Green City Guide: Boulder & Denver
The hype about Colorado is real. People will tell you about the terrain and how easy it is to access the outdoors, and about the beer scene and how vibrant and varied it is, and about how many sunny days a year they get (at least 300). But here’s the thing — the hype is also accurate. Colorado is truly bewitching. There’s something about the mountains, always looming, always calling. And I would be crazy not to mention how overwhelmingly kind people were. And of course, all that sunshine is definitely a bonus.
On our recent trip, Boulder was our home base though we also made trips out to Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado’s gleaming capital city, Denver. We couldn’t have had a better experience, and we’re already planning a return trip. As our fantastic waitress at City O’ City said about Denver, “Oh, this is your first time here? You’ll be back.”
Public Green Spaces
Estes Park, CO
This is easily one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. Photos of the Rockies don’t even come close, so if you’re anywhere near Denver or Boulder, do yourself a favor and put this at the top of your list. When we were there in late summer, we started with the easy and popular walk around Bear Lake, and then challenged ourselves with a 700 foot elevation gain on the hike to perfect, pristine Lake Haiyaha. If you’re planning a trip in the summer, be aware that parking can be scarce — leave your car at the Park & Ride and take advantage of the Park’s well-run and well-maintained shuttle service.
Chautauqua is the kind of place you’ll want to stay for as long as you can. The gorgeous Flatirons are the symbol of Boulder and their rugged natural beauty and total accessibility represent what’s most amazing about this city. To completely immerse yourself in the area, rent a cabin at the base of the mountains, eat at the dining hall, and see live concerts, films, and events in the two gorgeous venues on site. For a real treat, start the Royal Arch hike before dawn. If you time it right, you’ll be able to watch the sun rise right through the Arch.
Denver / Lower Downtown
This beautiful park is right in downtown Denver, where Cherry Creek meets the South Platte River. Meander down the paved paths and watch brave locals kayak through wild river rapids. The giant flagship REI store sits in the distance, waiting to outfit you with all the outdoor equipment you’ve suddenly realized you have to have. Confluence Park is also a great place to hop on the Cherry Creek Trail. If you didn’t BYO bike, you can borrow a bright red cruiser from Denver’s B-cycle program. Just look for the bike share depots scattered all across the city.
Denver / Washington Park
Washington Park in the summer is a spectacular sight. What seems like the entire city is out, biking the paths, picnicking with family, doing endless pull-up reps, playing volleyball en masse. I was blown away by the sheer number of people enjoying the park at once, and yet everyone’s got space to breathe, to enjoy being outdoors while the weather is still mild. The surrounding neighborhood is also just lovely.
Denver / Cheesman Park
Located near downtown, just a couple of miles from the Capitol building and the Denver Art Museum, you’ll find the Botanic Gardens. I love a public garden that fills its exhibits with native plants, and the DBG has created 18 separate gardens that highlight the unique flora found in the West. Amble through high altitude alpine trees, low lying wildflowers of the plains, desert and mesa succulents, native grasses, drought-tolerant gardens, and more. Tickets can be reserved online for about $12.
Where to Shop
The main drag in downtown Boulder. Pearl Street is filled with local and independent businesses, coffee shops and restaurants, as well as bigger name chains. Favorite stops include Topo Designs, Ku Cha House of Tea, Liberty Puzzles, and Montbell.
Denver / Colfax Ave or Lower Downtown
Long live the independent bookstore! Tattered Cover has been serving voracious readers and life-long learners in central Colorado since 1971. Grab a stack of books in either of their Denver locations, find a cozy spot, and get ready to read.
Denver / Baker
Plants, gifts, vintage art and objects, natural history specimens, handmade jewelry, ephemera and eclectica. Everything we want, all under one glorious roof! Check out the instagram for more eye candy.
Denver & Boulder
Excellently selected clothes and accessories on consignment. You can find a great range of vintage dresses and bags here, as well as new-ish contemporary basics.
The best grocery store in the world! Pick up organic produce or snacks to fill your Airbnb fridge while you’re in town. They also sell some of the best, freshest trail mix I’ve ever had. Stock up before your hikes!
Where to Eat
The most soulful food we had in Colorado. The flavors were bold and delicious, spicy, savory, and satisfying. If you order a biscuit with your breakfast, I promise you won’t regret it. Bonus: they make all their own jams and hot sauces!
Boulder / Pearl Street
The cheaper, more casual restaurant nextdoor to, you guessed it, The Kitchen. There are some great vegetarian options here, and in the summertime, the front patio is a beautiful spot to eat outdoors and watch the city walk by.
Boulder / Whittier
After a full day of hiking in the Rockies, and a full hour of white-knuckle driving down steep mountain roads, da Lupo’s amazing pizza felt miraculous. Excellent Neapolitan style pizza with crispy and chewy crust plus super fresh salads.
Denver / Capitol Hill
Adventurous and perfectly executed vegetarian food. The flavors were spot on, and the options plentiful. Time your visit right and go during happy hour so you can pair a delicious and cheaper-than-usual Colorado-brewed beer with your meal.
Denver / Highland
One of the best and most celebrated restaurants in the city. Root Down’s menu is the perfect example of a restaurant run by people who love fresh food, flavorful vegetables, balanced cocktails, and creating a warm, welcoming space in which to enjoy it all. They also offer a raw prix-fixe menu once a month.
Denver / Highand
Linger’s menu is rich with amazing-looking vegetarian options, all inspired by various world cuisines. The restaurant was built in an old mortuary and features one of the most well-loved rooftops in the city. They’re run by the folks from Root Down, so the same attention to detail and love of the craft is evident here, albeit in a slightly bigger and more raucous package.
If their glowing reviews and string of awards is any indication, this food truck knows how to deliver an excellent arepa. Beans, avocado, and cheese on a steaming hot Venezuelan corncake — what’s not to love? Follow them on twitter to track down the truck, or visit their restaurant location at the beloved food hall Avanti.
The place to go when you’re craving just a really good sandwich. Pick a delicious choice from the menu, or build your own sandwich (and pile on all the vegetables you want for no added cost). They’ve got two locations in Denver, Downtown and Lower Downtown.
Denver / Multiple Locations
Some of the best burgers and fries in town. Their veggie burgers are made in-house and are incredibly well loved by customers and food critics alike. A great casual place to go for a quick, quality meal.
Where to Drink
Boulder’s mecca for beer. I was blown away by the amount of beers on tap here, and even more impressed that they were all so, so delicious. The taproom is a clean, minimal space with access to an outdoor beer garden that’s perfect for taking in the mountain air while you sip on countless tiny glasses of brew. Their menu is also very strong and features some tasty vegetarian options. It’s a bit of a trek out to their new location, but definitely worth the miles.
The place to get beautifully crafted cocktails in downtown Boulder. A dark setting, outfitted with giant timber beams, warm, amber-toned lamps, and a classically-inspired and reasonably-priced menu. Try a cocktail made with spirits from Roundhouse, a decorated local distillery.
This spectacular building was completely built by hand and gifted to Boulder by their sister city, Dushanbe in Tajikistan. Filled with plants and art, this place is a work of art on its own, and is also a lovely spot for a globally-inspired brunch or, of course, a nice cup of tea. The Teahouse is located right along Boulder Creek and within walking distance of Leaf Vegetarian, a restaurant right off Pearl Street that’s owned by the same folks.
Denver / Rino
If this is what malls will be like in the future, sign me up. The Source has just about everything you could want — a coffee shop, a gallery, a florist, an artisan bakery, a liquor store, multiple restaurants, a pantry market, a bar, a brewery, and even a bank. Their creative approach to shared and collaborative space gives us all a peek into what being a community-oriented business can look like. This was the first stop during our whirlwind trip to Denver and the guys at Boxcar couldn’t have been a nicer welcoming committee (and couldn’t have made a more delicious cortado).
Denver / Curtis Park
This coffee shop has a cult following in Denver. They use only the best roasters (from Colorado and beyond), so their drinks are consistently well made and super balanced. What many deem perfect coffee is just about matched by a lovingly crafted and extremely vegetarian friendly menu. A great place to stop during your jaunt down trendy and charming Larimer Street.
Denver / Larimer Square
Hidden in plain sight, Green Russell is a celebrated speakeasy outfitted with plush and private booths, gilded vintage mirrors, and the kind of dim lighting that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. This is the kind of place that doesn’t employee bartenders, only mixologists. I think you get my drift. But either way, the drinks are excellent and the atmosphere alone is worth a trip.
Denver / Baker
This one is for those of you who love tinctures and plant medicine as much as you love straight up dancing until you can’t stand up anymore. Under each drink on the menu you’ll find that cocktail’s active herbal ingredients, sure to cure whatever ails you. If you happen to be in town on the first Saturday of the month, make sure you stop by for Mile High Soul Club night.
Denver / Lower Highlands
Colorado is a dream come true for beer lovers. The state is home to over 150 breweries (and growing), and you can probably try a beer from each of them at Ale House. This is where you go when you want really good beer in a gorgeous timber-industrial setting. The bar also has two separate rooftop decks, both with glorious views of downtown Denver. Come in the afternoon for lunch and a leisurely sip. Come at night for the rager.
Denver / Cherry Creek
I saw a lot of people walk out of this shop with a dozen or so bottles of fresh juice, likely mentally preparing for their upcoming detox. While I’m not really into juice cleanses, I am really into delicious, refreshing drinks and Aspen Juice Bar did not disappoint. In fact, they had some of the best juice I’ve ever had. And they let you sample as many of their juices as you want! Don’t be embarrassed. Go ahead and try them all.
Where to See a Show
Denver / Baker
One of three remaining theatres in the U.S. built in the Art Deco Mayan Revival style. There is color, pattern, and texture just about everywhere you look here. It’s an absolutely gorgeous space where you can see a constantly changing roster of limited release films and festival screenings. This is just one of the Landmark Theatres in the Denver area, but certainly the most beautiful. Sweet Action is a two minute walk away, in case you didn’t fill up on popcorn and want to try some of the city’s favorite ice cream.
Denver / City Park
The Bluebird was originally built in 1913 and has maintained its classic ambience and vintage appeal. Big name touring acts as well as newer and local bands light up the stage that’s just a stone’s throw from City Park and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The venue is on the smaller size, so every spot has great sight lines.
Take a walk down memory lane and look up Red Rocks on Youtube. Remember when every musician and band seemed to have their break out moment there, surrounded by canyons and stars and screaming fans? Well, their concert series is still one of the most anticipated and revered in the West. They also book a full season’s worth of outdoor films, all screened at the base of the beautiful rock formations that make this space unique. Their month long yoga series also looks incredible, but sells out quickly!
Where to Sleep
A truly magical place. A bit outside of the center of town, but perfectly quiet and calm. Enjoy having a host who truly cares about your comfort, and have access to the zip line, tree house, and hot tub!
A cozy home base right in the thick of it all. Perfect if you love living small and want to be close to everything.
Boulder / University Hill
A lovely light-filled guest house with your own private garden and a vintage arcade.
Denver / Curtis Park
I am so charmed by the incredible architecture in many of Denver’s Airbnbs. This space is an 1880s era carriage house that was updated just a few years ago. A perfect spot if you want to be near the artsy RiNo district as well as popular Five Points.
Denver / Sunnyside
This converted carriage house has exposed brick, a lofted bedroom, and minimal, industrial features. Clean, bright, cozy, and close to everything.
Denver / Capitol Hill
More beautiful exposed brick! A well-appointed studio apartment in centrally-located Capitol Hill. Within walking distance to many of Denver’s most famous sights.