By Shannon Hurd
Ask any Denverite about the biggest misconception surrounding the Mile High City and you're bound to get one of two responses: It snows all the time or it's nothing but a hick mountain town where everybody wears cowboy boots and listens to country music all day. As is often the case when it comes to rumors, the reality turns out to be quite different.
For starters, Denver, which serves as the setting for at least 25 novels, records an astonishing 300 days of sunshine a year - more than San Diego or Miami Beach! The difference, according to locals, is the way these warm weather days are distributed. In most cities, if it starts out 80 degrees in the morning, it stays 80 degrees throughout the evening. In Denver, however, it's not uncommon for it to be sunbathing weather at lunchtime and snowing by evening - and that's in middle of spring! (Moral of the story: be prepared, in mind, body and luggage, for quickly changing weather!)
As for the aforementioned hick-town reputation? While it's true that country dance places do exist (be sure to check out the Grizzly Rose and the Stampede if you're into this kind of thing), and while you may occasionally spot pedestrians strolling along downtown's bustling 16th Street Mall wearing cowboy boots or hats, that's more a nod to current music and fashion trends than anything else. The truth is that Denver, which is the largest city within a 600-mile radius (an area almost the size of Europe!), is a hip, young, happenin' place that offers its nearly 10 million annual visitors the chance to indulge in just about any activity their hearts desire.
"Denver is located right at the base of the Rocky Mountains where the East literally runs into the West, so your options here are pretty much limitless," confirms Rich Grant, spokesperson for the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau. "You can spend the day in the mountains, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, skiing or hiking. Within an hour, you can come back to the city for a world-class shopping, dining and entertainment experience." Okay travelgirl, let's go!
denver has luxury accomodations!
Chances are if you're traveling to Denver, you'll be staying in one of two places: the downtown area, which locals commonly refer to as "Lo-Do," or Cherry Creek, which is about five miles south.
The difference between the two areas is simple: Lo-Do is mostly business-and-entertainment oriented, and the crowd is really mixed. You'll see everything from homeless people and professionals to families and bachelorette parties. In contrast, Cherry Creek is very upscale and dedicated almost exclusively to restaurants and shopping.
Both areas offer impressive accommodations. In Cherry Creek, the newly opened JW Marriott is one of two hotels located in the heart of the prestigious 16-block shopping and restaurant district. It's within walking distance of every single store and eatery, and all rooms have three crucial features: a comfortable bed, great water pressure in the showers and flattering lighting in the bathroom mirrors. The JW Marriott also boasts the signature Mirepoix restaurant and bar, a state-of-the-art fitness center and a complimentary Mercedes sedan service that operates anywhere within a five-mile radius - this includes downtown! (303) 316-2700
The Inn at Cherry Creek is another great option. Privately owned by a Denver couple, Peter and Denise Weber, who live on the property, this quaint boutique hotel combines a distinct bed-and-breakfast ambiance (think intimate guest rooms and terrycloth bathrobes) with all of the modern amenities that travelgirls desire. In addition to complimentary high-speed internet connections, LCD flat-screen TVs and a fitness room, there are two fully furnished corporate residences for rent, as well as the delicious Weber restaurant, which serves fresh American cuisine. (303) 377-8577
In Lo-Do, hotel options are plentiful. In addition to just about every major chain, (including the Westin Tabor Center, where many visiting professional sports teams stay while in town), there are several unique luxury hotels.
The 113-year-old Brown Palace is probably the most famous. Since 1905, every U.S. President except Calvin Coolidge has stayed there. In addition, the Palace has also played host to a variety of princes, kings, queens and celebrities, such as basketball legend Michael Jordan. The hotel's rich history is preserved through daily rituals like afternoon teas and a live harpist. At the same time, the entire structure has been meticulously renovated to meet the needs of modern-day travelgirls. In other words, yes, they do have a state-of-the-art fitness facility. And, by the end of '05, they'll also have a spa. (303) 297-3111
At the luxurious and pet-friendly Hotel Monaco, a complimentary goldfish companion can be delivered to your room upon request - care and feeding included! The Hotel Monaco, which is consistently named as one of the world's top hotels, includes a full-service onsite spa and salon, a complimentary evening wine service and personalized room preferences and welcome amenities for all Kimpton InTouch Loyalty members ( www.kimptonintouch.com to join). (303) 296-1717
The guest rooms at the luxury boutique Hotel Teatro are elegantly decorated with modern European furniture, Indonesian sandstone entryways and unique memorabilia from past theatrical productions of the Denver Center Theatre Company. Added bonus: Award-winning chef/restaurateur Kevin Taylor manages the room service and operates the two restaurants here: PRIMA, a light, heart-healthy Italian restaurant, and Restaurant Kevin Taylor, which won the Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence for its 5,000-bottle wine cellar. (303) 228-1100
The Luna is a small luxury hotel that boasts a total of 20 fashionable rooms. Its selling point? No children allowed! Instead, Luna caters to the well-traveled guest who desires sophistication and serenity, as evidenced by their custom linens and feather pillows, extensive DVD library and complimentary crepes delivered by room service each morning. (303) 572-3300
travelgirl tip: If you're in town on business, you may be staying in a third location, called the Denver Tech Center, or DTC. Located several miles south of Cherry Creek, the DTC is a suburban cluster of businesses and hotel/restaurant chains. So, while you may hear about it in passing (Most commonly: "I hate driving through the DTC during rush hour. The traffic sucks!"), it's not really a place you want to visit for anything more than eating or work.
denver has style
Let's move onto the fun stuff: Shopping! Denver has some terrific spots in which to burn a hole in your credit card. For starters, you should know that Cherry Creek is divided into two sections: the Cherry Creek Mall, which is a lavishly appointed indoor collection of about 160 upscale stores and restaurants, and Cherry Creek North, which is the neighboring outdoor 16-block collection of unique, one-of-a-kind boutiques, spas, restaurants and galleries.
The Cherry Creek Mall is cool because it has a little bit of everything. There are the traditional, stylish faves like Abercrombie & Fitch, Bebe and Arden B, as well as really upscale choices such as Louis Vuitton, MAC and Tiffany and Co. The Cherry Creek Mall is every bit as much a place to "see and be seen" as it is a shopping destination. People dress in the latest fashions and subtly check one another out as they stroll along the marble walkways. Occasionally, you may even spot a celebrity. Throughout the years, locals have spotted Trista and Ryan from The Bachelorette, Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears, Paris Hilton, and just about every professional athlete known to man.
One more tidbit about the Cherry Creek Mall: In the fall of 2006, it will be acquiring a Nordstrom's, which is a big deal because 1) Denverites are really excited about it and 2) with this addition, the Cherry Creek Mall will become one of the few shopping centers in the country to boast Nordstrom's, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue under the same roof.
In contrast, Cherry Creek North, which is one of the last independently owned shopping destinations on this side of the country, contains (are you ready for this?) 50 restaurants, 60 spas, 23 art galleries, 18 jewelry stores and 40 boutiques. Cherry Creek North is a great place to walk around, soak in the beautiful Denver sunshine and look for a one-of-kind gift.
Make no mistake about it: "Unique" doesn't mean "low quality." Cherry Creek North is an extremely prestigious area where one is likely to find lots of blonde, well-dressed (and sometimes surgically altered) women - called "Creekers" by locals, as well as crowds of wealthy older men, gathered around trendy little restaurants that end in an "a" or an "o" pretending to eat, but really just staring at each other - or themselves.
The stores you must check out include Blush, which contains awesome women's clothing, from the funky to the sophisticated; CB & Paws, a specialty boutique featuring upscale gifts for the dog or cat in your life and John Atencio - the jewelry just speaks to you in there! The Tattered Cover bookstore, which has another location downtown, is another must-visit. Containing more than 150,000 titles and an extensive newsstand, it's a great place to grab your favorite author and snuggle into one of the many overstuffed antique couches with a steaming cup of coffee.
When you're done reading, consider hitting one of Cherry Creek North's 60 spas. Although you can't go wrong with any of them, travelgirls looking for a luxurious, one-of-a-kind experience should visit the Bella Fiore Day Spa. Bella, which is the only spa in the United States that carries the elite Borghese line of skin care products, has a ton of phenomenal package deals. In particular, any travelgirl craving some first-rate pampering should try the popular three-hour Cleopatra's Ritual ($265), which includes an organic honey and raw sugar glow, a milk and honey body wrap, a light massage and a manicure/pedicure - the perfect way to revitalize yourself after a long day of shopping!
travelgirl tip: Antique Row of South Broadway (halfway between Cherry Creek and Lo-Do) has more than 400 dealers of the old and valuable spread across 14 blocks, and Lo-Do's popular 16th Street Mall contains the Denver Pavilions (think trendy, everyone-has-'em stores like Express and Victoria's Secret) as well as many independent boutiques.
denver has great restaurants!
In a town where locals worship their pro sports teams more intensely than the Greeks did their gods, it seems fitting that one of the hottest new restaurants in town is named after legendary Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway. Elway's, which opened its doors in October '04, is an authentic Colorado steakhouse located next door to the Cherry Creek Mall. From the outside, it's fairly unpresumptuous. On the inside, however, the atmosphere is definitely all elegance and class. (Translation: Do not wear jeans here) It's slightly pricey, but the food (especially the New York Strip Steak) is excellent. Even better: it has one of the most creative dessert menus in town, complete with things like the Classic Ding Dong (yum!), Cr\'e8me Brulee Cone (double yum!), and Do-It-Yourself S'mores (triple yum!) On your way out, be sure to check out the display case featuring John Elway's Super Bowl Trophy. If you're really lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the famed ex-quarterback, who is a co-owner.
Another great option is Lo-Do's Adega Restaurant and Wine Bar. In case you're wondering, "Adega" is a Portuguese word that literally means "above-ground wine cellar." It's an appropriate name for this establishment, considering it has been recognized as having one of the best wine lists in the country! The food is contemporary American cuisine made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. On the menu you'll find such dishes as Pear Bisque, Caramelized Chestnut Soup and Passion Fruit Pudding.
Sambuca is an extremely popular modern supper club in Lo-Do that features candlelit tables, animal-print booths and Grammy-winning jazz performers. It attracts people of all ages, from early 20s through late 60s, and serves delicious food, such as Ginger-Teriyaki Salmon and New Zealand Rack of Lamb. The real reason most people go here, however, isn't the food. Attached to the restaurant is a sophisticated bar. And that is where you go if you want to be seen.
The locally owned Vesta Dipping Grille, also downtown, has a fairly simple menu, consisting of staples like pan-roasted baby vegetables, grilled beef tenderloin and Atlantic salmon. What makes it special are the more than 30 distinct dipping sauces that patrons get to choose from to flavor their meals. Suggestions are provided with each dish, but your tastebuds can also have a lot of fun being creative!
For some excellent Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese or Japanese-inspired food, Mao in Cherry Creek North is the place to go. Nearby, great burgers can be found at the Cherry Cricket. Finally, Lo-Do's Lime serves up sophisticated yet reasonably priced Mexican food.
denver has a million things to do and see!
With one of the most highly educated and fit populations in America, it goes without saying that Denver has a great love of both culture and activity.
The one thing you simply must do when visiting the Mile High City is attend a professional sporting event. Denver has seven professional sports teams: the Broncos (football); the Rockies (baseball); the Avalanche (hockey); the Nuggets (basketball); the Crush (arena football); the Rapids (soccer) and the Mammoth (lacrosse). No matter which game you go to, you're practically guaranteed a lively, fun, energetic atmosphere - particularly if you're lucky enough to score tickets to see the Broncos play ball. This town practically bleeds orange and blue.
Some local fair-weather fans might try to advise you against going to a Rockies game, citing the baseball team's dismal record as a reason to boycott the whole Coors Field experience. The truth is if you skip a sunny afternoon at the ballpark, you're only cheating yourself. The stadium is awesome, and most people go to soak up the atmosphere, junk food and sunshine, every bit as much as the game. travelgirl tidbit: On the third level of Coors Field, you'll notice a single row of bleachers painted purple. People who sit in this row are exactly one mile high!\
At the Colorado History Museum, you'll find numerous cool exhibits, like a wall-to-wall timeline that outlines the Centennial State's history from 1800 to 1949, and cards containing the stories of Coloradoans who were personally affected by World War II. However, unless you're in the mood for some serious reading, you won't get much out of a visit here. Ninety percent of the displays require several minutes of reading before you can understand their significance. That said, if you're a history buff with a lot of patience, it's worth your while. However, if you're at all ADD, skip it and head over to the Denver Art Museum or the Denver Museum of Nature and Science instead.
The former has the largest and most comprehensive collection of world art between Kansas City and the West Coast; the latter comes complete with an IMAX theater, world-renowned dioramas and exhibitions and the world's most advanced digital planetarium. You might also want to catch a performance at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, which is the second largest in the nation, composed of ten theaters seating 10,000 people for theater, symphony, opera and ballet performances.
For history of the travelgirl sort, take a half-hour guided tour through the home of Titanic heroine "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, where teas, special lunches and dinners are hosted throughout the year. Keep in mind that tours are given on a first-come, first-served basis and generally sell out during the summer and Christmas.
The 23-acre Denver Botanical Gardens are a great venue to stroll, snap a few pictures, sit on a bench and read and soak up some beautiful scenery. In addition to showcasing more than 32,000 plants and gardening styles from all over the world, it offers a phenomenal summer concert series, which in 2005 will include Jewel, the Neville Brothers and Lucinda Williams. A summer visit is also the right time to see the plants when they are actually blooming.
travelgirl tip: The gardens, which close between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., depending on the season and the day of the week, occasionally waive the admission fee for visitors who show up within the last hour or so of the day. (720) 865-3500
travelgirls with tykes in tow might be happy to learn that Denver is also one of the only cities in the country with a downtown amusement park. Spending the day at Six Flags Elitch Gardens, which has its own water park, is a great way to feel like a kid again yourself! Word of warning, however: On weekends, the lines can get L-O-N-G. The best time to go, by far, is early in the week.
travelgirl tip: When Denverites give directions, they'll say things like "turn south" or "go east" as opposed to right or left. That's because everything in the city is centered around the mountains, which are west. So, as long as you can keep track of the mountains, you'll never get lost!
one final thought
Regardless of where you decide to eat, stay, shop or visit, Rich Grant from the Convention and Visitors Bureau urges all Denver visitors to put one item on their absolutely-must-do list: "Find a good spot - whether it's a rooftop or a cafe or a parking lot - to watch the sunset over the Rockies. When you can see 120 miles around you and the whole sky is alive with color, the sight is absolutely breathtaking."
6 denver day trips
For travelgirls who are lucky enough to find themselves in the Mile High City for an extended stay, here are some places you won't want to miss.
1. If you're feeling lucky, head to Central City/Black Hawk. These neighboring historic mining towns, once called "The Richest Square Mile on Earth," are best known for their limited stakes casino gambling. In addition to nearly 9,000 slot machines, blackjack tables and poker games, travelgirls will find some of the best-preserved Victorian architecture in the West. Be sure to check out the Teller House Hotel, where President Grant once stayed, and the Central City Opera House, which features an outstanding summer season of opera. Approximate drive time from downtown Denver: 40 minutes
2. If you're feeling stressed, head to Glenwood Springs. The main attraction of this picturesque mountain town is the world's largest outdoor mineral hot springs pool. Stretching more than two blocks, and containing both a body slide and a tube slide, its hot, rich mineral waters are bound to relax you. After taking a dip, you can visit the famed gunfighter Doc Holliday's grave, tour the historic Fairy Caves, ride the new Iron Mountain Tramway or hike Hanging Lake. Approximate drive time from downtown Denver: 3 hours
3. If you're feeling athletic, head to Boulder. Rated the No. 1 sports town in America by Outdoor magazine, this liberal college town is home to more than 200 miles of serene hiking and biking trails, as well as countless opportunities for fishing, kayaking, horseback riding, rock climbing, camping and golfing. Simply taking in the view of the Flatirons Mountains on the drive there will surely get you in the athletic state-of-mind. And while you're in Boulder, check out the famous Pearl Street Mall. Named by the Wall Street Journal as one of America's leading open-air pedestrian malls, this is where you'll find everything from art galleries, outdoor concerts and historic sites to quaint sidewalk cafe, chic boutiques and quirky street performers. Approximate driving time from downtown Denver: 30 minutes
4. If you're feeling ambitious, head to Colorado Springs. Recently named by online relocation portal Relocate- America.com as one of the top 100 places to live in the nation, this picturesque, family-oriented town boasts more than 50 major attractions, including the nation's only mountaintop zoo! You can experience 360 acres of spine-tingling thrills at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, take a railway ride to the top of Pikes Peak, hike more than 1,300 acres of unique red sandstone formations at Garden of the Gods, or tour the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center. After you're done, consider spending the night at the Broadmoor, which, with its sprawling golf courses, award-winning dining options and renowned mini-mall, is one of Colorado's most luxurious hotels. Approximate driving time from downtown Denver: 1 hour, 15 minutes
5. If you're feeling thirsty (for beer, that is!), head to Golden. This historic city was actually first runner-up to be the state capital. Today, it's home to Coors, the world's largest single-site brewery, which conducts free public walking tours of its impressive facility six days a week. The entire process takes about two hours and includes a short drive through historic Golden, a detailed history of the entire beer\ production process, and plenty of free sampling. When you're finished, consider taking a hike at the nearby - and gorgeous! - Red Rocks Park or catching a concert at the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, a 9,000-seat arena carved out of gigantic boulders. Approximate driving time from downtown Denver: 20 minutes
6. If you're feeling outdoorsy, head to Rocky Mountain National Park. This magnificent treasure from Mother Nature provides a gorgeous setting to play in the wild, complete with 359 miles of hiking trails, lovely lakes, both steep and smooth terrain and plenty of venues for animal-watching. Truly rugged travelgirls might opt for biking or backpacking. The Continental Divide is here, as well as Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States, at 12,183 feet above sea level. During the summertime, a $15 permit is required for backcountry camping, but seeing the sunrise over the Rockies is priceless. The summer months are the most crowded however, so you might want to reserve this side trip for spring or fall visits. Approximate driving time from downtown Denver: 1 hour 30 minutes.
Coping with Altitude Sickness
Denver is called the Mile High City for a reason: It's located exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, which means there is less oxygen in the air. Although most visitors adjust well, as many as 30 percent may experience mild altitude sickness - particularly if they spend time in the mountains, where elevations can climb above 15,000 feet! Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath and/or trouble sleeping, and tend to strike within the first three days after arrival. Most people get better without treatment, although if symptoms persist, you may want to see a doctor. Suggestions to help you acclimatize smoothly include:
*Before your trip, hit the gym more often and avoid excessive stress. Strong, well-rested bodies have the easiest time adjusting.
*Travel in stages. Don't hit the mountains on your first day in Colorado. Instead, adjust to the mile-high elevation and then slowly push yourself higher.
*Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills and narcotics, all of which can interfere with your breathing.
*Drink plenty of fluids - water is best!
*Eat plenty of high-carbohydrate foods like rice, pasta and cereal. Avoid fatty stuff.
*Take it easy with exercise while there. You might not be able to perform at the same intensity you're used to immediately, but your body is still working just as hard. Listen to your body.
*Certain prescription medications have been known to speed up the acclimatization process. Ask your doctor for recommendations.