Warning: this guide is intending to assist those planning on visiting the Denver area for the DNC. While specific information is meant to be factual, other details contained herein may include sarcasm, humor, and/or general irreverence. Use at your own risk.
With the impending arrival of tens of thousands of visitors to Denver for the Democratic National Convention, I wanted to write a guide to welcome them (you) to our great state and city, and to share some local knowledge (or warn them (you) what they (you) are in for).
General notes when visiting Colorado
Denver is 5280 feet above sea level, which has earned us the nickname the Mile High City. This is a lot higher than most people are used to, and there are some things you should bear in mind:
- The air is much thinner here. Climbing, running, and even walking may take more effort than you're used to. Just take your time.
- Alcohol has a stronger effect on many people here because of the altitude. Especially with most of Colorado's wonderful craft brews being higher in alcohol than the average Bud or Coors, don't over indulge.
- Denver is a high-plains desert, so it's high and dry. Drink a lot of water, bring lotion, and don't be afraid to layer on the chapstick.
- Many people experience altitude sickness when they visit Denver. The primary symptoms are: nausea, headache, lethargy, dizziness, and an overall ooky feeling. Some ways to battle this affliction is to drink lots of water, get rest if you feel tired, take pain killers right away if you feel a headache come on (and drink more water), and drink alcohol in moderation (avoid it entirely during your first day here, if possible). Even native Coloradoans sometimes experience altitude sickness when they go from the plains to the mountains, so we know your pain.
- Colorado has notoriously unpredictable weather. In one day we may have several inches of snow falling in the morning and 80-degree, blue skies by the afternoon. The key to dressing here is layers. Wear a light undershirt and pack with you a heavier shirt as well as a light sweater or jacket. I highly recommend convertible pants that zip into shorts, but, barring that, a lightweight pair of jeans is just as good. We have had one of the hottest, driest summers in history this year, but that doesn't mean that it won't be snowing at the end of August… Also, remember that "dressed up" in Denver means a clean button-down from REI and pressed jeans, even in some of our nicest restaurants.
- At 5280 feet above sea level and with well over 300 days of sunshine a year, the sun is much more powerful than most other places. Always wear sunscreen and have sunglasses. Even on cloudy days it is very easy to get sunburned at this altitude.
In Denver, we give directions by orientation. We will say "turn North on Speer to Auraria. Then turn West and the Pepsi Center is on the North side of the street." Even if you have absolutely no navigational sense, Colorado has provided the best orientation landmark in the world: the Rocky Mountains.
- Mountains on your left : you are facing North
- Mountains in front of you : you are facing West
- Mountains on your right : you are facing South
- Wait, what mountains!? : you are either facing East or it is night
Our city is laid out in a grid system. Actually, it's laid out in two grid systems:
- Downtown is laid out in orientation with the Platte River, which borders the Downtown area on the West side.
- The rest of the city, including all outlying neighborhoods and suburbs follow a traditional North-South course.
There are many little neighborhoods that make up Denver. It's helpful to know where they are since most people will not be staying in Downtown Denver, but in the surrounding areas:
- LoDo : short for Lower Downtown, this is the Northwestern section of Downtown that includes Coors Field and some of the city's breweries and best beer bars.
- The Highlands : the area North and West of Downtown, it abuts Invesco Field. Full of classic Victorian buildings and wonderful food and shopping.
- LoHi : the Lower Highlands, the area on either side of the Highlands bridge across I-25. Also called Old Highlands, up-and-coming.
- Uptown : 17th Avenue is the main street that runs through this neighborhood East of Denver. The "hip" place to live with restaurants and shops to reflect that.
- Sloan's Lake : South of the Highlands and West of Downtown. Also where certain Viners are spending their week at the DNC.
- Wash Park : short for "Washington Park." A very affluent area South of Downtown with wonderful Victorians and Denver Square houses.
- Cheesman Park / Congress Park / Governor's Park : a strip of neighborhoods along 6th Avenue South of Downtown. As their names imply, really lovely parks and atmosphere.
- SoBo : directly South of Downtown on Broadway. Antique shops, great bars, funky shops and hangouts.
- Cherry Creek : South of Congress Park, East of Wash Park. Very posh, very upscale community with the expected pricy food and shops.
Getting to, from, and around Denver
- DIA or Denver International Airport is technically part of Denver in that there is a very narrow corridor of "Denver" that stretches out to the airport and annexes it into the city. When you come into the airport you may be surprised to be in the middle of the plains. Look West, you'll see the mountains way out in the distance. Basically, DIA is in Kansas. But we don't like to talk about it.
Buses, lightrail, and taxis
- The bus system in Denver is unreliable at best. If you're planning on taking a bus anywhere in Denver remember that the ones in Downtown are the most reliable and the further out you get, they get exponentially less so. Always have a backup plan.
- The lightrail is an electric train that goes from Littleton in the South up into Downtown and out East to the Denver Tech Center. It offers great transportation options around the Denver area, however, it will not be stopping at either the Pepsi Center or Union Station. I've also heard that it may not stop at Invesco Field. This drastically limits DNC visitors' transportation options.
- Like any large city, Denver has taxis. However, according to city ordinance, you cannot hail a taxi as you do in New York. Taxis must either be ordered by calling one of the many single-digit numbers (303-333-3333 or 303-777-7777 or 303-444-4444) or picked up at one of several taxi stations around the city. Last I heard, this is not expected to change.
- With the obvious exceptions of the road closures and restrictions around the DNC sites, cars are the most reliable and convenient way to get around Denver and the surrounding areas. But there are some things you should know.
- "Turn" and "signal", when combined, are foreign words for many Denverites. Do not assume that someone who doesn't have a turn signal on is not turning. On the same token, don't assume that someone who does have their turn signal on is turning. This is especially true on highways, which are basically a free-for-all of speeding metal and disregard for others. Lesson for visitors: don't rely on other drivers to let you know what they are up to. Assumption can only bring you a world of hurt.
- The pause that stoplights have where all lights are red is called the "Denver Pause", there is good reason for this. If a light is yellow, it triggers a response in the Denverite's foot to press harder on the gas pedal. If the light is more orange than yellow, that's fine too. In fact, if it's all the way red, unless you're on 6th Avenue (where the city's only red light cameras are), go ahead and go there, too. Advice for visitors: stopping for a yellow light can only bring you a world of hurt.
- On the other hand, if a stop sign doesn't exist, you can be sure that someone will stop for it. One block they'll run the stop sign without flinching, and the next stop for the imaginary stop sign and then get angry when they get honked at. Lesson: don't honk when someone randomly stops for no reason, it can only bring you a world of hurt.
Munchies and Booze
Denver offers a wide variety of food and drink experiences that are sure to leave you satisfied, and probably surprised.
- The Falling Rock Taphouse (LoDo – 1919 Blake Street, down the street from Coors Field). 76 beers on tap, 300 in bottles. Their motto is "No Crap on Tap" and they mean it. They also serve a mighty tasty burger. Ignore the other bars on their block – they are either meat markets or tourist traps. This is where the locals are.
- Great Divide (LoDo – corner of 22nd and Arapahoe). The best brewery in Denver. Their taphouse serves up tasters of their beer and bar snacks. Will also be brewing a special beer for the DNC and, as always, offering tours.
- SoBo 151 (SoBo – 151 South Broadway). The hockey bar in Denver. Serves up cold pours of Czechvar and Pisner Urquell for those hot summer nights and the best Czech food this side of Prague. Try the smazak, you won't be disappointed.
- Three Kings Tavern (SoBo – 60 South Broadway). A quirky, hip (not hipster) place to hang out and grab a local brew. On Monday nights the bartenders are in their underwear, and if you join them, you get a free shot. Try some Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey distilled in LoDo while you're here.
- Steuben's (Uptown – 523 E 17th Ave). A hip, upscale diner (deviled eggs!) that serves homemade food with a modern touch. Nice atmosphere, good service, great food.
- Little Anita's (around Denver) – none of these restaurants are really that near Downtown, but the drive is worth it. A New Mexican chain, they serve hands-down the best breakfast burritos and other New Mexican food in Denver.
- Los Caboncitos (Highlands - 3757 Pecos St). Authentic Mexican food in a cute, modern-but-cozy restaurant. Don't expect the same types or quality of food you get at chain restaurants. This is much, much better.
- The Buckhorn (10th and Osage, just off the light rail). The Denver steakhouse. It holds the first liquor license issued in Colorado and serves up some of the best, freshest beef and game available.
- Pint's Pub (Downtown-ish - 221 W 13th Ave). A traditional English pub offering traditional English pub grub. But don't necessarily come here for the food – come here for the largest Single Malt Scotch collection outside of the UK. They also offer American whiskies, including Colorado's own Stranahan's.
- Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs (Downtown – corner of 16th and Arapahoe). The best hot dog stand you will ever go to. Jim serves up only the finest Kosher beef hot dogs and elk, deer, phesant, and bison brats. Wednesdays are "Whatever the F*** I Feel Like Wednesdays" where he serves whatever new and very tasty sausages he's stumbled upon. Have the dogs his way – with cream cheese and caramelized onions. Not only is this some of the best dining in Denver, you couldn't ask for a nicer host.
- Luciano's Pizza and Wings (Downtownish - 1043 Broadway). Not-exactly-New York style pizza. Fresh ingredients and a nice belly bomb to go with a local craft brew.
Speaking like a local
- Colorado (the state) : kah-luh-RAD-oh (not kah-luh-ROD-oh)
- Coloradoan (a person hailing from Colorado) : kahl-uh-RAD-in (not kahl-uh-RAD-oh-in)
- Zuni (a street in the Highlands neighborhood near Invesco Field) : ZOO-nye
- Galapago (one of the streets abutting the Convention Center) : gal-uh-PAY-go
- Buena Vista (a town in the middle of the mountains South of Denver) : byou-nuh VIS-tuh
- Auraria (the name of the campus next to the Pepsi Center) : uh-RARE-ee-uh
- Boettcher (many sites around town are named after this prominent Coloradoan) : BET-chur
- Canon City (The City of Canon City Southwest of Denver, also home to the Supermax Prison where Timothy McVeigh was held. Also headquarters for the Department of Redundancy Department) : CAN-yin sit-ee
- I-25 : not "The 25" or "Highway 25." I-25 is the main highway around the city.
- I-70 : (see above). The highway that comes in from the airport and goes up through the mountains.
- Johnny Colorado (a person who drives their SUV at inappropriate speeds and handles it as if it is a Formula One car. These same individuals can be seen standing in the snow, scratching their heads after they flip their SUV while trying to stop on black ice).
- Invesco Field (where the final night of the convention is being held) : MY-uhl HY STAY-dee-um
Things to explore outside of Denver that you may (or may not) read about in a guide book
While there are some great sites within Denver proper (such as the last item on this list), many of the most amazing sites are just outside the city. Just look West and you'll see what I mean.
- Red Rocks Amphitheater : located in Morrison, West of the city about 20 minutes, this natural wonder-turned music venue is absolutely not to be missed. The onsite museum is fantastic, but it's the view that is absolutely unforgettable. Park at the upper lot, if you can, and catch the view from the top. Willie Nelson will also be performing a concert here during the DNC.
- Buffalo Bill Cody's grave : off the Lookout Mountain exit just five minutes past the Red Rocks exit on I-70, and a seven minute drive off the highway. The museum is nothing spectacular, but the view from the far end of the parking lot is one of the best and most expansive in the mountains.
- The Bucksnort Saloon : not to be confused with the Buckhorn in Denver, the Bucksnort is a tiny mountain bar in a town called Sphinx Park that most Coloradoans have never even heard of. If you're lucky enough to sweet talk a local into bringing you up to this watering hole (up a dirt road, nestled in a canyon along a creek), you'll be greeted with some of the best hamburgers on the planet.
- Kenosha Pass : about an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Denver, Kenosha Pass is the gateway to South Park. South Park is a massive, high valley in the middle of the Colorado Rockies and home to great fishing, camping, rock hounding, and a certain infamous television show. The view from the top of the pass is breathtaking. You can also hike on the Colorado Trail from Kenosha.
- The Black Canyon of the Gunnison : four hours Southwest of Denver is where this great wonders of the States can be found. It is one of the steepest, deepest, and narrowest canyons in North America. In late August the leaves on the aspen will have started turning and you may be greeted with one of the most beautiful sites the Rockies have to offer.
- Brewery tours (come on, you can't be surprised by this). Colorado is home to 98 breweries, 96 of which are craft breweries. These breweries and brewpubs offer some of the best beer on the planet and a tour and tasting is the best way to experience their brews. Some of the best beer tours are at New Belgium Brewery, O'Dells Brewing Company, and Ft. Collins Brewery, all in Ft. Collins, North of Denver. However, there are breweries scattered all over Denver and the surrounding areas, just check BeerMapping.com for locations to catch yourself a great brew.
- Tubing down Boulder Creek. Boulder is just 30 minutes Northwest of Denver and offers some of the best dining and "hanging out" in the state. The Boulder Creek is a very popular hangout for locals, CU students, and visitors. You can launch a tube from up in Boulder Canyon and ride the creek all the way down to the edge of downtown Boulder. A great way to cool off in the creek and just enjoy Colorado the way it was meant to be enjoyed.
- The Big Blue Bear. This is on the East side of the Convention Center and his actual title is "I See What You Mean" and he peers curiously into the Convention Center, watching over visitors and employees alike. A great piece of whimsical public art that shouldn't be missed.
How to recognize a native
This is an important skill as it will allow you to know whom to ask for help - and who to follow to the best food and drink. Warning: do not engage these folks in conversation about how much you love the Raiders/Red Wings/Jake Plummer, how your skiing trip in upstate New York was "wicked," or how you swear the mountains are bigger where you're from. A basic outline:
- Is wearing anything from REI (in a non-ironic fashion), a Broncos/Avs/Rockies/Rapids/Mammoth/Nuggets jersey (in a completely ironic way), pressed jeans, a fishing hat, layers, or shorts and sandals when its 30 degrees outside.
- Drives a Subaru.
- Has a big dog in the back of their Subaru. Barring that, at least a sticker referring to their big dog on the hatch of their Subaru.
- Has one of the following in/on their Subaru: mountain bike; fishing pole; camping equipment; wool blankets; hiking shoes; climbing equipment; kayak; canoe; case of Fat Tire.
- Is not wearing a cowboy hat and/or cowboy shirt (unless they are 90-years-old and coming out of Rockmount)
- Has a bag (from REI or an artisan shop in Boulder) containing water, chapstick, an energy bar, Goretex jacket, sandals, iPod, keys to their Subaru and bike lock, and a camera. (May also contain a small bag of weed.)
- They are smiling. Coloradoans, especially natives and transplants (people who weren't born here, but got here as soon as they could), love this state, and no matter what we're wearing, driving, riding, or walking, it seems that we have more good days than bad in this place. And we hope you do, too.
When and if you find yourself in Colorado for the DNC or anything else, we hope that you enjoy yourself. You will find natives and transplants alike to be radically passionate about our state and more than willing to share our enthusiasm with you. Despite all of my sarcasm, and in the spirit of Colorado hospitality I say, welcome and
have fun breathing we can't wait to have you!
© Devon Adams 2008.