How to show out-of-towners a good time in Denver

My family moved from the Detroit area to Littleton when I was nine, and I (unofficially) became an extension of Colorado’s tourism office. I sent handwritten cards to friends and family back in Michigan inviting them to come visit Colorado.

Each invitation promised a West-facing seat at the dinner table for the duration of their visit so they could take in majestic views of the Rocky Mountains, and the envelopes contained fool’s gold nuggets I bought with my allowance from a mountain town gift shop. Hey, gold lured people to our state, as I had learned in my Colorado history class, so it seemed like a good marketing strategy.

I drummed up plenty of interest, and, over the decades, as visitors came to town, my family developed a few go-to’s on our itinerary to dazzle our guests. Some traditions are no more. Who remembers the Baby Do’s mine-themed restaurant overlooking Interstate 25 and downtown?

But many live on. The Zip Code Man still occasionally performs on Pearl Street in Boulder. Those in the crowd can spit out their zip codes and he’ll tell them what city they live in — a bit that never ceases to wow out-of-towners!

Some more of my tried-and-true staples include hitting up Wash Park for a walk and picnic, a ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad and a visit to Red Rocks Amphitheater, even if it’s just to hike around. My 85-year-old grandma huffed it up the stairs and around the park during her last visit and a couple of summers ago my cousin traveled to Colorado to propose to his now wife mid-concert in the amphitheater.

Numbers-wise, Denver tourism is healthy as a horse (or rather a blue mustang with beady red eyes?). A record number of 36.3 million visitors came to the Mile High City in 2022. Top tourist attractions include staples like the zoo, art museum, aquarium, performing arts complex, and Meow Wolf.

But here’s how else to fill out an itinerary and show your out-of-town guests a good time.

Hang out at Union Station

So, your friends are arriving from the airport on the RTD A Line? Greet them at the Beaux Arts-style renovated train station and ask them if they’re thirsty or hungry. If so, slip away to the glam mezzanine-level Cooper Lounge for a pick-me-up like an espresso martini made with local Family Jones vodka or grab a board loaded with meats and cheeses at Mercantile Dining & Provisions.

Get some green chile

With a long virtual queue, a Casa Bonita invite is difficult to snag. Thankfully, the Mile High City and its environs have plenty of delicious Mexican spots. Take this as your opportunity to introduce visitors to the greatness of green chile, smothered on everything from cheese fries to burritos and chili rellenos. Some go-to green chile hot spots include La Loma, Tacos la Familia, El Tepehuan in Englewood and Efrain’s, should you make it to Boulder.

See the buffalo roam

When my cousin comes to town from Chicago, he’s entertained by the prairie dogs that pop up in fields. But if the wildlife bar is higher for your esteemed guests, you can spot grazing bison at the Buffalo Herd Nature Preserve just 20 miles outside of the city. Head west from Denver on Interstate 70 and take Exit 254. Sometimes you can see the animals from the road, but other times you need to hike around Genesee Park.

Or, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge — a former site for weapons manufacturing northeast of Denver that’s been turned into a wildlife sanctuary — is home to bison, as well as deer, raptors, songbirds, and, yup, those cheeky prairie dogs playing peek-a-boo.

Go to a Rockies game

The Rockies have had better seasons. But a game-time experience is still fun for out-of-town guests because Coors Field has cheap beer, phenomenal sunsets and a ring of purple seats that denote an exact elevation of 5,280 feet.

My favorite way to do a game day with out-of-towners is to take a stroll through the Dairy Block and spin the music wheels mounted in the alley that play songs recorded by the Colorado Symphony. Grab a pre-game drink at a spot like Deviation Distilling, where cocktails are concocted with housemade bitters and syrups; or Poka Lola, which feels like a modern-day soda fountain shop that slings craft cocktails. Bonus: The Dairy Block has lots of photographic vignettes perfect for snapping photos of you and your visitors.

Another option? Meander through McGregor Square to feel the gameday energy. The Rally Bar has pregame bites and the Rally Hotel’s lobby features Rockies relics.

Get ice cream

One of the best local spots for ice cream in Denver is Little Man Ice Cream in LoHi, according to the long lines that form outside of the 28-foot-tall milk can awaiting scoops of salted oreo or vegan horchata. There’s usually an express line, too, dishing out a concise menu of favorites. But if it’s been a long time since you’ve seen your friends or fam, why not stand in the long line and catch up with one another?

Do a beer crawl

If your guests are here for the beer, show them a good time with a beer crawl. According to Visit Denver, there are 150 brewpubs, breweries and taprooms in the metro area. Zoom in on the scene in RiNo, which is home to some greats like Bierstadt Lagerhaus, Ratio Beerworks, Our Mutual Friend Brewing and Odell’s Five Point Brewing House, where you and your pals can sample experimental releases.

Or, discover a triangle of spots in northeast Denver, sampling Czech lagers at Cohesion Beer Co., IPAs at Cerebral Brewing and a curated selection of beers from around the state (and country) at Ephemeral Taphouse.

Check out a cocktail bar

Not only does Denver have impressive breweries, there’s also a burgeoning craft cocktail scene. For a good snapshot, check out Yacht Club, a Cole neighborhood bar that landed a coveted spot on the 50 Best Bars in North America list earlier this year. Here, you can sip high-end cocktails in a dive bar-like setting. That’s to say you can order something like a champagne mojito or a Japanese whisky libation with fermented honey, peruse the natural wine list or just get a Jack and Coke with a hot dog. Yacht Club uses RiverBear Meats for its franks.

Visit a museum

From Meow Wolf to the Denver Museum of Art, several cultural institutions are among the most-visited attractions in the city. But for art-loving guests, additional museums to add to your list include the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, where an exhibition from multimedia artist Tomashi Jackson is on display through Sept. 10. MCA Denver commissioned three paintings and a video made using elements of Colorado’s landscape, like marble dust from the Western Slope. Or, take in abstract expressionism at the Clyfford Still Museum and browse everything from Art Deco furniture to Vance Kirkland’s paintings and Colorado pottery in the 30,000-piece collection at the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art.

Take a walking tour

An advantage of having guests in town? You get to play tourist in your own city. Brush up on your Denver history (or learn something new altogether) on a Historic Denver walking tour. The organization has several options for exploring Denver neighborhoods, including the Capitol Hill tour that shows off historic mansions and tells the tales of some of the city’s famous residents. Or, the Larimer Square route begins with views from the top of the Daniels and Fisher Clock Tower.

Denver’s Top 10 visitor attractions

  • Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre
  • Denver Zoo
  • Downtown Aquarium
  • Denver Museum of Nature & Science/IMAX Theater
  • Denver Botanic Gardens
  • Meow Wolf
  • Colorado Rockies
  • Denver Art Museum
  • Denver Performing Arts Complex
  • Denver Union Station

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