USA: Midwest Denver. CO
Destination: Coming of Age
Denver has much to celebrate this summer—from new museums to top-notch mountain escapes
BY DIANE TEGMEYER
Downtown Denver.

DAVID ADJAYE’S ÜBER-MODERN glass-and-steel Contemporary Art Museum exemplifies just how far Denver has come since its beginnings, when the only residents were migrating camps of Arapaho and Cheyenne Native Americans, plus a few herds of buffalo. As the city celebrates its 150th birthday this year, the buffalo are still around (there’s a wild herd nearby, at Lookout Mountain) and historical museums have artifacts to prove the tales. But otherwise, this city of rarified air—a full mile above sea level—grows more contemporary by the minute.


At the end of August, 50,000 members of the Democratic National Convention will convene in Denver. Plans are also in the works for the city’s big birthday party: 15 days of events dovetailing with the annual Denver Arts Week in November. All in all, the Mile High City is soaring in 2008—a great time to visit.


STEP IT UP
Colorado lays claim to the lowest percentage of overweight adults in the nation, and it’s not because everyone wants to fit into Prada. Look to the state’s world-class ski resorts, many within an hour’s drive of Denver. Other outdoor adventures are just as close, like hiking, horseback riding, fly-fishing and whitewater rafting. And the city itself has some 800 miles of bike and pedestrian trails. To go exploring, rent a bike at the Cherry Creek Bike Rack, or a kayak from Confluence Kayaks for a lesson on the South Platte River, which flows through the city center.


An easy way for the entire family to spend a day in the mountains is via the Ski Train, which departs from Denver’s Union Station on Saturdays (June 21–Aug. 23). After a 2½-hour ride through the Flatirons and South Boulder Canyon, you’ll reach the Winter Park ski area. Bike, hike or shop during the day, then take the train back in the late afternoon, relaxing with gorgeous wilderness vistas of the Continental Divide.


In summer, when the temperature averages a comfortable 72 degrees, Denverites won’t even go inside to watch a movie. Thanks to the Film in the Parks Summer Series (June–August), they don’t have to: Families can picnic in city green spaces while watching classics like Casablanca under the stars.


CITY OF NEIGHBORHOODS
In spite of its outdoor appeal, Denver isn’t the best city for walking—it’s splintered into a multitude of neighborhoods, and you need a car to reach many of them. The heart of Denver is the 16th Street Mall, a colorful pedestrian promenade, but more appealing attractions surround it. To the north is the Lower Downtown (LoDo) region, with the city’s largest concentration of turn-of-the-century Victorian buildings. LoDo has gone from historic to hip: It now has galleries, furniture stores, nightclubs and, most important, Coors Field, home to the Colorado Rockies baseball team. In summer, it’s worth going to a Rockies game just to see the high-tech, $215-million ballpark.


For anyone with a yen for cowboy duds, Rockmount Ranch Wear is a must. The Western-wear store was opened in 1946 by Jack Weil, inventor of the snap shirt. Now 107 years old, Weil still comes to work every day, making him the oldest CEO in the country. Everyone from Robert Redford to Bruce Springsteen to Bob Dylan shops here for that perfect ruggedman shirt. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger wore the shirts in Brokeback Mountain, then sold them at a charity auction for more than $100,000. Yours will only cost about $70.


A few blocks south of the mall is Larimer Square, a former skid row where Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac hung out in the 1960s. It’s now so gentrified that the Denver elite come here to shop and dine. Just a block away is the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA), the second largest performance complex in the nation. Lest it be said that Denverites are cultural neophytes, consider that a century ago city residents were treated to a production of Macbeth—before they even had a school or hospital. In those years, theater was performed in local saloons. Today, the DCPA covers four city blocks with 11 theaters hosting everything from traveling Broadway productions to ballets. It’s typically dark in July and August, but June’s productions included Sweeney Todd, 3 Mo’ Divas and The Last Five Years.


Aside from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Civic Center Park/Golden Triangle neighborhood is the cultural oasis of the city. The Denver Art Museum has more than 60,000 works, as well as a new wing designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. The $110-million geometric explosion of glass and titanium is a nod to the surrounding mountain peaks, but to some viewers it looks more like the prow of a ship. Either way, it has fashioned some unique if controversial gallery spaces for works by artists as diverse as Frederic Remington and Clyfford Still. Speaking of Still, Denver was recently awarded the rights to open the only museum dedicated to this cantankerous abstract-expressionist genius, who sold only six percent of his work while he was alive. (The museum opens in 2010, next to the Denver Art Museum.)


Also in this neighborhood, Denver’s U.S. Mint, one of only two in the country that actually makes coins, offers a fun tour (usmint.gov). The nearby Colorado State Capitol (Broadway and E. Colfax Avenue) is also a tourist curiosity: The 13th step on its western entrance is exactly one mile above sea level. The panoramic mountain views from here are unsurpassed.


SHOPPER ALERT
Cherry Creek, an upscale neighborhood, is home to the city’s best shops. The Cherry Creek Shopping Center is anchored by a Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom’s and Neiman Marcus; just across the street is Cherry Creek North, selling one-of-a-kind local designs. Blush, run by a mother-and-daughter team, carries bags, shoes, swimsuits and clothing that appeals to a wide age group. The reasonably priced designs at Eccentricity are upscale if not terribly trendy: gorgeous Kinross cashmere sweaters ($295), Helen Kaminski straw hats ($150–$300) and a great collection of Lucchese cowboy boots—red, flowered and snakeskin ($400–$800). A Stetson hat and a pair of spurs will be all that’s needed to put you in sartorial form for the Colorado State Fair (Aug. 22-Sept. 1; 800-876-4567), one of the largest professional rodeos in the country. Buffalo Bill Cody, a famous early-day resident of Denver, would surely approve.



EAT

Rioja
One of Denver’s finest restaurants. The Mediterranean-inspired menu lists dishes like candied lemon gnocchi and seven-spice duck breast. 1431 Larimer St.; 303-820-2282; dinner for two, $100*


Barolo Grill
A Denver favorite since it opened in Cherry Creek in 1992. Brian Laird’s stellar Northern Italian cuisine includes risotto with blue prawns, braised duckling and all kinds of fresh pastas. The wine list is particularly notable. 3030 E. Sixth Ave.; 303-393-1040; dinner for two, $100


Sushi Sasa
Chef Wayne Conwell and his team opened this sushi house in 2005, and many are already calling it Denver’s finest. Located near the up-and-coming Highlands neighborhood, it serves Kumamoto oysters, toro tartare and a multi-course omakase (tasting) menu. 2401 15th St.; 303-433-7272; dinner for two, $50


*Prices cover a three-course meal for two, not including drinks, tax or tip.



STAY

RCI®-affiliated resorts near Denver include:

THE CHRISTIE LODGE,
Avon


For more information,
visit RCI.com or call
Weeks: 800-338-7777
Points: 877-968-7476


OTHER NON-RCI-AFFILIATED HOTELS:

Hotel Teatro
This 110-room luxury boutique hotel next
door to the DCPA has just finished a
$1.5-million renovation. The new beds are
ultra-comfortable—handmade linens and
feather pillowtops with cashmere
coverings. And there’s a pair of formidable
restaurants: Prima Ristorante and the
more formal Kevin Taylor. 1100 14th St.;
303-228-1100;
hotelteatro.com;
doubles from $185


Ritz-Carlton Denver
This gorgeous newcomer has 202 rooms
with flat-screen TVs, glassed-in showers
and incredible service. Don’t miss the
6,400-square-foot spa or Elway’s, the
hotel’s restaurant named for the legendary
Denver Broncos quarterback. 1881 Curtis
St.; 303-312-3800;
ritzcarlton.com;
doubles from $199



TO DO

Contemporary Art Museum
1485 Delgany St.; 303-298-7554


Denver Art Museum
100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy.; 720-865-5000


Denver’s U.S. Mint
320 W. Colfax Ave.; 303-405-4757


Ski Train
303-296-4754; skitrain.com;
$49 per person


Denver Center for the Performing Arts
1101 13th St.; 303-893-4000;
denvercenter.org


Cherry Creek Bike Rack
171 Detroit St.; 303-388-1630


Confluence Kayaks
1615 Platte St.; 303-433-3676;

confluencekayaks.com



SHOP

Rockmount Ranch Wear
1626 Wazee St.; 303-629-7777
Cherry Creek Shopping Center
3000 E. First Ave.


Blush
222 Steele St.; 303-399-7779


Eccentricity
290 Fillmore St.; 303-388-8877



THE BEST

Wazee Supper Club
A LoDo institution, owned until recently
by Denver’s mayor, serves big pizzas
and big glasses of locally brewed
beers. wazeesupperclub.com


The Tattered Cover
One of the country’s best-known
independent bookstores. Three
locations, each with 150,000 titles, a
huge newsstand and staff who actually
read. Colfax Ave., LoDo and the
Highlands;
tatteredcover.com


Black American West Museum
Historic tales about the African-
American cowboys, pioneers and
miners who helped tame the West.
blackamericanwestmuseum.com


Molly Brown Summer House
The famous survivor of the Titanic
built this country house in 1897. It’s
open for tours and meals.
mollybrownsummerhouse.com

Published: July/Aug 2008 
Photo: Getty Images
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