Back in April, I had the opportunity to visit Denver, Colorado. This was an extra-special trip for me to take, and here’s why: Denver was my hometown! I grew up Denver from preschool through 5th grade, and I have so many wonderful memories from this great city. The last time I got to visit was freshman year of high school…so it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve gotten to go back (I’ll let you do the math here). It had been on my mind to go back and visit since graduating college, but my family never ended up making the trip. So finally, as a birthday present to myself, I booked the trip for myself!
Although we still have family friends in the city, I decided to stay in a hostel so that I could have a better chance of meeting new people and fellow travelers. Spoiler alert: This was a fantastic decision! I was only in town for 5 days, so I planned a few activities and leave the rest of the time up to chance. Again: great decision and I highly recommend setting aside “free time” in your own travels.
I ended up choosing Hostel Fish for my stay, due to their location, pricing, amenities, and room-type. I stayed in their “Paris” room, which housed up to six girls and was – as you may guess – Paris-themed! This place was so cute, I can’t recommend it enough. There’s a bar in the hostel’s common room, so you can always count on meeting at least one new person when you head down; and the location is within walking distance to all of Denver’s major bars. Plus, there’s a dispensary next door if you’re hoping to get ~recreational~. I will note that if you’re a light-sleeper (hi, me) then try to get a room that’s on their third floor and away from the bar. The noise does carry, but it was nothing that some good earplugs couldn’t fix!
After I arrived in the early afternoon, I hopped on a train into the city. Side-note: Denver has a pretty good public transportation system!
I had the best intentions of walking to the hostel, but it was actually an unseasonably hot day (and I overpacked – shocker). So, I wimped out and ordered a Lyft to make the journey about 5-10 minutes shorter. I regret nothing!
After arriving at Hostel Fish, I decided to kill some time and bike around the downtown area – plus, I needed to stop at CVS for some essentials. As dinner-time approached, I came back to the hostel and decided to sit at the bar in the hopes of meeting a few people. Lo and behold, I began chatting with some of the other lodgers who had arrived shortly before me. This was a great start already, considering that Hostel Fish was hosting a pub crawl later that night! Speaking of which…
Their pub crawl is very fun, and gives visitors a great taste of what the downtown nightlife has to offer. Each place we went to was in close proximity to the next, and they all seemed to have their own distinct vibes. From a taco and tequila bar called El Charrito, to a sports bar with countless pool tables, to a swanky red-lit lounge, there was a little something for everyone. And, we all got along really well. It was great start to my time in Denver!
Friday was one of the days that I originally left open, as I was hoping to make it up to Red Rocks Ampitheatre somehow. I wasn’t sure who I would go with, since the friends I had in Denver were all at work…so, I was willing to shell out for my own Uber one way and then find my way back via public transport. Luckily, this wasn’t necessary!
At the pub crawl the night before, I happened to befriend two girls from the hostel who also wanted to go to Red Rocks. Serendipitous, right? We ended up splitting an uber to Red Rocks (which wasn’t that far – just about 30 minutes out of the city) and also befriended our driver, who happened to be very considerate and knowledgeable about the city.
Once we got up to Red Rocks, we walked around a bit at the amphitheatre itself, and then decided to explore one of the trails. As it turns out, that trail took us up and around the amphitheatre! It was quite literally an uphill battle – especially since it was windy and chilly day – but it was so worth it for the views.
After we got back down to the main Red Rocks area, we called our Uber driver; and he was kind enough to bring us snacks! Five stars for sure.
Once we got back from Red Rocks, we still had half the day ahead of us! But, we were also a bit worn out. So, we decided it was time for a (brief) nap before heading back out to explore in the city. Once we had all rallied, we ventured down to the 16th Street Mall area of downtown. If you’re not familiar with this area, all you need to know is that there are countless restaurants and shops to stop in! The strip was so long that we actually ran out of time before heading to dinner; so I went back on Monday for a last-minute shopping trip (and bike ride).
Our dinner was spectacular, as we chose to dine at a chic restaurant called Tamayo, which boasts “innovative Mexican plates” – and let me assure you, they deliver on this promise. Everything I had was delicious, from a freshly-made margarita to my mushroom “flatbread” made on corn masa with black bean purée.
After filling up at Tamayo, we went back to Hostel Fish to get ready for a night out together. That night, we hit up the local bar scene again; and somehow managed to go to completely different ones than we did on the pub crawl! One of my favorite parts about the downtown Denver nightlife is that there really seems to be a bar for everyone. Plus, there are dance-floors abound! Even quite a few of the sports bars had secondary levels, with rooftop dance-floors. This is definitely my kind of scene.
On Saturday, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Caroline, a friend from college who was willing and gracious enough to take us (and her adorable dog Boston) up to Rocky Mountain National Park! I think this may have been my favorite day of my entire trip, simply because we ended up having quite the adventure. As we drove into the mountains, we stopped at a staple establishment: the Colorado Cherry Company.
This place is well-known (some might say “famous”) for their delicious and diverse selection of desserts; especially their cherry pie! I may or may not have ordered two slices and scarfed them down within minutes of leaving…but it was so worth it. After filling up on pie, we continued our journey to our first stop: Estes Park.
Estes Park was the perfect place to take a leisurely walk, since it had a sizable lake and surrounding forest. The scenery here looked absolutely gorgeous with the sun reflecting off of the water and the mountains serving as a distant backdrop.
After our stroll around the lake at Estes Park, we continued on to Rocky Mountain National Park where we encountered snow – and we were in leggings and sneakers! Needless to say, it was going to be an interesting adventure.
We decided to leave Boston in the car (with the windows down of course; plus, it was a cool day) and began to trek up through the woods, slipping and sliding the whole way. I must say, our sneakers held up surprisingly well considering the snow did not let up as we went deeper into the park. We eventually came across Bear Lake, which appeared to be both frozen-over and snowed-over. In the spirit of adventure – and since we noticed tons of footprints all over the lake – we decided to cross it and see what was on the other side!
Once we had crossed, we came upon what I can only describe as a snowy rock formation that seemed to give a great view of the mountains. So what did we do? Why, we climbed it! It wasn’t easy, and I was very glad that I had gloves on since the climb required my hands as well. But, it was absolutely worth it for a picture like this!
Once we were done looking at the beautiful views, we had to figure out how to get back down since the formation was pretty steep. Ultimately, we decided to just “sled” down – on our butts. Say what you will, but it was both fun and effective! Surprisingly, our leggings also held up pretty well in the snow.
Overall, I wouldn’t have had it any other way! Our lack of proper snow-hiking gear gave us lots of laughs, challenges, and ultimately a memorable adventure.
Later that evening, I went out to dinner with some lovely family friends who took me to Tocabe, an American Indian eatery. I don’t recall the last time I got to have American Indian food, so I was really excited! I did a make-to-order Posu Bowl, and it was delicious.
After a few days of new experiences and silly adventures, Sunday was definitely a change of pace in a special way: it was a day full of nostalgia.
Another family friend was kind enough to pick me up from the hostel and take me on a trip down memory lane: first, we had lunch at Brio, which is located at one of my childhood favorites: Park Meadows Mall. Afterward, she was kind enough to drive by both of my old neighborhoods. I got to see both of my family’s old houses, and it was strange that the neighborhoods weren’t that different so many years later! We also drove by my elementary school, which I remembered walking to every day with my older brother. Such nice memories!
Finally, we spent some time at her house so that I could see her twins. These little ones were just over 1 year old when I was last in Denver! I know that I’m still young, but man – it made me feel old to see how much they’ve grown.
After catching up for a while, it was time for me to return to Hostel Fish. Later that evening, I decided to just relax and hang out at the hostel bar. But even with that laid-back plan, I still managed to meet a few new people! You’ve got to love that part of hostel life.
Monday was the other day that I left pretty open for myself, minus lunch and happy hour plans.
My intention that day was to rent a bike from one of the B-Cycle stations that are all around town, and ride up to the River North Art District (better known as “RiNo”). I started off early enough in the morning, to give myself time to get back downtown for lunch. But of course, as my luck would have it, I rode right past the main part of RiNo the first time, and I ended up in the more industrial area with lots of construction going on – barely any art to be seen!
So, after taking a longer route than expected – and almost falling while trying to avoid a construction worker – I finally ended up in the RiNo district with about 30 minutes to spare before lunch. It wasn’t a bad ride though, and I had missed biking anyway. Plus, I planned to return after lunch to properly explore!
After checking out a few murals and stopping in a cute boutique called Starlet (which I went back to later for more shopping – I’m so weak!), I decided that it would be much quicker for me to call an Uber instead of trying to bike and find a docking station near the restaurant I was going to.
The restaurant in question was called EDGE, located in the Four Seasons Hotel downtown. I was meeting yet another family friend there (shout-out to my mom for having so many great friends in Denver!) and I arrived just as she did – perfect timing! The food here was delicious, as you’d expect. I had a seafood Cobb salad that was deceptively filling, and then my dessert…guys, I can’t even do this dessert justice, and neither can the picture below. Just take my word that the big red part is actually a hazelnut mousse, and the entire thing was decadent. It’s called the “Milk Chocolate Crunch” and I highly recommend it if you find yourself at EDGE.
After a wonderful lunch, this family friend was kind enough to show me around Denver’s Arts Complex before heading back to work; and since she happened to work there, I also got a behind-the-scenes tour! It was such a cool experience to see some of the set design models and costumes from past shows. I have vague memories of going to the Arts Complex when I was very little, so it felt like things came full-circle for me to experience it as an adult!
After parting ways, I headed back over to the 16th Street Mall to do a bit more shopping since I was already downtown again – at least, that’s how I rationalized the trip. Afterward, I rented a new bike and rode back up to RiNo to finish exploring.
I have to say (or reiterate, really) that I absolutely love plotting out solo-exploration time. Besides the fact that I tend to be an ambivert and need my alone time, I also love solo plans because I get to be on my own schedule and see whatever I want to see! Check out some of my favorite murals:
Before heading back to the hostel for happy hour with a final (and equally lovely) family friend, I stopped to get a drink at a RiNo taproom called First Draft. Since I’m not usually a beer drinker, I was intrigued to see that all of their taps were automated! They simply gave me a card that would track how much I poured, and I used that card to activate the tap of whichever beer (or cider) I desired. Plus, I was able to control the size of the pour. Maybe this is common in most “taprooms” and I’m just a newbie; but either way, I was impressed!
After leaving RiNo, I ended the evening at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox for my happy hour plans. By the way, Ophelia’s happens to be right below Hostel Fish. I would totally go back here for a full dinner (and dessert), because Ophelia has an incredible selection of unique and yummy options! However, we decided to eat light that evening and simply shared a few appetizers: green chili-infused cornbread, plantains with cotija cheese and cilantro pesto, and french fries with a vindaloo ketchup. Yet another Denver dining success!
Later that night, I packed up all of my belongings and headed down to the Hostel Fish bar for some final fun with my new companions from the previous night. We all stayed up talking, joking, drinking, and even played a short game of darts! Finally, I couldn’t fight my exhaustion anymore and had to bring my last night in Denver to a happy close.
Overall, I am ecstatic that I finally took the plunge and booked this trip. Besides getting to have some hints of nostalgia at seeing what I remembered from childhood, there was so much for me to see that was new! The city has grown an incredible amount in the past few years, which was a bit overwhelming to experience at first.
I also went into this trip with the intention of evaluating whether I would move back to Denver in the near future; and I honestly don’t have the answer to that right now. But what I do know is: I already want to go back and visit again.
What cities are you dying to revisit? Be sure to let me know in the comments!