The Mile High City has revitalized itself.
Direct Flight: Savannah/Hilton Head International (SAV) to Denver International Airport (DEN)
Duration: 4 hours, 2 minutes
Airline: Frontier Airlines
Availability: Service begins May 4
Story by Edward Thomas
If you haven’t visited Denver in the past two years, you will be pleased to know that getting downtown from the city’s beautiful airport is no longer a $50 to $60, hour-long cab ride, or $40 trip via Uber.
Helped by a giant federal grant, Denver International Airport now has a light rail system that delivers airline passengers directly to Union Station at the heart of downtown in 35 minutes for just $9 ($4.50 for seniors and kids). The new system, launched in April 2016, has been getting rave reviews. Check it out online at the commuter link at www.FlyDenver.com.
UNION STATION AND LODO
Personally, I would be happy just hanging out in the revitalized Union Station and use it for a long weekend as my home base to visit the profusion of sights in Lower Downtown (LoDo) as well as other parts of this spread out city and nearby ski areas.
The Crawford Hotel is virtually on premises and the Kimpton Born Hotel just 100 yards away. They are two of the city’s best hotel accommodations.
Union Station is also close by historic and charming Larimer Square with its numerous restaurants, shops and night spots as well as Coors Field, home of baseball’s Colorado Rockies. Indeed, there’s little doubt city fathers have knocked it out of the park with their restoration of this iconic train station five years ago.
With a history that dates to the 1860s, the current train terminal structure is a massive, tall, but delightful space with restaurants, bars, boutiques and even a farmer’s market on Saturdays. Just sitting on one of the big solid oak benches and watching the people pass by, you can close your eyes and easily imagine pioneer families sitting beside you eagerly awaiting the distinctive sound of an approaching steam engine to carry them to a new frontier life.
Back to the present, you can slip out the front entryway, turn right on Wynkoop Street and duck into the enormously popular Tattered Cover bookstore. Then return quickly to the station and enjoy delicious oysters at Stoic & Genuine Oyster Bar or tapas at Ultreia, an authentic Barcelona style romantic cafe.
Certainly one can spend an entire weekend right here in LoDo without getting bored, but Denver, sitting on the front range alongside the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, has much more to offer.
MUSEUMS AND ATTRACTIONS
Not unlike many major American cities today, Denver has its share of interesting museums and attractions for visitors. Among the favorite specialty museums are:
Forney Museum of Transportation is chock full of vintage automobiles, bicycles, motorcycles, buggies and locomotives. The “Big Boy” Union Pacific #4005 locomotive is quite a sight. It is one of the world’s largest steam engines ever built. There is also an awesome selection of “one-off” cars on display that would be hard to find anywhere else including a one-of-a-kind six-wheeled Hispano Suiza from the 1920s and an extremely rare Nyberg from 1912.
Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum is located east of downtown toward Aurora at the former Lowrey Air Force Base. It has a splendid selection of aircraft in a giant hangar. Warning: You need to be an aviation enthusiast to truly appreciate this special museum.
Denver Art Museum is an architectural delight that is widely known for its Native American art and impressive calendar of special exhibits. The Indian section alone is worth a visit.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
SPORTS The Denver area is renowned for its outdoor living whether it be skiing, snowboarding or hiking on nearby slopes. But, there are also six different major league spectator sports to enjoy. The NBA Denver Nuggets and the NHL Colorado Avalanche share the downtown Pepsi Centre. The Rockies play baseball from April to September at Coors Field and the fan favorite Denver Broncos make their home at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on the outskirts of downtown. And, if that isn’t enough, there is also the Colorado Rapids, Denver’s Major League Soccer team that plays at the 19,000-seat Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, eight miles north of downtown and the Denver Outlaws, a Major League Lacrosse team that shares the Mile High confines with the Broncos.
CRAFT BEER TOURS Beer lovers everywhere know that Denver is the Napa Valley of craft beers. There are more than a few craft beer tours that visitors can enjoy. In fact, there are so many a best bet is to go online, choose and then call ahead for a reservation. A good site to visit is: www.thedenverear.com/8-best-brewery-tours-denver/. Denver’s original craft brewery is Wynkoop Brewing Company. Located in a former Victorian warehouse, it has pressed-tin ceilings, arched windows and hardwood floors, making it a pretty elegant place to enjoy a pint. President Obama enjoyed a Rail Yard amber ale here in 2014 over a game of billiards.
Visit Brown Palace Hotel. The nine-story, red sandstone hotel is an iconic building in downtown Denver. It recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. For decades it was the “in-place” to stay. A-list celebrities from Thomas Edison to President Reagan, the Beatles and Taylor Swift have spent at least one night here. President Eisenhower liked to call it “the Western White House,” and loved to practice his putting stroke in a blue carpeted, white-columned suite on the eighth floor. And if you don’t plan on staying here, at least take a walk through the lavish central atrium with its stained glass ceiling or the Grand Salon, which features an exquisite Italian Renaissance interior with more than 12,000-square feet of Mexican gold onyx.
A FEW HOURS FOR SKIING
If you find yourself in Denver looking west toward the snow-capped Rocky Mountain peaks, the urge may be irresistible to get out on the slopes. But is there time? Thankfully, there are a couple of possibilities within a reasonable drive. They don’t offer the best skiing in Colorado,
but they will do in a pinch. Echo Mountain is the closest and inexpensive. It’s only a 45- to 50-minute drive, but the vertical drop is disappointingly short — just 600 feet. On the plus side, it offers night skiing. The next closest is Loveland Ski Resort, a tad more than an hour’s drive from downtown, depending on traffic. It is popular with locals but there are limited amenities here.
Suggestions from a Local…
Anna Chaffin Lambiotte made a lasting impact on Hilton Head Island before she was even born. It was the day the bridge from the mainland was knocked out of commission when a large barge crashed into the pilings of what was then a swing bridge and Anna’s mom, Betsy Chaffin, wife of Sea Pines senior vice president Jim Chaffin, had to be airlifted by helicopter so Anna could be born at Savannah’s Telfair Hospital. There was no hospital on Hilton Head in March of 1974, and the circumstances surrounding Anna’s birth became a key determinant for Hilton Head Hospital to be completed three years later and a four-lane span bridge constructed a few years after that. Today, Anna is a successful interior designer in Denver living with her husband, Jay, their 11-year-old daughter and twin boys, age nine. Jim and Betsy reside on Spring Island, which Jim developed with his close friend Jim Light after the two had moved west to launch Snowmass Resort in Colorado. The Lambiottes return regularly to the Lowcountry to spend time with the Chaffins, and they enjoy sharing with old friends why Denver is a great place to visit. Here are some of their recommendations.
3 THINGS TO DO
Downtown Union Station is the new, true hub of lower downtown Denver (LoDo). It’s the best place in Denver for people-watching and browsing with lots of shops and eateries. Make sure to stop and check out the books at The Tattered Cover at the corner of 16th and Wynkoop streets. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art and nearby historic Larimer Square. An absolute must is your happy hour or night cap at The Cooper Lounge at Union Station in a sophisticated setting on a balcony overlooking the station atrium. Drinks are served on a silver tray accompanied by a delicious selection of nuts.
Cherry Creek This is Denver’s most popular shopping district. Eat a healthy lunch at True Food Kitchen or Hedge Row. Then walk the pedestrian friendly streets and check out the shops from Hermes to Orvis. Great espressos await at Aviano and Matsuhisa provides the best sushi in Denver. The mall at Cherry Creek is one of the largest in the U.S., but many locals prefer the smaller scale of the shops on Second and Third streets.
Highlands and RiNo The Highlands and River North Art District (RiNo) neighborhoods are west of downtown and offer an ideal change of pace to downtown, plus a great place to walk when the weather turns warm. Little Man Ice Cream, a local favorite, is here. RiNo is the new hang place for artists and musicians and “Lonely Planet,” named it one of America’s coolest neighborhoods. Take time to have some Tandoori Chicken at The Populist. It’s first come, first serve. Small portions, but very tasty.
3 PLACES TO STAY
Art Hotel Located adjacent to the outstanding Denver Art Museum, the impeccable service staff and superb artwork throughout this hotel sets it apart. If you are an art lover, this is your place. High-end artwork is shown nearly everywhere. Large windows provide a bright open feeling during daylight hours. There is a warm simplicity but not sterile. Try to book a Capital Suite with balcony.
Four Seasons Elegant mainstay hotel that is well located in the downtown area. A longtime favorite that continues to draw top reviews. Rooms are beautifully appointed.
Kimpton Born Hotel Luxury accommodation opened less than a year ago. Just two minutes from Union Station. Understated refinement is its calling card.
3 PLACES TO SEE
Red Rocks The most famous musical venue in Denver, 10 miles west of the city. It’s a naturally-formed rock structure amphitheater that holds about 9,000 and has hosted thousands of outdoor concerts. Red Rocks was one of the favorite venues of the Grateful Dead and has become a traditional stop for many subsequent jam bands. Widespread Panic has performed here 54 times.
Cruise Room in the Oxford Hotel Has the look and vibe of an original art deco speakeasy. Rated as having Denver’s “best martini bar.”
Sports Authority Field at Mile High Home of our Broncos where every game since the stadium was built in 2001 has been sold out. A home game tradition is the “incomplete” chant, shouted whenever an opposing quarterback fails to complete a forward pass. The throng of 76,125 fans shout in unison “IN-COM-PLETE.” Another tradition is “Mile High Thunder” as fans on the upper two decks stamp their feet on the stadium floors that were specifically designed to resonate the bellowing sound.