You have one day to spend in Denver before embarking on a cross-country roadtrip. It's not Broncos season yet, there is no snow to go skiing, and you don't have the time to hike any of the 14ers. So what do you do? My answer? Explore downtown Denver.
Before you do anything, you need to get out of the airport. In Denver, that is not such an easy task. There are several terminals and different baggage claim areas. Read the signs carefully so you know where to go, and which floor to exit on! A few fun facts: there are two gargoyle statues in the baggage claim area. They are said to protect travelers' luggage by watching over them from their pedestals. As you are leaving the airport, look for the giant bronco statue along the highway – it's both massive and a little creepy, because it has glowing red eyes. Check it out!
First stop: breakfast. We found this cute little place for brunch called Syrup. The restaurant specializes in the typical breakfast carbs (pancakes, waffles, french toast) – but with a twist! They offer several varieties of flavored syrups and butters. You can choose up to two of each to try. I went with the peanut butter butter and the honey cinnamon butter and it was spectacular. (I stuck with plain syrup so I could taste the flavor in the butters.) The service was great; I highly recommend Syrup if you're in Denver! There are even three different locations so you can find one close to wherever you are.
Our day started with a lightrail ride into the city – a very reasonable $2.60 fare. We got off near Union Station to see what all the hype was about – it's beautiful! One of my favorite things on the walk there was a long row of street art illustrating "Dumb Ways to Die" to emphasize the importance of being cautious on and around public transportation. They were hilarious!
Denver is full of street art – painting, sculptures, cool architecture, etc. It makes walking around the city that much more interesting. Right in the heart of downtown, the Platte River runs through the city streets, and is bordered by a beautiful park, great for dogs! There are also sections of the river with man-made rapids for river tubing, which makes for such a unique urban activity.
We wandered on and made our way to the Downtown Aquarium of Denver. For adults, admission is $20.50, and it's not really worth it to pay for any of the extras – unless you have small kids with you. Inside, the aquarium is divided up into 9 different regions, with wildlife representing each. The aquarium is designed to be interactive, and we definitely enjoyed those parts! Some of the best included feeding crickets to the archer fish, experiencing a desert flash flood, and touching the stingrays. The stingray tank is the last thing you'll see when navigating through the aquarium, and the largest ray is super friendly! He kept riding up the wall and splashing the people nearby. Another highlight of the aquarium is the tiger exhibit. I know, you're thinking 'What is a tiger doing in an aquarium?', and they do a great job of explaining that. The tiger in the exhibit, Jalan, was absolutely gorgeous, and we were actually very close (albeit separated by glass of course). The aquarium also has its own bar and a restaurant that features a floor-to-ceiling look into the largest tank with sharks. It's definitely worth a visit!
After the aquarium, we were determined to find the old-fashioned ice cream that some fellow travel bloggers had raved about – Little Man. Luckily, we discovered that it was less than a mile away; unluckily, we got caught in a flash thunderstorm on our walk over there. But let me tell you that the walk and the wait in the rain was definitely worth it. Little Man's ice cream is homemade, original, and delicious! I got one of the daily specials – french toast (sensing a theme to my day yet?) in a homemade waffle cone. Creamy and perfect. The atmosphere is fantastic too – Little Man is housed in a giant metal cream can – yes, a can – and has a quaint brick patio around it. During the summer they host a variety of events there – both old-fashioned and modern.
Not much further away from Little Man is Denver Beer Company. A Denver staple, this brewery needs to be on your itinerary for Denver. We happened to visit on the day of their 6th anniversary celebration, so the place was packed with guests enjoying the beers, food trucks, games, and live music. The brewery is dog-friendly and has a great overall vibe. They offer a variety of beers; I recommend the Pretzel Assassin and the Graham Cracker Porter. One of the other things I liked about Denver Beer Co. is that they partner with other businesses and the mountain parks – proceeds from the mug I bought went to the park association.
I hope you've enjoyed the itinerary I've suggested for an unusually quick trip to Denver. You may choose to do the same, or do your own thing. But whatever you do, stop and look west whenever you can. The sight of the Colorado Rockies is breathtaking, and is an absolute treasure to be able to see from downtown.