Checklist: Denver, Colorado

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While some used to see Denver as just a pit stop en route to the mountains, the city has become a destination in its own right—and not just because of the marijuana. With a vibrant restaurant scene, laid back locals, and craft breweries in almost every neighborhood, there is plenty to keep you entertained. Visit a mix of historical sites and newer spots to get a good feel for the city.

1. Union Station

The 100-year-old Union Station located in Lower Downtown recently underwent a complete renovation. Original architecture mixes with modern conveniences in the transportation hub that now houses a luxury hotel, local restaurants, and shops. Sip one of the 30 Colorado craft beers on tap at the Terminal Bar, or grab a banh mi sandwich or charcuterie plate at Mercantile Dining & Provision.

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Photo by Julie Vick

2. Craft Beer Tour

Colorado produces over a million barrels of craft beer per year. By visiting the local breweries, you get a tour of Denver’s different neighborhoods by way of buzz. Prost brewing overlooks downtown and boasts German-style brews like Weissbeer in a traditional beer hall atmosphere. At Station 26 you can try unique beers made in an old Denver fire station. For a stronger taste, try a Salted Scotch Ale at Mockery or one of the small batch brews at Former Future.

3. Botanic Gardens

Located 10 minutes east of downtown, the Denver Botanic Gardens offer a breath of fresh air year-round. With plenty of sunshine throughout the year in Colorado, you’re likely to find a nice day to stroll through the diverse garden collections. On colder days, you can visit the indoor orchid exhibits or take in the evening holiday light exhibit.

4. Lower Highland (LoHi)

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Photo by Julie Vick

The LoHi area saw a development boom after a pedestrian bridge connecting it to Lower Downtown opened in 2007. The collection of local restaurants lining the hilled area is a good place to get lunch or dinner. Try a pear, arugula and Brie sandwich at Masterpiece Delicatessen and grab dessert at Little Man Ice Cream, a local shop shaped like a 28-foot tall metal cream can.

5. MCA Denver

Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art is a glass-lined building situated downtown that was designed by architect David Adjaye. The collection is less overwhelming than those of larger museums, allowing time to view the current exhibits thoroughly and then sip coffee in the rooftop cafe adorned with ceramic garden sculptures by local artist Kim Dickey.

6. Cruise Room

Tucked in a narrow room inside the Oxford Hotel downtown, The Cruise Room opened the day after prohibition was repealed in 1933. Sip a martini at a booth beneath one of the hand-carved Art Deco panels showing toasts around the world. The German panel depicting Adolf Hitler was removed during World War II, but the other historic pieces remain.

7. Casa Bonita

You don’t come to Casa Bonita just for the food—you come for the experience. The 52,000-square-foot Mexican restaurant sits behind an unassuming façade in a strip mall west of downtown. Inside you’ll find a cavernous maze of tables, arcade games, and a 30-foot high waterfall that performers periodically cliff dive from. Oh, and the sopapillas are pretty good, too.

Julie Vick is a writer in Colorado who lived in Denver for 10 years. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

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