America’s mile-high city. Sitting at 5,280 feet above sea level and marking the end of where the great plains meet the Rocky Mountains in the bustling city of Denver. The city today is a sprawling modern metropolis but it’s humbling beginnings start in 1858 when a group of gold prospectors from Lawrence, Kansas established a mining town named Montana City, which would one day become Denver. The area brought in more and more people due to the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush and soon after parcels of land were being sold in the hopes of establishing a mining town where people can live and work which then expanded the town’s population even further. Finally, with the arrival of the Denver attachment to the Transcontinental Railroad, further prosperity was brought to the city and Denver was officially the biggest and one of the most important cities in the West.
Kati and I enjoy exploring Colorado. With family in Denver, and top ski resorts and wonderful mountains nearby, Denver is ideal to get out and explore. With nearly 3 million people living around the city, Denver is a modern, bustling place that doesn’t shy away from its cowboy past. With amazing views of the mountains serving as the backdrop for the city, Denver is beautiful and very popular with people who love the outdoors and being in nature. But even if you’re more into the indoors, there’s plenty of museums, galleries, and festivals to enjoy taking place year-round. If you’re exploring the Denver area and looking for some fun things to do, check out these top things to do in Denver.
Hang out at Denver Union Station
For a city that places a lot of importance on the railroad during its early years, it should come as no surprise that Denver Union Station continues to be a place of hustle and bustle. Known as the city’s “living room” , what you’ll find at Denver Union Station is a little bit of everything. Located right in the center of Lower Downtown the beautiful and historic Beaux-Arts style building is the epitome of Denver. Representing the old with its facade and the new with its amenities, you can hang out and take in the space in all its glory. Built in 1881 the building features an outdoor play area for kids, patio-filled restaurants, and cute little boutiques. Elegant art-deco mirrors and chandeliers adorn the walls and ceiling and while high-end farm-to-table restaurants, swanky bars, and even barbershops are found throughout the space. Denver Union Station has a little bit of everything and you can spend as much or as little as you want and just enjoy the experience.
History Colorado Center
The History Colorado Center is the go-to spot to learn about not only Denver’s past but Colorado’s as well. The museum is located in the heart of the city and is dedicated to all things history and Colorado with special emphasis on teaching the people’s history from multiple perspectives. Learn about the geological formations of the area from its humble beginnings to the current day. The History Colorado Center offers a fascinating look at history through the concept of a time machine where guests can toggle a map, see stories from past citizens, and get a glimpse at what the area looked like over 100 years ago. As you move through the museum, different collections and rooms offer different stories such as the daily lives of the Puebloans, who lived in cliff homes and whose people spanned the territory of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Guests can meander through the “Destination Colorado” exhibit which is a replica of a small town in Colorado in the early 1900s which includes an exhibit of a one-room schoolhouse. The “Denver Diorama” portion of the museum is dedicated to showing off what the town would have looked like as it first appeared in the mid-1800s. The museum has plenty of showcases from moments in its history both good and bad such as a look at a silver mine shaft from the 19th century and a Japanese Internment Camp from the Second World War.
Relax in a different kind of spa
In Eastern Europe sometimes beer is cheaper than water. The Eastern Europeans also enjoy a good spa treatment so why not combine the two? In Eastern Europe, the concept of bathing in hot beer isn’t actually anything new but in Denver’s Beer Spa, you’ll get the best of spa treatment with the same feeling like you’ve just taken a tour of a brewery. Instead of the European kitsch, The Beer Spa takes its cues from East Asian spa culture more commonly found in Japanese and Korean spas with a boozy twist. After changing you’ll find yourself in the lobby where you can indulge in a few beers or ciders on tap as well as a few local wines and kombuchas.
Basically, if it’s been fermented, you can find it here. Every drink is served in a specially designed glass made to withstand high temperatures so your sauna stays hot but your drink stays cold. Begin the circuit by lounging in the infrared sauna, sweating out the toxins, and sipping on a cold brew. Enjoy a nice cool rinse in the shower, then follow it up with a soak in the famous beer bath. If you’re worried about smelling like you’ve just been on a 5-day bender, don’t worry because the hydrotherapy tub you’ll be soaking in is really more of a “beer tea” than just straight beer.
Aromatic hops and barley fuse with herbs like chamomile, and calendula so you’ll probably actually end up leaving smelling better than when you walked in. If you’re looking to extend your spa experience even further, check out the zero-gravity massage chair. A device scans your body, tilts you back, then cleanses you like you’re in a human car wash. The special gravity chairs are placed in a dark space-themed room too so the whole experience is a little psychedelic.
Have a “Spiritual” Experience
Since the early 1900s, a little Lutheran church has stood on 400 Logan street. But as the years went by, the church became less and less used until it became basically empty and disused completely. In 2012, the state of Colorado legalized the use of cannabis and in April 2017, the brand new religion “Elavationism” bought the property and established the first “Church of Cannabis”. The church is characterized by its brick exterior and leafy overgrown vine leaves giving it a very natural look and feel. As for the interior, you don’t have to be a cannabis consumer to simply appreciate the artistic beauty they did with the place. The flamboyant and bright technicolor interior makes the place stand out with a gorgeous rainbow mural painted on the ceiling by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel. A large “weed” sign overlooks the space while rows of pews offer a great opportunity to sit and enjoy the space or even light one up if you’re so inclined. Moreover, the church offers a public light and sound show experience called “BEYOND” that is kid-friendly and pretty impressive given the space. The “Elavationists” don’t actually have any religious dogma or divine law, nor does it require conversion or have any real structure so everyone’s welcome. Consumption is banned during the “BEYOND” events, otherwise, enjoy it freely.
Enjoy an Adventurous Meal at Buckhorn Exchange
The Buckhorn Exchange was founded in 1893 and along with being one of the oldest restaurants in Denver, it is also said to have been visited by Buffalo Bill himself. The restaurant has the oldest liquor licenses in the state and also hosts a “Buffalo Bill Lookalike Contest”. On a Friday night, it’s not uncommon to head up to the upstairs bar and hear live traditional prairie songs performed by musicians in cowboy outfits. While all of that is cool and fun the menu and decor of the place are really what sets it apart. Displays of antique weapons, hundreds of taxidermied animals, and mounted heads adorn the walls and along with other old-timey decor comes the menu. Buffalo sausage, elk, quail, game hen, and venison are typical items found on the menu along with a little more “out there” options such as rattlesnake, alligator tail, and Rocky Mountain Oysters (bull testicles) making an appearance as well.
The restaurant is undoubtedly both a historic landmark and cultural spot with many dignitaries and even five U.S presidents have dined here. The most popular of which was Teddy Roosevelt who was hunting buddies with the original owner and a Cape Buffalo he shot hangs in the basement.
Visit the Home of ‘Unsinkable’ Molly Brown
Born as Margaret Tobin in Missouri, Molly Brown has been the subject of a Broadway play and was played by Kathy Bates in the 1997 movie Titanic. Molly married J.J Brown, an entrepreneurial man who struck it rich with the mining industry while Molly worked in soup kitchens assisting miners’ families. The Browns made a stir in Denver’s upper-classes hosting parties and spending her time devoted to social justice causes.
Margaret found herself traveling on the Titanic when it met its demise in 1912. As a woman traveling alone with a first-class ticket, she was entitled to jumping on a lifeboat but held out as long as she could to help others get to safety first. She was finally persuaded to get into one herself (Lifeboat No. 6) and once at sea, she grabbed an oar and helped paddle the boat. She tried to convince the quartermaster on board to turn back and try to find survivors in the water, and because of this feat she earned the nickname ‘Unsinkable’ Molly Brown”. Even after the Titanic incident, she continued to champion social justice causes, establishing groups for other Titanic survivors, First World War Veterans, workers’ rights, and children’s literacy.
The striking Victorian-style Molly Brown House was slated to be demolished in 1970 but it was saved and turned into a museum dedicated to one of Denver’s most iconic socialites.
Go on a tour of Denver’s best Breweries
Denver has a lot of great breweries all made within the city making it one of the best microbrewery cities in the country. Downtown has a large concentration of most of the breweries so you can essentially take yourself (and your friends) on a self-guided tour of some of Denver’s best beers.
There’s even an interactive beer map where you can find your next spot to hit up, understanding this makes sense given that the area is often referred to as the “Napa Valley of beer”. Start your boozy adventure where it all started with Wynkoop Brewery, opening in 1987, it was basically Denver’s first microbrewery. It’s stocked up with pool tables, interesting flavors, and plenty of local history. Then hit up Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery for some more traditional ales before hitting up one of the more popular destinations; Great Divide Brewing Company where you’ll find over 15 seasonal and year-round beers. Skip the tour guide and venture out to the wide world of Denver beers on your own.
Our Last Word
Whether you’re into art and science, history, or food, Denver has a little something for just about anyone. The city sits on the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains and despite its age, Denver keeps looking to the future without ever forgetting its rugged past.