I took two recent trips to Denver:
- A 1-week trip in May 2019. Check out my Denver photo album for May
- A 1-week trip in September 2019. Check out my Denver photo album for September
Here are some highlights and tips:
My itinerary in May
Sat May 11
Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club
Death & Co / Suite 6A at the Ramble Hotel for cocktails
Marco’s Coal Fired, for pizza
Sun May 12: Denver
Tattered Cover on Colfax
Denver Botanic gardens
Glassblowing in Lakewood at the Furnace: a glassworks
Dinner in Evergreen
Mon May 13: Denver
Sassafras cafe for beignets and chicken fried eggs / hash.
Denver Art Museum
Stranahan’s Whiskey Distillery tour / lounge
Downtown Denver Milk Market / Kachina Cantina for fry bread tacos
Tattered Cover downtown
Milkbox ice cream in Union Station
Williams & Graham Speakeasy
Meadowlark bar for live jazz at 10 PM
Tue May 14: Gold Country
Georgetown: Happy Cooker for breakfast
Walk around Georgetown
Georgetown Railroad loop, with a tour of the Lebanon mine
Idaho Springs: Tour of the Argo Mine / Gold panning
Smokin Yard’s BBQ
Golden: Golden Moon Speakeasy
Denver: Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club
Wed May 15: Denver
Denver Biscuit Co for breakfast
Little Man Ice Cream
Museum of Contemporary Art / cafe on the roof
Oxford Hotel: Cruise Room
Union Station: Cooper Lounge
Green Russell Speakeasy
Thu May 16: Boulder
Lucile’s for breakfast: Beignets
Chautauqua park: 1st and 2nd flatiron hikes
El Dorado Canyon: West face of Redgarden hike
E-bike tour of Boulder at Pedego
License No 1 Speakeasy
Brasserie Ten Ten for happy hour
The Kitchen Upstairs
The Bitter Bar
Press Play arcade
License No 1 Speakeasy for live music
Fri May 17: Denver
Habit Doughnut Dispensary / Carbon cafe on Platte
Golden Railroad museum
Golden Mountaineering museum
Golden History Park
Golden: Sassafras for lunch
Denver: Leopold Bros Distillery tour
Dazzle Jazz club
Denver Ghost Tour
Sat May 18: Fort Collins
Brunch at Ginger & Baker
Feisty Spirits Distillery tour
Mary’s Mountain Cookies
Jay’s Bistro for live jazz
Ace Gillett’s Lounge for live jazz
Elliot’s martini bar
Kilwins ice cream: Marsh-Mallow S’more
Sun May 19: Evergreen
Hike Flying J Ranch Park
Breakfast in Evergreen
Red Rocks amphitheater hike
My itinerary in September
Sat Sept 21
Tavernetta at Union Station: Sbagliato Bianco cocktail.
Museum of Contemporary Art, + checked out the coffeehouse on the roof.
Green Russell speakeasy for cocktails: Dead ringer, Rose Colored glasses.
Checked into an olde-timey Airbnb loft apartment near Coors Field.
Red rocks concert: The Revivalists.
Bar Helix for a Negroni.
Sun Sept 22
Snooze A.M. for French toast.
Habit Doughnut Dispensary / Carbon coffee in Five Points: Chai-town donut.
Rolling Pin Bakery: ham and cheese croissant, morning bun.
Rise and Shine biscuits: cinnamon roll and BLT biscuit.
Golden: Buffalo Bill museum and grave.
Laws Whiskey House distillery tour.
Mythology distillery for a cocktail: Violet Beauregarde.
El Five tapas for dinner. Highlights: crispy cauliflower yufka and matzo ball soup dumplings.
Williams and Graham Speakeasy for cocktails: Peachy Keen and Sweater Weather. Plus the cinnamon-Rum Roll for dessert.
Live music at Herb’s: Venus Cruz was playing.
Chapultepec for live jazz.
Mon Sept 23
Hotbox Roasters for donuts.
Drove to Morrison, hiked the Mt Falcon trail
Capitol Hill: History Colorado center for the Beer Here exhibit
Denver Museum of Art
Panzano restaurant for a quick dinner. Fried calamari.
Union Lodge #1 for cocktails.
Milk Market: Poka Lola for a bell pepper drink and sliders.
Seven Grand for a Sazerac
B&GC Speakeasy for two cocktails: P’s and Q’s, and An Ear my dear.
Tue Sept 24
La Fillette bakery: Almond croissant is bomb.
Drove to Boulder: Laughing Goat Coffeehouse, Ozo coffee.
Hiked Mount Sanitas trail.
Kilwins ice cream and Gelato boy on Pearl Street.
Look inside Dushanbe teahouse.
Drove to Estes Park, checked into The Blue Door Inn Motel.
Twin Owls Steakhouse for dinner: Elk medallions, and the Twin Owls Negroni.
Checked out downtown Estes Park.
Grabbed a sandwich for the next day’s hiking at Safeway
Stanley Hotel: night ghost tour.
Whiskey Bar at the Stanley hotel.
Wed Sept 25
Parked at Glacier Gorge trailhead: Got the last parking spot at 7:30 AM.
Hike to Mills Lake, then backtrack to Timberline falls: 11 miles.
Drove to the Alluvial fan, Sheep Lake.
Drove to a few overlooks on Trail Ridge Road.
Rock Inn Mountain Tavern for dinner: Shrimp and polenta
Elkin’s Distillery for cocktails: Smoked old fashioned and Gold Rush.
Thu Sept 26
Scratch Deli for a sandwich to bring for a hike.
Cinnamon’s bakery for a cinnamon roll
Drove to Wild Basin Trailhead; stopped by Saint Catherine’s Chapel on the Rock
Hike to Ouzel Lake and back: around 10 miles.
Smok’n Dave’s BBQ for dinner
Stopped back at the motel for live outdoor music
Elkin’s Distillery for more cocktails: Blackberry Smash.
Fri Sept 27
Guided photo tour in the morning: Bear Lake, Moraine meadows, other locations.
In the evening, a wildlife photo safari of the Elk Rut
Bird & Jim for Sangria at happy hour
Drove back to Denver
Checked in to the “brick house” Airbnb near Five Points
Millers & Rossi speakeasy: the Oh Beehave cocktail
Retrograde speakeasy: cocktail + ice cream
Sat Sept 28
Rosenberg’s bagels for breakfast: rugelach was great.
Capitol Hill walking tour
D Bar: chocolate cake and a cocktail
Fluid coffee bar for good espresso
Retrograde ice cream: Thai tea ice cream is great.
Denver Firefighters Museum
Mermaid show at the Downtown Aquarium
Ste. Ellie Speakeasy
Rockie’s game at Coors Field
Tavernetta for a late dinner: Lobster tagliatelle and a cocktail
Run for the Roses Speakeasy: Amaretto sour
Sun Sept 29
Crema cafe: sweet potato waffle
LoDo walking tour
Acorn restaurant, in The Source
Smok BBQ, in The Source: ribs and burnt ends
Taking Uber to SFO or SJC
Uber works well for getting to SFO or SJC, even super early in the morning. Schedule the Uber pickup the night before. Uber will give the driver a 15 minute window arrival time that starts at the time you specify.
Returning to SJC
SJC has a designated area for ride-share pickups. You will get picked up within 10 minutes. The pickup is faster than if you use an off-airport parking lot shuttle.
Returning to SFO
SFO has a designated area to catch an Uber / Lyft. After you get your baggage, take the elevator to the top (3rd) floor, then walk over the bridge to the central parking deck, section F. You will see Uber/Lyft cars constantly picking people up. In the Uber/Lyft apps, select the garage pick-up option.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Parking spots fill up as soon as 7 AM. There is a sign at the entrance that says “Bear Lake parking lot full,” but it says that all the time; it’s not updated in real time. If you arrive late, you need to park at the Park-n-Ride and take the shuttle. That is a very bad idea if there is road work going on that causes the roads to be single-tracked; the buses tend to fill up, and you may wait up to 2 hours to catch a bus back to the Park-n-Ride.
You’ll need to bring a lot of water on your hikes to keep hydrated. Get this Camelbak. It is way better than trying to deal with water bottles.
The park has bears: you can’t keep any kind of food in your car; that includes gum and perfume.
There is no food for sale anywhere in the park except at the very top of the road at the Alpine Visitors center; that’s only open in the summer. Pack a lunch.
You can often get into the park free, if you arrive before 7 AM, especially weekdays, because the ranger checkpoint stations are not manned. If you plan on arriving very early every day, don’t bother buying a pass in advance.
Lodging tips: You have a few options:
- A motel along the road. The cheaper option. I think the Blue Door Inn is the best value.
- A nicer rustic motel that is along the side of the road, but that also backs up to the Fall River, so that you can hang out by the river in the evening. Such as River View Pines
- Vacation homes
- The Stanley Hotel, a grand hotel resort complex
Camera tips at rocky:
- I took a photo tour and wildlife safari with Yellow Wood Guiding, and it was fantastic.
- The guide recommends using a graduated neutral density filter to help reduce the brightness of the sky in sunrise shots. I am normally a Photoshop-only guy, but I did find the old-fashioned style ND grad filter to be a plus: you just hold it onto the front of your lens.
- If you are going to head out before sunrise, you might consider bringing a headlamp to see your way around.
- I am a big fan of fanny packs for my smaller micro-4/3 camera and lenses. It’s convenient to keep the fanny pack in front of you, which makes it very quick and easy to unzip, grab, and shoot. However, I have not yet found a good fanny pack that is currently available; they don’t make good camera fanny packs anymore. But I may start with this one, and then slice off all the useless straps.
- I recommend bringing at least 4 batteries for your camera. In addition to using your camera continuously, it can get cold, which sucks the life out of those batteries, especially if you are using aftermarket knock-off batteries.
- You need a wide-angle lens; on a crop-sensor camera, you need a super wide angle lens. you also need a lens with a lot of reach (300mm, or or 210mm crop sensor equivalent).
- It’s fun to play with a circular polarizer if you take photos of lakes and streams.
Staying in Denver
If you go with a low-cost hotel, I recommend Mainstay Suites Near Denver downtown as a very good value. Ask for a room that does not face the noisy roadway.
There are some really nice and cheap Airbnb options, but they are super popular, so you need to book them at least 2 months in advance. There are a few Airbnb loft apartments in the Paris Hotel building; these are awesome, and quite affordable:
- Ballpark RINO Loft Host: Rob: $114/night
- Unique 3-Level Loft in Ballpark Host: Sam $114/night
- Paris Loft: Modern & Cozy Gem Host: Corina $145/night
- Downtown/Ballpark/Walkable/Top 11 Airbnb in Denver Host: Kristen $132/night
- Modern & Historic-Downtown Loft-King Bed-Walkable! Host: Juli $89/night
One issue with Airbnb: hosts have the ability to cancel on you at the last minute, leaving you high and dry. As a fall back, install the HotelTonight app; at 4 PM each day, it will show a selection of good value, last-minute budget hotel deals available that night.
Airbnb does not give a good indication as to how sketchy a neighborhood can be. When you are searching for places, Airbnb will provide the general area where the unit is located. Before you book, use Google maps to check out the streets around that area to see if there are bars on the windows. I did in fact stay in an area that looked sketchy; but in reality, it was only slightly sketchy, and as a result, it was a very good value.
Rental Car tweaks
If you rent a car in Denver, you might use toll roads while driving around. In particular, using E-470 to/from the airport, or using the Express lanes driving to Boulder. Toll roads use automated license plate readers only; you can’t manually pay the toll. If the license plate reader scans your rental car license plate, then your rental car company will charge you the toll fees, plus a convenience fee of about $7/day. You’ll see a surprise charge on your credit card from “plate pass” about a week after you get back from your trip. You can avoid this situation by setting up a personal ExpressToll account, and then adding the rental car license plate to your personal account, so that your personal account gets charged, not the rental company. To setup ExpressToll:
Go to https://www.expresstoll.com/Home and create an ExpressToll account. Add your San Jose vehicle as the primary vehicle, even though you won’t be driving it in Denver. You will need to deposit a minimum of $35 into your ExpressToll account using a credit card. It’s a good idea to set the account up about 2 weeks before your trip, so that you get the confirmation letter in snail mail; but you can also set up the account at the last minute.
Immediately after you get your rental car, and before you drive off the rental car lot, call the ExpressToll Service Center at (303) 537-3470, and add the rental car license plate number / state to your account. You will need to provide a few things when you call:
- Your express toll account info
- License plate number, and state
- Year of the car
You must specify the exact date and time that you will return the vehicle; the rental car license plate will be removed from your ExpressToll account at the designated time.
You do not need to use the ExpressToll RFID tag in the rental car.
As you use toll lanes, you can view the tolls that you rack up: On the Express Toll web site, under your account, the tolls will be listed under your primary vehicle, not your rental car vehicle. Toll rates:
- E470: $3
- Driving to Boulder up US-36: $5 for all 5 express lane segments. If you take the express lane for the US-36 to I-25 connection, the toll can be as high as $10 during rush hour.
Issue with driving in Denver:
- At the rental car lot, I grabbed the smallest car I could find; it made parking a lot easier. But there was no right-arm rest, which kinda sucked.
- At intersections, you sometimes see a sign “no double turn.” That means you are not allowed to turn left, or make a U-turn, from the center lane; only the left lane.
- In terms of stoplights: the yellow lights are very short! Much shorter than in the Bay area! Also, there are stoplights on roads with very high speed limits, so it takes more distance to stop for them. The Waze warnings about red light cameras are useful. Denver havs red light cameras all over the place. If you get caught by a red light camera while in a rental car, it means nothing; you’ll never get a ticket; red light tickets are not really enforceable in Colorado, and you can ignore it.
Departing from Denver
If you have a rental car, don’t forget to stop at the gas station just outside Denver airport to gas up before returning it. At the gas station, the first left turn is the cell phone waiting lot; take the second left turn to gas up:
When I gassed up, it was a zoo; budget 30 minutes worst case. For your GPS, enter the Phillips 66 station at 7680 Peña Blvd, Denver, CO 80249
Dealing with security:
- At Denver airport, there are two different security lines: North and South. Be sure to look at both, and go with the one that has a shorter line. It took me > 1 hour to get through security.
- At the United ticket desks, there is a monitor that displays the current delay to get through each of the North and South security lines.
- Q: Do you fly more than once per year? Yes? In that case, you should pay the $85 for a 5-year TSA preCheck pass. Instead of waiting 1 hour in the security line, you wait 5 minutes.
- If you go to a concert at Red Rocks, you will tend to get rained on. Bring a rain-tolerant jacket. Umbrellas are not allowed in.
- You can bring small bag, backpack, sliced fruit (not whole) in clear plastic, plastic utensils, blanket, seat cushions (< 18″, no legs), non-alcoholic beverages in factory-sealed containers, or EMPTY bottles / EMPTY camelback.
- Only point-and-shoot cameras allowed (no fancy removable lens cameras)
If taking United: Install the United app on your iPhone/iPad beforehand; you can use it while you are on the flight to get free flight status, and optionally make use of the expensive in-flight WiFi, but you can’t install the app while you are in the air.
The United app seemed to issue flight updates before the ticket agents received the updates.
Bring USB charging cables: the airplane seats often have charge ports (but not power adapters)
Bring USB adapters: In the airport, you can often get access to power outlets (but not charge ports)
You should take *all* your batteries with you in your personal item that you stash under the seat; they are not supposed to be checked, or go in the overhead bins. If you leave any batteries in your checked luggage, you will find the “notice of shame” when you open your suitcase, which will explain that a TSA person needed to rummage through your suitcase to make sure the battery was not an explosive.
In the spring, schedule your outdoor events in the morning; rain is more likely in the afternoon. At any time, avoid hiking up a mountain if there is a possibility of lightning.
You’ll be using your Smartphone all the time, for everything from booking reservations, to paying for parking, to Waze. You will need to recharge your iPhone 3 times per day. Get a battery pack and a battery case. Also bring a cigarette lighter charger in case you forget to charge your battery packs the night before. It’s handy to bring a USB charging port device like this.
Figure out which days are game days at mile high stadium, or Coors field, so you know when to avoid downtown Denver.
A Denver omelet has ham, mushrooms, onions and green pepper.
Waze is great, but:
- In the Bay area, we are used to having good cellular data reception everywhere. That is not the case with day-trips from Denver.
- You should open Google maps on your iPhone, and download offline maps for all areas where you plan to visit, so that you can fall back to using Google Maps instead of Waze, in case you have no cellular connection.
- If you have room, you might consider bringing a regular GPS navigation unit.
- Another downside with Waze and Google maps; they do not tell you the lane you need to be in. That tends to be really important in the Denver area.
Zipcar is an option in Denver. If you plan on using the service, apply 2 weeks in advance so that you get the key card in snail mail before the trip.
Magazines to check out for trendy Denver info:
Not trendy, but useful: Fodor’s colorado travel guide, on Kindle
AAA discounts available at: History Colorado, Butterfly Pavilion, Denver Art Museum, Elitch Amusement park, Georgetown Loop railroad
You can buy a CityPASS, which gets you int 3, 4, or 5 attractions of your choice at a discount over the course of 7 days: Downtown Aquarium, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Denver Zoo, Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, Denver Botanic Gardens, Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, Denver Art Museum, History Colorado Center
Apps to install
- Waze, Google Maps.
- Strava, to record your hikes and bike rides. My Strava profile is here.
- The AXS app, if you are going to attend a concert at Red Rocks
- The MLB Ballpark app, if you are going to attend a rockies home game.
- The Snooze A.M. app, so that you can put your name on the waiting list in advance.
- OpenTable, for making restaurant reservations.
- The scooter apps: Lyft, Spin, Lime, Bird, plus Uber for the dockless bikes. Downtown Denver has all of these. Some scooters have geofencing; they turn off the electric power if they detect that you are anywhere on the 16th street pedestrian mall, or if you are on Wynkoop Street in front of Union Station.
- Eventbrite, in case you want to book events while out there
- Sigalert, and the web site for Sigalert Denver.
- The Boulder BCycle bike sharing app, and the web site It looks like it’s really hard to use: you have to firs obtain a physical card from a different transit authority, then link it to your BCycle account.
- The Denver BCycle bike sharing web site
Parking is a real pain in downtown Denver:
- On-street parking is expensive
- There is often a 2 hour max, which is enforced until 10 PM, which is crazy. Even after 10 PM, you still have to feed the meter, which is even more crazy.
- Watch out for garages that seem too good to be true; they post cheap rates, let you in, and then you drive around for a half an hour to discover there are no available spaces.
- Some surface lots advertise public parking, but read the fine print: sometimes, the public parking is only on Weekends, or Weekdays after 5 PM.
- Even if a lot actively allows public parking, some spaces might be reserved 24/7.
Garages charge about $30/day. Surface lots are cheaper: about $20/day. A lot of these surface-level lots use these apps in Denver, and it’s more convenient than using the flakey card reader machines:
Accounts to setup
It’s handy to already have an account setup for these locations, so that you can quickly order tickets online if you need to book at the last minute, or if you would rather not wait in a long line. These accounts include: