Since well before we left for Europe last summer, I’ve been dodging emails about doing a guide to Denver because THIS IS A BAKING BLOG, GUYS. But I finally gave in and compiled a list of all my favorite spots in the Mile High City. Having lived here for five years, I pretty much know this place like the back of my hand but am always so excited to stumble upon something new – which is why this guide will be a work in progress (meaning when I find an awesome coffee shop or a great dinner spot, I’ll update this post to reflect new discoveries).
One of my favorite things about Denver is that it’s a highly walkable city, meaning a car isn’t all that necessary unless you’re opposed to mass transit or biking to the grocery store. If you’re coming to the city from DIA, skip the rental car and take the AF bus to Union Station. From there you can get around using the (fairly reliable) public transit system, B-Cycle, or Uber. We rely on all of the above but prefer biking now that Denver’s installed a number of bike lanes. 99% of the places on this list are within walking or biking distance of the city center, which is important considering we don’t have cars and only rent one when we absolutely need it (like when we go to the mountains).
Unfortunately we don’t have any experience with local hotels, but we’ve heard great things about The Oxford, Teatro, The Brown Palace, The Crawford, and Hotel Monaco. If you’re looking for something a bit more affordable, there’s a Sheraton, Embassy Suites, and Hyatt downtown but, if I were you, I’d skip the hotels and just find a place on Airbnb. We used the service for 95% of our accommodations in Europe (and actually just booked a place 10 minutes ago) and can’t imagine traveling any other way. I recommend staying in the Business District (upper downtown), LoDo (lower downtown), LoHi (lower highlands), Capitol Hill, or Cheesman Park (where we live). Baker, Washington Park, Five Points, or RiNo (River North) would be great options if you have a car.
If you’re looking for a solid date night, dinner and a movie (at the Mayan or Esquire) is always a fantastic option. Or the Clyfford Still Museum followed by dinner and drinks at Cuba Cuba. If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, go for a stroll downtown (through Larimer Square) and then for a drink at the MCA rooftop cafe or for happy hour crêpes at Crêpes ‘n Crêpes. You could also go for a walk through Cheesman Park then make a stop at Cafe Max for drinks and dessert. If you’re looking for a wild night out, the Cruise Room, Thin Man, and P S Lounge are all good spots for drunken shenanigans.
If you have any favorite places I’ve left off the list, please include them in the comments so I can check ‘em out.
I should note that only a couple of these restaurants (City O’ City and Native Foods) are 100% vegan. All the others are more than willing to accommodate a vegan diet even when there isn’t anything sans-animal products on the menu. To help make your life easier, I’ve broken these down into categories (early morning grub, comfort food, etc.). Although many of these places fit into more than one category, I’ve placed them in the one that I feel is most fitting.
EARLY MORNING GRUB
Snooze – The King of Breakfast. No person in their right mind visits Denver and doesn’t go to Snooze. Get there before 7AM to avoid the morning rush.
Jelly Cafe – If you’re staying in or near Capitol Hill, Jelly is a great breakfast/brunch spot with a few vegan options.
Cafe Max – Great place for a swanky date night. The owner is a delight and the espresso drinks are incredible.
The Corner Beet – Vegetable heavy eats, fresh juices, caffeine, and the most adorable green chairs.
Weathervane Cafe – The owners are the sweetest people you’ll ever meet and the food is downright delicious (oatmeal, sandwiches, etc.) and reasonably priced.
Wooden Spoon – Delicious coffee and top-notch sandwiches. Thom says they make the best breakfast sandwich in town.
Cafe Bar – The patio is perfect for brunch or a late night snack.
Paris on the Platte – Big tables, coffee, sandwiches, bagels, etc.
ON THE FLY
The Market – This is one of my favorite places in town and, when we lived downtown, I used to go here damn near every day. Their coffee isn’t anything worth writing home about (in fact, stay away from it) but they have a chocolate selection that makes my inner fat kid go crazy. They also have delicious deli style food and their hummus sandwich (add avocado spread and spicy mustard) is pretty much the sandwich of my vegetable-heavy dreams. Look for Stefan, dude knows how to make a good sandwich.
Modmarket – My favorite “fast” food in denver. Located on 16th Street Mall, they serve up super veggie loaded eats and an affordable price.
Tifamade Cantine – Tiffany makes a mean ass sandwich but she’s closed for the cold season.
Native Foods – A lot of processed vegan food, which isn’t really my thing, but their macro plate is my go-to.
Illegal Pete’s – There is one thing you should know: Illegal Pete’s > Chipotle. For $4, a kids burrito bowl will fill you up.
Pho-natic – A lot of locals will tell you if you want good pho, go to Federal Boulevard. That’s true, but if you want pho that’s MSG free (uhh, me), go to Pho-Natic. MSG is fucking gross.
Bubu – Quick and healthy rice bowls (brown rice, white rice, or rice noodles) right in the middle of Larimer Square. The SoCal bowl is my favorite.
Vert Kitchen – Easily one of my favorite spots in town. They serve breakfast and lunch, but at $4 for a hearty portion of almond milk oats with fresh fruit, I’m a huge fan of their early morning eats.
True Food – I always (ALWAYS) get the TLT. I dream of their kale salad. And kale-aid.
Ethiopian Restaurant – Not the most creative name, but this place cooks up some of the most delicious and authentic Ethiopian food you’ll find this side of the Rockies. The restaurant itself is outdated and can be rather warm in the summer, but the food more than makes up for it.
Mercantile – Their veggie sandwich (with white bean hummus) could give my favorite sandwich at The Market a run for it’s money.
Govinda’s – Hare Krishna-vibes, FYI. Some people are freaked out by that or pissed that the food is essentially Indian without the spices. It’s delicious and that’s all that matters.
Pizza Fusion – A social enterprise that helps to rehabilitate the homeless while serving up thin-crust pizzas made with fresh, organic ingredients. Definitely not your typical greasy slice of pizza, but it’s appreciated by those of us who prefer something a bit more nutrient dense.
Pinches Taqueria – Their name translates to Fucking Tacos and they have delicious fucking tacos so you should go.
Crêpes ‘n Crêps – One of our favorite places for an impromptu afternoon date. Happy hour crepes are the perfect size and only $5! Their normal batter is not vegan, but the gluten free variety is.
Hapa Sushi – Although it doesn’t hold a match to Sushi Den, it’s some of the best sushi you’ll find in the downtown area.
Watercourse Foods – Vegan comfort food, y’all.
PUT ON A NICE SHIRT
Euclid Hall – My little brother works here, so I may be bias, but this place is delicious. There isn’t much for vegans but, if you ask, they’ll probably throw something together for you. The best vegan meal I’ve ever eaten came out of Euclid Hall’s kitchen (but so did one of the worst, so there’s that). They make a damn good drink.
Root Down – They also have a sister restaurant, Linger, but with Root Down as an option we don’t make it over there that often. They’ve opened a new location at DIA meaning Root Down on the go or literally right before you leave town.
Sushi Den – Ask anyone where you can find the best sushi in Denver, and 99% of them will point you to Sushi Den.
Potager – Slow food right in the heart of Capitol Hill. Vegans, call ahead. And be prepared to drop some $$$.
Izakaya Den – RAMEN.
Cuba Cuba – A lot for the carnivores and a few options for us plant based eaters. No lard in their beans, ye-yeaaaah!
The Populist – Their menu isn’t vegan friendly but if you call ahead they’re usually more than happy to to accommodate dietary restrictions.
Next Door – I’ve been twice and always go for their roasted veggie salad and tomato soup. And bread. Lots and lots of bread.
Vine Street Pub – Burgers and beers and community style seating.
Lucile’s Creole Cafe – Not much for vegans but if you’re down with grits, collards, and oats, you’ll be golden. Also: Bloody’s.
If you look up a guide to the best coffee shops in Denver, you’ll notice I left more than a few of them off this list. That’s because a) some places try way too hard and b) I don’t need to be reminded that pour over is superior to filter when I just want some motherfucking caffeine. Snobby coffee ain’t cool, y’all.
The Bardo Coffee House – This is my go-to coffee shop in Denver. The atmosphere, coffee, and employees are all fantastic. And their website is the jam.
Steam Espresso Bar – One of the most delicious cups of coffee you’ll find in the city. Located south of town, but it’s more than worth the trip.
Europa Coffee House – Bring your favorite book and stay a while.
Novo Coffee – The 6th Avenue location is my go-to (but the downtown location is great, too). The coffee is top notch and the tunes are always pleasant.
Corvus Coffee – Three words: HOPS COLD BREW
St. Marks Coffee House – I spend a lot of time here doing work. So do other people. Definitely the place to head if you plan on being plugged in but not necessarily the best spot to cozy up with a mug of coffee and your favorite book.
Huckleberry Roasters - They roast some mad-delicious coffee beans.
Crema – This place is a hipster mecca but I can’t deny the fact that they serve a damn good cup of joe. The baristas are always so pleasant.
Denver Bicycle Cafe – Have a cup of coffee (or a beer) and get your bike tuned!
Pablo’s Coffee – They now have two locations in Capitol Hill but the one at 6th & Washington will always be my fav. No wifi.
Little Owl Coffee – I lived right around the corner from this place and made the mistake of not going until right before we moved. Their drip coffee is nutty and earthy (and delicious), but the space is tiny.
Stella’s Coffeehaus – Whenever I’m procrastinating reaaaally hard, I’ll ride my bike down to South Pearl Street and hit up all my favorite places. Stella’s included.
Hooked on Colfax – Another great place to get shit done.
Sweet Action Ice Cream – Insanely creative ice cream flavors and they always have a couple of options for the vegans.
Little Man Ice Cream – Not as good as Sweet Action but they have some damn delicious vegan options (chocolate salted oreo, anyone?).
Beet Box Bakery – Delicious vegan baked goods made from scratch erryday.
City O’ City – Their breakfast kicks major ass but their desserts are where the magic happens (which they get next door from Watercourse Bakery).
Voodoo doughnuts – The line is ungodly long and not worth it (in my opinion) (Thom says otherwise), but if you can squeeze in early morning (before 9AM), get yourself a pink box filled with doughnuts and savor the shit out of them.
Thin Man – This is probably my favorite place to grab a drink in town. Thom says the red lights are offensive but I dig the vibes and the bartenders and the fact that they infuse their own liquors.
Work and Class – It can be loud and packed like sardines, but their drinks are top notch and not overly sweet.
P S Lounge – Totally divey and funky. If you find yourself on East Colfax, pop in for a drink or three.
The Cruise Room – Go during the week as it gets pretty loud/packed during the weekend. Enter through the Oxford Hotel.
Green Russell – Libations cost an arm and a leg, but this is usually where we go when we want to put on something fancy and have a seriously intimate date night.
Linger – Mostly a restaurant, but I prefer a drink on their rooftop patio followed up with dinner at their sister restaurant, Root Down.
Three Lions – Futbol pub with a great beer selection. Thom says don’t eat the food.
Great Divide Brewery – Non-traditional beers in an interesting neighborhood. Food isn’t available but there are usually food trucks outside.
Prost – German biergarten with homemade brezeln (!!!!!). Thom’s favorite brewery. My favorite place to eat brezeln.
The 1up – Strong drinks and cheap arcade games.
STUFF TO DO
Clyfford Still – This is one of our favorite museums.. of all time. The paintings are incomparably stunning and the space itself is out of this world beautiful (fine lines and poured concrete, anyone?). Go during a weekday because there’s a chance you might have the place to yourself.
Museum of Contemporary Art – The art can be a bit eccentric, but that’s ok because the rooftop cafe more than makes up for the art that sometimes has you scratching your head, wondering what the fuck is going on. But isn’t that the beauty of it?
Museum of Nature and Science – Because science is cool. Go to the planetarium. And then go to the rooftop and have a look at that sweet view of Denver.
Botanic Gardens – Because nature is also cool and there’s a Chihuly exhibit there until November.
Jazz in the Park – Limited to the summer months, but if you’re visiting June-August, grab a blanket and bring a bottle of wine.
Mayan Theatre – This is one of my favorite theaters in town. It doesn’t show a lot (err, any) of the Blockbuster films, but they’re always showing a couple of good flicks. Not to mention, their popcorn is delicious and they have nutritional yeast topping.
The Esquire – Another fun place to catch an indie flick. They sell Divine chocolate at the concession stand. Just sayin’.
Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret – If you’re not put off by boobie tassels or half-naked, dancing women, I highly recommend a night at the cabaret.
Denver Flea – Local vendors, food, and lots of craft booze.
First Friday – Various art districts put on an event every first Friday, year around. Wine is available, usually for purchase, but if you go to the right galleries it’s free. The Santa Fe Art Walk is our favorite.
Tattered Cover – My favorite book store in the city. They have two locations, one in LoDo and the other in City Park. You should visit both.
Kilgore Books – Lots of signed novels from notable authors. Penned after Kurt Vonnegut’s alter-ego, Kilgore Trout.
Bookbar – A bookshop for wine lovers.
Capitol Hill Books – Don’t be put off by the sketchy location/exterior.
Fahrenheit’s Books – A great used book store on Broadway. The employees are always super helpful and down to chat about their favorite reads.
Hazel & Dewey – Jenna, the owner, is a real gem and has a shop filled with some of the most beautiful kitchen fixings.
Garage Vintage – Vintage galore. Their sister location is across the street, so don’t miss it.
5 Green Boxes – Their original locations (there are two of them) are on South Pearl Street, but they recently opened a store in Denver’s revamped Union Station.
Ironwood – Plants, jewelry, crystals, etc. Despite being small, Ironwood packs a punch – I could get lost in there for hours.
REI – In the event you forgot your outdoor gear or just want to go climb the rock wall.
Goorin Bros. – Fancy a good quality hat? Look no further. Most hats are $100+ but the quality and service are worth it. Say hi to Larry.
If you rent an apartment, chances are you’ll want to stock it with a bit of food and cook at home a couple of nights.
Natural Grocers – Whole Foods quality, King Soopers prices. I do a majority of my shopping here.
Marczyk – The prices are outrageous for most things ($8.99 for my favorite almondmilk) (insane), but they’re one of the few places that carries Askinose chocolate. They also have a great natural soda collection and delicious made-to-order sandwiches.
Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market – May through the end of October.
King ‘Queen’ Soopers – Your normal, everyday grocery store.
Christkindl Market – German Christmas market downtown from 21 November-23 December.
Pacific Mercantile – The place to go for all your Asian food necessities like nori, mochi balls, and coconut milk.
EVOO Marketplace – If you like olive oil, you shouldn’t miss this place. Their oils are top of the line (and the prices reflect that).
Savory Spice Shop – Hella spices, sugars, vanilla beans, etc. Their Indian spice section cannot be topped.
Argonaut – Biggest booze shop in town.
I’m not all that into the herbal stuff (although I’m also not opposed to it) but my brother is (heh, HI DAD) so he sent me a short list of his favorite dispensaries. If you plan on getting your ganja on, make sure you consume it before you leave as it cannot be taken out of the state (and law enforcement doesn’t fuck around if they catch you trying). Dispensaries close by 7PM. Also, if you haven’t done them before, I do not recommend trying edibles here – just smoke that shit.
Fox Street Wellness – ORGANIC POT.
Native Roots – Heads up: the wait on the weekends can be insanely long.
Good Chemistry – Funky place off Colfax with helpful employees and a straight forward menu.
LoDo Wellness – One of the most popular (and affordable) spots in town.
You’ll probably want to get out of the city for a bit and explore the mountains. Mt. Elbert is the highest 14er in the state and also the easiest to climb – so if you’re been looking to do a 14er (and are acclimated), that one will be right up your alley. If you’re looking to summit two 14ers in one day, you can do Grays and Torreys if you hit the trailhead by 7AM. We arrived around 8:30 but are pretty quick getting up the mountain and don’t recommend arriving that late unless you know you are, too. St. Mary’s glacier has a pretty rewarding view and only a moderately steep incline. You can’t go wrong with any of the hikes in Boulder or Rocky Mountain National Park.
The San Juans and Sangre de Cristos are my favorite mountain ranges in Colorado. They’re a bit of a drive but are more than worth it. If you’re looking to do a 14er in the San Juans, I highly recommend Handies as it’s a class 1 with one of the most rewarding views. As for the Sangre de Cristos, skip the mountains and climb the sand dunes. Just make sure you bring a change of clothes.