How to Get Around During Your Weekend in Denver

Denver union station
Denver Union Station RTD

Denver is a walkable, bike-friendly city. That’s the best way to get the feel of a place anyway. When you need to Uber or Lyft to a destination, you won’t have any issues, unless it’s a day when the Denver Broncos play. Then, you might have some competition. Getting to Union Station from Denver International Airport got easier once the Denver Airport Rail opened in 2016. The A-Line connects travelers from DIA to its final stop at Union Station in about 40 minutes. An Uber or Lyft takes about the same amount of time, but the train is cheaper and more fun.

Denver Guidebooks for Even More Information

Check out the following guidebooks for more information about Denver and the Rocky Mountains. I personally know each of these authors, who are locals and love Denver like I do. They have stellar reputations as well as good taste in IPA. That’s you, Rich Grant. In addition to his guidebook he co-authors with Irene Rawlings, Grant writes the blog Walking and Drinking Beer. Count me in.

 100 Things to Do in Denver Before You Die, by Rich Grant and Irene Rawlings. Now in its second edition, this book will steer you in the right direction. Grant, former director of communications for Visit Denver, knows his beer and his city. Rawlings’ credentials include writing for publications that include Hemispheres and National Geographic Traveler and hosting an award-winning show on iHeartMedia radio.

60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Denver and Boulder, including Fort Collins and Rocky Mountain National Park, by Mindy Sink. Author Sink is not only a local but an expert hiker and writer. This book will lead you to scenic overlooks, well-loved hikes, and unknown trails.

Unique Eats and Eateries of Denver, by Chad Chisholm, offers gorgeous photos (Chisholm is a commercial photographer) and fun descriptions. The headline for Saucy Noodle reads, “If you don’t like garlic, go home!”

Where to Go Beyond Denver

Of course, you want to get out and explore those beautiful Rocky Mountains surrounding Denver! Be sure to check out the Ottsworld 7 Day Trips from Denver – these will take you deep into the mountains and back!

Denver Blue Bear

Pikes Peak Grandeur

Colorado Springs is only an hour’s drive south of Denver on I-25 and is not your grandfather’s Colorado Springs. Brewpubs, restaurants, and a magnificent landscape may surprise today’s visitors. Nature provides many of the enticements that lured explorers long ago and captivate visitors today.

Zipline over Seven Falls with Broadmoor Outfitters, ride horseback or Segway through Garden of the Gods or explore caves at Cave of the Winds with Adventures Out West. As a kid, I experienced all these attractions when I traveled with my parents and siblings from our home in western Kansas to “the Springs,” but never via horse, zipline or Segway.

Check into the elegant, AAA Five-diamond Broadmoor or the centrally located Wyndham property (with a spa!) Mining Exchange. Another fun option is Kinship Landing, which has a custom-made discovery table with maps to plan your adventure weekend as well as beautiful hand-crafted wood furniture. The Broadmoor’s Fly-Fishing Camp blends world-class fly-fishing with luxury and wilderness. Here, guests fish for rainbow trout with an expert guide.

Visit Pikes Peak Region for more information about Colorado Springs.

Summer in Vail

Vail village
Vail Village

June through August are glorious months to visit Vail Village, which feels like a reproduction of a charming ski town in Bavaria. Mountainside chalets and large wooden clock spires, with the occasional glitterati sighting, make up this town 100 miles west of Denver.

Check into the JW Marriott, located in the heart of Vail Village, and explore the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens, or attend the Vail International Dance Festival or Bravo! Vail Music Festival, in the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheatre, located next to Gore Creek. Getting to Vail from Denver is easy on Bustang, a roomy coach with restrooms, large windows, and best of all, a professional driver.

Make sure you spend a day in Vail’s hidden secret – Piney River Ranch!

piney lake vail canoe rental
Piney River Ranch

Visit Vail Summer for more information about Vail.

Sherry Spitsnaugle writer

Meet the Author: Sherry Spitsnaugle has lived in Denver for three decades and is the author of four editions of Quick Escapes Denver, 25 Weekend Getaways in and around the Mile-High City. Sherry is a guidebook author, travel writer, wife and dog mom, first expressed her urge to explore at age four when she packed up her little red wagon and took off for an adventure— around the block. Today, she continues to fulfill her travel bug tendencies, exploring and writing about her experiences.
Instagram: sherryspitsnaugle