See This, Skip That: Denver

Where to go in the Mile High City.

ByGABE SAGLIE , Senior Editor,
September 6, 2013, 2:28 AM
PHOTO: B-Cycle bikes sit on a rack in Denver.
B-Cycle bikes sit on a rack in Denver.
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty Images

Sept. 6, 2013— -- Denver is aptly dubbed the Mile High City: Its elevation is officially one mile above sea level. Being here, of course, means you're at the threshold of some of the best skiing and mountain adventure options in the world. But the city, itself, is a hotbed of tourist-friendly activity that ranges from the historic to the cosmopolitan and that offers any traveler an ever-evolving landscape of memorable experiences. Here are just a few that are well worth considering on your next Denver visit.

Skip the Concert, Hike the Hills

Music buffs know Red Rocks Amphitheater. This open-air venue that seats an audience of more than 9,000 features big names throughout the summer: this year alone, the likes of Steve Miller, Robert Plant and John Mayer took the stage. And it has served as the setting for rock 'n' roll films by U2, Stevie Nicks and Mumford & Sons. But if you're the athletic type, this is a destination for you, too. August and September feature public yoga classes early in the morning. Workout boot camps are held here. You can climb the theater's challenging stairs. And then there are the surrounding trails: the 1.5-mile Trading Post Trail leads you through breathtaking scenery -- rock formations and meadows -- and the Red Rocks Trail welcomes hikers, bikers and horseback riders onto its spectacular 6mile loop. You'll also find lovely picnic spots here, but keep in mind the elevation surpasses 6,000 feet.

Skip the Meal, Go for the Pie

Denver might be drawing the thirsty with its buzzing craft bear scene, but the hungry can satiate their sweet tooth with some pie. Specialty pie shops are quickly gaining in popularity here. Humble Pie, for example, rotates its menu weekly to ensure the freshness of its ingredients and offers savory options, too, like a shepherd's pie and an apple pie with a cheddar crust. Mermaids Bakery features a kitchen up front, so you can peek in on all the pie-making action. And the double-crust apple pie at Cake Crumbs might be hard to beat.

Skip Denver, Head to Boulder

In Denver for a few days? Consider a day trip. My colleague, Wil Richards, has lived in Denver since 1985 but enjoys taking day trips to Boulder, about 25 miles away, regularly. "It's one of the most beautiful cities you'll ever see," he tells me and admits to making the easy drive often just to enjoy some breakfast. Boulder's pedestrian-friendly Pearl Street Mall and the 26 acres dubbed Chautauqua, with its hiking and biking trails, is also a must. Other great day-trip options include Black Hawk, where the Ameristar Casino draws those who are feeling lucky, and Estes Park, at the threshold of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Skip the Beer, Sip the Spirit

There's no denying that beer fuels Denver's culinary scene in a big way; if you're a suds fan, consider a microbrewery tour of the city. But distilleries are gaining ground here as well, with Stranahan's probably leading the way. Using regional ingredients, they distill their whiskey in small batches. Tours, which include a tasting of their powerful elixir, are offered most days of the week and reservations should be made online. And if tasting this stuff isn't enough, you can help bottle it, too; volunteer crews work two five-hour shifts on bottling day, which takes place every three weeks.

Skip the Rental Car, Ride a Bike

Bike fever has arrived in the Mile High City. The new Denver B-Cycle can be a convenient, even healthy, alternative to renting a car or hopping in a cab to cruise downtown. What's more, you save on parking charges. So-called B-stations are now set up in eight Denver neighborhoods; here, you can use a credit card to buy a 24-hour access pass (longer-term passes for seven or 30 days must be bought online), hop on a two-wheeler and cruise around town. You can return your bike at any other B-Station. There are a variety of cost tiers, but a one-day pass will cost you $8, with no additional cost for your first 30 minutes of usage, $1 for 30 to 60 minutes and $4 for each additional 30-minute stretch thereafter. Seniors and military personal get discounts.

Skip the Mountain, Kayak Downtown

With natural mountain terrain surrounding Denver, whitewater adventures abound, even within an hour's drive from the city. But kayakers of all skill levels don't have to leave downtown to get their river thrills, thanks to the whitewater chutes at Confluence Park. This diverse urban park is where Cherry Creek and the South Platte River converge, located in Denver's LoDo (or Lower Downtown) neighborhood. Check out companies like Confluence Kayaks for rentals and instruction (and don't forget to wear a helmet and life jacket). You'll find several miles of bike trails at Confluence Park, as well.

Skip the Airport Lines, Consider CLEAR

It turns out that Denver is home to two of the handful of enrollment centers across the country for the popular CLEAR Card. This company uses biometric ID verification -- fingerprinting and eye-imaging -- to get members through airport security via specially designated lanes in less than five minutes. You register online, but you have to verify in person at one of CLEAR's enrollment centers before you can enjoy the service's benefits. There are less than a dozen enrollment centers across the country, and two are in Denver: at Cherry Creek Mall and at Denver International Airport. And CLEAR works at nine U.S. airports, with more coming online. It costs $179 a year to join, but frequent fliers might find it a worthwhile investment; what's more, your kids younger than 18 tag along for free. Something to consider knocking off your travel to-do list next time you're in Denver.

Skip the Museum, Stroll Santa Fe

OK, we're not suggesting you pass up visiting any of the many great museums in Denver; we love the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. But any art lover owes themselves a visit to Santa Fe Drive, a cultural hub that's home to a bevy of artists and galleries: dozens of locales featuring a wide range of artwork and photography. Consider a visit during their First Friday Art Walk, when wine tasting, live music and food trucks enhance this eclectic arts experience; a guided coach runs a continuous loop up and down Santa Fe.

Gabe Saglie is senior editor for Travelzoo, which features a bevy of local deals in Denver at