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Denver, Colorado, USA, is a unique city located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, near the centre of the North American continent1. It is not one of the largest cities, if you go by numbers alone, as it ranks 20th among US metropolitan areas - with its population of 2.3 million. However, it is much more important to the region than its size might indicate. Not only is Denver the only major city in Colorado, but it is also the largest metropolitan area within a 600-mile radius. In fact, the population of the city itself (more than 500,000) is greater than the population of the entire neighbouring state of Wyoming (around 480,000).
Denver leads the nation in several impressive categories2. It has, for example, the largest city park system; the highest percentage of high school and college graduates; the largest quantity of beer brewed, in an American city; and, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, the least overweight population3.
Denver is also the home of the nation's largest airport4. Do not believe any rumours you may have heard about it. The automatic baggage-handling system does not frequently eat bags5, and the subway system does not regularly strand travellers between terminals for hours at a time. Then again, you may want to consider flying to a city near to Denver and driving the rest of the way.
Denver is known as 'the mile high city', and the reason is that the elevation of the city is literally one mile above sea level. While downtown, be sure to stop by the State Capitol and look for the marker on the fifteenth step, which indicates an elevation of 5,280 feet. However, you may want to take a break after climbing the steps, since the altitude can take the breath away of those more used to lower elevations. If you want to experience even greater heights, take a trip to the nearby mountains, which include some of the finest ski resorts around.
If you like variety, then you'll love the weather in Denver. All four seasons are present, sometimes in a single day. Bring sunscreen, no matter when you visit, as the sun shines on Denver, on average, 300 days a year, and the altitude makes the sun even more harmful. In the winter, be prepared for cold temperatures and the occasional blizzard, but also be ready for a number of days with spring-like weather conditions. In the summer, you'll notice a fairly consistent trend: clear skies in the morning, between five and 30 minutes of rain in the afternoon, and clear skies again at night. It can get pretty hot, but due to the low humidity the summers are usually quite pleasant.
Be careful when touching another person in Denver, because the lack of humidity in the atmosphere also creates some serious static electricity.
The Ski Scene Around Denver
Some of the best skiing in the USA is located a few hours away from Denver in the mountains nearby. A large number of tourists pass through the city in the winter months, on their way to one of a large number of ski resorts in the area. Some of the better known resorts include:
- Steamboat Springs
- Winter Park
Both Aspen and Vail are extremely expensive resorts, perfect for those who are happiest when spending large quantities of money.
If you do decide to go skiing, it wouldn't be a bad idea to first learn how to survive a chairlift ride.
Dining in Denver
If you eat just one meal in Denver, make sure you dine at Beau Jo's, the best pizza place in Colorado. Beau Jo's serves up some seriously big pizza, so big that the menu lists the sizes in pounds rather than in inches. In addition to the wide choice of toppings, you also get to style your pizza from among the following criteria:
- A type of sauce
- Pizza thickness
- A type of cheese - the four cheese blend is highly recommended
- Style of bread
The crust is a meal in itself, and don't forget to try it with honey (a bottle is provided at every table). Add a local microbrew and you'll be in heaven.
At the other end of the spectrum is Casa Bonita, a very large indoor Mexican restaurant that seats over a thousand patrons. It is a popular place for birthday parties, largely due to the man-made cliffs, cliff-divers, waterfalls, poorly-lit caves, and actors performing mock shoot-em-ups. You and your dinner can even get splashed with water if you sit too close to the cliffs, which may actually improve your meal. Yes, the food is really that bad. To be fair, one Researcher has not eaten there since 1985, and Casa Bonita claims the food is much improved. But don't take their word for it - several other Researchers have confirmed that the food there is still terrible.
If you want good Mexican food without a bunch of hoopla, you might try one of several, local Armadillo Restaurants.
Beer in the Denver Area
There is a great deal of beer brewed in the Denver area. Despite the national belief that everyone in Colorado drinks Coors, there are an overwhelming number of microbreweries and brewpubs that produce great local beer.
One of the best breweries is located about 50 miles north of Denver, in the city of Fort Collins. You can find beers from the New Belgium Brewing Company in almost every restaurant in Denver. Try a Fat Tire or Sunshine Wheat if you get the chance, but don't worry if you miss out on the brew while in Colorado. Currently, you can find New Belgium beers in nine other states6.
New Belgium is not the only brewery in town. German-style beers from the Tabernash Brewing Company have won several awards at the Great American Beer Festival, and the Odell Brewing Company is another Fort Collins brewery whose beers are available in several states. If you want a meal to accompany your beer, try one of the brewpubs located downtown, such as the Wynkoop Brewing Company or the Rock Bottom Brewery. It's also worth mentioning the chain of Old Chicago restaurants, which boast up to 30 beers on tap, among the 110 they offer from around the world.
Sport in Denver
Denver is a major league city when it comes to sports, thanks to the presence of the football team the Denver Broncos, the basketball team the Denver Nuggets, the baseball team Colorado Rockies, and the ice hockey team Colorado Avalanche. Or if you are a soccer fan, you might be interested in the Colorado Rapids, who play in the Major League Soccer league. There is also an active college sports scene, with the University of Colorado Buffaloes in the nearby city of Boulder, and the Colorado State Rams up the road in the city of Fort Collins.
No matter how well the other teams perform, Denver will always be the Broncos' town. The team has caused state-wide depressions by losing the Super Bowl in 1978, 1987, 1988, and 1990. There were also year-long celebrations after they won in 1998 and 1999. Hall-of-fame quarterback John Elway is easily the most-beloved Bronco, and his name is everywhere in Denver, even if you ignore his chain of car dealerships.
The Nuggets have been around since 1967 (at the time, they were known as the Rockets), but most people don't care much about their performance. Even when the team is doing well, Denver residents have a lukewarm reaction at best. They are often more interested in what beer John Elway drinks now that he is retired.
The Rockies played their first game as an expansion team in 1993, not only bringing major league baseball to the city, but sparking new development in the lower downtown area known as 'LoDo'. Restaurants, shops, and many new brewpubs and sports bars sprang into existence the moment that Coors Field opened its doors. The stadium itself is quite impressive, especially with the view of the mountains over the left field stands.
The Avalanche moved to Denver from Quebec in 1995, and immediately earned the affection of the town by winning the championship in their first year. It was the first major sports championship a Denver team had ever won.
The Music Scene in Denver
Denver has a very active music scene, drawing top national acts as well as supporting talented local bands. The most famous place in Denver to see a concert is Red Rocks Amphitheatre, where U2 shot their live video Sunday Bloody Sunday. Seeing a band perform outdoors, under the stars, at a venue literally carved out of red rock is something you won't forget. The main alternative for seeing big name acts in an outdoor setting is Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre. Fiddler's is adequate, but pales into insignificance in comparison to the beauty of Red Rocks.
There are also many good smaller clubs, where you can see both national and local bands. The main thing these places have in common is the word 'theater'. For example, the Paramount Theater, the Bluebird Theater, the Gothic Theatre, the Ogden Theater, and the Fox Theater7. On the other hand, Herman's Hideaway is the only club in Denver with the word 'hideaway' in its name.
Like any good-sized city, Denver has its share of interesting tourist attractions.
The 16th Street Mall, located in the middle of downtown Denver, is a mile-long outdoor mall that is lined with shops, restaurants, and various small parks and plazas. If you are driving downtown, do not turn onto 16th street, as it is closed to normal automobile traffic. The street is used exclusively by the free shuttle buses that take shoppers from one end of the mall to the other.
Denver Pavilions, which opened late in 1998, is an upscale outdoor mall within an outdoor mall. It is located on the 16th Street Mall, and includes such famous tenants as Hard Rock Café, NikeTown, and Virgin MegaStore.
The Denver Museum of Natural History contains a wide range of natural and scientific exhibits. It also includes a planetarium and an IMAX cinema with a screen that measures four-and-a-half storeys high by six-and-a-half storeys wide.
The Denver Zoo features around 3,500 animals. Highlights include the rainforest exhibit, Tropical Discovery; the arctic exhibit, Northern Shores, and the monkey house, Primate Panorama.
The amusement park, Elitch Gardens, has been around since 1890, but was moved downtown in 1995 and became Six Flags Elitch Gardens. It now features more than 100 rides, shows, and other attractions.
Ocean Journey, Colorado's first major aquarium, opened in 1999. It includes approximately 15,000 marine specimens representing nearly 300 species, and features a Colorado River theme and an Indonesian River theme.
There are plenty of cultural facilities in Denver, including Boettcher Concert Hall, The Temple Buell Theater, The Denver Center Theater Company, and the Denver Art Museum.