Getting a Mile High in More Ways Than One
Since becoming a first state to legalize marijuana in 2012, its residents have taken it to heart. Walking this mile high city is a great but pungent experience.
I judge a city by several criteria: public transportation, food, cultural activities, architecture, and walkability. I was pleased to quickly learn Denver has it all. I couldn’t have chosen a better city to roam for a few days. It took me no time at all to fall in love with Denver.
Denver receives an A+ for public transportation.
Denver’s RTD (Regional Transportation District) is convenient, easy to use and reasonably priced. The A-Line from the airport to downtown Union Station couldn’t be easier. From there, the free 16th Street Mall bus covers the 1.25 miles from the railway station to the Capitol and Civic Center Park uptown. Coors Field two blocks from Union Station. Light rail and buses service an area of over 2,300 square-miles. Trips can be planned using Google maps or the RTD’s excellent mobile app. The RTD app can be downloaded and used to plan routes and easily purchase transit tickets via Apple Pay. This is really important as visitors can figure all this out before leaving home.
Denver receives an A for food.
Really, if you can’t find a good restaurant within a block or two, you aren’t looking hard enough. There is a variety of ethnic restaurants, a huge choice of menus, numerous opportunities for outside dining, and a plethora of craft beers to meet any taste. I had a delicious elk burger at the Appaloosa Grill, a fantastic pastrami at Leven’s Deli, spicy Pho at What The Pho, and a classic Caesar Salad at Wynkoop Brewing Company. All accentuated by fast and friendly service and wonderful craft beers. I also couldn’t pass up a nightly stop along the 16th St Mall to sample the sweets at Kilwins Chocolates & Ice Creams. I only ding Denver because I found no Thai dining withing walking distance.
This is not just Coors country!
Denver brags of being the “The Napa Valley of Beer” with dozens of microbreweries in Denver, and over 335 in the state. One of the world’s largest and most popular gatherings is the Great American Beer Festival held at the Convention Center each fall (in-person festival cancelled for 2021) with people attending to sample craft beers from around the world. Tickets sell out in hours! Colorado beers have emerged as medal winners in the World Beer Cup, an award likened to winning an Oscar. Pretty good for a place where home brewing only became legal in 1978.
Denver receives an A- for cultural activities and architecture.
There are a variety of museums and activities. Covid has put a slight kink in the process but if one does one’s homework and planning, all will go smoothly. More museums are working on timed-entry with tickets purchased ahead of time. Worth a visit are: History Colorado Center, Center of Colorado Women’s History, Molly Brown House & Museum, Denver Firefighters Museum, and Clyfford Still Art Museum. There is an interesting free tour of the State Capitol Building (the 99 stairs to the dome are not as intimidating as the number sounds and manageable for anyone in reasonably good health). A Free Walking Tour of downtown departs each morning from the Capitol steps and ends at Union Station. It was a busy three days with many places left to visit in the future.
Murals, street art and statues dot the city. The architecture around the historic district of Larimer Square, Capitol Hill area, along with touches of the modern accent this progressive city. From the historic Brown Palace to the ultra-modern Art Museum, the designs are photo-worthy. The organized “graffiti art” in Civic Center Park has encouraged street artists to do their thing and is well done. While many of the statues of the city reflect its heritage past, including elk, buffalos, mountain lions and wild west cowboys, it’s the 40-foot “I See What You Mean” big blue bear that is probably the most popular with tourists.
I dislike giving Denver an A- but this is earned because of its Art Museum. Because of Covid, the newly renovated museum has not reopened. Visitors are charged regular prices for basically three rooms of exhibits that can be seen in less than an hour. While I enjoyed the 19th Century art exhibit and Simphiwe Ndzube’s “Oracles of the Pink Universe” exhibit was beautiful, I would recommend saving this site for another time when the museum opens its doors to its larger collections.
Denver receives an A for walkability.
I love walking a city as there is no better way to learn about and see a city but from the ground and on foot. Denver is no exception. While cars, buses, light rail, pedestrians and electric scooters clog the streets and sidewalks, it all seems to work. Well, one best watch for the novice on electric scooters! But there are a maze of one-way streets and crosswalks which make the experience of getting somewhere pretty easy. There is no stinking, sticky button to push. And most times people obey the walk-don’t-walk lights. Well, sometimes anyway. The one-way streets make it easy to travel and cross streets, regardless of signals.
A favorite pedestrian street is the 16th Street Mall running for 14 blocks between Union Station and the Capitol area. Lined with more than 250 shops, restaurants, theaters, a bowling alley, great bookstore and numerous street cafes, it is the ideal place to spend evenings among both locals and visitors. The mall surface was designed by the wonderful architect I.M. Pei (who designed the Louvre Pyramid and John F. Kennedy Library). Designed with white, gray and red granite, when viewed from above the design is supposed to represent the pattern found on the western diamondback rattlesnake.
In spite of the 90+ degree weather during the daytime (98º one day!), evenings were comfortable. Denver is considered high desert so air is dry and drink lots of water. Altitude was not an issue for this “sea-level-living” urchin. A couple nights featured short but welcome showers for which no one opened an umbrella. I was told that daytime temperatures in winter are mild and what snow they do get doesn’t stay on the ground for long (outdoor cafes remain open). I’ve also read that Denver airport has problems with delays but I have flown through often and not experienced that.
When I think of great cities of the US, I have a rather short list. In future, Denver is going to be part of that list, towards the top.