the maven made guide to Colorado
Flying into Denver, the visual of the Rockies meeting the flat landscape in the distance is incredibly majestic.
Every year in July (in fact, the tradition started when my mom was in high school) my family loaded up our minivan and headed to Colorado. So returning back to this grand state for our honeymoon was nostalgic, but also allowed me to explore Colorado on my terms.
In a nutshell, my wife and I flew into Denver and ventured around in Boulder, Estes Park and Grand Lake. Below is our story, tips and recommendations.
Boulder is kind of like a movie set; a picturesque downtown full of coffee shops, outdoorsy looking people, fancy stores and bars, all with a backdrop of cascading mountains. We quickly noticed Boulder was not very diverse and felt like a white wealthy bubble, but what the city lacks in diversity, it makes up for with a noticeable activist energy. We were stopped by several locals petitioning for Planned Parenthood and clean water for the local river system.
We are fans of Airbnb, and our Boulder stay felt like a perfect oasis with the best shower ever (check it out here), close to downtown and had a short walk to hiking trailheads. Ubers and Lyfts run in Boulder so take advantage of the breweries or dispensaries with a safe ride to wherever you need to go.
FOOD + DRINK
We stumbled upon Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant during happy hour (3 – 6, everyday) and happily sipped on a glass of bubbly while grazing on Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos, Sweet Potato Gnocci and a bowl of Sweet Potato Fries for a only $17. 2010 16th st
Pizzeria Locale took the cake for our favorite Boulder meal. We split two pizzas, one white style with pea shoots, pecorino toscano, mozzarella and meyer lemon, and the other, a robust red with tomato, water buffalo sausage, ricotta, pecorina and rosemary. Needless to say, we were happy as clams, especially on the patio getting our fill of people watching. 1730 pearl st
Colorado is quite a beer Mecca and Avery Brewery is a clear example why Colorado does beer well, especially with the Radlerado wheat ale “infused with lemon verbena, lavender, chamomile + hibiscus” and Pachamama, a unique “Peruvian-inspired chicha beer”. Avery beer is unique, crips and clean. They also serve food, mostly bbq style which we heard was fantastic. 4910 nautilus ct
When traveling, we take mornings very slow so coffee and a sweet cardamom treat from Boxcar Coffee Roasters (1825 pearl st) and the yam-spiced latte at Wonder Press (946 pearl st) hit the spot. While I’m not a fan of chain restaurants, Snooze Eatery's (1617 pearl st) sweet potato pancakes with ginger butter was out of this universe.
For our first hike, we stuck to the moderate 3.3 mile Mount Sanitas Trail which captured amazing views of the city and lots of wildflowers. It was walkable from our Airbnb so that added an extra bonus, however it was heavily trafficked so if you aim for secluded hikes, this one might not be for you.
Once Colorado passed the legalization of medical and recreational use of Marijuana a few years ago, dispensaries and grow facilities have become common as breweries. We enjoyed our first dispensary experience at Helping Hands Herbals (1021 pearl st), where Shamus, an eager cannabis expert (they take this stuff seriously, but with a friendly ease) pointed us to Coda’s Coffee and Doughnut Bar (10mg of THC, milk chocolate, coffee, toasted milk and cinnamon sugar) which was delicious and strong. New to edibles? Go easy and follow this simple guide.
We decided to wing it and not book the next few nights (following Boulder) until we got a feel of our trip. I’m so glad we did, because the original plan was to stay in Estes Park, however when we drove into the town, it was clear this was a tourist trap. It didn’t stop us from wandering around for a bit and having beers at Rock Cut Brewing Company (the Smoky Brunette, a nutty smoked brown ale was my favorite). 390 W Riverside Drive
As horror genre enthusiasts, we couldn’t say goodbye to Estes Park without visiting The Stanley Hotel. Sound familiar? This is the place where Stephen King stayed and manifested the concept of The Shining. While we couldn’t swing the $400 for a room here (or $500 for a haunted room), we opted for fancy cocktails at the Stanley Hotel Whisky Bar. Haunted? Not so sure, the energy certainly felt dense, but maybe it was the temper tantrum of the toddler on the stairs behind me. 333 E Wonderview Ave
I really wanted my wife to experience the more "rustic" Colorado I remembered as a kid, so we searched Airbnb and found a gem of a place in Grand Lake, about 47 miles from Estes Park. Upon leaving Estes, we quickly realized (thanks Google Maps) we would be driving through the Rocky Mountain National Park. The woman who worked the entrance gate of the park promised our $20 park fee would be well worth the drive. I don't know why I dismissed her comment, but 7 minutes into the park, we had entered a magic vortex of winding mountain roads with plenty of moose, deer and snow. This was one of the highlights of our trip, just letting the road take control while stopping to snap photos of grazing wildlife and views.
Winding down the Rocky Mountains, the visual of Grand Lake, Colorado's largest natural body of water, felt cathartic. Just like the mountain town I hoped it would be, there were no condos, big box stores or fancy structures, just a handful of restaurants, shops, one grocery store among a sea of wooden cabins and forest.
The Lupine Village Summer Cabin was my favorite stay of our trip since it reminded me of my own childhood trips in Colorado, but it had comfortable upgrades that made it feel like a home away from home. If you stay in Grand Lake, you're literally staying in Grand Lake, since everything is walkable, the likelihood of driving is slim. Your legs will be happy.
EAT + DRINK
Before our mid-morning hike, we fueled up on a hearty breakfast at O A Bistro (inside the Gateway Inn) where the chef warmly greeted each table and whimsically suggested each diner have a mimosa or bloody mary. If you're lucky enough to sit on the patio or get a spot by a window, you're surrounded by a panorama view of cascading mountains. View, service and food was phenomenal. 928 Grand Ave
I feel like every Colorado town, large or small, has at least a handful of ice cream shops, Grand Lake is no exception as it has 5. We loved Polly's Sweet Shop because it looked so quaint. 1106 Grand Ave
Besides our cozy cabin and clear starry night skies, the highlight was the hike to Cascade Falls. This 7 mile hike begins with following a dirt road for about a mile then turns into a fairly easy journey through evergreens, open spaces and around boulders. The waterfalls marks the trail end then you follow right back where you entered. Stay hydrated for this one!
I wish we could have spent more time in Grand Lake, but we still had to cross Denver off our list. Denver was much larger than I had anticipated. Like any city there is a central downtown, but there are a dozen city pockets full of vintage shops, dispensaries, salons, breweries, restaurants and boutiques. Be patient here, most places take 20 minutes to get to, but depending on where you're from, it might be a piece of cake.
Our Airbnb, The Brass Rabbit, in Denver's Globeville area was wonderful. It was a tiny house in the host's backyard with historic, gothic and modern decor.
EAT + DRINK
Although many Denverites don't feel their city is on the culinary map, we were impressed with the food scene and a couple of places get some praise.
City O City is open 7am to 1:30am every day and boasts a vegetarian/vegan comfort food-focused menu that is out of this world. I ordered the smoky tempeh salad with peppery arugula, greens, tomato, candied nuts, avocado and smoky tempeh tossed in a maple mustard dressing (half portion $8, full $12). It was amazing, the dressing had a spicy kick and balanced well with cool slices of avocado. My wife ordered the BBQ Mac Wrap with bbq tofu, vegan mac & cheese coleslaw, house pickles (amazing) and crispy shallots ($12)... and we're still talking about it. The menu has everything from kimchi pancakes and a udon noodle bowl to “chicken” and waffles. 206 E 13th Ave
We came across the High Lonesome while getting slightly lost, made a mental note and came back to it the next night. This bar was one of my favorites, mostly because it reminded me of a simple western bar. Padded swivel bar stools, a solid whisky selection and one of the best bartenders I've ever encountered (this would be Andy, he's a damn peach) gave this simple drinking hole two thumbs way up. 3360 Navajo St
Our best Denver dining experience went to Root Down. From the moment we walked in, the energy felt warm and unpretentious but still fancy. The people worked there were genuine, most ingredients are locally sourced, and sustainability is important as the building was constructed with reused or reclaimed materials and they use biodegradable products for nearly everything. Root Down does cocktails right with the Coconut Gin Fizz, a concoction of gin, coconut milk, ginger, lime and prosecco ($10). We went smorgasbord style and split the Black Gnocchi adorned with sweet corn pudding, pecorino, charred tomatoes, corn nuts, kale pesto and coconut charcoal ($19), Sweet Potato Fries with a creamy and cool curry lime yogurt ($8) and Kashmiri Chicken with green chili grit cake, kale, piquillo coulis + green curry ($27). You’'ll likely need a reservation, and it’s worth it! 1600 W 33rd St
Denver does coffee right. Blue Sparrow (3070 blake st) served up the best matcha latte I've ever had, Huckleberry Roasters (4301 pecos st) made a killer latte (they also offer classes) and pairing a cappuccino with avocado toast with almonds and pea puree from Black Eye (3408 navajo st) is a win-win. Want more Denver coffee recommendations? Find an excellent list here.
Since Colorado has legalized cannabis for recreational and medicinal use, we were curious to learn more so we booked a tour through Colorado Cannabis Tours. This was a phenomenal experience, not only fun but we connected with different types of people and learned more about the state laws and the detailed growing process (which is pretty complicated and should change the whole concept of a lazy stoner). The tour guides provided solid knowledge on the history of marijuana, the effects of different strains and also provided recommendations on things to do in Denver. I would highly suggest in investing in this experience. Oh, they also offer a 420 friendly airport pickup + drop off, genius.
We were able to score Ryan Adams tickets as he was playing Red Rocks. For those who haven't been, Red Rocks is a music venue literally carved in the middle of gigantic red rocks. If you see a show here, prepare yourself for lots of feels, astounding view and perfect acoustics. You can find upcoming shows here.
Although Denver isn't the ideal place to hike (it's flat), we still wanted to keep up with our morning hike ritual so decided on the Beaver Brook and Chavez Trail Loop in Genesee Park near Golden. This 5.2 mile hike was the most intense out of all, we crawled across Boulders, balanced on logs across streams and got a workout with a steep incline. After our hike, we rewarded ourselves with some beers from Golden City Brewing and New Terrain Brewing (amazing views).
Local retailers in Denver make shopping a joy by featuring unique goods, beautiful clothes, wooden wares and crystal... everything. The favorite had to be Ritualcravt which can only be described in their own words, "Metaphysical and witchy wares for the conscientious practitioner. Ritualcravt strives to bring essential items to you and your sacred spaces, with care and gratitude. Our provisions are sourced ethically and made by hands in ceremony." Inside this shop, you can find books, beautiful Tarot decks, flower essences, home goods and more. I scored the newest version of my favorite bi-yearly workbook, Many Moons. 2842 w 44th st
Queen City General Store was another winner partly because the woman who worked there was a joy to chat with and the products they carry are beautiful. From clothes to home wares (found my favorite cedar incense there) and crystals, they have it. Plus, it's next door to City O City so this might make a great double feature. 220 s 13th ave
Wellness and apothecary shops have always had a solid market in Colorado, including stores like Rhizome Apothecary (4346 alcott st, check out their workshops) and of course the grand mama, Fig + Yarrow (3600 tejon st) - a company I looked up to for inspiration as the bones of Maven Made began. We also opted for a couples massage at Peace of Mind Massage, it was the perfect way to soothe our sore hiking muscles and relax.
My time in Colorado provided many things including a more intense connection with nature and reclaiming my fascination with this beautiful state. Climbing through the mountains or even sipping on a beer with a majestic views, it becomes clearer that mother nature shares so much love with us. Sometimes travel opens your eyes a bit more, for me it certainly did. I am forever grateful for this getaway.