A mile above sea level, Denver is one of our favorite cities to visit any time of year, and while most may be clamoring to Colorado’s other zip codes for winter sports, we say Fall is when it’s best to seek out this city. We’ve created an autumn itinerary filled with culinary and visual delights. With new attractions and restaurants and a multi-million-dollar museum renovation, you’ll see why we’re combining these two pleasures for the ultimate weekend away.
First, the digs.
When you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Denver, anything near Union Station is an excellent plan. Walking distance to the train depot, we suggest Thompson Denver, a Hyatt property new to the downtown area. A short stroll to this central gathering place, you’ll be in the heart of it all, with a lot available right at your hotel and next door.
For example, one of the best dinners to have in Denver, and one fairly new to the culinary scene, is at Chez Maggy. The bi-level French restaurant is located in the hotel lobby and serves up scrumptious French delights, including a baguette with butter flown in straight from France and escargot with a bit of spice to complement the rich, buttery garlic flavor. For dinner, you really can’t go wrong but the chef’s specialty is the Duck Breast a l’orange.
For post-dinner cocktails or a lighter meal, there is a somewhat secret second restaurant inside of Thompson Denver. Called Reynard Social, big living areas and plush couches are a comfortable spot to take in the views from the sixth-floor eatery. Everywhere you look, an oversized window gives way to the sparkling city below. Come here for the cocktails, and the impressive mocktails, or dine on sushi while hanging with friends or playing a round of pool. On chilly evenings, spots near the fireplace are coveted.
Now, we eat.
Denver is most revered for its outdoor activities and robust beer scene, but we’re here to tell you there’s a lot more to the city than you think. The food scene, for one, is exploding, with everything from high-end restaurants to rooftop bars where you can take in the mountainous views.
For breakfast, Union Station is the perfect haven to visit. If you can, grab a table at Snooze (although we warn it can be a lengthy wait) in the heart of it all. The extensive menu has a little of everything and we suggest you try as much as you can. For breakfast or brunch, don’t skip the Signature Pancake Flight, a trio of three flavorful pancakes of your choosing, or Juan’s Breakfast Tacos, a unique dish with a lot of flavor.
If Snooze is full, or you fancy yourself a quieter, more upscale first meal, head to Mercantile Dining and Provision instead. Also in Union Station, this New American eatery has a small menu of artisanal meals. It’ll be hard to choose but the hearty Pork Belly Biscuit topped with a fried egg and green onion and the sweet Dutch Baby Pancake served in a skillet with crème fraiche and roasted apples are our top picks. Highly Recommended: Ordering it with a mimosa, although the coffee here is divine, too. And also, coming back for a nightcap from the wine library.
You’ll need to work up an appetite for Avanti Food & Beverage, a two-story food hall made from a shipping container. The sustainable building is bursting with eclectic flavors, including everything from Argentinian sandwiches from Quiero Arepa to bao buns and dumplings at Meta Asian Kitchen. There are three bars throughout the space, as well, one upstairs and one downstairs that serve signature cocktails and anything else you can dream up, and a second upstairs bar—The Big Chill Frozen Bar—that doles out boozy frozen drinks that make your Vegas strip concoctions look classless. Looking for a kick? The Black Diamond is created with frozen espresso while the Smoke Show is heavy on the Mezcal. The best part about dining at Avanti, however, is the view. We love a good outdoor space and this shipping container boasts an entire upper deck worth your afternoon.
Post-food coma, skip across the street to Happy Camper. This themed, outdoor bar serves cocktails, pizza, and brunch under giant disco balls and in wooden, circular bench seats. The atmosphere is summer camp meets frat party, and we’re here for the vibey music and neon lights.
Another option for a midday meal is Stout Street Social (although you can do dinner here, too). A great perk of this casual eatery is it’s close to the Denver Performing Arts Center, so if you’re catching a show (more on that later) you can walk save on an Uber. The food here is simple, including giant pretzels and veggie nachos. Pick something yummy and pair it with a local brew.
If you’re in search of something a little fancier to dine on, we’ve got two potentials in different neighborhoods to visit. First off is Citizen Rail. This is your special occasion restaurant with white tablecloths and doting staff right near Union Station. A menu standout is the Hearth Baked Rosemary Sourdough. If you thought you were ordering a loaf of bread—guess again. It’s basically a fresh pizza served on soft sourdough bread, topped with mozzarella curds, rocky mountain heirloom tomato, EVOO, and maldon sea salt. Coal Shimmered Mussels are another delicacy staff vehemently recommends—and for good reason. If you’re sharing starters, there’s also a Goat Ricotta Cappelletti that is to die for. And you have to save room for dessert, served with coffee or a post-dinner cocktail, of course.
Farther away—you’ll have to take a car to this one—The Source is a hotel with its own food hall inside. In addition to retail shops, there are plenty of places to grab food. If you’re basking in all of the rooftops (Denver is known for them, after all), The Woods is the ideal setup. Inside there are floor-to-ceiling windows that unlock a big city view, or you can sit outside when the weather is nice. Another upscale location, but this one with a more laidback air, we definitely recommend sharing a Charcuterie & Cheese Board and some Grilled Shishito Peppers before diving into the Rocky Mountain Seared Trout of the Potato Gnocchi. Hang out for a cocktail and take in the view, especially if you dined early. The South Side Hustle is light and refreshing and spiked with absinthe while the Chino-Negroni is smokey and rich, made with Mezcal.
Get Your Drinks Here!
Still thirsty? If you’re looking for a fun place to knock back a few, head to McGregor Square. On game nights especially this place (located outside of the Colorado Rockies’ Stadium) gets busy. Even outside of baseball season, it’s popping, with football games played on giant outside screens and the real action happening just a few miles away. Grab a drink at the bar and watch live with friends.
If you’re after a late-night spot for dancing, there are quite a few rooftops downtown that won’t disappoint. Hit up Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row for cocktails, live music, outdoor games, and plenty of dancing after the sun goes down.
Denver also doesn’t skimp on the speakeasies. Williams & Graham is a popular one, a quiet, Prohibition-style bar hidden behind a bookcase. Green Russell has small plates to go with its drinks menu, hidden in an underground lair in Larimer Square.
Perhaps drinks with an activity are more your style. If that’s the case, Urban Putt (which also has an outpost in San Francisco) is a full indoor mini golf course that provides drinks as you play.
Save Room for Dessert
Sure, candy exists everywhere, but we promise you’ve never had candy quite like this. And to be honest, the stop is perfect for this trip because it seamlessly blends art and food. The Inventing Room is a reservation-only, candy factory experience. Based off of the room of the same name from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the owner specializes in freeze-dried candy (and a show). Groups can come and learn the science behind candy making while noshing on off-the-wall delicacies like freeze-dried Cheetos and Laffy Taffy before ending with a funky sundae.
Now, for the art.
We know Denver probably doesn’t land at the top of your list when you think of art-centric cities, but thanks to some new advancements, it’s a part of the city you literally cannot miss.
RiNo is one of the best neighborhoods for taking in the unique Denver art scene. Short for River North Art District, the city is filled with street art, some commissioned and some not, and a surprising number of somewhat hidden rhinos. Whether it’s vandalism or paid-for, the history and wars beneath the spray paint run deep and the best way to scratch the surface is with a Denver Graffiti Tour.
If you haven’t yet heard of the otherworldly interactive art museum concept brought to cities across the Western States by Meow Wolf then take this as your sign to get googling. Meow Wolf opened a Denver outpost titled Convergence Station in 2021, a sprawling collection of installations that ignite all of the senses and include everything from spaceships to ice castles. There’s a story line that goes with it if you can follow along. We personally can’t even begin to explain the experience (even though we spent a couple of hours having it) so we suggest just buying the tickets and seeing the strange magic for yourself. Sidenote: If you’re a football fanatic, Meow Wolf shares a parking lot with Empower Field.
The Denver Art Museum has long been a staple in the city, close to the capital and 16th Street Mall, but in October 2021, a new version of the museum was unveiled, showcasing two buildings. The first has a few levels, each with its own installations (if you go now, you can see towering suits of armor from ancient times) and the second is a seven-story Gio Ponti-designed building that oddly resembles a prison. The fact is you could spend all day here, and if you’re an art aficionado, you might need two.
When it comes to the Performing Arts, Denver is home to a plaza of small theaters. The result is several touring shows available at once. In all, there are ten performance spaces across four blocks with over 10,000 seats in total, called Denver Center for the Performing Arts. It’s all connected by an 80-foot glass roof. October sees too many shows to name across the complex; amongst favorites are the Broadway hit Come From Away, Dracula performed by the Colorado Ballet, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Ain’t Too Proud, the story of The Temptations rise to fame.