Step aside, ski resorts; for Colorado’s nearly 85 million annual visitors, Denver is the most sought-after destination. According to the state’s tourism office, 60 percent of travelers stop-over in the capital city.
Now just a train ride away from the airport, this once and always boomtown offers a daunting amount to do in a day before heading out to a festival or the mountains. But with 24 hours or less, a handful of walkable food and beverage stops can be a good way to experience Denver’s changing urban centers, and to get an idea of where the city is and where it’s quickly headed. This itinerary starts in the River North Art District, ambles toward Lower Downtown and Union Station, and ends in the Lower Highlands.
Of course, there are more sneak spots and classics to be found. For those, you’ll just have to stick around longer.
9 a.m. — Call
Start the day leisurely with a breakfast at chef Duncan Holmes’ and beverage director Allison Anderson’s tiny cafe on Larimer Street. It’s one of two standing bungalow houses squeezed between bigger buildings on this rapidly changing East Denver stretch. Inside, diners choose and combine small plates from the counter — breads topped with veggies and spreads, fresh, crunchy salads, and addictive Danish pancake bites. There are also juices and tonics and a full espresso bar to get the day started.
11:30 a.m. — Denver Central Market
Just down Larimer Street from Call is one of RiNo’s three neighborhood food halls — one of seven and counting across Denver — and arguably the prettiest of the lot. The Denver Central Market is a good late-morning or early-afternoon stop for just about anyone’s food and drink needs. Fuel up at Crema Bodega, an abbreviated version of one of Denver’s top coffee houses, down the street; grab sweet gifts at Temper Chocolates; and sample charcuterie at chef Justin Brunson’s Culture Meat & Cheese. There are bigger meals to be had in the form of rotisserie chicken and wood-fired pizza, as well as a bar, Curio, offering some of Denver’s best day-drinking options.
2 p.m. — Our Mutual Friend Brewing
Now with more than a dozen breweries, RiNo is an easy neighborhood for an afternoon craft beer tour — still a must when visiting Denver. Our Mutual Friend opens at noon (Friday through Sunday), and at six years old, it’s one of the more established gems of the neighborhood. Beers here are often made with all-Colorado ingredients, from the hops to the barley. A few of the sours, like Saison Trystero, are GABF award-winners. Nearby, find more craft breweries as well as Stem Ciders and Colorado Sake.
5 p.m. — Super Mega Bien
To soak up those afternoon beers, there’s a first dinner waiting just off the new Ramble Hotel, down Larimer Street. Its chef, Dana Rodriguez, has a Denver success story: She started as a dishwasher in James Beard Award winner Jen Jasinski’s kitchens and worked her way up to founding two of the city’s most relevant restaurants. At the newest, Super Mega Bien, her menu spans Latin America but the plates come out like dim sum, on colorful carts that make the rounds throughout a rowdy dining room. Jamaican-style jerk wings, shrimp-octopus ceviche, Cuban ropa vieja, and Brazilian seafood moqueca are a few of the varied and playful options.
7 p.m. — Mercantile Dining & Provision
It’s a 20-minute walk from Super Mega Bien, around the ballpark and into the revitalized heart of downtown at Union Station. The building dates to 1881, but it was brought back to life four years ago with a bustling great hall and myriad food and beverage options. Now one could easily spend a whole day inside the boundaries of this neighborhood within another. With more time, there could even be two onsite happy hours (see Ultreia and Tavernetta). But dinner No. 2 should come from Denver’s most recent James Beard Award-winning chef. At Alex Seidel’s all-day, European-style market and sit-down dinner spot, his own Fruition Farms cheeses are featured across a seasonal American menu.
9 p.m. — the Cruise Room
For an after-dinner drink, this 85-year-old cocktail bar inside the nearby Oxford Hotel offers another slice of Denver history. Though the cocktail menu has been revamped, the room and decor hold true to the original, modeled after a lounge on the Queen Mary. It’s an art deco space meant to be enjoyed with a martini.
10 p.m. — Little Man Ice Cream
A mile up from Union Station, across pedestrian bridges and the hubbub of Platte Street, there’s an iconic cream can-shaped building that acts as LoHi’s unofficial neighborhood center. Scooping late, and often with a line that wraps around the corner, it’s worth the wait, especially for the salted varieties of Oreo, caramel peanut butter cup, and maple pecan. To complete the town square feel is a kids’ playground, live music concerts, and family movie screenings.
11 p.m. — Williams & Graham
The last stop of the evening is just up the block, at a now-famous cocktail bar that’s hidden down a flight of stairs behind a bookcase. While a number of great drinking options have popped up here and elsewhere around town, including two by this same owner, Williams & Graham should still be on every visitor’s shortlist. The modern cocktails here can stand up to any bigger city’s concoctions. Plus, there’s a late food menu (as if you could eat anything else today).
Need more eating inspiration? Check out Denver’s 38 Essential Restaurants as well as the hottest new spots.