Saturday, July 28

Denver: The Mile High City

So I recently returned from a glorious road trip with my mom and younger sister to visit my older brother. We journeyed our way to Denver, Colorado, “the Mile High City,” and saw some of the sights along the way. Denver is notorious for its higher elevation, approximately a mile above sea level,hence, “the Mile High City”. (No, it’s not just a clever name.) Consequently, it can be an adjustment for someone such as myself who is accustomed to lower elevations. (And one can only hope this will make tennis and gym time all the more easier now that I’m back home.) After some incredible sight-seeing (and a little research) here’s my two cents on the places we visited. For those that may be considering Denver and nearby locations for future traveling destinations, whether you’ve previously visited or not, here are some of the top “to-do’s” and sights to see.

1. Arches National Park (Location: Moab, Utah)

Words do not do this national park justice. The landscape consists of beautiful red rock formations that are truly remarkable. You can easily make a day trip out of hiking around the various arches, or if you’re strapped for time you can spend about an hour driving through the park to get a glimpse of the extraordinary geological masterpiece. The Arches is highly recommended on my to-do list. A must see.

2. Vail Ski Resort (Location: Vail, Colorado)
We only made a brief stop here, and while Vail is a “year round destination” tourist attraction, it may be best left for winter activities (i.e. skiing/snowboarding) if you can deal with the mass amount of tourists. And good luck finding your car with the parking garage of massive proportions. On the other hand, it is the largest resort in the U.S. (and among the top in the world) with 5,289 acres of skiing. A large mountain with a whole lot of opportunities for skiing/snowboarding enthusiasts.

3. Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza (Location: Denver, Colorado)
A small eatery located near Wash Park in the Denver area (and available in a few other locations, including New Mexico and Kansas. Il Vicino Wood Oven Pizza is a magical pizza experience. Be prepared for an extensive menu of food options, including, of course, pizza, calzones, panini sandwiches, flatbread sandwiches, pasta, and salad. >For indecisive diners such as myself, the decision-making process can be overwhelming, but it is totally worth it! In addition, just outside the eatery was a small garden for tomatoes and herbs used as fresh ingredients…literally fresh from the garden! And, in case you’re in need of further convincing, they have delicious hand crafted ales and wine.

4. Hapa Sushi (Location: Denver, Colorado)

Great appetizers, drinks, and most importantly... sushi!

If you’re a sushi admirer, this eatery is definitely worthwhile. We munched on various appetizers and a couple different sushi rolls, and enjoyed every last bite. In addition to the Denver location, there are also locations in Greenwood Village and Boulder. Hapa also has an extensive menu, and I would certainly visit again to try a different “Hapa” sushi experience. Yum.

5. Denver Zoo (Location: Denver, Colorado)

I think these were my favorite! First time seeing live flamingos up close!

Also a must see! Be sure to give yourself a good chunk of the day (about a few hours). It’s a BIG zoo! Claimed to be one of the most popular zoos in the US, the Denver Zoo has just about everything from Rhinos, to elephants, to giraffes, to penguins, as well as fascinating exhibits such as the “Tropical Discovery” indoor rainforest, “Bird World,” and “Primate Panorama”. You can expect the full zoo experience…highly recommended.

6. The Yard House (Location: Denver, Colorado)
While it is not native to Denver and originating from California, the Yard House is an American dining experience that was created with the intent of having one of the largest draft beer selections in the restaurant world, in addition to having a classic rock music atmosphere...score! The name derived from Great Britain’s 3-foot glasses used by stagecoach drivers in-between traveling via horse drawn carriages back in the day. While sitting atop the carriage, they would be handed their beer in these tall, skinny glasses. I’m not aware of an actual yard glass being an option on the menu; however, there is a half yard glass that is still more than adequate in size.

Our first experience at the Yard House was actually at their Phoenix location a few years back. We were advised to try the BBQ Chicken Salad, which was phenomenal. (Disclaimer: this is a very large entrĂ©e salad, and for a smaller eater such as myself, I recommend splitting between 2-3 people.) We were a little chilly that afternoon and also decided to go for a soup. We opted for the Chicken Tortilla Soup: BEST life decision ever. And ever since, we have almost always had the soup and salad on every Yard House occasion. They are equally amazing. And of course, there are many, many delicious beers to choose from. The dark beer lover within me settled on Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. I was not disappointed to say the least. For an excellent dining/beer-tasting experience, the Yard House is also highly recommended on my to-do list.

7. Red Rocks Amphitheater (Location: Red Rocks Park near Morrison, Colorado)

Getting ready for the concert to start... so excited!!!

This was by far the most incredible venue I have ever seen. We went to see the 50th Anniversary Reunion Tour of the Beach Boys, which was equally phenomenal. And Red Rocks has seen many more infamous music groups, such as The Beatles, James Taylor, and Sting, to name a few. Aside from musical performances, the amphitheater and park also provide opportunities for movie viewings, guided tours, hiking, biking, shopping, and dining. If Red Rocks is not on your itinerary for touring the Denver area, then you are missing out big time. Be sure to check it out!

8. Cherry Creek Mall (Location: Denver, Colorado)
Ok, shopping isn’t among my favorite recreational activities. And well, it’s a mall. Definitely has much more to offer than my local shopping mall, but nothing too incredibly exciting. We spent one afternoon checking out the stores, and it was, surprisingly, a huge success on my end. (Maybe too much of a success. Oops.) So if shopping is your thing, there’s definitely a lot to offer. Perhaps not the top “to-do” on my list, but worth checking out.

9. The Cherry Cricket (Location: Denver, Colorado)
The Cherry Cricket is a restaurant/bar native to Denver and also has a claim to fame as it was visited by “Man v. Food”. (Yes, the TV show on the Travel Channel.) If you aren’t familiar with that particular episode, they had the waitresses toss darts on a dartboard to decide on toppings for the burger to be consumed. (Disclaimer: no dartboard actually exists). We even asked our waiter. Apparently it was just an added flare to spice things up with an extra dose of excitement and drama.

The Cherry Cricket does have a wide selection of toppings for burgers and sandwiches, from which you can choose any combination. By recommendation, I had a turkey burger with herbed cream cheese and bermuda onion. It was fabulous. For excellent burgers and beer, Cherry Cricket is the place to go!

10. Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium (Location: Denver, Colorado)

It’s not the greatest shot, but you can see the bronco seats in the upper left corner.

And a better shot from the outside.

I may not be the biggest sports fan either, but the Mile High stadium was still pretty rad. If the view from the outside weren’t awesome enough, we also got to peek into the executive suite to get a glimpse of the field…it was glorious. A tidbit of trivia we learned from my brother: apparently there are specific individuals that get the colored seats that make the picture of the bronco horse, and dress/paint their bodies to match their seats. So even if you’re totally not into sports (like me) I recommend taking a quick peek at the very least… pretty impressive.

11. Elitch Theme Park (Location: Denver, Colorado)

Photo shot from the big Ferris Wheel with The Mile High Stadium in the background

Located in downtown Denver, Elitch Gardens is your standard roller coaster/water park. Lots of great thrill rides, as well as moderate rides for those that are less adventuresome. Be prepared for lines, unless you want to pay butt loads more money for the VIP pass (in other words, paying more to cut in the front of the lines). At most, we maybe waited 45 minutes which is not bad compared to larger theme parks such as Disney World. Granted, it was a week day. I’d say it’s a safe assumption that weekends are generally busier. And even though we opted to skip the water park, we had a great time riding the ‘coasters!

12. Grande Rio Mexican Restaurant (Location: Denver, Colorado)
A pretty standard Mexican restaurant, Grande Rio made it on my top “to-do” list for one reason and one reason only: delicious margaritas. And two will go a long ways. Now, I consider myself reasonably articulate and probably fairly average, but after MY two margaritas, I’m reasonably sure my proper grammar went out the window. Needless to say, I recommend Grande Rio for their excellent margs!

13. Stanley Hotel (Location: Estes Park, Colorado)

The Haunted Stanley Hotel

The beautiful mountains of Estes Park

Originally opened in 1909, the Stanley Hotel has some incredible history. Aside from the history of its founders, it is also well known for its role in Stephen King’s novel, “The Shining.” This haunted hotel was the inspiration for the book after Stephen King’s stay. Interestingly, the original film with Jack Nicholson (as well as the mini series) wasn’t actually filmed at the Stanley Hotel, due to various complications in matching the hotel with the setting in the story. Another claim to fame is the fine comedy, “Dumb and Dumber,” in which there were a few scenes shot at the hotel. I highly recommend taking the tour whether or not you’re a believer of the hauntings. Though our tour group did not experience anything remotely supernatural, there was a great deal of fascinating history. And aside from the hotel, Estes is equally fascinating. Gorgeous mountains!

14. Beau Jo’s (Location: Idaho Springs, Colorado)
A truly unique pizza dining experience, the original Beau Jo’s pizza restaurant is located in Idaho Springs, Colorado. We stopped here on our way back to Denver from Estes Park. Not only do they have great tasting pizza with a thick and hefty crust, but it is traditional at Beau Jo’s to eat the crust with honey after consumption of the rest of the pizza. Different for sure, but amazing!

15. Ted’s Montana Grill (Location: Denver, Colorado)
With various locations around the US, this is the place to go for bison burgers baby! I enjoyed a delicious bison mushroom and swiss burger, and it was everything I hoped and dreamed for. Enough said.

16. Downtown Aquarium (Location: Denver, Colorado)

Though perhaps not as impressive as the Denver Zoo, the Downtown Aquarium still had much to offer and met my expectations for an aquarium. I can’t say I have much for comparison, but I’m sure this was by far more extraordinary than my local aquarium (which I obviously have not yet seen). With many fascinating fish and sea creatures to check out, it was definitely worthwhile.

17. The Ale House at Amato’s (Location: Denver, Colorado)
Located in the Lower Highlands of Denver (aka LoHi), the Ale House was our last evening in Denver and our last restaurant. The worst part: after a few minutes of driving, parking, taking the light rail, and about 20 minutes of walking…I forgot my ID. I think I almost cried. But seriously, theAle House was another excellent choice for great food and great beer. (My family was nice and let me sip off their beers, so I can, in fact, confirm the quality of the beer.) I picked perhaps not the healthiest choice of meals on the menu, but completely mind-blowing: lobster mac & cheese. That’s right. Again, different, but so, so good! And with 42 beers on tap, the beer selections derive from various Colorado breweries, including a dozen from the Breckenridge Brewery. Random learned fact (thanks to the French-speaking skills of my little sister): my mom chose the “La Vie Haute” beer by Dry Dock, which is French for “the high life”. Excellent choice Mom.

18. Little Man Ice Cream (Location: Denver, Colorado)
Also located in the LoHi is a little local ice cream place called Little Man Ice Cream. Their handmade ice cream comes in a variety of unique flavors ranging from Bailey’s Chocolate to Upside-Down Pineapple Cake, with new and different flavors available daily. In addition, they also have sodas, floats, malts, shakes, banana splits, and sundaes. Not only is their ice cream delicious, but they also strive to give back to the community. One of their biggest programs is called “Scoop for Scoop,” in which a scoop of rice is donated to villages in developing countries for every scoop of ice cream purchased. Not only do you get to enjoy some fine handmade ice cream, but you can also take satisfaction in knowing that you’re supporting the hungry in other countries. It’s a win win!

Well that about covers our trip. Good times were had by all. Good mountains, good rides, good concert, good food, and good beer. What more could a girl ask for? If I’ve even mildly helped to convince anyone of future trips to the Mile High City, happy travels!

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