Denver – no longer a “cow town!”

By | Category: Travel destinations

Coors Field © Rich Grant

I’ve lived in Denver most of my life, and I’ve been writing about travel since 1990. Yet, this is the first time I’m writing about my adopted home town as a tourist would – and I have to say I’m both surprised and impressed.

I grew up near Cherry Creek, a posh area now reminiscent of Beverly Hills, but at the time, just a normal middle-class neighborhood. Now, out in the eastern suburbs, raising a family, I’ve let my old familiarity with downtown wane. I decide to try Denver’s new ecofriendly light rail and head out on a warm spring evening. What a pleasure – quiet, smooth and fast. I get to the heart of downtown in only thirty minutes and head off to Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. I’m going to my first baseball game of the season. Coors Field new, ample and very well-designed, is situated in the middle of Denver’s hip ‘LoDo’ (lower downtown) section, replete with trendy bistros, bars, brewpubs galore (Denver is the number one U.S. city for these!) and sidewalk cafes. I get off the train at the beautifully restored Union Station, and join the crowd headed off to the game, just a few blocks away. The weather couldn’t be better – but that’s Denver for you. Even in the very hot days of July, the evenings are blissfully refreshing.

After the game, I explore LoDo. It’s a ‘happening’ place, lively and full of strolling people. This area was, not so long ago, dilapidated, with vagrants and graffiti – but now, it could easily be compared to the ‘cool’ neighborhood of any large U.S. city. One of the highlights of Denver is Rockmount Ranch Wear, a REAL Western-wear shop which still had its founder and CEO alive and present until his death (at 107!) in 2008. Rockmount, which has been in LoDo since the ‘40’s, sells high-quality, well-designed western wear, and actually invented the snap-button shirts cowboys and cowgirls adore. I love this store – it feels like a trip into the past.

River North Brewery © Rich Grant

This part of town is also known for its fifteen microbreweries and brewpubs – in fact, they are so abundant that downtown’s elegant Grand Hyatt Hotel offers a very popular microbrewery walking tour package. Colorado is continually ranked in the top five for U.S. beer production, number of breweries, and number of microbreweries. The designated Denver Beer Triangle between Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins houses over six dozen breweries, including world-famous Coors, with 36 in Denver alone. The Guinness Book of World Records declared Denver’s annual autumn Great American Beer Festival as the largest beer festival in the world, yes it’s even bigger than Munich’s Oktoberfest because here you can try from over 2,600 different beers!. The Denver Microbrew Tour is a 1.5-mile guided walking tour in the LoDo area, visiting (and tasting!) at Great Divide, Wynkoop, Breckenridge and other microbreweries.

Moving on, still in the Western theme, I hop back on the Light Rail and head for a few moments in the other direction, to the Buckhorn Exchange, purportedly Denver’s oldest restaurant. Bedecked by hundreds of animal heads, (literally!) the Buckhorn serves up hearty steaks, buffalo and wild game. If you’re out on the western side of town, another Denver tradition, and well worth its fame, is The Fort restaurant. Another independent spot, the Fort is a replica of historic Bent’s Fort in La Junta, Colorado, and features gourmet wild game and authentic ‘pioneer days’ cuisine in a sprawling setting overlooking the glittering lights of the far off city.

When we moved here, in 1971, Denver’s cultural scene consisted of the local high school’s plays and concerts. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but everyone concurs that it’s a whole ‘nother city these days. Our Denver Center for the Performing Arts is world-class – with a nationally-renowned repertory theater, outstanding concerts from our symphony orchestra, an excellent opera company as well as the Colorado Ballet.

Our zoo, nature and science museum and art museum are now truly top-notch, unrecognizable from what they were back in the day. However, the true gem, and astonishingly under-heralded, is the Vance Kirkland Museum, a few blocks from downtown. Not a Kirkland fan? No worries! This museum is filled with over 70,000 pieces of decorative art, as well as paintings by OTHER people. It’s fantastic, mind-boggling, incredible – one of the world’s must-sees. Kirkland – as well as leaving his art -left his money and that money is used to purchase decorative art making it one of the most important regional museums in North America.

© The Molly Brown House

Historic Denver’s Molly Brown House Museum is among the most visited historic sites in the state of Colorado, and one of only a handful of sites nationally dedicated to the interpretation of a woman’s story – this was the home of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” who survived the Titanic’s sinking.) Open for more than 43 years, the Museum serves nearly 50,000 people every year, including 10,000 youth, successfully achieving its mission to “accurately portray the story of Margaret Tobin Brown within the context of her lifetime in order to inspire courage, conviction and pro-active change in her spirit.”

Denver Art Museum ©Steve Crecelius

Downtown is definitely the ‘heart’ of Denver, while Cherry Creek (my old stomping ground) is the heart of the residential and shopping area. Both have a variety of hotels to choose from.

British Airways provides a direct service from the UK into Denver. Many other airlines, Air Canada, American, Delta, Icelandair, Lufthansa, US Airways and United have connections from their hubs. Once you arrive, a bus service which runs from 3.30 am until midnight will take you downtown.

For more information about Denver, click here

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