If you’re considering a trip to Colorado and wondering, “What is Denver known for?” I’ve got you covered!
I grew up in the suburbs of Denver, and I love sharing insights as a local. Denver is known for being the home of many major sports teams, the beautiful Red Rocks Amphitheater, and more microbreweries than you can shake a stick at. There are views of the foothills and the Rocky Mountains from most anywhere you look in Denver, and locals love to get into nature and enjoy the outdoors.
Denver has changed a lot since I was growing up in the 1990s. While it has long been a haven for people who love the great outdoors, it’s very recently become a popular place to move. An influx in the population since the 2010s has created a lot of shifts and changes in the city, usually related to gentrification.
Still, Denver is a great place to visit and full of wonderful things to do. This post will give an overview of what Denver is known for and the city’s many claims to fame.
Denver is the capital city of Colorado, located on the front range of the Colorado Rockies. The city is home to about 700,000 people, with a metro area of approximately 5 million people. Denver is connected to Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo by I-25, and to Boulder by US-36.
The land that is now Denver was originally inhabited by several indigenous peoples, including the Apaches, Utes, Cheyennes, Comanches, and Arapahoes. The city of Denver was first incorporated in 1861, and for many years was a frontier town until its first population boom in the 1880s and 1890s. It has continued to grow, change, and evolve into the bustling metropolis that it is today.
What is Denver Known For?
Denver is known for so many wonderful (and a few not so wonderful) things! From the mountains that line the plains to the bustling brewery scene to Red Rocks Amphitheater, this is the list of the top things that make Denver special.
1. Union Station
Union Station is Denver’s central train station, and it’s a major landmark in Denver. The station was built in 1914 and underwent significant renovations in 2014. Today, Union Station is a central hub in the LoDo area of Denver, complete with restaurants, bars, and a large seating area where you can meet up with friends or get some work done.
Fun fact: my father has always loved trains. When I was growing up, we often took the Amtrak train from Denver to Chicago to visit family. It takes about 18 hours, if you were wondering.
2. Proximity to the mountains
One of the best parts of Denver is its proximity to the mountains. From almost anywhere in the city, you can see the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the west – it’s how I grew up learning my cardinal directions. The mountains are a big part of Denver’s identity, from the city’s logo to the conversations you hear on the street.
You can reach the foothills within about a 20 minute drive of Denver, and you’ll be in the Rocky Mountains in about 40 minutes if you drive up I-70.
Although you can’t hike Denver, locals love to get out into the mountains and it’s part of the city’s identity. On the weekends, most locals will flock to the mountains to spend some quality time outside. Many Denver locals will head to nearby Boulder or Golden to hike, even in the winter.
Some of my favorite hiking trails near Denver are the Garden of the Gods in nearby Colorado Springs, Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Royal Arch in Boulder.
4. River North Arts District
One of the more recently popular neighborhoods in Denver is the River North Arts District (RiNO for short). RiNo has been known locally as a hub of innovation, art, and gastronomy. You can pop into one of the beautiful gallery spaces in the area, grab a coffee at Crema, or just stroll along the streets and enjoy the street art.
RiNo is also home to my favorite yoga studio, BIG Power Yoga and a few of my favorite happy hours in Denver. You can work remotely from Improper City, a large bar with plenty of seating and food trucks for a snack when you get hungry.
If you want to experience RiNo’s street art and microbrewery scene, consider joining a tour that includes a sampling of local brews.
5. Bustling LoDo
Many of the most popular restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in Denver are located in LoDo, one of the central downtown areas. LoDo is home to the Tattered Cover bookstore, a Denver institution where you can find fabulous recommendations and books that would make great gifts. The Tattered Cover is just around the corner from the beautiful and remodeled Union Station.
One of my favorite Denver coffee shops, the Little Owl, is located in LoDo. You can grab a coffee and wander around this bustling area of Denver for an hour or two before heading to nearby Capitol Hill or the Highlands.
6. Gorgeous sunsets
Denver sunsets are rivaled only by those along the California coastline. As the sun dips over the mountains, the skies above Denver tend to turn iridescent shades of pink or orange. If you visit during the summer, grab a table on the restaurant’s patio for the best chance of enjoying a view of the sunset.
7. Its weird airport
As someone from Denver, every once in a while someone will ask me, “So what’s up with your airport?” The Denver International Airport is one of the strangest airports in the United States, sparking controversy and conspiracy theories since it first opened in 1995. The design is very strange, with tent-like spires making up the roof of this enormous building.
There’s also a giant statue of a blue stallion with growing red eyes that greets visitors when they arrive. During the creation of the statue, a piece fell and ultimately killed its artist. This saga, combined with the statue’s appearance, has earned it the nickname Blucifer among some locals.
8. Thriving startup culture
Every year there’s a free conference throughout downtown Denver called Denver Startup Week. This event brings together entrepreneurs, companies, and sponsors to talk about all of the topics relevant to startups. With topics like scaling, hiring, marketing, managing, and obtaining Venture Capital funding, this event is packed with high quality sessions intended to bolster Denver’s startup economy.
If you work in technology or a tech-adjacent field and are looking to move to Denver, Startup Week is a great time to network. There are usually a few happy hours, meals, or mixers that are free or inexpensive to attend.
9. Breweries galore
Locals in Denver love to visit a brewery, and the city has many to choose from. Some of my favorites include the Denver Beer Company, Great Divide, Cerebral Brewing, Ratio Beerworks, and the Cerveceria Colorado. Some breweries offer tours while others simply have tap rooms where you can try their standard and experimental beers.
To try a selection of breweries with a knowledgeable guide, consider joining a craft beer tour.
10. A touch of counterculture
If you go looking for it, you can find some great counterculture in Denver. There are civically engaged groups like Warm Cookies of the Revolution, a “civic health club,” and venues like Mercury Cafe where you’re sure to find some interesting people. Denver also tends to garner large protests on a variety of liberal issues, from gun control to abortion to women’s rights.
11. Sunny skies throughout the year
One of the things I’ve missed most since moving abroad are the expansive, sunny skies in Denver. Although you’ll definitely see a few rainy or snowy days throughout the year, it’s not uncommon to have a beautiful, sunny day even in December or January. You can take advantage of the sunny days by enjoying a happy hour on a restaurant’s patio or going for a hike on a nearby trail.
12. Ski slopes
Just outside of Denver are the Rocky Mountains, where you’ll find plenty of ski slopes to choose from. Denverites are known for heading into the mountains early in the morning to try to beat the traffic, skiing all day, and then heading back down the mountain in the evening. Nearby ski resorts include Eldora in Boulder, Arapahoe Basin (known locally as A-Basin), Winter Park, and Keystone.
If you want to skip the traffic, there’s a ski train that takes visitors from Union Station to Winter Park on the weekends. The trains are run by Amtrak.
13. Western heritage
Colorado has a long history of western heritage, from rodeos to horse shows to western bars. There’s really no better display of Denver’s western heritage than the National Western Stock Show, an event that takes place every January. There’s an annual parade, a series of pro rodeos, cattle and sheepdog demonstrations, and much more.
Westernaires offers youth aged 9-19 in the Denver area the opportunity to learn to ride and care for horses through participating in mounted drill teams. If you’d like to support a local non-profit, consider attending the Westernaires’ annual fundraising show, the Horsecapades. There are several shows over the course of a weekend, usually the last weekend in October.
14. Legal marijuana
Colorado and Washington were the first two states in the country to legalize recreational marijuana, doing so in 2012. Today, anyone over the age of 21 can legally purchase marijuana from one of many dispensaries throughout the city. If you want to partake, be sure to bring a valid ID with you to the dispensary.
15. Fabulous Mexican food
Great Mexican food has been one of the things I’ve missed most since moving abroad. You can find fabulous Mexican restaurants throughout the city, from the trendy-but-a-little-commercial Bartaco to the authentic spots along Alameda Avenue.
One of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Denver is Taqueria La Familia, located in the Highlands neighborhood. I love the cheese enchiladas, but they also make fabulous burritos and tacos plates.
16. Hatch green chili sauce
Hatch green chilis are a local specialty in Denver, especially when made into a rich chili sauce and poured over enchiladas or burritos. You can find green chili on menus throughout Denver, from the local dives to the classier brunch spots.
Sometimes, you can even see big metal cages used to roast the peppers on the side of the road. The roasted peppers are then skinned and blended into the popular chili sauces you’ll find around the city.
17. High cost of living
Admittedly, this is a typical local’s answer, but Denver is an expensive place to live. The many appeals of living in Denver have attracted people from around the country, many of them young professionals. While this has led to a boom in Denver’s popularity, infrastructure, and restaurant scene, it’s been accompanied by a sharp increase in the cost of living.
18. Being the “Mile High City”
Denver is known as the “Mile High City” because its elevation really is exactly one mile. You can see a marker at the exact spot for Denver’s 5280’ elevation on a step of the Capitol State Capitol Building. The elevation means that the sun is a little stronger, you feel alcoholic drinks feel a bit more, and you might even get winded a little faster than you would at sea level.
And, yes, there are also jokes about being high in the Mile High City.
19. Pro sports teams
Pro sports are very popular in Denver, so don’t be surprised if everyone is watching the game at the local sports bars and restaurants. Denver’s football team is the Broncos, the hockey team is the Avalanche, the basketball team is the Nuggets, and the baseball team is the Rockies.
Tickets to see pro sporting events can get expensive, but there are usually plenty of cheap seats to see the Rockies play in the summer. This is a great activity for dates or families with kids, but be sure to pack sunscreen because the stadium is very exposed. If you catch an evening game, you can usually see the sun set behind the stadium.
20. Santa Fe Galleries
Santa Fe is a road that stretches through the area just west of downtown, known for its eclectic art galleries, quaint coffee shops, and independent restaurants. Each month, the area hosts an event called “First Fridays” where the galleries, studios, and co-ops are all open to visitors on the first Friday of the month.
21. Red Rocks Amphitheater
Red Rocks Amphitheater, known locally as simply “Red Rocks,” is one of the most beloved landmarks in the Denver area. During the spring, summer, and fall months, you can attend a variety of events at Red Rocks, including yoga classes, films screenings, and, of course, concerts.
It’s definitely worth trying to see a concert at Red Rocks if you enjoy live music. This enormous venue routinely hosts big names like Jackson Browne, Sound Tribe Sector 9, and Zac Brown Band. Check the event schedule for more information.
22. Casa Bonita
It would be hard to think of a more iconic restaurant than Casa Bonita, a Mexican restaurant that features cliff divers in gorilla costumes and unlimited sopapillas. I grew up going to Casa Bonita, where the food was awful but the experience more than made up for it. This restaurant has long been locally popular, but it rose to international fame when it was featured on the popular show South Park.
When the restaurant went bankrupt in 2020, it was purchased by the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The duo have reportedly spent more than $40 million to renovate the restaurant. One of the major upgrades is the food, which will now be edible.
Casa Bonita is located just outside of Denver in my hometown suburb of Lakewood, Colorado.
23. Colfax Avenue – the longest street in the United States
Colfax Avenue is the longest continuous street in the US at just over 50 miles long. It starts in Golden, Colorado, passes through Denver, and continues east of the city. Every year Denver hosts the Colfax Marathon, usually in May. It is currently the only marathon in the city.
The aforementioned Casa Bonita restaurant is located on Colfax Avenue in Lakewood.
Where to stay in Denver
Denver is a large, metropolitan city with several areas that are popular with visitors. Depending on your budget and personal preference, you may want to stay downtown or in a nearby neighborhood. The following hotels are all located near the River Arts North district or otherwise close to LoDo and Union Station.
If you’re looking for some additional suggestions, here’s another post about some top hotels in Denver.
Best budget: Hostel Fish
Hostel Fish describes itself as an upscale hostel for travelers, and this trendy budget accommodation is perfect for someone visiting Denver for the first time. There is a bar onsite that serves cocktails daily – the perfect place to meet your new travel buddies.
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel, most cater specifically to young people and the beds are in large dorm-style rooms. While they can be a bit busier with less privacy than a hotel, they’re also a great place to meet other travelers from around the world.
If this sounds uncomfortable to you, I’d recommend booking an Airbnb or checking the hotels in the surrounding suburbs for more budget-friendly options.
Best midrange: Slate Denver, Tapestry Collection By Hilton
The Slate Denver, Tapestry Collection By Hilton is a surprisingly affordable and high quality hotel in downtown Denver. This sleek and modern hotel has all of the amenities that you’d expect from Hilton, but with a little extra charm and history. The hotel is set in a renovated school building and it retained some of its original features.
You’ll be only a short walk or shuttle ride from Union Station, the Colorado Capitol Building, and many other landmarks downtown.
Best high end: The Ramble Hotel
The Ramble Hotel is a beautiful space with an interior that feels almost reminiscent of a prohibition-style cocktail bar. The space features wood floors, white tiled bathrooms, and thoughtful design touches throughout every space. Guests especially love the bar, which serves cocktails and creates a welcoming atmosphere for the hotel.
FAQs: What is Denver Known For?
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about what Denver is known for – from its popularity to the things you should know about the locals.
Why is Denver so popular?
Denver is popular for its proximity to the Rocky Mountains, its culture of breweries and outdoor activities, and for being a great place to live. The city has been increasing in popularity over the past several years, especially as people have started to move away from the urban centers on the west coast. Further, Denver boasts views of the mountains from nearly every city street – locals even use them as cardinal directions!
What is Denver known for culturally?
When it was originally incorporated, Denver was known as a frontier town with the hallmark saloons and duels of the old west. There are still some vestiges of this history, from the Buffalo Bill Days that pass through Golden to the Grizzly Rose, Denver’s enormous western bar.
Today, Denver is better known for its thriving tech scene, love of the outdoors, and myriad microbreweries. When I show visitors around Denver, I love to expose them to all three of Denver’s cultural spheres: the trendy, modern restaurants of Denver, the splendor of the Rocky Mountains, and the rugged National Western Stock Show that takes place each January.
What are Denver locals called?
Locals in Denver are called Denverites, and people living in Colorado are known as Coloradans. You won’t often hear people actually say the word “Denverite” but Coloradan is very common.
Conclusion: What is Denver Known For?
Denver is known for so many wonderful things. From its proximity to the mountains, to the incredible sunsets to its bustling tech scene, Denver is a wonderful place to visit. Be sure to spend some time exploring the 16th Street Mall and Union Station, having lunch at Capitol Hill (City O’ City is my favorite spot), and taking in some street art in RiNo.