Since my friend Blair moved to Boulder two years ago, I have wanted to see the Great West. With a crash pad in a new-to-me metro (and nonstop flights from Tampa), I’d be silly not to.
A looming continental move helped me elect to join another lifelong friend (Stacey) on a mid-week trip this summer to cross the Denver area off my list.
The two cities, in some minds urban center and suburb, and in others, unrelated entities, are a short half hour drive in good traffic. Denver is a dense, bustling environment evocative of Seattle for its architecture and Atlanta for its greenery.
I immediately liked what I saw and felt. The dry heat refreshed my oily, sticky skin, and the lush tree canopy laid a charm over every street we passed. You may notice the prevalence of red brick and stone in many of the older neighborhoods.
The Downtown Denver area is typically governmental and institutional, with nearby reemerging hip districts of historic form and affordable housing. While nothing was pristine, little was derelict either.
In Capitol Hill, Jelly was my first dining experience, and it was appreciably delicious and unique (thai peanut mini donuts!). The house music added a circuit party vibe I didn’t expect either.
Toward Cherry Creek, the houses become larger, the parks more ornate, and the retail more expensive. Denver is home to an Hermès store, though it lost its Saks Fifth Avenue in 2011 among the same sweep that took Tampa’s store in 2013.
Cherry Creek’s business, residential, and retail district is akin to Buckhead in Atlanta, and what Tampa’s Westshore area wishes it was. Key to its cohesiveness is walkability, which Buckhead is slowly gaining, and Westshore sorely lacks.
Through working in transportation, my preconceived idea of Denver was mainly of progressiveness. The multi-county area is served by several commuter rail lines (more are in the works for connections to Boulder and Denver International Airport), and express/HOV lanes provide relief to congestion on its many freeways.
Bus transit serves suburban park-and-ride lots, and the preponderance of bike lanes and trail infrastructure make it easy to choose an option other than driving alone to work, which is a cultural attitude Florida has yet to shake.
After a stop at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, on a day devoted to flora and fauna, we visited the Denver Botanic Gardens.
Surprisingly comprehensive, it is a special attraction of manicured and wild gardens, sculpture, and greenhouses over 23 acres in the middle of urban Denver. Dale Chihuly’s glasswork dots the park, as do themed exhibits like the bonsai garden and domed conservatory of tropical plants.
Back in Boulder, the attitude is more rugged, relaxed, and insular. In Florida terms, it feels a lot like Tallahassee thanks to CU-Boulder‘s 30,000 students and a contingent of families, entrepreneurs, and granola liberals.
It should be no surprise that Pearl Street is home to the Whole Foods’ Rocky Mountain Flagship. All 77,000 square feet of products you can’t imagine, or get in lesser stores. I escaped spending only $90, a bargain by the organic-paleo-fair trade-cold pressed standards.
With mountains that meet the edge of Boulder’s Downtown, a hiking afternoon is essential. We climbed the tame Chautauqua Bluebell trail, that bumps and weaves around a modest elevation until looping back toward the base—good for us because it started to rain.
The views, really from anywhere in Boulder, either of the mountains or the valley below, are pretty great. For the first 48 hours, the altitude is a little tricky, sapping oxygen and stamina, but plenty of water and rest aided the transition.
Elsewhere in town, a highlight for me was the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, a traditional Central Asian (Tajik) tea house created in the 1980s by woodcarvers, sculptors, and painters in the lavish convention. We ate lunch there, and enjoyed fine tea (I am partial to Sencha) and for dessert, a wonderful flourless orange cake.
I had no bad meals or cocktails in Boulder. Over our five nights, there was an overarching sense of logic and simplicity to the menus.
Everything we encountered, from the Bitter Bar, to Ozo’s 3rd street chai, to the mushroom loaf at Kitchen Next Door, was hearty, straightforward, and delicious. Though, nothing is cheap.
Along with hiking and eating, no contemporary trip to Colorado is complete without a visit to a marijuana dispensary. Since its legalization, products have flooded the market, providing myriad methods of absorption. None of the edible candies or confections appealed to me; I was drawn instead to the branding of the transdermal patch from Mary’s Medicinals, broken down into varieties based on the desired effect.
Should you find yourself in the area soon, I made up a map of where we went and what we did in both Denver and Boulder.
Overall, I was charmed by the area. Between the fresh air, cultural progress, and robust LGBT life, it is a place I could happily call home. I love the recreational opportunity of the mountains, though as a Pisces I think I would miss water after a time.
Next time, I plan to spend more time in Denver proper, exploring all that city has to offer, which I hardly tapped in my short trip!