Two Ways to Vacation for the Holidays in Denver

Denver holiday vacation
Blucifer. Photo by Mike Sinko via flikr

Emerging from the gates of the Denver Airport, visitors are greeted by Blucifer—a towering cerulean horse, reared up on its haunches, mouth agape in an equine scream, staring down new arrivals with glowing red eyes. The 32-foot statue, formally titled “Mustang,” cuts a powerful figure against clear Colorado skies and elicits both fondness and tolerance from residents. But the reaction elicited from first-time visitors is more likely to be, “what the hell?”

“It’s weird. It’s very Denver,” one local explains to her friend, once they were aboard the A-Line commuter train to Denver’s Union Station and safely hidden from the penetrating gaze of Blucifer. Legends abound about Blucifer’s origins and intentions. The same is true for Denver International Airport itself. Some say the underground tunnels beneath the airport lead to the secret headquarters of the Illuminati and it was built by the Freemasons and New World Order. Officially, airport representatives have denied all of these conspiracy theories, but isn’t that exactly what an agent involved in a massive cover-up would say? 

If that’s all “very Denver,” then Denver is cool. Sure, SLC is closer to mountain resorts and our snow is the best there is, but once you get the jokes out of your system, you’ll find there’s so much to love about the Mile-High City that isn’t skiing. Denver offers a comfortingly familiar climate and eclectic culture that can surprise and delight even the most entrenched of Utahns. And, its proximity to home makes it the perfect destination for a quick holiday getaway without the pressure to cram too much into a single weekend. You can do Denver your way. 

Denver holiday vacation
Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Light. Photo by Visit Denver

Adventure No. 1—History and Mystery

If you saw Blucifer, fell in love, and then started scouring airport conspiracy theory message boards, there’s plenty more weird in Denver to keep you hooked. Head to the Cheesman Park neighborhood, grabbing a strong cup of joe at Russian coffee joint Dazbog on the way. Cheesman Park is home to the Denver Botanic Gardens, a welcome winter reprieve, and a stunning neoclassical colonnade, but the park’s tranquil trails belie a haunting history. Back in the 1800s, Cheesman Park was a cemetery. When the city converted it into a public park, the undertaker responsible for moving the bodies was accused of dismembering corpses so they could be placed in child-sized coffins (allegedly, he was paid per coffin) and fired before the job was done. Instead of hiring someone else, the city simply removed the remaining headstones, leaving an estimated 3,000 bodies buried under the park still today.

Meow Wolf. Photo by Kennedy Cottrell

From Cheesman Park, dispel the chill from your bones with a beer, cocktail and tasty pub grub at the Capitol Hill neighborhood’s favorite bar, Wild Corgi Pub, where “Yappy Hour” is every day from open–7 p.m. Nearby, there’s another historical gem and home to one of Denver’s most famous residents: the Molly Brown House Museum. Margaret Brown didn’t receive the moniker “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” until after her death—a death which she did not meet 110 years ago aboard the RMS Titanic. Although memorably portrayed by Kathy Bates in the 1997 film, Brown was more indomitable in reality. Her Denver home has been lovingly restored by Historic Denver and is open to the public for tours. 

Set aside as many hours as you can for the psychedelic trip that is Meow Wolf Denver’s Convergence Station. This interactive, surreal, sci-fi art exhibit has an underlying narrative about converged worlds and deep lore and mysteries to explore. Spanning four stories, 70+ unique installations, rooms and portals, Convergence Station took three years and 300 creators to make. (Pro tip: pay a little extra for the QPass for an even more immersive experience.) Return to earth with a craft beer at Little Machine, or a unique Cinnamon Horchata Ale at Latinx-owned Raíces Brewing Co.

For dinner, we’re taking a jaunt to Denver’s Lower Highland (LoHi) neighborhood to Linger. The restaurant’s semi-macabre décor reminds patrons that it’s housed in a former mortuary. Start off with a cocktail and a shareable plate like the steamed bao buns. For a nightcap, head up the street to the intimate speakeasy Williams & Graham. If you didn’t make a reservation at W&G beforehand, the punk rock bar around the corner, Occidental welcomes all. 

Denver holiday vacation
Linger. Photo courtesy of Visit Denver.

Where to Stay: Patterson Historic Inn is in the heart of Capitol Hill. The renovation of the 130-year-old mansion turned B&B is the subject of the film The Castle Project, which documents the workers’ ghostly encounters. Rumors also abound about the unexplainable occurrences at the Victorian mansion Lumber Baron Inn & Garden

Adventure No.2—Treat Yourself (And a Few Select Others)

Denver holiday vacation
Union Station. Photo courtesy of Visit Denver.

The A-Line from the Denver airport will take you to Union Station in Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo), where it’s a choose-your-own dining adventure, depending on your mood or the time of day: restaurants Stoic & Genuine, Ultreia and Mercantile offer cuisine from James Beard award-winning chefs. During the winter, your visit might be in time for Miracle at Union Station, a pop-up cocktail bar that unapologetically leans into the Christmas spirit. The holiday décor is ostentatious, coinciding with the Merry & Bright Lights strewn outside. 

Afterward, you can walk off your meal at the 1.25-mile-long 16th Street Mall. For some holiday shopping, the Dairy Block is a retail incubator for local high-end boutiques. And, because we all have at least one cowboy in our lives, the iconic Rockmount Ranch Wear shop is where the first snap-button cowboy shirt was invented. Also in LoDo, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver hosts changing exhibitions throughout the year of modern painting and sculpture, and the gift shop sells unique gifts for art lovers or eclectic souvenirs for yourself. 

There’s more retail therapy to be had in the Cherry Creek North neighborhood. Start off with brunch at Urban Egg Eatery, where they use local ingredients from small producers whenever possible. Now ready to brave the holiday rush, head to Cherry Creek Shopping Center. While in the neighborhood, make sure to swing into Show of Hands. The local, female-owned art and gift gallery sells whimsical and vibrant creations that you won’t find anywhere else. Across the street, treat yourself to bottomless bellini brunch—who says you can’t have a second brunch?—at Quality Italian.

Denver holiday vacation
Aprés in the Clouds. Photo by Elevated.

During the holiday season, Cherry Creek Holiday Market hosts 50 local makers selling their wares. If that’s to your liking, go full Santa’s elf at the Denver Christkindlmarket. Shop for handmade gifts in a replica European village decorated for the holidays. Indulge in Bavarian-style pretzels, fresh smoked salmon, Knödel, goulasch, Nürnberger sausages, and wash it down with Glühwein.

Elevated Rooftop Bar (249 Columbine St., Denver, 720-520-1474) hosts Après in the Clouds during the winter—a multiple course dinner, around the fire in a cozy cabana, complete with s’mores and spectacular views. Close out the day with a meticulously crafted cocktail at B&GC, a sleek basement bar hidden in an alley behind an unmarked door with an antique gold doorbell.

Where to Stay: After shopping, wind down at one of the yoga and barre classes at Halcyon. Halcyon’s Kitchen Counter invites guests to socialize during happy hour, daily, 3-6 p.m, and its Gear Garage has complimentary bicycles, scooters and seasonal equipment like sleds and snowshoes for guests to check out. For a downtown locale—and a familiar pampered treatment for SLC natives—the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Denver has newly renovated luxury accommodations, nightly wine hour from 5-6 p.m., pet-friendly rooms, and complimentary hotel bicycles to get around downtown.

Christie Porter
Christie Porter
Christie Porter is the managing editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade, writing about everything under the sun, but she really loves writing about nerdy things and the weird stuff. She recently published her first comic book short this year.

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