Denver's history dates back to 1858 when it was founded during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush in the Kansas Territory by a group of gold prospectors who established the first settlement there. Originally known as "Montana City" and then "Denver City" after the Colorado Territory was created in 1861, Denver City became the territorial capital and soon after the State Capital of Denver when Colorado was admitted to the Union in 1876.
Located in the South Platte River Valley on the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Southern Rocky Mountains, Denver emerged as a hub for high plains agriculture, and is known historically as the "Queen City of the Plains" because of its important role in the agricultural industry in the neighboring regions along the foothills. Denver's location near the mineral-rich mountains also encouraged the entry of mining and energy companies, and today, they are still significant contributors to the city's economy, with companies such as EnCana, Halliburton and Anadarko all maintaining a presence.
Ironically, whereas once the city's location was considered an obstacle in terms of travel and transport, it now possesses one of the nation's largest, busiest and architecturally renowned airports, Denver International. Denver's geographic position offers economic benefits that include transportation links and distribution for nearby Mountain states, telecommunications and time-zone efficiencies, and a key connection for trade. Denver is nicknamed "The Mile-High City" because its official elevation is exactly one mile (5,280 feet) above sea level. With a population of approximately 567,000, it is the most populous city in Colorado.
The Denver climate, while generally mild, possesses four distinct seasons. Due to its location on the Great Plains and nearness to the Rocky Mountains, weather patterns can be very unpredictable. The average temperature in Denver is around 50 F and the yearly precipitation reaches nearly 16 inches. Winter days range from mild to cold, with daytime temperatures varying from below freezing to above 60 F, and snowfall typically arrives early and stays late. During the summer months, temperatures range from an average 56 to 85 F and July typically brings brief tropical thunderstorms. Spring and autumn are most varied, where significant snowfall and summer-like warm, dry conditions can exist within the same week.
Denver is a dynamic city that blends a modern American persona with Old West origins to create widespread appeal. With the Rocky Mountains for a backdrop, the city's built-in visual artistry is enhanced by some 300 days of annual sunshine that caters to year-round adventure and world-class attractions.
One of the city's most renowned destinations, Denver Botanic Gardens (1007 York St.; 720-865-3500; www.botanicgardens.org) sits on 23 acres, providing indoor and outdoor seasonal displays year-round, and combining a variety of native foliage with a selection of gardens to inspire the senses. Included is everything from a traditional Japanese garden, an herb garden, water garden, and fragrance garden as well as a garden inspired by the art of Monet. There is also a therapeutic garden for visitors with special needs. During the winter months, the dome-shaped Tropical Conservatory houses thousands of species of tropical and subtropical plants. The Botanic Gardens also have a gift shop, a library and an auditorium, and special events are scheduled throughout the year, with offerings ranging from garden concerts to plant sales to cornfield maze activities.
For those that can afford a little extra time, it's worth the trip out to Pikes Peak Country Attractions (354 Manitou Ave., Manitou Springs; 719-685-5894; www.pikes-peak.com), to experience the "true" Colorado. Located 60 miles south of Denver, there are more than 40 family-friendly attractions centered on the acclaimed 14,000-foot-high Pikes Peak. Things to see include Academy Riding Stables, for a leisurely trail ride, Geo-venture tours through the Cave of the Winds, Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine tours, United States Air Force Academy, and Garden of the Gods, which features gigantic 300-foot-high sandstone rock formations in a spectacular setting at the base of the Peak. The Garden's Visitor Center offers free map of the park and an informative film introduction and interactive exhibits. In addition, there are plenty of cultural attractions consisting of parks, museums, zoos, and railways, plus a selection of area dining and lodging options, including the famous Broadmoor Resort located at the foot of the Rockies. Free guide book and discount coupons are available online.
A Denver tradition since 1890, Elitch Gardens (2000 Elitch Circle; 303-595-4386; www.elitchgardens.com) is an oasis of amusements in the middle of the big city - the park is located in downtown Denver. Operating from late April through October, the park features more than 50 rides, shows and attractions as well as the Island Kingdom, a water park which is open through Labor Day, and is included with admission to the theme park. As if mile-high heights weren't already enough, the park features plenty of the expected sky-climbing, adrenaline-pumping fare such as Twister II, a ten-story roller coaster with a 90-foot drop; Mind Eraser and Tower of Doom both offer stunning views of the mountains as well as downtown, while Halfpipe provides snowboard style thrills. Plenty of kiddie fun and family-style entertainment also prevail by way of cartoon-themed rides, musical revues, stunt shows, carnival-style games, dining and shopping outlets. Season tickets and special offers are available to Elitch Gardens online.
One of the city's most popular destinations for family fun is the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (2001 Colorado Blvd., City Park; 303-322-7009; www.dmns.org), with its continually evolving lineup of exhibits, activities and programs. Enter the Rocky Mountain region's largest museum of its kind and take a walk through the Hall of Life, dig for fossils in the Discovery Zone, visit with Egyptian Mummies and North American Indian Cultures, step back into prehistory or leap forward into the Space Odyssey. The state-of-the-art Gates Planetarium combines advanced computer graphics and video system with live programming and interactive modules to create contemporary stories of space exploration, and an IMAX Theater features special exploratory films designed to educate and enrich about the natural wonders of Colorado and the world around us.
Situated on 80 acres in the historic City Park, The Denver Zoo (2300 Steele St.; 303-376-4800; www.denverzoo.org) is home to more than 700 species or nearly 4,000 animals, which include such rarities as Amur leopards, black rhinos, vampire bats, orangutans, and endangered cheetahs, plus Tropical Discovery, featuring one of the world's largest indoor Komodo dragon exhibits, and Primate Panorama, a naturalistic habitat for endangered gorillas. Another of the zoo's innovations is Predator Ridge, a life-like habitat that features a variety of African predators at home in a faithfully recreated Kenyan preserve. A model of innovation, the zoo is also home to the nation's first natural gas-powered train, Denver Zoo's Pioneer Train, which offers rides around the park for two dollars. There are also special educational programs designed just for kids, along with the zoo's Endangered Species Carousel, a Golden Age reinvention that features hand-carved replicas of such zoological favorites as giraffes, gorillas, elephants, pandas, and polar bears to take little visitors on their journey.
Denver's culture combines an inherent outdoor charm that's a by-product of its location with an easy urban layout wrought with brick buildings and brew pubs, stylish lofts and the second largest performing arts center in the nation. Led by LoDo, or Lower Downtown, this burgeoning district on the edge of downtown is sprawling with art galleries, offices and Victorian buildings.
Visitors to Denver should be well aware of its renown as "the mile high city," but just in case anyone needs convincing, further proof is provided at the Colorado State Capitol (Lincoln and Colfax streets; 303-866-2604). For confirmation, climb the front stairs of the building until reaching the 13th step (clearly marked), which signifies an official 5,280 feet above sea level. The capitol building was built in the 1890s and highlighted by a towering gold-plated dome that commemorates Colorado's Gold Rush days. The building's architectural layout and decor is a celebration of Denver's early days. Once inside, an impressive rotunda that rivals that of the U.S. Capital greets visitors, who then may make their way past lobby displays and exhibitions. Many of the windows are stained glass, depicting people or events related to the history of Colorado. The halls are decorated with portraits of every president of the United States. The multi-level administrative building offers public viewings and visitor galleries during select months of the year. The Colorado State Capitol building and the Capitol Dome are available for tours throughout the year.
With origins dating back to the mid-1800s to exchange coins and ingots for gold and silver found by area miners, Denver's U.S. Mint (320 W. Colfax Ave.; 303-405-4761; www.usmint.gov) today stamps billions of coins each year and is one of four mints in the United States. Along with the Philadelphia Mint, it is the only other where facility tours are available. The tours are entertaining as they are educational, covering the history of the mint to the minting process, and the actual striking of the coins. The nearby gift shop offers a variety of souvenirs including coin sets and commemorative items. Tours of the mint are free of charge and are available from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Reservations are required and can be scheduled online or by visiting the reservations booth at the mint's visitor center.
Located four miles southeast of downtown Denver, Four Mile Historic Park (715 South Forest St.; 720-865-0800; www.fourmilepark.org) is a 12-acre open-air museum highlighted by Denver's oldest standing structure, Four Mile House. Recognized as a Denver landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the house was built in 1859 and served as a stagecoach stop, inn and tavern, and today functions as a focal point of frontier life by way of group tours. Offering an authentic look into Colorado's past, everything situated on the grounds dates from mid-to-late 19th century and is a popular stopping place for school tours and summer camp activities. In addition to museum and grounds tours, there are a number of seasonally themed events that include food and craft exhibits, readings and live entertainment. The park is open year-round and tours are available from Wednesdays through Sundays at select times.
Located at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Denver offers visitors plenty by way of scenic sports and active pursuits. With accommodating sunshine approaching 300 days out of the year, travelers can make use of the nation's largest city park system, more than 80 golf courses and 850 miles of paved bike trails.
Colorado is present in all four of the major American sports, which in itself suggests a favorable climate for year-round sporting activity. Denver's proximity to the Rocky Mountains makes it possible to spend a day participating in a variety of what would otherwise be considered seasonal activities, with everything from skiing and snowmobiling to horseback riding, hiking or biking. Denver has 200 named parks in the city and 14,000 acres of parks in the nearby mountains. More than 200 miles of jogging and bicycle paths exist within the city limits and surrounding area, plus ample access to kayaking along the South Platte River. Tennis courts and public golf courses are also in abundance (Denver Parks & Recreation; 303-697-4545; www.denvergov.org).
Situated on rolling hills just outside downtown Denver, the Willis Case Golf Course (4999 Vrain St.; 720-865-0700) features panoramic views of the Rockies as golfers navigate through tree-lined terrain, sloping fairways and subtle greens for this challenging 18-hole regulation course located on the hill across from Inspiration Point Park. Wellshire Golf Club (3333 South Colorado Blvd.; 303-692-5636) was designed by Scottish architectural icon Donald Ross in 1926, and has received accolades for ranking among some of the best facilities in the nation. The course layout winds through mature trees. Strategically placed bunkers, green-side lakes and streams add to the experience. Each club features a variety of pro shops, restaurants and bar, putting greens and driving range.
Situated in Denver's trendy Uptown neighborhood, The Warwick Denver Hotel (1776 Grant St.; 303-861-2000; www.warwickdenver.com) is a stylish mid-sized property that combines European sophistication with contemporary Western comforts, to go with spacious rooms that average between 350 to 500 square feet in size. The Warwick, only one of four that exist in the U.S., bills itself as "affordable luxury," with a majority of the rooms sporting a full private balcony and offering a variety of views, from downtown to the Front Range to the Rocky Mountains, floor-to-ceiling glass windows, and elegant decor. Each of the 219 rooms, including 60 suites, is luxuriously appointed. The Warwick is conveniently located near to many area attractions, including the State Capitol, 16th Street Mall and Denver Convention Center.
For more than a century, the Brown Palace Hotel (321 17th St.; 303-297-3111; www.brownpalace.com) has been a Denver tradition. From its atrium lobby, nine floors ascend to a triangular-shaped crescendo, which owed to its original architectural design, permits sunshine to enter into each of the 241 rooms, themselves, yielding a charming character of Art-Deco or Victorian heritage. Many U.S. presidents have stayed at the hotel. The AAA-rated Four Diamond hotel is noteworthy for producing its own water from an artesian well and the staterooms at the top take luxury and convenience a step above the norm. Royal treatment can also be found at the 5,000-square-foot hotel spa, which features six treatment rooms and complimentary valet parking with spa services.
Capitol Hill Mansion (1207 Pennsylvania St; 800-839-9329; www.capitolhillmansion.com) is located on Denver's "Mansion Row" just southeast of downtown in the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood. This 1891 Richardsonian Romanesque designed mansion turned modern day B&B features eight elegantly appointed rooms with private baths, some with two-person Jacuzzis, others with panoramic views of the Rockies, fireplaces, and private balconies. Each individually decorated room is fitted with modern conveniences, including high-speed, wireless Internet access. Guests will enjoy a full daily gourmet breakfast as well as evening wine service.
While Denver's prime location owes to its renown as a convenient transportation hub for many Midwestern neighbors, it's also known as the shopping capital of the Rocky Mountain West.
Built in 1982, The 16th Street Mall (16th street between Wazee and Broadway) is a mile-long pedestrian path of red-and-gray granite that connects the Capital center to Denver's newly renovated Lower Downtown area, and serves as the retail core of the downtown area. The multi-million-dollar promenade is lined with everything from red oak trees, fountains, restored Victorian buildings and modern skyscrapers, plus a plethora of shopping and dining options that include local boutiques, microbreweries and world-class restaurants. The plazas offer a variety of daily special events and entertainment. Free shuttle buses cruise along the mall every 90 seconds, or visitors may opt for the decidedly slower, but charming frontier-style horse drawn carriages. The Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau Visitor Information Center is also located on the mall, at the corner California.
Larimer Square (1430 Larimer, No. 200; 303-534-2367; www.larimersquare.com) is a vibrantly restored quarter that's grown in notoriety from its infancy as Denver's very first city block into one of the city's most prestigious locations. A fixture of Denver's urban shopping and dining district, visitors will find a variety of Victorian buildings, specialty boutiques, art galleries, and unique retailers among the many available upscale and often exclusive offerings. The Square has also evolved into a center for culinary culture with regionally-specific, chef-driven restaurants firmly planted to provide a plethora of fine dining options. Most shops operate from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. throughout the week, till 6 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
As if the Rocky Mountains weren't enough of an awe-inspiring backdrop, some 15 miles west of Denver, sits another natural wonder literally carved out of stone. The Red Rocks Amphitheater (2605 Red Rocks Park Road; 720-865-2494; www.redrocksonline.com) is a geologically formed, open-air amphitheater whose ambience and natural acoustics come by way several red sandstone boulders and two 300-foot monolithic rock formations. Originally conceived as the ideal setting for musical performance as early as the turn of the 20th century, the 9,000-seat amphitheater has since played host to a star-studded concert roster that's featured some of the world's greatest and most revered performers, including The Beatles. Red Rocks also has a Visitor Center that features interactive educational displays and short film documentary, as well as the Ship Rock Grille. Evening concerts can be dazzling with the Denver skyline beaming in the distance.
The pride of Denver's nightlife scene, The Grizzly Rose (5450 North Valley Hwy.; 303-295-1330; www.grizzlyrose.com) is a critically acclaimed country music dance bar that draws a cavalcade of regional and national performing artists that have included the likes of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Faith Hill, and Garth Brooks. A former warehouse on the eastside of Denver's Furniture Row, the 40,000-square-foot venue houses a 5,000-square-foot dance floor that caters to a variety of crowds drawn in by daily events and weekly concerts. The "Rose" also offers dance lessons and features dining and shopping options. The Grizzly Rose has been recognized by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association as one of the Top Clubs in the country.
Visitors can discover Denver and learn more about where to stay, shop, dine, and find the best city attractions and activities by stopping at the Denver Visitor Information Centers. There are two visitor information centers available, one in the Downtown area (1600 California St.; 303-892-1505), and another in the Denver International Airport (303-317-0629), where visitors can stop in for free brochures, maps and general information.
One of the nation's largest transportation hubs, Denver International Airport (303-342-2000; www.flydenver.com), or DIA, is also a uniquely impressive presence on the outskirts of the city. With an area that covers some 53 square miles - nearly twice the size of Manhattan - the airport features 94 gates and six full-service runways, provides nonstop daily service to more than 130 national and international destinations, and handles approximately 33 million passengers annually. Its architectural features include one of the tallest flight-control towers in the world, at 327 feet, and a massive main terminal named after aviation pioneer, Elrey B. Jeppesen, which has become one of Denver's most distinctive architectural landmarks. With its Teflon-coated fabric roof shaped into 34 different peaks designed to symbolize the nearby Rocky Mountains, the terminal sports 1.5-million square-feet of public space that includes a glass-walled atrium.
Denver receives more than 300 days of sunshine each year (more than San Diego or Miami). Bring sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm - even in winter. There is 25% less protection from the sun's rays at Denver's high elevation. Drinking plenty of water is also a good way to help your body better adjust to the higher altitude since the low humidity in Colorado keeps the air dry, like the desert.
Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau
Denver Travel: Virtual Tourist
Denver Convention Center
Denver's oldest restaurant is not for the squeamish. The Buckhorn Exchange was founded in 1893 by "Shorty Scout" Zeitz, one of Buffalo Bill's scouts, who amassed an astounding collection of animal trophies during his life and put almost all of them on display at his Western-fare establishment. For those who can turn a blind eye to the over 500 stuffed animals and birds hanging from the walls, the food is not only unusual but quite good. Try the rattlesnake or alligator tail if you dare; stick with the "standard" game and fish selections, or the tried and true High Plains Buffalo Prime Rib or New York strip. On some nights there's cowboy music in the saloon upstairs. Don't expect to find a lot of locals here, but it's a favorite with tourists.
1000 Osage St.
Tucked away on a quiet Denver Street, Cafe Brazil is a Brazilian restaurant for the ages with food that continues to draw acclaim from critics around the state. Start with the lightly fried calamari as an appetizer. Then move on to the feijoada, Brazil's national dish mixing black-beans, rice, orange slices, smoked meats, and fried bananas. If that's too heavy, the jumbo prawns and sea scallops are equally succulent.
4408 Lowell Blvd.
One of Denver’s busiest dining neighborhoods is LoDo, and one of the best restaurants in that district is 1515 Restaurant, a favorite dining choice that offers contemporary American cuisine and consistently excellent presentations. Chef Chuck James presents a "socially responsible" menu using local produce, local meats, and herbs grown on site. Highly rated for their Kobe beef burger, the kitchen here turns out five- and seven-course degustation menus that encompass the local favorites—beef and buffalo in season—as well as fresh seafood flown into the city. Try the seared diver scallops or the barramundi with duck ravioli served with asparagus, or test the buffalo strip loin, served with slipper lobster, arugula gnocchi, artichokes, and cherry tomatoes. Dessert is fun; try the molecular root beer float, made with liquid nitrogen mascarpone ice cream and house-made root beer.
1515 Market St.
It helps to dress in black when visiting Potager, one of the city's coolest restaurants. A fresh, seasonally inspired menu featuring market fresh ingredients enhances their new American cuisine. Arugula salads, light fish dishes, cassoulet and hearty soups keep the wait lines as long as an hour during prime time. The signature souffle includes flavors of goat cheese and herbs. Roasted chicken includes thin slices of lemon beneath the crispy skin. The restaurant is closed Sundays and Mondays and reservations are not accepted so be prepared to arrive early, particularly on weekends.
1109 Ogden Ave.
Restaurant Kevin Taylor
Colorado native Kevin Taylor, Denver's answer to Emeril Lagasse and Jean Georges Vongerichten. Restaurant Kevin Taylor, located in Hotel Teatro, combines the best of Taylor's talents in contemporary American cuisine with a whimsical decor including 17-foot-high ceilings, pecan wood paneling and gold silk tapestries. Signature dishes such as baked halibut with Mediterranean vegetables and roast duckling Chinese 5 with savoy cabbage go down easy and so do the desserts, bittersweet liquid center chocolate cake and Hawaiian pineapple Napoleon. For Denver the prices are on high side. Instead of a' la carte, try the pre-theater prix fixe menu (the restaurant is just next door to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts) or the four- or five-course tasting menu.
Restaurant Kevin Taylor
1106 14th St., Hotel Teatro
Italy meets Colorado at this snappy bistro with pasta specialties and homemade bread. Owner/Executive Chef Noel Cunningham has somehow captured the right combination of ingredients to keep Strings a Denver favorite even though it opened back when the city was considered to be hicksville. The menu is still sophisticated after all these years. The cannelloni ranks high on the not-to-be-missed list, and there's also broiled fish, veal and venison served however you like it. The ambience is bright and cheerful and the scene is so eclectic you'll find everyone from actors to business people dropping in for a bite.
1700 Humboldt St.
Lest anyone wonder whether Denver is really losing its reputation as a cow town, witness WaterCourse Foods, one of the city's hottest restaurants and strictly vegetarian. The chef takes the notion of no meat to new heights with fresh, exciting entrees for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meaty mushrooms substitute for corned beef in the Reuben sandwich, tofu is deliciously mixed with eggs, buckwheat pancakes are thick and chewy, and couscous salad is spice-laden and laced with raisins. Attention to detail and the desire to try something different keeps the crowds piling in. Also, if you happen to be dining solo, this is a comfortable choice. On top of everything the prices are low, proving that great food doesn't have to cost a lot.
837 E. 17th Ave.
Wynkoop Brewing Company
Denver is famous for its brew pubs and if you are inclined to enjoy a casual night out, try the Wynkoop Brewing Company in LoDo. The city's first micro-brewery remains one its most beloved. The room is big and noisy and pub grub leans towards pot pies, burgers and the like. But the beer is very good and there are always seven or eight handcrafted ales available on a given night. Upstairs lies a classic pool hall where you can work off dinner and, of course, down a few more cool ones.
Wynkoop Brewing Company
1634 18th St.