Between family vacations, previous jobs, and general travel I'm lucky to say I've spent many months of my life in Colorado.
It's no secret this state is brimming with some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world, so naturally it's a popular destination for travelers from all over. I'm frequently asked by those planning trips of their own what they should do. Should be an easy question to answer about someplace that I love so much, right? Wrong.
You see, every time that I come back to this glorious state, I somehow manage to find new and wonderful things (in addition to trying to see and do everything else that I already love). There is absolutely no shortage of entertainment here, which makes travel time management incredibly daunting to prioritize.
But since I've come to find that the majority of people who are planning trips and ask me for recommendations are coming for a long weekend, I've managed to whittle my recos down to my absolute top favorites that you can accomplish within a few short days.
Denver is an amazing city with dozens of unique neighborhoods to explore. If you want to experience it at it's best, give yourself more than just a weekend. But even if you only have a few short days, you can still get a taste of my favorite mile-high highlights.
Selecting a place to stay is important, and there are lots of details to consider! For that reason, I put together a separate blog post specifically dedicated to the best hotels in Denver.
Linger is the former site of Denver's historic Olinger Mortuary (where the body of Buffalo Bill supposedly was kept for six months) . Slightly creepy? Perhaps. But you'll quickly get over it when you see the view (it's no wonder Linger was included in Travel + Leisure's "Coolest Rooftop Bars in America"). The team has embraced it's history by intentionally darkening the first letter of Olinger's bright neon sign, and also changing the word "mortuaries" to "eatuaries." Whether you visit for brunch, lunch, dinner or simply drinks, you won't be disappointed.
2030 W 30th Ave Denver, CO 80211
Named after the renowned historic square in the heart of Paris, Bistro Vendôme offers an exceptional dining experience in a charming neighborhood setting. Take a break from strolling under the twinkle lights in Larimer Square (which one of my favorite spots in all of Denver) and pop into this quaint bistro for a quintessential French experience. Everything I tried was wonderful, but don't leave without tasting the crème brûlée.
1420 Larimer Street Denver, CO 80202
Also on Larimer, and owned by Bistro Vendôme, you'll finde Rioja- a Mediterranean inspired menu that's locally sourced and imaginative. Excutive Chef/Owner Jennifer Jasinski also happens to be a 2016 James Beard Foundation Semifinalist for Outstanding Chef (so you it's good). Try the Truffle Tremor goat cheese to start and for a unique dessert option, indulge in the sweet goat cheese and black mission fig filled beignets with a ruby port wine reduction.
1431 Larimer St. Denver, CO 80202
If you're looking for a relaxed atmosphere with high-quality ingredients, look no further than Old Major. They pride themselves on being friends with their farmers and fishermen, and focus on heritage-raised meats from Colorado farms they know and respect. They cure meat in-house and make the most of the meat with their nose-to-tail butchery program. Don't miss their delicious charcuterie and signature cocktails (that Oaxacan Breeze is everything).
2216 Tejon St Denver, CO 80211
Ahhhhh, Boulder. I could get all sorts of sentimental and sappy about this place. I moved here for a month for a new job where I knew no one, and spent lots of time exploring solo. Work brought me back for a week every month for over a year. Needless to say, we became great friends (and over time, I made many wonderful human friends too). But I cherish the time I spent here and the fact that I was able to discover so many places that created so many memories. Even without all the sentimental ties I have, I'm confident you'll still find it to be an incredibly special place.
The moment you set foot in St. Julien Hotel & Spa, you can't deny that it's an oasis of tranquility. It offers stunning views of the Flatiron Mountains and has doorstep access to the famous Pearl Street Mall (another reco I call out below). Whether you stay at the hotel, or simply stop for a drink at Jill's Restaurant, you're guaranteed to love every second of your experience.
900 Walnut Street Boulder, CO 80302
I've called Hotel Boulderado home for the week many a time while visiting Boulder. This historic boutique is also near Pearl Street Mall, and offers modern amenities with a charming Victorian ambiance. The gourmet on-site dining is fantastic (I adore Spruce) and the guest rooms are all elegantly furnished. Regardless of whether you stay here or simply dine with them, be sure to look up when you walk into the lobby, because the stained-glass ceiling will take your breath away.
2115 13th St Boulder, CO 80302
The Kitchen is actually a family of restaurants across Colorado (and now Chicago too) but the original location is along Pearl Street in Boulder. The Kitchen restaurants are built by a community of craftsman, serving food & drink from local farmers, ranchers and purveyors for the sustainable enjoyment of the whole community. They are committed to environmentally friendly practices, including composting, wind power, eco-friendly packaging and recycling. But above all, they believe in the power of good food and good drink to connect people as family, friends and a community. They're my favorite place to eat in the state of Colorado, and I promise you won't be disappointed with whatever location you visit.
1039 Pearl St. Boulder, CO 80302
Blackbelly started as catering, and soon thereafter became Blackbelly Farm. The idea was to create food from the source to the plate without a middleman, and embrace the food of the seasons. It's now their mission to not only know where the food comes from, but to serve their customers with the very best product they can find. The menu items are inventive, fresh, but most importantly- delicious. Be sure to order a cocktail with your meal, because every single one I've had has been incredible.
1606 Conestoga St. Boulder, CO 80301
If the weather is nice and you're craving a delicious margarita from scratch, head to the rooftop of Rio Grande as fast as you possibly can. While they have seven Colorado locations, I'm biased to the one in Boulder (you just can't beat the view of the foothills). Their mission is simple: treat people well and deliver wholesome food. I think they do a pretty incredible job at both.
1101 Walnut Street Boulder, CO 80302
Black Cat is unique because every single menu item comes directly from their very own 130 acre, Certified Organic farm located just outside the city. They also supply a bounty of restaurants, CSA's and booths at both the Boulder and Denver Union Station Farmer's Markets. Not only do all the ingredients come from the farm, but they are harvested every single day. Because of this, the menu changes daily and always has a sense of discovery and delight (and as you can imagine, everything has a freshness you can truly taste).
1964 13th Street Boulder, CO 80302
One of my favorite Boulder memories was waking up early before work or spending an entire afternoon on the weekend to hike at Chautauqua. There's no place better to get a view of the Flatirons, so be sure to put it at the top of your list. There are tons of easy loops to choose from, but if you're up for a bit more of a challenge, I highly recommend hiking Royal Arch. It's a 3.2 hike round trip with a 1,400 foot elevation gain. The view from the top is incredible (and there are lots of spots to stop and rest - so don't let the incline intimidate you).
900 Baseline Rd. Boulder, CO 80302
Pearl Street Mall is one of Boulder's most well-known attractions. This four block pedestrian stretch (and surrounding side streets) is filled with amazing stores that you can spend hours browsing. My favorites? Peppercorn (home to beautiful imports, gourmet and imported foods, kitchen gadgets and many other gems that make for incredible gifts) and Cedar & Hyde (a modern day mercantile filled with home goods, apparel, and market items).
rocky mountain national PARK
No matter if you decide to stay in Denver or Boulder, you're only a short drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. If you plan to stay in Colorado for more than a few days, look into staying in a cabin or chalet in Estes Park (which will put you conveniently between town and the National Park). But either way, be sure you pay the park a visit to experience some great hikes with amazing views.
Head to Lumpy Ridge Trailhead to hike Gem Lake if want something short but challenging (3.5 miles roundtrip with a 1,000 foot elevation gain). The views are breathtaking (and there are lots of them along the way to the top).
Once you head into Rocky Mountain National Park, you can hike Deer Mountain- one of the more popular trails. It's known for it's panoramic views and is moderate in difficulty (6.2 miles round trip with a 1,210 foot elevation gain).
If you start at the Bear Lake trailhead and head towards Emerald Lake, you're in for a treat. Not only will you see Bear Lake at the start and Emerald Lake at the top, but you'll also see Nymph Lake and Dream Lake along the way (and each one offers wonderful views). The entire hike is only 3.5 miles roundtrip, and the total elevation gain is only about 650 feet. In summary? It's pretty perfect for anyone who wants to hike (no matter what skill level) and see beautiful scenery.
While this hike offers outstanding views- be warned: it's not for the faint of heart. The roundtrip length is about 10.5 miles with an elevation gain of 3,240 feet. Get there early (we arrived around 7am-they'll start to turn people away once the parking lot fills up) and plan on having at least 6 or 7 hours to spare. But more importantly, pack appropriately. I was sweating in a tank top around the base of the trail, but freezing cold at the summit in multiple layers- so bring items you can easily add or shred as needed. And of course, bring plenty of food and water- you'll need it. You'll also summit Flattop Mountain on your way, which is a good place to break for food and soak in the views. While I was definitely exhausted, it wasn't as challenging as I had imagined it would be, and I felt like a badass when it was all said and done. If you have the time and energy, I highly recommend it.
Whether you do everything on this list or nothing at all, I know you'll love the time you spend in Colorado. It's one of the most beautiful places on the planet and will forever hold a special place in my heart. It won't take you long before you understand why.