Dive into history, culture and entertainment from dining to shopping in LoDo, Denver’s lively downtown neighbourhood. Enjoy the restaurants, cafes, public art and shopping in micro-districts within LoDo, like the eclectic Dairy Block, in and around the former Windsor Dairy complex.
Denver has a mix of modern and heritage architecture, including many renovated Victorian and former industrial buildings that speak to its history as a central hub that began with the 19th-century gold rush. Denver has dramatic good looks, with views of the glacier-capped Rocky Mountains in the distance.
Hiking, urban walks and cycling are even better, thanks to an enviable 300 days of sunshine each year. For sports lovers, Colorado’s capital city has a full roster of pro teams, including the NFL Denver Broncos, NBA Finals Champion Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche NHL team and Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies. It makes Mile High City an ideal place for an urban break.
Denver is also the gateway to exploring Colorado’s mountains, breathtaking canyons, rushing rivers, and desert scenery. The landscape sparks images of the romance of the Old West. Learn about the culture and living history of Indigenous peoples who have been here for thousands of years.
“What’s amazing about Denver is we have the resources, and we’ve got the history,” says Krista Marks, Rocky Mountaineer guest experience specialist on the Rockies to the Red Rocks route. “It’s a unique culture.”
Here’s what I did on a recent two-day stay in Denver to spark ideas for a visit before or after your Rockies to the Red Rocks adventure onboard Rocky Mountaineer.
Located in the heart of downtown Denver’s LoDo neighbourhood, the elegantly restored historic Union Station is a landmark gathering place with a hotel, bars, restaurants and boutiques. A glowing orange neon sign across the top of the building beckons: “Travel by Train.” The grand, Beaux-Arts building is a good example of how well history, culture and entertainment blend in Denver.
I started my day there at Snooze A.M. Eatery. The Denver breakfast and brunch chain began at Union Station in 2006.
Open from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (4 p.m. on weekends); Snooze is famous for epic eggs Benedict. Mine featured a poached egg on a generous Parmesan-panko-crusted crab cake and topped with mellow cheddar Hollandaise sauce. The menu is huge, and so are the portions.
Union Station is also home to a seafood house and oyster bar Stoic & Genuine. For a landlocked mountain city, Denver restaurants serve a surprising amount of excellent fish and shellfish from the East and West coasts.
These walls talk
Walk off breakfast with a 90-minute graffiti tour of the RiNo (River North) Arts District with Jana Novak, co-owner of Denver Graffitti Tour. We started out tour at an art-covered parking lot wall that proclaimed with pizzazz: “Welcome to Denver: Love this place.”
Founded in 2005 by two artists, the RiNo Arts District is where the walls talk with colourful, thought-provoking art. The subjects range from questioning, historic and humorous to thought provoking and political.
The walking tour covers a good chunk of the Five Points neighbourhood, a 30-block area once known as the Harlem of the West. Legendary Black artists like Billie Holliday and Miles Davis played here. The first street artists here were Black and Hispanic creatives who couldn’t get their work into galleries, Novak explained.
This fall, the city hosts Denver Walls Festival, part of the World Wide Walls international celebration of street art. Ally Grimm, whose artist tag is A.L. Grime, is the executive director of the Denver Walls Festival where people can watch more than two dozen international artists at work as they paint walls around the RiNo Arts District.
Grimm says Denver draws visitors by blending big-city attributes with an approachable feel. “The nature, the mountains, the air is so fresh and wonderful,” she says.
Stroll and shop
The 16th St. Mall starts opposite Union Station and runs 1.6 kilometres past shops, malls, restaurants and bars. It also travels close to the Golden Triangle Creative District, the city’s arts and culture hub. You’ll find art galleries and museums here, including the excellent Denver Art Museum, which makes art approachable and fun to explore. Don’t feel like walking? The free, bright red MallRide bus runs along the mall regularly. While construction to reconfigure the Mall’s layout is underway until late 2024, the MallRide bus travels along neighbouring 15th and 17th Streets.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, located a short drive west of downtown, is a must-visit. It’s spectacular and seems to rise from the red rocks around it, with long rows of curved bench seats facing the stage. Chances are you’ve seen videos of top acts performing at the legendary open-air amphitheatre. There are several excellent hiking trails around the site, and even the walk to the venue past red rock walls with a valley overlook is breathtaking. In the morning, join fitness buffs striding up the bench seats or the stairs to the top. If your schedule permits, try to get a ticket to an evening performance, where the stargazing is just as spectacular as the stars on stage.
The high altitude, dry climate, and summer heat can make some Denver visitors miserable if they don’t drink water steadily throughout the day. Denver Graffiti Tour guide Jana Novak says to hydrate before leaving your hotel, wear sunscreen, and carry a water bottle. Sports drinks also work well.
Where to stay
The Rally Hotel is in LoDo’s newest entertainment hub, McGregor Square. It’s across from Coors Field and bills itself as the official hotel of the Colorado Rockies. Baseball fans will be in heaven. There’s a rooftop deck with a pool and the biggest and best-equipped gym I’ve ever seen at a hotel. Welcome amenities include a complimentary glass of wine or beer on check-in and free ice cream floats in the lobby from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Where to eat
The lively and historic Larimer Square LoDo micro-district is a block of renovated Victorian buildings with boutiques, bars, cafes and restaurants. Head downstairs to the brick-wall dining room at Osteria Marco to feast on home-style Italian food including pizzas, homemade pasta and excellent house-made burrata served by a professional team. The restaurant vibe is family dinner fun.