Touring the “Mile-High City” of Denver and central Colorado

Denver's popular 16th Street Mall is lined with shops, restaurants and brew pubs!

Author, under the Rocky Mountain High Dispensary sign (Colorado an early state to allow recreational marijuana sales)
The Blue Bear, a true photo op, at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center (photo courtesy of Visit Denver).
The archway to the lovely and historic downtown of Golden, in foothills of Rockies above Denver, a gold rush town and home to the huge Coors Brewery.
Huge bull elk, left, monitors his herd in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Snow begins to show on the upper slopes of Steamboat Springs Resort in N. Colorado.
The colors of fall brighten the Colorado River between Steamboat Springs and Vail.
Fall color lines the stream running through Vail Village.

Take a tour with us of the “Mile-High City” of Denver and central Colorado!

We had the luxury of house-sitting (through our club, affordabletravelclub.net) a nice home in Broomfield, outside Denver. Hence, an opportunity to explore both the Mile-high City and much of central Colorado, chock-full of mountains and adventure-related things to do.

We begin our tour in large and bustling downtown Denver. What better place to start, than a location designated a “mile high”? Stop at the State Capitol; stand on the west steps at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level – one mile high – then climb to the Rotunda for a western panoramic panoply of 200 snow-capped peaks, some over 14,000 feet.

Many other sites await your downtown visit, including:

16th Street Mall: This beautiful one mile stretch helps make Denver the fourth most walkable downtown in the US, with hundreds of street trees and thousands of flowers, with outdoor cafés and marvelous people watching. Architect I. M. Pei designed the pink and gray granite pathway; a free shuttle bus can take you back if you tire. We parked on Wazee Street: the nearby Rocky Mountain High Dispensary quickly reminded us we were in a state that pioneered recreational marijuana use. Along the Mall, we found The Blue Agave for Saturday brunch (and $5 margaritas ‘till 2 pm).

The Mall is anchored by the Daniels and Fisher Tower, built in 1910 as part of the city’s largest department store. At 325 feet tall it was then the tallest building between St. Louis and California. When the department store was torn down in 1971, the tower was saved, now home to shops and apartments and a lofty observation deck.

LODO Historic District: the Lower Downtown district is filled with historic buildings, home to restaurants, rooftop cafés, and scores of brewpubs and sports bars. Don’t miss Wynkoop Brewing Company, Denver’s first brewpub. The next day, we returned down town for Sunday brunch at La Loma, packed with Broncos football fans, directly across the street from the historic Brown Palace Hotel.

US Mint: Learn how the US stamps 50 million coins each day, with a tiny little “D” denoting Denver, offering free guided tours daily.

Colorado Convention Center and the giant Blue Bear: The 40 foot tall Blue Bear, by Colorado artist Lawrence Argent, offers great photo-taking opportunities. If you are a sports fan, nearby Coors Field,  home to baseball’s Rockies and the NFL’s Bronco’s Stadium are part of downtown.

Downtown Denver also offers the transformed Denver Union Station, a 1914 train terminal now a favorite for restaurants, shopping and entertainment. Other downtown stops include Larimer Square, a block of stately Victorian buildings, Confluence Park, featuring the Downtown Aquarium, Children’s Museum of Denver and the Platte River Trolley. Additional highlights include Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver zoo and Denver Botanic Gardens; we had not time for all.

A fine day-trip takes you through Boulder, Lyons and Estes Park, the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park (see my article on the park in last week’s Record, or my blog). We did not have time for the state’s other two national parks, Great Sand Dunes (five hours south of Denver), and Mesa Verde National Park (eight hours to the Southwest).

Golden, just 20 miles west into the foothills, was capital of the Colorado Territory from 1862 to 1867. Founded in the 1850s as part of the Pikes Peak gold rush, it’s home to the huge Coors Brewery (self-guided tours daily, and samples to those over 21), Colorado School of Mines, National Earthquake Center, California Railroad Museum and an historic downtown with shops, restaurants and brewpubs spread throughout.

We spent a day in Lakewood, a Denver suburb, visiting the headquarters and small ski museum of the National Ski Patrol, then had a late lunch at a quaint brew pub nearby, Colorado Plus.

Seeking mountain scenery, off we went for a two-day tour to visit the state’s big ski areas and mountainous interior, starting with a back-roads trip to Steamboat Springs. Plan a downtown stop at F. M. Light and Sons, an historic western shop crammed with everything needed to deck you, or your kids, out as a Colorado cowboy . After overnighting there, the next morning we toured down to Vail, passing by other major ski resorts and beautiful countryside, admiring changing fall colors in the valley along the Colorado River.

Plan on weather variables: when we arrived in Colorado, coming down from Wyoming, we were met with a few days in the mid 80s, followed by cloudy, gray and 40 to 50° weather for five days, followed by a sunny 70° day. Then temperatures dropped into the mid-20s and it snowed four inches in time for the Broncos football game, the coldest October game in the team’s history. If planning a long stay, bring cold-weather gear, and, perhaps cable chains for your car.

Colorado appears prosperous, with new office buildings, apartment complexes and spotless homes; in the mountains, thousands of spectacular homes, cabins and condominiums cover valleys and hills within 10 miles of the state’s dozens of ski areas. I spotted no graffiti, but for one building on edge of downtown, in two weeks.

For more information, Colorado, Colorado.com; Denver, Denver.org.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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  • Blog Author

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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