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
Denverites love the outdoors. The sun shines over 300 days a year, and the dry climate and unpredictable weather patterns allow for intense mountain biking one day and perfect powder skiing the next. A good portion of the city heads to the mountains come the weekend, leaving the rest of the populace to enjoy Denver's immense assortment of cultural delights. Even though much of the city's entertainment involves sweat, residents easily maneuver from an exhilarating day on the slopes to an afternoon hockey game or a night at the symphony. Most places, whether restaurants, nightclubs or theaters, are brimming with activity every night of the week.
When it comes right down to it, Denver is widely regarded as a sports and recreational haven. The Broncos, Rockies, Avalanche and Nuggets draw all sorts of admirers throughout the region, and tourists come from all over to see baseball at Coors Field. Skiers and snowboarders jam the slopes from November to early July, and people from all corners converge on Colorado during summer for its wealth of camping, fishing and backpacking options in the serene Rocky Mountains. Warm weather evenings are packed with mountain bikers and hikers when the after-work crowd escapes to the Front Range trails. Weekends lure thousands to the area's greenbelts for relaxation and exercise.
Denver Museum of Nature and Science, located in City Park, is the city's largest cultural attraction drawing almost 2-million visitors annually. Built in 1900, it is the home to the IMAX Theater and Prehistoric Journey, an interactive time warp into the dinosaur age. The museum has also played host to such famous exhibits as The Aztecs and The Imperial Tombs of China. The Denver Art Museum displays two floors of Native American artifacts, and also offers a smart mixture of Asian art and contemporary design. The building itself, a modern interpretation of a fortified castle, is a stunning piece of architecture. Recent renovations added a restaurant and viewing space for larger installations. History buffs will enjoy the Colorado History Museum, as it recounts the lost days when cowboys and Indians ruled the plains and the gold rush inspired a nation to dream of riches.
Denver also contains a wealth of fascinating special interest museums. The Molly Brown House chronicles the legendary exploits of the "unsinkable Molly Brown," a RMS Titanic survivor and prominent Denver citizen. In the Five Points neighborhood, stop by the Black American West Museum for an intriguing account of the African-American effort on the frontier. Appropriately, the museum is located in the old home of Colorado's first African-American female physician. Golden offers the Colorado Rail Museum, a 12-acre outdoor venue with over 50 antique locomotives on display, and the Buffalo Bill Museum, atop Lookout Mountain, honors the riotous life and legend of William Cody while offering astonishing views of the city.
The Denver International Film Festival comes to town each October with a fresh bunch of shorts, documentaries and feature length flicks. A variety of quaint art houses along with sprawling mega-movie complexes are scattered across the metro area. For the latest in obscure, avant-garde releases, stop by the Mayan Theater on Broadway, or the Esquire which spins the more popular independent features on a wide screen. If you are in the mood for the latest commercial movies, the United Artists Theaters at the Denver Pavilions are comfortable and include stadium seating.
Denver's homegrown music has produced a creative blend of commercial acts ranging from the roots rockers Big Head Todd and the Monsters, to the fevered 16 Horsepower and the Apples in Stereo. A multitude of intimate venues attract the hippest national and independent bands. Established acts fill the exquisitely renovated Fillmore Auditorium and blast away on the best sound system in Denver. Or drop into the Ogden Theatre on Colfax. In summer, fans congregate at Red Rocks Amphitheater for live music in an awesome mountain setting. The Bluebird Theatre, a restored movie hall and former porn house, hosts the hottest emerging acts. Local bands take the stage at Herman's Hideaway and Brendan's Pub. The Soiled Dove in LoDo is the perfect place to hear Hazel Miller sing the blues or Sally Taylor conjure the ghosts of folk legends. The Mile High City also steams with salsa; after a few free lessons hit the dance floor at La Rumba. If a more refined musical structure appeals to you, attend a performance by the Colorado Symphony. Under the direction of Maestra Marin Alsop, the classical virtuosos have attained national acclaim and consistently perform with such notable figures as Yo Yo Ma and the Anonymous 4.
The Colorado Ballet has been gracing Denver stages since 1961 with quality international dance and classic ballet. The Colorado Academy of Ballet trains aspiring dancers in advanced Russian techniques. The David Taylor Theater brings a distinguished contemporary ballet to Denver and produces the ever-popular Nutcracker during the holiday season. If you prefer modern dance, check out the celebrated Cleo Parker Robinson Dance troupe for beautifully choreographed interpretive pieces. If you would rather do the dancing, head over to The Church, the city's most popular nightclub, for a night of crazed techno madness. Bash is the "see and be seen" place to dance in Lodo. Vinyl packs in the ladies on Tuesday nights for the city's hottest Ladies Night. Lucky Star keeps the bobbing 80s alive and Polly Esther's boogies to the 70s disco thing. If big band sounds rattle your feet, saunter into the Mercury Café for rip roaring old style swing dancing.
The Denver Performing Arts Complex is the second largest theatrical venue in the nation behind the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and stages the latest Broadway musicals and plays. Resting beneath an inventive arched glass ceiling, the complex holds eight distinctive spaces, including the 2,800-seat Temple Buell Theater. Recent crowd favorites such as Rent, Chicago and Phantom of the Opera have drawn huge crowds. The Auditorium Theater, adorned in neo-classical design, presents the latest contemporary off-Broadway dramas and comedies and just finished a remarkable run of performances that featured the critically hailed Last Night At Ballyhoo. The Denver Center Theater Group, housed at the complex, recently brought home a Tony Award for the best regional theater.
For local offerings, check out the Avenue Theater for the hottest comedies and the long-running audience participation favorite, Murder Most Foul. The Theater on Broadway presents black box thinking theater that often focuses on gay themes, and performance art and the spoken word rule the Bug Theater. Opera Colorado, feeding the artistic spirit since 1983, performs three booming epics a year at Boettcher Concert Hall and the Buell Theater.
Other Cultural Odds & Ends
Colorado's Ocean Journey is the city's underwater take on the cultural scene. It previously earned rave reviews and offers visitors a chance to explore exotic tropical environments and discover what lies beneath the rivers running through Colorado. The Denver Zoo is the city's most beloved attraction, drawing well over a million visitors each year with such popular exhibits as the Primate Panorama and Tropical Discovery. In beautiful Cheesman Park, the Denver Botanic Gardens display a scenic expanse of varying foliage from around the world and a special new exhibit on water plants. Finally, if you want to see the workings of a brewery first hand, Coors Brewing Company gives daily tours and best of all, free samples.
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.
A historian once termed Denver the "turnstile city." Travelers come in, travelers go out. Some come for the skiing, others show up to call the city home. Over the past few years the business crowd has been enticed by the region's bustling economy, culture and recreational attractions. An addition to the convention center is in the works. New hotels preparing to open, or in the planning stages, will add to the 17,000 rooms already available. Many hotels occupy three prime areas: downtown, the Denver Tech Center (DTC) and the area around Denver International Airport (DIA). Comfortable lodging can easily be found in every nook and cranny of the city. Accommodations range from the glorious to the unassuming as do the prices, but most provide a good night's sleep at a fair price. If you prefer the provincial charm of a bed-and-breakfast, Denver has some of the best in the western region. Usually located in elegant Victorian mansions, they provide many of the modern conveniences of a hotel with a dash of history.
The majority of business travelers heading to the city usually wind up staying in one of downtown's array of notable and contemporary hotels. The convention center is propped in the heart of the district and many of the region's corporate movers and shakers headquarter in the towers populating the skyline. In other areas, especially on the fringes of the metroplex, one might feel isolated without a vehicle, but downtown offers easy access to shopping, dining and the city's popular attractions. Almost every hotel in downtown underwent extensive renovation in 1997, prior to the G7 Summit, so expect the latest in luxurious lodging.
The Brown Palace is the pride of downtown. Built in 1892, this Victorian brown brick building is a classic interpretation of Italian Renaissance design. Every president since Teddy Roosevelt, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, has enjoyed pampering in these posh rooms. Even The Beatles and Elvis Presley slept here. Hotel Monaco is the new kid in town but has quickly carved a niche with the businesses class with impeccable service and homey rooms; it has also developed a reputation as the place for romantic weekend getaways. The Magnolia Hotel, in the restored American Bank Building, offers extended stay visits in one- and two-bedroom suites along spirited 17th Avenue (a.k.a "Wall Street of the Rockies"). If you are searching for Denver's past, check out the Grand Hyatt's gold rush and Wild West motifs, or enjoy a long jog around its rooftop track. The Westin Tabor Center is Denver's stop for all-out extravagance. The towering Marriott City Center offers affordable luxury and easy access to area attractions. For an even cheaper sleep, head over to the Capitol Hill neighborhood or try the downtown Holiday Inn.
Historic Lower Downtown (LoDo)
Tucked among the restaurants, bars and clubs of this nightlife haven are a couple of secluded lodging gems. The landmark Oxford Hotel. Once on the outskirts of a seedy red light district, it has served some of Denver's most interesting and notorious characters. The hotel offers easy access to the Pepsi Center, Coors Field, and is home to the stellar McCormick's Fish House.
Denver's most popular bed-and-breakfasts are scattered about this predominantly residential neighborhood. The fashionable Merritt House, in the historic Swallow Hill district, shares the same architect as the lavish Brown Palace and features rooms with antiquarian furnishings and 19th-century charm. A less expensive getaway is the Franklin House, a restored 1896 mansion. Although not as fancy as some of the other inns around town, the owner has taken great care in reviving the home's original Victorian luxury. A visual masterpiece, Castle Marne, resides at the east end of uptown. The place actually looks like a small castle, and features a unique window of circular stained glass ascending a grand staircase, known as the Peacock Window. Another local favorite is the Haus Berlin.
The East Mansion district is in the heart of Capitol Hill. Throughout the century, many of the stately homes have retained their grandeur through conversion into multiple room apartments and museums. A few have been transformed into lively bed-and-breakfasts and provide visitors a chance to experience Denver's Victorian legacy. The Capitol Hill Mansion, erected when the district bore the kindly term "snob knob," is an aristocratic ruby sandstone structure complete with turrets and balconies, and is on the National Historic Register. Other area delights include the cozy Adagio Bed and Breakfast and the inexpensive Holiday Chalet. The area also offers the business class some excellent choices. The Burnsley Hotel towers high above the area and provides business travelers comfortable extended stay facilities and views of the Rocky Mountains.
This neighborhood is known as Denver's upscale section. Despite its reputation it is still easy to find inexpensive lodging at the Best Western Landmark. But if it is luxury you want the Loews Giorgio, a stunning black glass tower just south of Cherry Creek Mall, is a magnificent feat of Italian design and ultimate comfort. Intricate murals and frescoes embellish the Tuscan motif and the service often rates as the best in town. The Cherry Creek Hotel resides next to the Cherry Creek Bike Path and offers easy access to most of the city's attractions.
A variety of accommodations specifically designed for business travelers reside in and around the DTC area. The Inverness Resort offers an elegant escape from the city and boasts one of the finest golf courses in town. Choose from the Marriott, Hyatt, Embassy Suites, or any number of the area's extended stay or all-suite facilities.
The western edge of the city is a great destination for vacationers to experience Colorado's old-fashioned allure in a picturesque mountain setting. Whether you are staying in a lodge, bed-and-breakfast, or roadside motel, you cannot go wrong with the location. Wherever you stay, the best in biking, hiking, skiing, rafting, fishing and all other manner of mountain fun are only moments away. One of the more popular area lodges is the Table Mountain Inn. Nestled at the south end of Golden's historic downtown, this is a wonderful weekend hideaway and is just minutes from Apex Park, Dinosaur Ridge, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and Heritage Square.