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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
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Adam Graf laughs with his wife, Lauren Graf, at El Five.
Adam Graf laughs with his wife, Lauren Graf, at El Five.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Denver

Adam Graf laughs with his wife, Lauren Graf, at El Five.
Adam Graf laughs with his wife, Lauren Graf, at El Five.
  • By Natalie Lampert
  • Photos by Rachel Woolf
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Big-city bustle meets neighborhood charm in Denver, a city obsessed with the great outdoors. Millennials in particular are flocking to this once-upon-a-time mining town — because work-life balance truly exists here. People have long come to Colorado’s economically hardy capital to seek their fortunes — however they define that — and that’s still true today.

Tour a craft brewery, nosh on bites from many a food truck, snap selfies in front of outdoor art and graffiti, and take advantage of easy access to slopes, trails, peaks and parks galore. The magic of the Mile High City is its adventurous spirit.

Meet Natalie Lampert

Natalie has lived in Colorado since 2016. She’s an East Coast native who headed west for the mountain air and to live in Mother Nature’s playground. She loves Denver’s “work hard, play hard” vibe, but sometimes misses the easy breathing at sea level.

Want to get in touch?

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IN THE ACTION
RiNo
Upbeat and always buzzing, the River North Art District, or RiNo, is the city’s trendiest neighborhood. The transformation of downtown Denver’s northeast end from industrial epicenter to creative hub began years ago and pulses strong today. Night owls will love RiNo’s energetic spirit. Early risers wanting to earn their beer (or cider or wine) can choose from a variety of get-your-move-on workout classes (Pilates, spin, pole fitness and more). RiNo’s concentration of funky restaurants, craft breweries and street art means there’s something for everyone. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
LoDo
Lower Downtown, or LoDo, was Denver’s first settlement in the 19th century and is the city’s oldest neighborhood. Historic Larimer Square and Beaux-Arts-style Union Station are this area’s main attractions, but a fun array of watering holes and spots like Coors Field (baseball fans rejoice) and Elitch Gardens (an amusement park open April through October) make LoDo a convenient home base from which to explore the city. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Vinh Xuong Bakery
This casual family-owned bakery has roots in Denver stretching back decades, and the city has the Huynh family to thank for providing an authentic taste of Vietnamese cafe culture. Come for the banh mi sandwiches, a Vietnamese breakfast food, built on fresh-baked baguettes made in the shop every morning. Stay for the sesame balls, moon cakes and other traditional baked goods, and wash it all down with an espresso, milk tea or Vietnamese coffee.
BTW: The avocado banh mi and spicy tofu minus the mayo are two solid vegan options.
Vinh Xuong Bakery, 2370 W. Alameda Ave. Denver, Colo. 80223
BREAKFAST
Little Owl Coffee
This small cafe offers a high-quality coffee experience, serving flavorful espresso and perfectly balanced pour-overs in a bright, cheery space. Be sure to grab a pastry, too — the ham-and-cheese croissant and not-too-sweet banana bread are favorites. The nod toward high-design is subtle but charming, with entryway floor-to-ceiling windows, planed walnut slabs and succulents to boot. There’s limited seating inside, but regulars love sipping on the patio and in the lobby.
BTW: The sign is small and hard to see from the street, so keep an eye out.
Little Owl Coffee, 1555 Blake St. #150 Denver, Colo. 80202
LUNCH
Sassafras American Eatery
Sassafras, a Southern-style eatery for breakfast, brunch and lunch that uses locally sourced organic ingredients, offers not-too-fancy twists on Cajun fare that make all the difference. They’re serving up chicken-fried eggs with buffalo hash, five types of mac and cheese and, of course, po’ boys. Enjoy the extensive selection of another-round-please beverages, including mimosa flights and some of the best smoothies in town.
BTW: There are multiple locations, but the spot in Capitol Hill is a favorite.
Sassafras American Eatery, Capitol Hill, 320 E. Colfax Ave. Denver, Colo. 80203
LUNCH
Quiero Arepas
Tucked inside Avanti Food & Beverage, a popular collective eatery and Denver’s first food hall, this Venezuelan food truck serves innovative bites that set it apart from other gastro-upstarts under the same roof. The roster of street-style arepas — hearty corn pockets stuffed with meat, cheese and beans — is bolstered by an array of sides, salads and desserts. Try the reina pepiada, stuffed with zesty shredded chicken and a creamy avocado sauce, or the arepa pabellon, with beef, sweet plantains, black beans and crumbled cheese (the same ingredients as Venezuela’s national dish). The Venezuelan-born owner uses ingredients from local vendors, so the menu changes often. Gluten-free eaters, delight: The entire menu is GF.
BTW: No matter what you order, ask for guasacaca sauce — a tangy and smooth cilantro-heavy guacamole.
Quiero Arepas, 3200 N. Pecos St. Denver, Colo. 80211
DINNER
Beatrice & Woodsley
When in Denver, do as the locals do and dine in a faux-cabin in the woods. Entering this elegant, whimsical setting is like walking into an urban aspen grove. Reclaimed trees stretch from floor to ceiling, while log liquor shelves and twinkling lights invite you to stay awhile and become a part of the narrative (a winemaker’s daughter and a lumberjack fell in love, the story goes). The seasonal American menu of small plates is fun and fresh, and the kitchen prides itself on accommodating all dietary needs.
BTW: The bar serves up incredible, innovative cocktails — try the violet vodka concoction, a delicious mix of teas, blueberries and ginger.
Beatrice & Woodsley, 38 S. Broadway Denver, Colo. 80209
Temporarily closed
DINNER
Tacos Tequila Whiskey
This is where you’ll find the best tacos in Denver. Full stop. The name changed a few years ago, but locals still lovingly call it by its old name, Pinche’s. Run, don’t walk, to devour the queso a la plancha griddled cotija taco. With buttery, rich avocado, roasted tomatillo salsa and a squeeze of lime, it’s the best $3.50 you’ll ever spend. Sip on a paloma in between bites.
BTW: The York Street location is a local favorite, and it’s popular for a reason. The short wait, if there is one, is worth it.
Tacos Tequila Whiskey, 1514 York St. Denver, Colo. 80206
LATE-NIGHT
Frozen Matter and Retrograde
An artisanal ice cream parlor with a hidden cocktail lounge? Indeed. A cow to cone micro-creamery, Frozen Matter is as delightful as dessert shops come. Enjoy your sweet treats and play Connect Four while you wait to be seen into Retrograde, an intimate lounge with retro sci-fi decor. Try the Wicker Man, a citrus-driven cocktail with honey lavender foam, or Braindead, a vodka-based crowd favorite. And just say yes to the bourbon-butter grilled cheese and tomato soup.
BTW: Frozen Matter’s vegan flavors are delicious and change often. Mention that you’re an adventurous taster to see what flavors are being tested — sometimes regulars get to be guinea pigs.
Frozen Matter, 530 E. 19th Ave. #1309 Denver, Colo. 80203
LATE-NIGHT
El Five
Step off the elevator door and into this Mediterranean-themed tapas restaurant that’s the latest from a well-known Denver restaurateur. Nestled high above LoHi, the restaurant’s panoramic views of the Denver skyline and sprawling highlands at sunset can’t be beat. Come hungry to share and devour the paella. Favorite smaller bites are the cauliflower yufka, matzo ball soup dumplings and goat cheese croquettes.
BTW: Making a reservation and taking advantage of the $5 valet parking are wise moves.
El Five, 2930 Umatilla St. 5th Floor. Denver, Colo. 80211
(Denver illustrator Allyx Capek for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. Sunscreen, water and layers. Denver’s weather can change from sunny and mild to windy and cool in a matter of hours. The high altitude really makes a difference, and the elevation gets to most visitors. Start pounding water as soon as you arrive, and pace yourself at happy hours.
  2. Traffic picks up early on Friday afternoons when locals flock to the slopes or the trails.
  3. Breweries tend to cater heavily to dogs and families with small children. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s very common.
(Denver illustrator Allyx Capek for The Washington Post)

Do

Dairy Block
Southwestern bites and beverages coupled with shops, a hotel and featured work by artists with strong connections to the city make Dairy Block as Denver as it gets. The decor at Poka Lola Social Club celebrates America’s turn-of-the-century soda fountain culture, and Huckleberry Roasters serves all coffee needs. Inside the Milk Market, a 16-venue Dairy Block cornerstone, try the crispy hot chicken sandwich at Lou’s Hot and Naked, and wash it down with nitro-bourbon cider on tap at the counter. Are we having fun yet?
BTW: Milk Market is laid out in a circle, so mosey past all the options before deciding where to set up. It’s a bit overwhelming, but in the best way.
Dairy Block, 1800 Wazee St. Denver, Colo. 80202
Mount Falcon Park
If you’re coming to Denver from sea level, Mount Falcon’s west trailhead in Indian Hills provides a great way to get acclimated to the elevation. It’s an easy-to-moderate hike on a wide, flat trail on top of the foothills, and a half-hour drive from Denver; allow an hour to hour and a half to do the 1½-mile loop, or combine a few trails to make it a half-day hike. Go on the later side to catch some of the best sunsets along Colorado’s Front Range and to see the city, framed between the foothills, light up behind you.
BTW: Stop in quirky Sit N Bull saloon before or after the hike or pack a lunch and picnic at Eagle Eye Shelter on the trail.
Mount Falcon Park, 21074 Mount Falcon Rd. Indian Hills, Colo. 80454
Great Divide Brewing Co.
Beards, dogs and Subaru-driving locals fill this lively brewery and taproom in the heart of downtown. The Yeti pours are especially fun. Grab a growler to go, sit on the pet-friendly patio, and have a bite at one of the food trucks outside. It can get crowded on weekends and evenings, but the award-winning, handcrafted beer is worth it.
BTW: Tours are free and first-come, first-served, but they are limited to the first 20 guests. Closed-toe shoes are required.
Great Divide Brewing Co., 2201 Arapahoe St. Denver, Colo. 80205
Tattered Cover Bookstore
Tattered Cover is a true institution, beloved by locals and visitors alike. Two stories of books bathed in lamplight, overstuffed chairs, a coffee shop and a world-class newsstand make it easy to spend a few hours at this indie bookstore. Peruse bestsellers as well as bargain-priced books and hard-to-find magazines.
BTW: Settle in with new purchases right away at cozy nearby Union Station.
Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th Street Mall Denver, Colo. 80206
Millers and Rossi
If you couldn’t tell by now, Denver loves the two-for-one going-out experience. This RiNo art gallery, located inside a former manufacturing warehouse, displays work by local artists and doubles as a speakeasy — which you’ll enter by slipping behind a painting, of course. This is a best bet for those who enjoy spots a bit out of the ordinary. The menu is short and sweet, because no need for fuss here. A smoked Old Fashioned pairs well with the steak and avocado pipebombs.
BTW: Millers and Rossi is closed on Mondays. For a more substantial bite, head to Zeppelin Station food hall beforehand, just a five-minute stroll away.
Millers and Rossi, 3542 Walnut St. Denver, Colo. 80205
Lost Lake
Like any great city, Denver offers a variety of live music venues. There are the ones tourists flock to, and then there are gems like Lost Lake — a dark dive bar offering intimate live music in Denver’s Bluebird Music District. The living-room-meets-garage vibe and quality sound is a perfect stage for local and indie bands. During a recent show, an artist stepped offstage to hug a fan. Later, a show-goer clinked glasses with the lead guitarist between songs.
BTW: It’s standing-only in the music hall, and limited seating at the bar. Headliners typically come onstage on the later side (after 10 p.m.).
Lost Lake Lounge, 3602 E. Colfax Ave. Denver, Colo. 80206
Natalie Lampert
Natalie has lived in Colorado since 2016. She’s an East Coast native who headed west for the mountain air and to live in Mother Nature’s playground. She loves Denver’s “work hard, play hard” vibe, but sometimes misses the easy breathing at sea level.
Rachel Woolf
Rachel is a contributing photographer for The Washington Post based in Denver. Since it’s where she learned photography while visiting her parents, the state of Colorado has always had a place in her heart. As a more recent Denver resident, she’s still discovering her favorite spots, but she’s becoming partial to the local tacos.

CITY GUIDES