First-Time Traveling to Denver: 11 Things You Need To Know
Planning your first visit to Denver? These must-know Denver travel tips will ensure your trip to Denver is amazing and that you’ll fit in more like a local and less like a Denver tourist. Read on for the top Denver “must-knows” and tips for any traveler to our Mile High City.
1. Casual is Key. We take a lot of pride in our chillness. Overdressing is a great way to stick out as a tourist (unless it happens to be Derby Day, when everyone dresses to the nines). So, what’s Denver’s definition of casual? Yoga pants – check. T-shirt and jeans – check. Flannel – you’re set. Expect a casual attitude to go with the casual attire you’ll see in Denver. This means no one gets bent out of shape over little things like your farm-to-table food taking longer. While you’re in Denver, take that casual dress and attitude right over to one of our awesome parks for a laid-back afternoon. That’s what us chill locals are doing. Cheesman is our favorite for a good book and picnics. City Park is our favorite for Jazz in the Park, the Zoo, & some not-so-intense tennis. Wash Park (ahem, Washington Park for non-locals) for some great physical activity and people watching.
2. Everyone Brunches. Some of us are pretty darn hungry when we wake up. We’re the type that needs to eat breakfast before we meet friends for brunch at noon, because really, who waits until noon to eat?! And then is it really brunch or is it lunch? Okay, off our soapbox. There are amazing brunch spots all over the city representing cuisines from all over the world. You won’t have to walk far, but definitely prepare for a long wait… often over an hour.
We recommend putting your name in some place close to where you’re staying. Then going back to your hotel or AirBnB to finish getting ready. Some of our favorites: Snooze, Sassafras, Lucille’s, and Bacon Social House.
3. Denver is an Artopia. Even for people who aren’t into art, you’ll appreciate the 400+ pieces of super cool public art and street art in Denver. This is thanks to a city law requiring buildings that cost over $1 million to put 1% of the total cost of the building toward on-site public art. So a $10 mil building would need to spend $100k on public art.
All this art gives the city a lot of color, texture, and edginess. Our most famous, must-see pieces are:
1. Blucifer out at the airport
2. The Big Blue Bear at the Convention Center
3. The Yearling at the Denver Public Library (you can see and hear all about the last two on the Art Unplugged Tour).
What really trumps the above pieces for locals is our exploding street art scene. This is especially true in the RiNo area – you can’t go a block without seeing some street art.
4. If You Don’t Like the Weather, Wait 15 Minutes. It’s a phrase we use a lot here in Denver, because our weather is like a temperamental teenager – it’s all over the place. It can be snowing in the morning and you can have your air conditioning on in the afternoon. Those rumored 300 days of sunshine we have? That’s true, but you can bet some of those 300 days also saw a short shower of rain, a dose of hail, or a sprinkle of snow. So when you pack and dress, think lots of layers and lots of different clothing types. It’s not unusual to be in the 70s in December or for the token Mother’s Day blizzard to hit (and then melt immediately). Honestly, though, Denver has the best weather. We have an extremely mild climate compared to every other place we’ve lived.
5. Denverites are Super Friendly. Down-to-earth, genuine, and helpful are also good adjectives that come to mind right away. So leave your snobbiness or off-the-cuff attitude at home, you won’t need it here. We’re a diverse group of people. This is why we’re open to each other and to the wonderful visitors that come to our city. Don’t be surprised if a stranger waves or says hello on the street or starts chatting you up in a bar.
6. There’s No Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, but there’s…:
~LoDo (Lower Downtown)
~RiNo (River North)
~LoHi (Lower Highlands)
~SoBo (South Broadway)
~Cap Hill (Capitol Hill)
~And many, many more.
Some of us locals roll our eyes at the way too trendy nicknames our ‘hoods’ have been given. But really, who has time to say, “Let’s meet up in the River North District tonight” when you can say, “See ya in RiNo!” Most of the hotels and tourist attractions are located in LoDo, but the hottest place to make sure you hit up for at least one drink or one feed is RiNo. Whatever you do, get off the main tourist strip that is 16th Street Mall at least a few times while you’re in town!
7. Our Craft Beer Is Tops. Those from Portland, Oregon may disagree but they won’t disagree that it’s an essential part of most (every?) meals while you’re on vacation in Denver. Even though Colorado is home to Coors (i.e. Colorado Kool-Aid), you won’t catch us drinking anything except local brews when we’re out and about. You can’t go wrong with any of the breweries you pop into, but we love Wynkoopin LoDo, Epic in RiNo, and LowDown in Cap Hill. Not a beer fan? We also have an awesome local winery, Infinite Monkey Theorem, in RiNo. They pour wine flights and their creative concoctions are all on tap.
8. Denver Omelettes Are Not the Foods We’re Most Famous For. So here are the most renowned bites that you need to try when you’re in Denver:
+ Green Chili. You won’t get the usual red bowl of chili in Denver. Here the chili is green and is made with tart tomatillos and pork. We eat it by the bowl, on burritos, and heck, who are we kidding, we pretty much put the stuff on everything.
+ Rocky Mountain Oysters. Don’t be fooled, this is not a seafood dish – after all we’re nowhere near the ocean. We wanted you to know the truth, as some Denver locals like to trick their friends into taking a bite of these. This is always a good laugh (ahem, at least we’ve heard). These oysters are actually bulls testicles. They’re sliced, breaded, deep fried and served with dip and some people really dig them.
+ Trout. Our epic mountain streams give us some pretty freaking fresh fish. Smoked, filleted or whole you definitely can’t go wrong.
+ Lamb, Bison, and Buffalo. Our pastures are home to what ends up being some great meat. So, dig into something outside your standard steak or hamburger if you happen to be a meat eater.
+ Colorado Style Pizza. Okay, so personally we’re not sold on this one, but we’re also thin crust lovers. You’ve probably never had pizza like this, and who doesn’t like pizza, so give it a try. Colorado style pizza is super thick crust that you dip in honey. Things the make you go hmmmmm…
To make some of your Colorado foodie favorites when you get back home and you’re feeling nostalgic for our Centennial State this is our favorite Colorado cookbook that we’ve gifted to family & friends.
9. Edible Etiquette. Head to the green crosses to find your weed (which is ironic since in a lot of countries a green cross = pharmacy/chemist). Once you get to a marijuana dispensary, don’t be that tourist in town that goes in and pretends to know it all or is embarrassed to ask questions. You’ll walk out with a strain of edibles that will mess up your jam and waste a day of your vacation. Trust us, we’ve seen it happen to our overly-eager-to-imbibe-in-legal-pot friends who are visiting Denver for the first time. Paranoid nightmares for 24 hours isn’t high on our travel list and we doubt it’s on yours. Also, you can’t do pot in public or in vehicles, so save it for your home. Lastly, erase from your mind the stereotypical pot-head and negative weed connotations that you’re picturing. That’s so not us. This shirt is pretty spot-on in describing our mentality here in Denver and gave us a good laugh because it’s true.
10. Dogs on Parade. Denver is super dog-friendly and Denverites love their dogs. We pretty much bring them everywhere we go; hiking, the store, restaurants, bars, and events.
11. We Are A Mile High (that’s 5,280 feet or 1.6 km). If you head to the mountains for some skiing or hiking you’ll double that at 8,000-14,000+ feet (2.4-4.3 km) above sea level.📷Being this high up totally has an effect on your body, so don’t kid yourself about altitude sickness. You have to get acclimated and the best ways to do that is… drum roll please:
~Drink water The low humidity keeps our air as dry as a desert. This means that you need about twice as much water here as you would drink at home. Hydration really is the best way to combat altitude sickness. We take this collapsible water bottle with us on all of our travels.
~Be ready to dial down your physical activity If you normally walk or hike 4 miles a day at home in one hour, you might only be able to muster up 2.5 miles in Denver. You’ll likely be slower and breathier too, since you’re getting only 80% of the oxygen that you do at home (or 67% when you’re up in the mountains).
~Check your alcohol intake That delicious Denver craft beer’s effects will feel stronger here. This means you’ll feel a buzz sooner and on a lot less alcohol than at sea level.
~Lather on that SPF
Because the sun is especially strong in our Mile High City, it can feel much warmer during the day than the actual temperature. And here’s the science: there’s less water vapor in the air and there’s 25% less protection from the sun. This means that sunscreen, sunglasses (wood sunglasses like these are all the rage right now), lip balm, and lotion are musts on your packing list for your Denver trip (we’ve linked to a few of our faves here – trust us, when you live in Denver, you try a lot of lip balms and lotions to find the ones that REALLY work).
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Locals and all of our awesome past visitors – what would you add to this list? Share your tip in the comments! And don’t forget to share this post with anyone you know planning a visit or a move to Denver.