100 things to do in Colorado before you kick it
Since the start of the new year, we've been filling a Colorado bucket list on our four blogs — Show and Tell, Backbeat, Cafe Society and the Latest Word. But now our suggestions are spilling over into print, so that everyone can see the top twenty items on our list of the 100 things to do in the Denver area before you die. Enjoy.
20. Order a Mexican hamburger at the original Chubby's at 2 a.m.
What is Denver's greatest culinary contribution to the world? It may well be the Mexican hamburger, a concept that got its start on Santa Fe Drive in the late '60s — about the time that Stella Cordova was purchasing the Chubby Burger Drive Inn on West 38th Avenue. She quickly bolstered the menu with a Mexican hamburger and some of her other recipes, including another incredible Colorado creation, the gravy-like green chile that's thicker, hotter and tastier than the New Mexican variety. Although Stella passed away a few years ago at the age of 100, her dishes live on — and there's no better way to fend off a potential hangover than stopping by Chubby's at two in the morning for a Mexican hamburger buried in green.
19. Hear your song played on the radio.
Denver has one of the most vibrant music scenes in the country, with a staggering number of venues and an equally stunning number of talented acts that hail from here. For a struggling musician, the struggle is made that much more palatable by the realization that hearing your music on the radio is not just a pipe dream, but a very real possibility. For the better part of the past decade, KTCL/Channel 93.3 has blessed a steady parade of acts with their That Thing You Do! moment. It hasn't always translated to fame and fortune, but it definitely celebrates local vocals. Hear, hear!
18. Watch the sun rise over Sloan's Lake from the Lakeview Lounge.
Denver's best dive bars are slowly disappearing, victims of this rapidly gentrifying city. And at the Lakeview Lounge, from a perch on a barstool — the floor is so worn that there are holes in the linoleum where the stools have stood for decades — you can see some of that change: The St. Anthony's development south of Sloan's Lake is about to explode. But the real view is directly east across Sheridan, across the lake — where, on the last day of Daylight Savings Time, you can watch the sun rise shortly after 7 a.m. (and the bar's opening), sipping a Bloody Mary and toasting a time-honored tradition.
17. Dance at the Church.
Ever want to do unholy things in a holy place? Look no farther than the Church, a nightclub housed in a building that was once really a church. The exterior still reflects that earlier calling — and the interior, with its three stories of dance floors, makes the Church one of the most beautiful clubs in the country. Once you get your grind on under the beautiful stained-glass windows and the cathedral ceiling lit by lasers and moving lights, you'll forget all about the fact that you're sinning in the house of the Lord.
16. Dance at Beta Nightclub to the FunktionOne sound system.
For fans of dance music, few things can compare to a perfect sound system — especially when the best international DJs are playing music through it. At Beta, the FunktionOne system takes this experience to an entirely different level. Each FunktionOne setup is custom-designed for the room in which it's installed, and at Beta, no expense was spared. Surrounded by four towering corners of speakers, Beta's main-room floor has no competition when it comes to sub bass and crisp audio. Couple that with the Kryo fog system that Beta keeps in-house, and you have a world-class experience. The biggest names in the world play the decks at Beta, and each one maintains that this is one of the best clubs in the country.
15. Relive your youth at Lakeside Amusement Park.
The rides at Lakeside Amusement Park are sturdy but not even close to high-tech, and their squeal-inducing, brain-swirling squeaks and trembles bring on a rush of instant nostalgia...if and when they're running, that is. The food is cheap and bad for you; the lines are short but the atmosphere is long. At Lakeside, you can be a bobby-soxed teenager forever and ever, even if you never wore bobby sox the first time around. It's our no-frills, down-and-dirty, magical fortress of fun — and, truly, you haven't lived until you've circled Lake Rhoda on a moonlit train ride. The neon alone is history caught in amber.
14. Make a pilgrimage to the first Chipotle.
Students love fast, cheap food — but in July 1993, they got more than they bargained for when a stylish, fast-casual Mexican joint opened near the University of Denver, at 1644 East Evans Avenue. Inspired by the big Mission burritos he found in San Francisco, Steve Ells decided to raise money for that fine-dining restaurant he planned to open one day by first opening Chipotle Mexican Grill, which would serve big burritos stuffed with quality ingredients. That was twenty years ago, and Ells never did open that fine-dining restaurant. Instead, he's opened more than 1,000 Chipotles around the world, feeding a cult of fans and inspiring endless knockoffs.
13. See Big Head Todd at Herman's Hideaway.
It doesn't happen often, but when it does, you definitely want to be on hand to see Big Head Todd and the Monsters get back to their roots and bring the band back to where it all started all those years ago: Herman's Hideaway. There's a special energy in the room every time Todd Park Mohr and company climb back on stage and play, as though the past two decades never happened. It's the Colorado equivalent of seeing the Boss at the Stone Pony.
12. Spend the day at Water World...
Sporting more water features than you could ever dream of experiencing in a single day, Water World attracts a monster wave of humanity every hot day of summer, all jostling on giant inner tubes and down massive slides or lazing in wave pools and traveling through the Voyage to the Center of the Earth raft adventure. Generally accepted as one of the best water parks in the nation, this is where Colorado cools off — its biggest beach. Famous fact: South Park immortalized Water World under the alias of "Pipi's Waterpark" in an episode titled "Pee!" Say no more.
11. ...and the evening at Casa Bonita.
Casa Bonita is our castle of kitsch, a Pepto-Bismol-pink palace where the dirt is palpable and the food is nasty, but we go anyway, because, you know: Cliff divers! Fire spinners! Mariachis! BLACK BART'S CAVE! Eff Disneyland. Eff everything! We have Casa Bonita, world, and you don't.
10. Survive an encounter with Blucifer.
Denver is filled with wonderful museums and galleries. But the city's most renowned art collection may well be at Denver International Airport, whose public-art portfolio was named the best in the country by USA Today readers last year. We love Gary Sweeney's "America Why I Love Her" for its good-hearted celebration of America, and even enjoy how Leo Tanguma's murals have inspired a host of conspiracy theories about the New World Order building concentration camps under the airport. But the real leader of this pack? "Mustang," the giant blue devil horse that killed its creator, Luis Jiménez, and now stands guard outside the terminal, frightening tourists with its glowing red eyes and really large anus.
9. Buy a cowboy shirt at Rockmount Ranch Wear.
Patriarch "Papa" Jack Weil opened Rockmount Ranch Wear nearly seventy years ago, down among the warehouses of what's now known as LoDo, on the edge of skid row and the buried roots of early Denver. He famously lived to 107, and continued to show up for work there until the end. Now led into the 21st century by third-generation Rockmount heir Steve Weil, this Western-wear corral has become a favorite of rock stars and celebrities, who show up for their close-ups in Rockmount's signature diamond-snapped, sawtooth-cut cowpoke regalia. But even regular folks can buy a Rockmount to call their own, from the same brick warehouse in the same old part of town.
8. Drink gunpowder whiskey and eat Rocky Mountain oysters at the Fort.
Waugh! When Sam Arnold moved west, he became fascinated with the history of the region. So he set out to build an authentic, if slightly shrunken, version of Bent's Old Fort in the foothills above Denver, and turned it into a legendary restaurant: The Fort. The setting — with a stunning view of Denver — isn't the only draw here; Arnold also resurrected many recipes from the Old West, including whiskey flavored with gunpowder (less for the bang than to blot out the flavor of trading-post rotgut). It's just the thing to wash down that staple of state fairs and rodeos throughout the West: Rocky Mountain oysters. For the timid tenderfoot, the Fort serves its fried bull's balls with plenty of sauces to hide the taste...and texture.
7. Ride the 15/16 RTD bus routes — all the way.
Colfax Avenue, aka U.S. Highway 40, famous (or is that infamous?) for being the longest commercial street in the nation, is 26 miles of Colorado lore, from the rundown, neon-lighted motels that have welcomed tourists into Denver from both the East and the West for decades to the more recent clusters of artist communities and hipster hangouts stretched along its expanse. But you haven't known Colfax at its grittiest until you've cruised it by RTD bus, lurching from stop to stop with the hoi polloi, traveling from the edge of the plains at Chambers Road in Aurora to the blue foothills of Golden at Tenth and Washington.
6. See how the Beat goes on at My Brother's Bar.
The building at 2376 15th Street has held a bar since at least the 1880s, perhaps even earlier. For more than forty years, it's been home to My Brother's Bar, a place so well known for its classical music, great, greasy bar burgers and down-home atmosphere that it doesn't even have a sign outside. But it serves up history as well as stiff drinks: During its incarnation as Paul's Place, which ran from Prohibition through the '60s, this saloon was a hangout for Neal Cassady, the inspiration for Dean Moriarty — as well as a generation of Beats and other free spirits — in Jack Kerouac's On the Road. But while Cassady was still a teen in Colorado, he rang up a big tab at Paul's — and asked a pal to cover him, as documented by a letter still hanging at My Brother's.
5. Watch a Broncos game from the South Stands.
Even during those years when the Broncos aren't nearly as good as they have been this season, it's no snap to get tickets — and they're even harder to come by in the South Stands, where they're treasured by incredibly loyal fans who pass them down from generation to generation. No wonder, since being in the presence of this orange-and-blue crew is a lot like rooting alongside members of a family — exuberant, passionate, occasionally insane members, granted, but family nonetheless. You'll never look at a Broncos game the same way again.
4. Somehow, some way, get a ticket to the Great American Beer Festival.
The metro area has been dubbed the Napa Valley of craft beer, and a river of brews runs through it every fall, when the Great American Beer Festival returns to downtown Denver, bringing tens of thousands of bearded, pretzel-draped, soused beer fans to town. The festival, founded in 1982 — six years before Denver got its first brewpub — has grown into a major international event, one that has to be seen to be believed. But good luck: Tickets sell out in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, festivities spill over into bars, brewpubs and tap rooms all along the Front Range.
3. See a show at Red Rocks.
While seeing a show at Red Rocks might seem like the most obvious music-related thing we could pick to top our bucket list, there's a simple justification: Red Rocks is, hands down, the Centennial State's most prized destination. While playing a show here is a crowning achievement for any act, seeing a show here — with the majesty of the sun painting the sky behind you as it sets while you watch the city lights glinting in the distance below — is unlike anything you've ever experienced. Depending on who's on the stage, you might even call it religious.
2. Join the Mile High Club — without ever setting foot in a plane.
To join the Mile High Club in most states, you need a plane ticket, a vacant bathroom and some serious moxie. In Colorado, all you need is a partner, and with that "Menver" nickname long since outdated, finding one isn't hard, no matter who you are. With an average elevation of 5,280 feet, much of Denver is fair game for high-altitude nookie — but if you want to be precise about it, the city's official mile-high markers are a row of purple seats at Coors Field and a plaque on the steps of the State Capitol, the latter a particularly titillating place to join the club.
1. Read the Thomas Hornsby Ferril poem at Confluence Park, where Denver got its start.
Denver got its start when gold was found in the shallow Platte River, close to its confluence with Cherry Creek. Although that discovery was soon overshadowed by big strikes in the mountains, a tiny settlement sprang up along the banks of the two waterways in 1858, eventually turning into Denver. Today, Confluence Park is one of this town's great amenities, a great place to go for a stroll, try out a kayak, or just watch kids frolic in water that no one would have dared venture into two decades ago. And tucked away to the side is a plaque etched with this poem by longtime Denver poet laureate Thomas Hornsby Ferril:
Two rivers that were here before there was
A city here still come together: one
Is a mountain river flowing into the prairie;
One is a prairie river flowing toward
The mountains but feeling them and turning back
The way some of the people who came here did.
Most of the time these people hardly seemed
To realize they wanted to be remembered,
Because the mountains told them not to die.
I wasn't here, yet I remember them,
That first night long ago, those wagon people
Who pushed aside enough of the cottonwoods
To build our city where the blueness rested.
They were with me, they told me afterward,
When I stood on a splintered wooden viaduct
Before it changed to steel and I to man.
They told me while I stared down at the water:
If you will stay we will not go away.
Find the rest of our bucket-list items and their descriptions posted on their individual blogs:
25. Spend 4/20 inhaling at Civic Center Park.
24. Catch a T-shirt shot by super-mascot Rocky.
23. Take a really inappropriate photo with the Big Blue Bear.
22. Attend an Avs game where Patrick Roy loses his shit.
21. Ride the halls of the Stanley Hotel on a Big Wheel.
20. Buy something at The Annie's, the planet's first licensed marijuana store.
19. Have the best costume during a Denver Cruisers ride.
18. Thrift-binge at every Denver-area Goodwill on half-price day.
17. Open and close the Colfax Tattered Cover.
16. Wear such disgusting makeup at the Zombie Run that even the other zombies are grossed out.
15. Watch a Rockies game from the Purple Row.
14. Drive over Trail Ridge Road.
13. Watch the CU Buffs beat a decent team.
12. Scale a Fourteener.
11. Crab-walk up Red Rocks.
10. Ride all of Denver's bike trails.
9. Follow Bat Masterson's urine stream to the bathrooms at the Oxford Hotel.
8. Take part in the Tomato Battle at Copper Mountain.
7. Watch the sunrise and sunset on the same day from the Continental Divide.
6. Be the first skier of a Colorado ski season.
25. Have a spot of tea at the Brown Palace.
24. Sip free samples on the Coors Brewery tour.
23. Eat a turkey leg at Taste of Colorado.
22. Have your chiles roasted on Federal Boulevard.
21. Order chow from a food truck and eat it in a brewery.
20. Harvest your own vegetables at Miller Farms.
19. Load up your basket at the Boulder Farmers' Market.
18. Get a cinnamon roll at Johnson's Corner.
17. Enjoy a glass of wine and the view from the Flagstaff House patio.
16. Get a burger at Bud's.
15. Join the crowds at Pete's Kitchen at 3 a.m.
14. Get called "hon" at the Breakfast King at 4 a.m.
13. Hit a Santiago's drive-thru for a breakfast burrito at 7 a.m.
12. Try to chat with a knife-wielding kitchen worker at El Taco de México.
11. Have a martini in the Cruise Room.
10. Drink the three-margarita limit at the Rio Grande.
9. Get coffee at the Market and watch the action on Larimer Square.
8. Stop by Rioja and say hello to Jennifer Jasinski, Denver's first James Beard Award-winning chef.
7. Try to get a reservation at Frasca Food and Wine.
6. Have a beer at the Wynkoop Brewing Co., Colorado's first brewpub.
25. Ride the Kit Carson County Carousel in Burlington.
24. Walk where the dinosaurs walked on Dinosaur Ridge.
23. Cruise Federal Boulevard on Cinco de Mayo.
22. Go four-wheeling in the San Juan Mountains.
21. Watch fireworks from Ruby Hill.
20. Get your cosplay on at Denver Comic Con.
19. See where Buffalo Bill is REALLY buried.
18. Visit Doc Holliday's grave (and then go soak your bones) in Glenwood Springs.
17. Take in a Pack Burro Race during Leadville's Boom Days.
16. Have a drink under the full moon on the roof at MCA Denver.
15. Visit the Kirkland Museum.
14. Spend a haunted night at the Croke-Patterson Mansion.
13. Locate all the gnomes at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
12. Take a stroll through time across the Millennium Bridge.
11. Hold a seance in Cheesman Park.
10. Shop your way down Broadway from First Avenue to Englewood.
9. Buy your souvenirs at I Heart Denver.
8. Hike the Colorado Trail.
7. Ride the (RTD) rails.
6. Visit every Denver art district in one night on First Friday.
On Backbeat (Part I):
25. Get a picture with the dancing security guard at Red Rocks.
24. Sign your name (or take a pic) in the tunnel at Red Rocks.
23. Celebrate Elvis's birthday with the late, great Velvet Elvis.
22. Busk on the 16th Street Mall.
21. Audition for the People's Fair.
20. See a summer concert at the Botanic Gardens.
19. See Itchy-O wow unsuspecting crowds.
18. Catch a Colorado Symphony collaboration.
17. Visit the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
16. Take a class at Swallow Hill.
15. See a summer concert at Chautauqua.
14. See a summer concert at the Mishawaka.
13. Play at the open-mic night at the Meadowlark.
12. Play at the blues jam at Ziggies.
11. See a show at a DIY space like Rhinoceropolis or Seventh Circle Music Collective.
10. Go to Lipgloss.
9. See a jazz show at El Chapultepec.
8. See a jazz show at Dazzle.
7. Go crate-digging at Twist & Shout and Wax Trax.
6. Record a song at the Blasting Room.
5. Hear your song played on the radio.
4. Dance at the Church.
3. Dance at Beta Nightclub to the FunktionOne sound system.
2. See Big Head Todd & The Monsters at Herman's Hideaway.
1. See a show at Red Rocks.
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