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For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG contributor Jason Steele is here to show you around his hometown. Though the city itself might not be your destination, it’s the gateway to the Rocky Mountains, and as the ski season approaches, plenty of avid winter sportsmen and women are likely to be passing through here, so if your travel does take you to the Mile High City, here’s the lowdown on what you can enjoy there.We’re going to Denver, Colorado!
WHAT TO DO
Visitors to Denver quickly learn that this city’s true nature often stands in contrast to its reputation. Although the mountains feature prominently in the Denver skyline, the city itself has barely a hill to speak of. In addition, the snow that skiers seek in the mountains is largely absent from the hub, which receives 300 days of sun a year, but averages only six to twelve inches of snow per month throughout the winter – leaving visitors and residents free to enjoy the outdoors year-round.
Downtown Denver is a vibrant area filled with nightlife, entertainment, and cultural attractions. The western half of downtown is often called Lower Downtown, or Lodo. There, visitors will find plenty of trendy shops, fine restaurants, and happening bars in neighborhoods such as Larimer Square around 15th and Larimer Street as well as the Ballpark area near the Coors Field baseball stadium.
The east side of downtown is known more for business and cultural attractions such as the Denver Art Museum, the United States Mint, and the Colorado State Capital. Connecting these two neighborhoods is the 16th Street pedestrian mall, which features a free shuttle bus that travels its length.
Travel just west of downtown and visitors will find themselves in the Platte River valley, which has become sort of a downtown playground. It is home to the Elitch Gardens amusement park, which is the only major theme park located in an urban area (although it is closed in the winter). Other attractions in the Platte valley include the Children’s Museum, the REI Flagship Store, and Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos football team. Nearby is also the Pepsi Center, home of the Colorado Avalanche hockey team and the Denver Nuggets basketball team. All of these sights are easily accessible through a network of dedicated pedestrian and cycling paths.
If you don’t have your own bike, Denver is home to the B-Cycle bike sharing program, one of the first of its kind in the nation, so you can always snag some wheels while you’re there – but beware the altitude before you over-exert yourself.
Just to the east of downtown is Denver’s answer to New York’s Central Park, called City Park. In addition to postcard views of the downtown skyline with Rocky Mountains in the background, City Park is also home to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and the Denver Zoo.
Just northeast of Downtown is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. This newly-reclaimed park offers free admission and tours that feature deer, elk, bison, and bald eagles within 10 miles of the city.
Venture a little further towards the west, and you can go hiking in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in suburbs such as Golden, Morrison, and Boulder. Golden is home to the Coors brewery, the largest in the world, which offers free tours, and yes – free beer.
Morrison is home to the historic Red Rocks Amphitheater, which claims to be “the only naturally-occurring, acoustically perfect amphitheater in the world.” Thankfully, visitors can have their run of the place when there are no events scheduled. The city of Boulder, which is about 35 miles northwest of Denver, is home to the University of Colorado, spectacular hiking trails, and its own particular high-tech, hippie vibe.
WHAT TO EAT
Denver sits at the crossroads of a few different culinary regions. On one hand, you will find plenty of Southwestern influence at local restaurants that feature our own regional variety of chili. Green chili is served as a thin soup with or without pork, along with hot tortillas at local favorites such as Jack-n-Grill and Sam’s No. 3.
Denver cuisine is also influenced by the western ranching culture, and there is no shortage of great steakhouses. The Buckhorn Exchange is Denver’s oldest restaurant and features a variety of beef steaks as well as more exotic game. If you prefer to have a steak at the restaurant of a sports celebrity, Denver has both Elway’s and Shanahan’s which are owned by the two-time Superbowl champ John Elway and his former coach Mike Shanahan. Note that most locally-owned restaurants in Denver will serve either beef or bison for its burgers and steaks, so don’t hesitate to try something new.
To wash down some of Denver’s great food, you should try one of our local micro-brew beers. We are so serious about our beer, that Denver hosts the Great American Beer Festival each October and has been described as the “Napa Valley of beer.” Downtown Denver is home to several brew pubs, and nearly every restaurant offers a beer menu so that customers can choose from their entire selection.
If you want to sample all of these flavors in one place, I would recommend visiting the Wynkoop Brewing Company and restaurant. Located in a historic building in the heart of LoDo, the Wynkoop was founded by Denver’s former mayor, and Colorado’s current governor, John Hickenlooper.
If you are fortunate enough to be visiting February 22-28, 2014, or August 23-29, 2014, you can enjoy Denver Restaurant Week. During these times, most restaurants are offing a fixed priced menu for $30 per person (not including tax and gratuity). So this is the time to sample some of the finest dining in the city that might otherwise be out of your price range.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Denver International is the only airport in the metro area with commercial service, but is fortunate to be the home of airline hubs for United, Southwest, and Frontier. In addition, Delta, US Airways, and American each offer flights from their major hubs. Denver also enjoys domestic service from Airtran, Alaska, JetBlue, and Spirit as well as international service from Lufthansa, British Airways, Aeromexico, Volaris, and even Icelandair.
Southwest is a good choice for skiers as they allow two free checked bags per person, and JetBlue offers one. Although Frontier charges baggage fees, it is the only domestic airline that will transport a bicycle for the same fee as any other bag.
This airport, which is the largest in the United States (by land area), opened in 1995 about 25 miles northwest of the city, a rather remote location in the plains. Therefore, visitors without a rental car might wish to consider public transportation. RTD SkyRide bus service to downtown costs $11 ($5.50 for seniors), while a taxi to downtown is a $55.15 flat rate (plus tip) and even more for metered service to other destinations. Construction of a dedicated train line to downtown is well underway and is on track to begin service in 2016.
WHERE TO STAY
Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Denver International Airport: This hotel is located on the way to the airport, but it is still 13 miles from it. Rooms feature a flatscreen TV, complimentary WiFi, a coffeemaker, microwave and fridge. There is also a fitness center, business center, the library and an indoor pool with a hot tub, along with complimentary breakfast in the dining room. This is a Category 3 property and room rates start at $109 per night or 28,000 points for an award night in January.
The Curtis Denver – a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel: This hotel is a boutique highrise downtown hotel with a different pop-culture theme on each of its 13 floors such as Big Hair, Sci-Fi, and TV Mania. The property features 26 singles rooms, 136 double/queens rooms, 172 kings and two master suites that feature views of downtown Denver and the Rocky Mountains. Along with tons of personality, the eclectic rooms feature a flatscreen TV, complimentary WiFi, coffee maker, and an alarm clock with a MP3 player. The colorful Curtis is located just across the street from the Denver Performing Arts center, and only a few blocks from Lodo, the 16th Street mall, and the Convention Center. Dining options include the Corner Office Restaurant and Martini bar as well as dozens of nearby eateries. This is a Category 5 property and room rates start at $179 or 30,000 to 40,000 points for an award night in January.
The Hampton Inn & Suites Denver-Downtown: For a good value in the Capital Hill area on the east side of downtown, try the Hampton Inn. It features 148 guest rooms, an indoor pool, and is walking distance from the 16th Street Mall. As with all Hampton Inns, WiFi and breakfast are free to all guests. Rooms also include a flatscreen TV, work desk, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker and iron/ironing board. This is a Hilton Category 5 property and room rates start at $109 or 30,000 to 40,000 points for an award night in January.
Other Hilton properties in the metro area include the Hampton Inn Downtown Convention Center, Homewood Suites by Hilton Denver Downtown-Convention Center, Hilton Garden Inn Downtown,Embassy Suites Convention Center, Hampton Inn Downtown – Speer Blvd, Hampton Inn Cherry Creek, Doubletree Denver Stapleton, Doubletree Denver Stapleton North, and the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Denver.
Grand Hyatt Denver: Located in the 17th Street business district, this property just completed a $28 million renovation which included a new lobby and lobby lounge and a redesign of its 516 guest rooms and suites. Room amenities include a flatscreen TV, WiFi for a fee, iPod docking station, a coffee maker, and a Quartz touched bath with June Jacobs Bath Amenities and a rain showerhead. This hotel features the Skycourt outdoor rooftop jogging tracks and tennis courts with work-out stations. For dining options, guests can choose on-site restaurants such as the Pub17, Fireside Bar, and a Starbucks. Room rates start at $129 per night on January. This is a Category 3 property requiring 12,000 points per night for a standard room award night.
Hyatt Regency Denver: This property is well located, adjacent to the Colorado Convention Center and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. One of the newer hotels in Denver, it has 1,100 rooms, many including views of the Rocky Mountains, which feature the luxurious Hyatt Grand Bed, a flatscreen TV, WiFi for a fee, a work desk and chair, and a coffee maker. On-site dining options include the Altitude restaurant and Strata Bar on the ground floor as well as the Peaks Lounge on the rooftop, which features some of the best views in the city. Room rates start at $209 per night in January. This is also a Category 3 property requiring 12,000 points for an award night.
Crown Plaza Denver: This property is located right on the 16th Street Mall, which is lined with shops and restaurants and where guests can take the free mall shuttle to most major sites. The 364 rooms feature a flatscreen TV, complimentary standard internet, a CD player, work desk and coffee maker. This hotel features two restaurants: Off Sixteenth and The Place bar. Room rates start at $116 per night in January or 30,000 points for an award night.
Other IHG properties include the Holiday Inn Denver – Cherry Creek, Staybridge Cherry Creek, Holiday Inn Stapleton, Candlewood Denver West,Holiday Inn Wheatridge, Holiday Inn Express Denver East,Holiday Inn Lakewood, Holiday Inn Express Aurora Medical Center, and the Crowne Plaza Airport.
The Brown Palace: This landmark was one of the first atrium-style hotels built in the US when it opened in 1892. This property is considered by many to be the finest hotel in town, and various heads of state and several US Presidents number among the past guests. The 241-room hotel features a range of rooms and suites – including ones named after past guests Eisenhower, Reagan, and The Beatles – with standard amenities such as a flatscreen TV, complimentary WiFi, an iPod docking station, a Keurig coffee maker, and solid wooden furniture. On-site dining options include the Palace Arms fine dining, Ellyngton’s contemporary American Cuisine, and the Ship Tavern casual dining. Thankfully, this property recently joined the Marriott program’s Autograph Collection Hotels and is a Category 6 property. Room rates start at $229 or 30,000 points for an award night in January.
Marriott City Center: This is another large hotel in the 17th Street business district, but it is also very close to the 16th Street Mall. This property has 599 rooms on 20 floors, plus 14 suites, which feature WiFi for a fee of $9.95 per day, a flatscreen TV, a bathtub, a work desk and chair, and a coffee maker. On-site dining options include Allie’s American Grille, the D-Spot Lounge, and a Starbucks. Room rates start at $219 per night in January. This is a Category 6 hotel requiring 30,000 points for an award night.
Westin Downtown Denver: This Starwood property might have the most central location in Downtown Denver. It is located right on the 16th Street Mall, just a few blocks from Lodo, Coors Field, and the Pepsi Center. It has 430 guest rooms featuring the Westin Heavenly Bed and spa-like Heavenly Shower, a flatscreen TV, and WiFi for a fee. Select WestinWORKOUT Rooms feature a treadmill or spinning cycle, Reebok Pilates and Cycle DVDs, adjustable dumbbells and Reebok core training equipment, Bicycling and Runner’s World magazines, a fitness library and Runner’s World Maps, plus complimentary bottled water. In addition, the hotel has both indoor and outdoor heated pools, a gym, and even a Westin Kids Club. On-site dining is available at The Palm, but there are many other restaurants just steps from the front door. Room rates start at $179 per night in January. This is a Category 4 hotel requiring 10,000 Starwood Points for an award night.
AmexFine Hotels and Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
Four Seasons Denver: This property is located on 14th Street, very close to the Performing Arts center, the Convention Center, Larimer Square, and the Pepsi Center. It features 239 rooms and suites with panoramic view and a flatscreen TV, complimentary WiFi, iPod docking station, PlayStation on request, coffee maker, and terry bathrobes. There is also a full service day spa, and a heated pool with a large sundeck. On-site dining options include the EDGE restaurant and bar. Room rates start at $295 in January and include a $100 food and beverage credit plus daily breakfast for two.
Ritz Carlton Denver: This hotel is on 18th and Curtis, near the Ballpark neighborhood, and just two blocks from the 16th Street mall. It offers 202 guest rooms, including 47 suites, and 32 club level rooms that feature a flatscreen TV, 400-thread count linens, featherbeds and down comforters, oversized tubs and rainforest shower heads. Accommodations on the Club Level also include complimentary WiFi, pressing, a convenient boarding pass station, and snacks-to-go. Hotel amenities include an enormous state-of-the-art fitness club, and spa services. On-site dining is provided by Elway’s restaurant. Room rates start at $369 during the week, plus $54.43 in taxes and service fees for a night in mid January, but include a $100 credit towards hotel charges plus daily breakfast for two.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire,Ink Bold,Ink Plus,British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Hotel Teatro: Teatro means theater in Italian, and the hotel gets its name from being adjacent to the Denver Center for Performing Arts, a complex that features the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, an Opera house, and several theatrical stages. This 109-room boutique hotel features 12-foot ceilings, a flatscreen TV, complimentary WiFi, plush Frette terry robes, deep soaking oversized tubs, and rainforest shower heads. Guests enjoy access to a fitness center, complimentary Pressing and Shoe Shine Services, and a local courtesy shuttle. On-site dining options include the Restaurant Kevin Taylor and the Prima Restaurante, both of which are exceptional. Restaurant Kevin Taylor boasts cuisine that is a fusion and French, the American Southwest and the Asian Rim while Prima, which is also operated by the Kevin Taylor restaurant group, features contemporary Italian dining. Room rates start at $206 per night in January. Guests booking through the Visa Signature program enjoy free in-room Internet, complimentary continental breakfast, and a $25 food and beverage voucher.