Destination Denver: Beer, food and the great outdoors in one easy package

Lately Denver has gotten a lot of press for legalizing marijuana, and while for some this is a reason to visit the capital of Colorado, it’s not the only thing going for it.

After all, before Denver became a stateside Amsterdam, there were plenty of things to do outside and excellent craft beer to accompany these activities. Pair that with a food scene that’s really blossomed in the last five years and you have a vacation filled with tasty indulgences.

Just remember, Denver is called the Mile High city not because of pot smokers, but because it’s 5,280 feet above sea level. That means you might be a little short of breath to start and, since you are closer to the sun, more susceptible to sunburn.

So drink a lot of water, wear some sunscreen and a hat and enjoy yourself.


The great outdoors

As long as it’s clear, all you have to do is look west in order to see the glorious Rocky Mountains towering in the horizon. Within 30 minutes you can be in them and hiking on some minor trails or admiring the scenery from the 850-plus miles of bike paths that snake through the metro area.

Rent a bike from B-cycle, a Citi Bike-esque bike-share program with kiosks all over the city. Two of the most popular runs include the Mary Carter Greenway Trail along the Platte River and the Cherry Creek Trail (you can walk this one, too), which takes you from a chic shopping area, past Four Mile Historic Park and to the giant REI store, where you can rent a paddleboard or kayak to take out on the roaring Platte River right outside the shop’s doors.


Indoor fun

But, what if it’s raining? If the weather has you stuck inside, head to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (admission $14.9 adults, $9.95 children ages 3-18, $11.95 seniors; 2001 Colorado Blvd., 303-370-600) in City Park for a little bit of natural wonders, or visit the newly renovated History Colorado Center (admission $12 adults, $10 seniors and students ages 13-22, $8 children ages 6-12 and free for children 5 and under; 1200 Broadway, 303-447-8679). You can also check out the Denver Art Museum (admission $10 adults, $8 seniors and college students, free for youth and children; 100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy., 720-865-5000) and see its vast collection of Native American art and modern works, all housed in a striking building meant to resemble the view of the mountains.


Craft beer culture

For decades Colorado has been at the forefront of the country’s craft beer scene, and today more than 100 independent breweries and brewpubs operate in the metro area. You can go to any of them for a free or cheap tasting, and most offer full pints and growlers of beer to take home.

Visit old school establishments such as The Great Divide (2201 Arapahoe St.), which serves its Denver Pale Ale and the Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout, a rich brew made with coffee from local roaster Pablo’s Coffee. Make sure to also stop into heavy metal-themed TRVE Brewing Co. (227 Broadway), the popular Denver Beer Co. (taproom and beer garden, 1695 Platte St., Canworks tours and taproom, 4455 Jason St., 303-433-2739) and Fiction Beer Company (7101 East Colfax Ave., 720-456-7163), a newer joint that also hosts various food trucks daily.

For a fun walking tour of Denver beer halls, download a map from Visit Denver’s website (denver.org), or stop into its welcome center downtown. Even if you don’t make it to a single specialty shop, just about everywhere serves Colorado beers, from coffee shops to restaurants to grocery stores, so there is no way to miss out.


Food for everyone

Once upon a time the highlight of Denver cuisine centered on Mexican food and green chilies, but today, you can find so much more as new restaurants are popping up all over the place.

Check out the newly imagined Union Station (1701 Wynkoop St., 303-592-6712), a market, shopping center and meeting spot housed in the Amtrak train station. Here chef and owner Alex Seidel started Mercantile Dining & Provision, an elevated comfort food spot featuring local and seasonal fare. For meat lovers who appreciate homemade charcuterie, Old Major (3316 Tejon St., 720-420-0622) in the Highlands neighborhood offers daily selections from its stash, as well as perfectly cooked chicken over creamy polenta and local vegetables, seasonal flatbreads and a superbly rich plate called Nose To Tail, which consists of pork served in a variety of ways.

For a taste of the frontier, head to the classic game meat establishment The Buckhorn Exchange (100 Osage St., 303-534-9505), a restaurant that has served elk, buffalo, Rocky Mountain oysters and rattlesnake since 1893. You can also get a dose of local organic meats and vegetables from the decades-old Mercury Cafe (2199 California St., 303-294-9258), a wildly-decorated, sustainable restaurant near downtown that not only offers locally-sourced huevos rancheros, fried quinoa and elk burgers, but live music, tango, swing dancing and poetry nights. Of course, you will want to get a dose of that Southwestern cuisine, so head to the laid-back Blue Bonnet (457 South Broadway, 303-778-0147) for a heaping plate of tamales, enchiladas and chili rellenos smothered in red and green chili sauce.


Where to stay

Just as restaurants and breweries are popping up all over the city, so are hotels. The Crawford Hotel (1701 Wynkoop St., 720-460-3700) in Union Station recently opened, bringing 112 stylish rooms that are partially themed after the luxury sleeping cars on a train. Another new property worth checking out is the Renaissance (918 17th St., 202-87-8100), which opened in the historic Colorado National Bank Building. This reimagined space keeps a lot of the old bank in tack, so you get interesting rooms with a lot of personality.