Travis and I signed up for the Spirit Airlines Mastercard a year ago and have been banking our airline miles by traveling to Austin, NYC, and Vegas. We earned enough now to take a couple of mostly free domestic flights, so we chose to fly to Denver and Miami. Two U.S. cities that we had never been to, but that sounded cool and interesting!
First of all, I would like point out that by far, the portion of this blog post that is longest, is THE GOOD. There was much more good about Denver than there was bad and ugly. But, it is my responsibility to accurately represent my experiences and travels, so I will share all sides.
We took the train from the airport into Union Station, and I am so glad that we did! Once we got out of the airport we purchased a day pass for $10.50 each, that can be used on train or bus. On our 30 minute train ride, we saw groundhogs (!), and I always love to travel by train. I am so envious of Europeans and their easy train travel.
Union Station is small, but so beautiful. With plush leather sofas, grand old light fixtures, and antique trunks, you really feel like you are transported into another time. While you are there you can check out the cute little bars, restaurants, sweet shops, and cafes. We tried getting brunch at Snooze (voted the best brunch in the city), but we were too hungry to wait. So be prepared for that!
Our first night in Denver, we traveled to Larimer Square. I loved all the Colorado flags and string lights in the evening dark. The boutiques were closed by the time we got there, but it was still fun to look at window displays and window shop. This area of downtown is a bit more upscale and sophisticated. We grabbed a drink at Corridor 44, a pretty little champagne bar. I ordered a champagne cocktail with chocolate wine and fresh raspberries. I really wanted to love it, but it was so bitter, I couldn’t even drink it….bummer.
Dairy Block in Denver was my very favorite part of our entire trip. It is this little block in the LoDo neighborhood with very cool shops, cafes, and restaurants. We spent an entire afternoon exploring all the little alleyways, popping into shops, trying out artisan hand lotions, playing music on walls, and even buying “fortune pencils” for 50 cents.
Within the Dairy Block, is the Dairy Market, which is an expansive marketplace with various restaurants and bars. There was one shop where you can purchase an empty wine bottle, then fill it up with your choice from various taps! For lunch, I ordered a hand tossed fire grilled wild mushroom pizza with a glass of red wine that was to die for. For dessert, Travis and I shared some colorful macarons.
No trip to Denver is complete without a trip to the mountains. It is pretty surreal that you can be in the heart of the city, then drive for 20-30 minutes, and be in the Rockies. For our mountain adventure, we visited Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. There were no events going on that day, which allowed us to just explore on our own. We watched other people hardcore working out on the steps of the amphitheater, walked along some of the walking paths and hiked some stairs, then had lunch at the Red Rocks Bistro with the most beautiful view.
The LoHi neighborhood is a fun spot in Denver home to some of the more unique experiences we had during our trip.
Avanti Food and Beverage
Avanti Food and Beverage is a food and beverage hall made of shipping containers. Each shipping container has been converted into a restaurant, and they are occupied by rotating startups. So fun! They have indoor, outdoor, and rooftop seating for plenty of options.
I have been wanting to try arepas for the longest time. They are handheld Venezuelan sandwiches that I have seen on the Food Channel, and I finally got my chance at Avanti! One of the restaurants was Quiero Arepas. I got their vegan option, with fried plantains, black beans, and avocado, then added muenster cheese…let me tell you. It was a million times better than I anticipated. Phenomenal!
Williams and Graham
Williams and Graham is a speakeasy, just a 5 minute walk from Avanti Food and Beverage. I have this weird obsession with hidden passageways behind secret bookcases, so this was right up my alley. From the outside, it looks like an small antique bookstore. Inside you will find a few bookshelves, along with a sign stating that the restaurant has been closed for serving liquor and violating the law of prohibition (clutch your pearls!). Then, when the inside bar is ready for you, one of the bookshelves opens up to lead you into a dimly lit bar with craft cocktails. I had the More Ovaltine Please which tasted like boozy chocolate and banana. It was amazing!
The Art District on Santa Fe
If you are into the art scene, then you must visit the Art District on Santa Fe. Located on Santa Fe street between 7th and 10th. We took an Uber and requested a drop off at “the art district”, and he dropped us off a few blocks away, and we were very confused. Even the actual art district is not a very defined area, but if you take a walk between 7th and 10th, you will find some cool spots.
Wall art and murals are probably my favorite thing to photograph next to sunrises/sunsets (I’m basic, I know). And there were a few cool murals in the Art District on Santa Fe.
There are also various galleries along the street worth walking into. You never know what you might find. I am always enthralled by people who live fully artistic lives. It is just so foreign to me! We saw basement-dwelling artist communities, black and white family photographs that had been bedazzled, painted mannequins, a 1980s “smart phone” installation, and a collaboration between a human artist and honeybees and snails!
For lunch, we stopped at Pistol Whip. We only stopped here because there were very few options and we were hungry, so we had no expectations. Pistol Whip totally impressed us! I had shrimp avocado toast that was amazing, and had just a hint of spice from cayenne pepper. So good! The waitress also let us sample their new sparkling sake, which was also super tasty.
Of course the views in Denver are beautiful. The best views are seen from the highest points that get the most panoramic views of mountains. The two best locations to take in the view were Peaks Lounge and 54Thirty Rooftop.
Peaks Lounge is near the top of the Hyatt Regency located right in the heart of Downtown Denver. It is all enclosed, and has wall-to-wall windows for taking in the view. This would be the place to be when the temps get too cold.
54Thirty Rooftop is an open air rooftop bar at the Le Meridien hotel. It is located downtown, actually right across the street from Peaks Lounge. The vibe here was a bit more young and hip. I loved that it was open air, and that they had outdoor heaters to keep it comfortable as the temps cool down.
Alright, now that I have told you all about the fun good parts of our Denver experience, it is time for The Bad. Any time I travel to a new place, especially a city in the U.S., I find the main street in downtown, then choose a centrally located hotel. I like to be right in the center of all the action, then go from there. This is what I did with Denver.
16th street is the main street of Downtown Denver, so we elected to stay at the Grand Hyatt, right off of this street in the center of downtown. We spent our first afternoon and evening walking up and down 16th street exploring the shops and checking out the restaurants. We arrived hungry and ate at Back East Bar and Grill. The food and drinks were pretty crappy, yet overpriced, and the service was extremely slow despite being one maybe 3 occupied tables.
As we walked around, both Travis and I were struck by how many homeless people there were. As I type these words, I want to be aware of my privilege. I am a white woman, employed, mentally stable, with a home, and access to medical and mental health care. I work as a social worker, providing clinical therapy to the mentally ill and drug addicted, so this is not a world I am unfamiliar with…and still…this just felt different. I have traveled to many cities all over the U.S. and the world, and have seen poverty in various forms. The environment along 16th Street in Denver was not different solely in the number, but in these peoples demeanor.
So many of these individuals were talking out loud to themselves, acting erratically, and gesticulating wildly. It has only been the last 6 months or so with the increase in mass shootings that I have ever felt unsafe or hypervigilant in public places, but it has begun. I definitely felt on guard that first day, surrounded by this population.
Now, we come to The Ugly. Our second afternoon in Denver, Travis and I sat outside at a restaurant on 16th Street for lunch. As we were eating, an apparently homeless man entered the outdoor dining area, peed on the ground, then started yelling obscenities as he struggled to find his way out again. A waitress had to come over and usher him back out. That was very strange and uncomfortable, but we just continued dining.
About 10 minutes later, an apparently homeless woman ran up to the barrier near our table, and spit on me. I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, and it landed on my sleeve and the front of my shirt. She took a couple steps back, then proceeded to scream at me. At this point, everyone eating outside moved inside of the restaurant, and the police were called. The manager got me a rag and was very apologetic.
We did not feel safe going back out the front of the restaurant again, for fear of running into that individual in case she had targeted me for some reason, so the manager walked us out the back and we made our way back to our hotel. We asked her what the deal was and if this was all pretty typical, and she stated that “yes, unfortunately, these things happen fairly regularly”. She stated that as a woman she often feels unsafe at work, needing to protect her waitstaff from the homeless population who have even turned knives on them attempting to steal money. She assumed that the prevalence of drugs has made the issue so problematic. Sadly, we avoided 16th Street and Downtown Denver the rest of our trip, and the other neighborhoods felt much safer.
If you would like to donate to the Salvation Army, which provides Addiction Treatment and other services to Denver, you can
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Leah Little has a full time job as a social worker, and has managed to travel the world while wearing beautiful clothes by knowing how to score deals in travel and fashion. Learn more about her journey here. Join the Leah Little Travel and Fashion tribe by entering your email to subscribe to be the first to learn new ways to enjoy the best in travel and fashion for less. Say hi and send her a message! Contact