Denver is a geographically isolated city sitting exactly one mile above sea level and over 600 barren miles from the next closest major city. Concealed from the west by bold foothills and towering 14,000-foot peaks, and protected to the east by an expansive and unforgiving high desert terrain, it is a place where everybody seems to be from somewhere else. Today, modern-day pioneers flock to Denver for world-class skiing and biking, serene hiking and intense rock climbing. They travel here from far and wide to imbibe famous microbrews, stand in the humbling presence of massive peaks or find prosperity in the booming computer and telecommunications economy. The end result: blended but cohesive neighborhoods, brimming with a diverse collection of cultures and exuding character and charm.
Historic Lower Downtown (LoDo)
The ghosts of the red light district from Denver's gold rush days may still haunt the streets of lower downtown, but they are not alone anymore. The area, termed LoDo by locals, was virtually empty 10 years ago. But since the opening of
An eclectic residential district stretching east from downtown to
Five Points/Curtis Park
Throughout Denver's illustrious history,
While walking the diverse streets of Capitol Hill, you might actually feel the city's pulse pounding beneath your feet. Once the neighborhood of Denver's wealthiest citizens, this area, which wears its decadent image with honor, blends the past with the present with ancient Victorian mansions and contemporary condos and apartment complexes. Although the streets are always filled with people at all hours of the night, the neighborhood is safe and friendly. Young hipsters brood along the same sidewalks that Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac treaded, searching for an evening fix of entertainment in one of the diverse array of clubs, coffeehouses, art houses, galleries and bars. It is a great place to observe the way Denver moves through day-to-day life. A wealth of historical sightseeing includes the
Congress Park/Cheesman Park
A diverse mix of ethnic, age, and income groups populate these old neighborhoods bordering Capitol Hill, barely a mile from downtown. The area serves as a hotbed for Denver's gay community and fashionable 30-somethings.
This stylish district features some of Denver's best-known attractions, including the beloved
Residents of Denver are the leanest in the land which can be attested by the the active, healthy crowds that are always running or pedaling around the verdant landscape of
Washington Park's wild southern neighbor is University Park, home of the
Located on the western fringe of Denver, surrounded by a jagged hogback and a plethora of wide buttes, Golden is a charming small town (do not ever say it is a suburb) that echoes Colorado's gold rush heritage. Home of the
Blend a deep Hispanic tradition with an Asian migration, mix it up with a big dash of sports frenzy and the Wild West, and Denver's dining scene begins to take shape. And do not forget the beer. Known for its casual atmosphere, brewpubs, and sports bars, the Mile High City has always been famous for good grub, but recently arrived culinary masters, attracted by the panoramic mountain setting, have vaulted Denver to the fine dining forefront. Although Denverites now enjoy fancier fare, they still love their beer.
Downtown has satisfied the appetites of Denver's business class for decades with an array of casual establishments providing comfortable atmospheres for relaxation and work. Still, if formal dining is on the agenda, there are plenty of options. The Palm takes care of the surf and turf crowd, while the staff at Bravo! Ristorante sings moving arias as they deliver Italian creations with a twist. Marlowe's huge neon martini sign overlooks the 16th Street Mall and attracts visitors for its continental cuisine. Bring a hearty hunger to the Rocky Mountain Diner for huge helpings of comfort food and some famous rainbow trout. Relax at Domo's authentic country house for a remarkable Japanese dining experience, or head down the street to the Buckhorn Exchange, Denver's first restaurant and a true meat-lover's paradise. Under the watchful eyes of big game trophies you can try all sorts of wild game including alligator, elk and rattlesnake. Dine with Denver's elite in the Napoleonic setting of Palace Arms, located in the historic Brown Palace.
Historic Lower Downtown (LoDo)
More restaurants, bars, bakeries, and coffeehouses inhabit these 20 blocks than any other district in Denver. There are so many, in fact, it is hard to choose just one. LoDo plays host to a multitude of brewpubs pouring homemade concoctions and cooking creative alternatives to traditional bar food. The Wynkoop, named after Denver's first sheriff, holds the honor as the city's oldest brewery, and fries a mean fish and chips. Its Railyard Ale is one of the area's tastiest brews. Or, for the closest thing to fine dining that a brewpub can get, see if you can get a table at the Denver Chophouse, which features steaks galore. If you want to enjoy a wide variety of ales, the Falling Rock Tap House has 69 beers on tap, including a wide selection from local breweries. Steak and potatoes are the thing at both Morton's and Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. McCormick's Fish House, located in the Oxford Hotel,headlines a good group of seafood stops, including the Del Mar Crab House and Jax Fish House. Lim's Chinese Kitchen and P.F. Chang's are the places for a Chinese fix. The hip crowd hangs at the Purple Martini, which provides candlelight ambiance for romance, pizza and cocktails. After major sporting events, the streets of LoDo flood with hungry fans, and the restaurants fill at an alarming rate. Reservations are necessary everywhere.
Restaurant Row is a sanctuary for culinary artists. Chefs display their magic nightly at such exquisite haunts as Strings and the Avenue Grill, a favorite destination for couples, that features a varied menu with western favorites. For a quiet getaway, stop in at Dario's Restaurant, a quaint, family owned bistro full of knickknacks and heirlooms just west of City Park. Here you will experience Old World decadence as it serves heaps of Swiss-Italian fare. Or, head next door to the tiny Café Berlin for tasty wurst and strong German stouts. If pizza and crowds are on the menu, Pasquini's, located in an old house on 17th Avenue, is the place to be. After enjoying the restaurant's hip ambiance and vogue cuisine, wander next door to the Rhino Room for a Colorado microbrew and a game of pool in an environment straight out of the 1970s. As the night begins to wind down, relax at St. Mark's for a late night cup of coffee and a fresh baked muffin.
Cozy, family owned restaurants, friendly local pubs, and coffeehouses populate the streets of Capitol Hill. Most have been around forever and have developed a faithful following. Stop by Benny's Cantina for a fiesta of sloppy Mexican grub. Le Central is the place to stop for fine French delights. Dazzle, a newcomer to the scene, specializes in unique American cuisine. Sing bygone favorites at Charlie Brown's piano bar while deciphering the neighborhood's most complex menu, or head over to Watson's Pharmacy for some tasty ice cream. Gabor's keeps the locals happy by pouring beer and frying burgers into the wee hours.
Chessman Park/Congress Park
From quaint street-side cafes to elegant food extravaganzas, this district is sure to please. The Barolo Grill treats the palate to expensive but superb Italian cuisine and boasts the most extensive wine selection in Denver. The Satire Lounge serves a dash of dark ambiance with big dishes of Mexican standards, and the Grand China is the stop for authentic Chinese fare.
This is the Mile High City's dining central, where food designs are the norm and a simple ceramic plate becomes a canvas beckoning art. Dramatic? Maybe, but many of Cherry Creek's fine restaurants can make a dining experience into a thing of beauty. Expect to pay a hefty price, though. Delectable Indian delights are at the Bombay Clay Oven, and Little Ollie's sculpts healthy (nothing deep-fried here) Chinese food. If you are searching for the obscure, check out the underground RooBar for inventive martinis along with classic bar grub. The Cherry Cricket, a ruffian original in the upscale district, spices things up with burning batches of homemade green chili.
Old South Gaylord Street feeds the neighborhood with a myriad of timeless standards. Visit the Washington Park Grille, a crowded bistro with a flair for Italian, or wander next door for some seafood at Max Gill and Grill. Sushi lovers will delight at Japon's flavorful variety, while bike lovers enjoy the burgers at the HandleBar and Grill.
University Park is full of popular dives and down home joints serving burgers and pizza. Fagan's Restaurant and Bar is the place to get authentic Shepherd's Pie and a flavor of Old World Ireland. The Jerusalem Restaurant delves into exotic textures and fine Middle Eastern cuisine. Treehouse Café takes care of the heath food crowd, and Mustard's Last Stand specializes in hot dogs and Polish sausage. The Pearl Street Grill is a local favorite; the restaurant's back patio is one of Denver's most relaxing and intimate dining destinations.
An emerging hotspot for Denver diners, the Highland neighborhood in Northwest Denver offers a great selection of Mexican restaurants and an array of inventive, family-owned bistros. Pagliacci's serves old-fashioned Italian food in a homey, Tuscan ambiance. Bang! offers a small, 10 item menu in a lively atmosphere and is home to the area's best burger, as well as some spicy Cajun cooking. Common Grounds serves the art crowd with weekly poetry readings by local bards, acoustic jams for music lovers, and top-notch mochas.
For a real treat, head to the foothills and check out the historic Fort. Built atop a high slope, with picturesque views, this establishment is the ultimate in romantic mountain dining. The menu is extremely meat oriented and the chefs prepare venison and elk in wonderfully creative ways.
Denver's history as a boom and bust town began with the desire for a simple precious metal: gold. In 1858, a group of prospectors were exploring the Kansas Territory, which then encompassed what is now Colorado, and discovered piles of the almighty metal at the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek. One of the prospectors, William Larimer, established Denver City in an area then populated by the Arapaho tribe, who camped along the banks of Cherry Creek while hunting and gathering. Over the next two years, a new gold fever penetrated the pulse of the eastern states. 100,000 hopefuls pioneered across the harsh landscape to the territory, seeking instant prosperity. The influx uprooted the Native Americans and forced them to move on, while the settler population soared, causing the federal government to create the Colorado Territory. So began Denver's first boom, inspiring its mythical image as a Wild West town ruled by material obsession.
In 1859, at the peak of the rush, Denver's first notable figure strolled into town with a vision well beyond the price of gold. William N. Byers moved to Denver from Ohio, via Omaha, and founded the Rocky Mountain News. Through the newspaper, he tried to calm the hysteria and instability associated with the gold rush, by promoting settlement on the high desert frontier. Byers proceeded to create an illusion of Denver, proclaiming the city to be the "Queen City of the Plains" and the new steamboat capitol of the West, ready for a river full of industry. Unfortunately, the small, shallow Platte River could not live up to Byers' grand words. The ports of wealth never materialized, and the even smaller Cherry Creek soon declined into a cesspool of mining pollution. Despite this failure, Byers, who also founded the city's Chamber of Commerce, was streamlining himself for a great career in politics. His chances dissipated, however, during an adulterous scandal which culminated in a typical Wild West shootout scene in the middle of a downtown street.
In 1865, Denver City was deemed capital of the new Territory. In 1881, five years after Colorado gained statehood, it was chosen over Golden, Colorado Springs, and Boulder as the official state capital. During this period, Denver blossomed rapidly. Railroad-borne business transformed this one-dimensional mining Mecca into a more balanced industrial and agricultural "cow town." Even so, the city experienced its first bust in 1893, after the Silver Crash crippled Colorado's silver-producing economy. A tough 10-year depression followed. Despite the hardships of the times, city leaders managed to construct the beautiful neo-classical Colorado State Capitol Building and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. From 1904 until 1918, when the entire nation was in the process of revitalizing itself, energetic civic leader Robert Speer took Denver's mayoral reigns and vowed to create an "American Paris." During this era, known nationally as the City Beautiful period, Denver curbed its unchecked growth with a solid urban plan. Some of the city's most recognizable landmarks date from this time, including the City and County Building and Washington and City Parks. Speer conjured a four-part plan for city improvements, beginning with Civic Center Park. He wanted Denver to boast a beautiful city center with lush walkways and focal points of extravagant architecture. Thus, Civic Center Park, between the Colorado State Capitol Building and the entrance to downtown, is embellished with impressive gardens, a serene thoroughfare, and a Greek-style outdoor amphitheater. Speer also sought to bring shade to the desert. He initiated the planting of over 100,000 trees, creating numerous boulevards lined with oaks and elms. Through a prolonged effort, even the polluted Cherry Creek was transformed into a verdant greenway, and new mountain and city parks further enhanced the beauty of the area.
Speer faced harsh criticism for some of these projects, especially for the boulevard that bore his name and meandered from downtown to the country club district. But it was nothing compared to the wrath his successor, Benjamin F. Stapleton, faced for building Denver's first airport. Stapleton, notorious for his membership in the Ku Klux Klan, was captivated by flight. He strove to end the city's isolation on the plains by laying the foundation for Denver Municipal Airport in 1929. Critics went wild, calling the plan downright stupid, and saying the location was so far out east of the city that it might as well be in Kansas. Ultimately, the airport was a success. After the Great Depression of the 1930s, the city and Stapleton focused on the mountain parks, calling for the creation of a "rock garden" in the nearby hills. Years of diligent planning and painstaking construction carved the jagged red rocks into an intimate, natural stadium known as Red Rocks Amphitheatre which even today is still universally recognized as one of the greatest outdoor concert venues in the world.
The 1930s and 1940s also brought a military and federal government presence to Denver, with the opening of Lowry Air Force Base and the Denver Federal Center. This initiated a trend continuing over the next 40 years as Denver and the Front Range became home to Fitzsimmon's Army Hospital, the Air Force Academy, and Buckley Air Field. Now, Denver supports the largest Federal employee population outside of Washington DC. As the Cold War progressed, Denver gained a high-tech military installation in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, as well as the infamous plutonium-producing Rocky Mountain Flats. Although these sites boosted Denver's economy and population, they also caused an enormous amount of controversy. Since the end of the Cold War, the majority of Colorado's major military sites have closed down due to subsequent defense cuts.
During the 1950s, "black gold" struck the hearts of Denverites, sending the economy into another boom, and creating millionaires overnight. Oil companies from around the globe set up shop in Denver, inspiring Mayor Quigg Newton to reevaluate the city's "cow town" persona. The city rode the oil boom long enough to use the steady flow of tax revenue to revitalize schools, institute cultural amenities, and reinvent the central business district. In 1969, the revitalization campaign led to the controversial decision to bulldoze Auraria, Denver's oldest and poorest neighborhood. Originally a separate township, Auraria was a rival to Denver City back in the gold rush days. The two entities eventually settled differences and merged into one, under the name of Denver. From the dust of the wrecking crews, a beautiful urban educational center arose, known as the Auraria Campus. The area now holds three city colleges along with a collection of original neighborhood landmarks, including the Tivoli Brewing Company, St. Elizabeth's Church and St. Cajetan's Church.
The city then turned toward cleaning up rundown areas of downtown. This time, however, the money ran short. Consequently dismantled lots sat vacant and overgrown until the early 1980s.
Another boom followed, this time bringing the towering icons of corporate wealth: skyscrapers. The new oil boom at last transformed the city into a modern metropolis, with immense highrises sprawling along the Front Range and a mobile population almost completely dependent upon the automobile. Unfortunately, like everything else associated with the Mile High City's bipolar history, this boom was also bound to bust.
In the mid-1980s, the price of oil plummeted from USD39 a barrel to USD9, sending the city into a devastating recession. The downtown skyscrapers stood empty, and the central streets of the city soon resembled a ghost town. Much of the populace fled to better opportunities elsewhere.
Federico Pena, Denver's first Hispanic leader, fought tooth and nail to change the city's identity in the late 1980s. Pena reinstated the Chamber of Commerce and directed new funding into Denver's cultural institutions, including the Denver Zoo and the Denver Art Museum. Tourists were already passing though Denver en route to the world-class skiing in the mountains, so Pena decided to initiate a plan to give out-of-towners a reason to stop. Thus, the Mile High City began the slow process of washing away an unsightly industrial past in favor of the glitz associated with a tourist and service oriented town.
Perhaps Pena's greatest feat was paving the way for the construction of the Denver International Airport. Pena's successor, Wellington Webb, Denver's first African American mayor, faced intense scrutiny over the airport site. Located in what is often termed "the middle of nowhere" by locals and tourists alike, the airport is one of the world's largest and is consistently one of the busiest.
Denver's shiny new look fueled yet another economic boom that ignited an urban renaissance under Mayor Webb's watchful eye. The spark that flamed this boom came when the city was awarded a major league baseball franchise in the early 1990s. Planners opted to build a new stadium in the heart of an old warehouse district, by banking on the "If you build it, they will come" philosophy. New businesses, restaurants and shops recognized the brilliance of this theory and quickly moved into the area's surrounding historical structures that had somehow survived the wrecking balls and years of vacancy. The end result: an upscale entertainment district called LoDo, jammed with old, revitalized brick buildings and anchored by Coors Field, a beautifully designed, old-fashioned ballpark. The people, of course, came too. So many, in fact, that developers infiltrated the area and transformed the old buildings into elegant lofts. The success of LoDo spilled into downtown and the surrounding areas, creating an infusion of inner growth. The promotion of luxurious urban living served as an antidote to some of the area's aggressive suburban sprawl. Denver's population now soared at a rate comparable to that of its suburban rivals.
Denver quickly emerged as a lively sports town and entertainment-filled metropolis, attracting gaggles of tourists who instead of leaving, fell in love with the city's energy and mountain setting, and became permanent residents. In 1993, over 30,000 inhabitants of California flooded the Front Range, rocketing the population to over two-million and creating major growth issues as rapid development gobbled up former open spaces to house the new arrivals. New high-tech computer and telecommunication businesses also sought refuge in Denver's endless sunshine.
As the 1990s pushed on, the city continued to focus inward, moving the beloved historical amusement park, Elitch Gardens, to the central Platte Valley just south of LoDo. In 1999, Colorado's Ocean Journey, an interactive aquarium, opened in the central Platte Valley. The same year saw the opening of the Pepsi Center, a new brick and glass structure that plays home to the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche.
Denver's boom and bust cycle has allowed the city to continually reinvent itself, fluctuating from a gold town to a cow town, from an oil town to a tourist town. With each change the city history becomes more complex and vibrant. No one can predict when the next bust will come, but Denver will most likely continue to find new and unique ways to propel itself forward.
Denver boasts an interesting mix of attractions, providing visitors with many tour options.
Civic Center Park
Walk through Civic Center Park, where you'll see the Colorado State Capitol Building, a remarkable turn of the century Greek replica, the Colorado History Museum and the Denver Library. Have lunch at Dario's Restaurant, then explore the nearby Denver Art Museum.
Denver History Museum
Next door to the Denver Art Museum is the Byers-Evans House. The Colorado History Museum is also in this area. The City and County Building and the U.S. Mint are not far from the retro Bump and Grind restaurant.
Denver Performing Arts Complex
Enjoy breakfast at Hot Cakes, which is close to the 16th Street Mall and the Denver Pavilions, two popular shopping options. Nearby is the Paramount Theater, the Denver Performing Arts Complex and the Tabor Center.
Walk around Writer Square, which acts as a passage to Larimer Square. Dine at the Denver Chophouse and Brewery. Browse the Tattered Cover Bookstore, then walk to Union Station and tour Denver's first brewery, the Wynkoop Brewing Company.
Molly Brown House
In Capitol Hill, visit the Molly Brown House and St. John's Episcopal Cathedral. Discover the neighborhood's more modern offerings at Wax Trax, one of the city's preeminent independent record shops. Nearby is the Grant-Humphreys Mansion and the Governor's Mansion.
Gray Line Tours ( +1 303 394 6920/ http://www.grayline.com ) Banjo Billy's Bus Tours ( +1 720 771 0087/ http://www.banjobilly.com/ ) Pacesetter Coach Lines ( +1 303 289 5637 )
Black American West Museum and Heritage Center ( +1 303 292 2566/ http://www.blackamericanwest.org/ ) Grant-Humphreys Mansion ( +1 303 894 2505/ http://www.coloradohistory.org/ghm/rentalsGrantHum.htm ) Byers-Evans House/Denver History Museum ( +1 303 620 4933/ http://www.coloradohistory.org/ )
Columbine Air Tours ( +1 719 658 0659) Soaring Adventures of America ( +1 303 436 1436 ) Sunny Day Come Fly Away ( +1 303 456 5916 )
Platte Valley Trolley ( +1 303 458 6255/ http://www.denvertrolley.org/ )
Grand Adventure Balloon Tours ( +1 970 887 1340/ http://www.grandadventureballoon.com ) Air Time Balloons Incorporated ( +1 303 320 4400 )