The Maven Guide to Boulder, Denver + EVERYwhere in Between
Flying into Denver, the visual of the Rockies meeting the flat landscape in the distance is a view so very majestic.
Every year in July from the time I was a baby to teenage hood (in fact, the tradition started when my mom was in high school) my family loaded up our plethora of minivans + headed to Colorado. Returning back to this grand state for our honeymoon was nostalgic, but also allowed me to explore it as an adult.
In a nutshell, my wife + I flew into Denver + ventured around in Boulder, Estes Park + Grand Lake. Below are the story, tips + recommendations.
Boulder is kind of like a movie set; a picturesque downtown full of coffee shops, healthy-looking people, fancy stores + bars, all with a backdrop of cascading mountains. That being said + to be transparent, we quickly noticed Boulder was not diverse + felt like a white wealthy bubble, but what the city lacks in diversity, it makes up for with a noticeable activist energy. We spoke with several locals petitioning for Planned Parenthood to clean water for the river system.
Airbnb is our jam + our Boulder stay felt like a perfect oasis with the best shower ever (check it out here), close to downtown + a trailhead. Ubers + 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) + happily sipped on a glass of bubbly while grazing on Buffalo Cauliflower Tacos, Sweet Potato Gnocci + a bowl of Sweet Potato Fries for a hell of a deal around $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 + meyer lemon + the other, a robust red with tomato, water buffalo sausage, ricotta, pecorina + rosemary. Needless to say, we were happy as clams, especially on the patio getting our fill of people watching. 1730 pearl st
If you didn't know, Colorado is considered a beer mecca which is fantastic because I love beer. Avery Brewery is a clear example why Colorado does beer well, especially with a Maven Made-like Radlerado wheat ale “infused with lemon verbena, lavender, chamomile + hibiscus” + Pachamama, a unique “Peruvian-inspired chicha beer”. Avery beer is unique, but crisp + clean. They also serve food, mostly bbq style which we heard was fantastic. 4910 nautilus ct
On vacation, we take mornings very slow so coffee + a sweet cardamom treat from Boxcar Coffee Roasters (1825 pearl st) hit the spot as well as the yam-spiced latte at Wonder Press (946 pearl st) I'm not a fan of chain anything but 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 + 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 + recreational use of Marijuana a few years ago, dispensaries + grow facilities have become common as breweries (hint, just look for green signage). 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 + Doughnut bar (10mg of THC, milk chocolate, coffee, toasted milk + cinnamon sugar) that was out of this world delicious without the taste of weed. If you’re new to edibles, go easy + follow this simple guide.
We decided to wing it + 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 Estes Park, we quickly felt all those touristy vibes, not our cup of tea. That didn’t stop us from wandering around for an hour or so + enjoying beers at Rock Cut Brewing Company (the Smoky Brunette, a nutty smoked brown ale was a winner). 390 W Riverside Drive
As horror book + movie enthusiasts, we couldn’t say goodbye to Estes Park without visiting The Stanley Hotel. Sound familiar? This is the place where Stephen King stayed + manifested the concept of The Shining. We couldn’t swing the $400 for a room here (or $500 for a haunted room), but we could certainly could pay some dough 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 Ashleigh to experience the more "rustic" Colorado I remembered as a kid, so we searched Airbnb + 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, moose, deer + snow. This was one of the highlights of our trips, just letting the road take control while stopping to snap photos of grazing wildlife.
Winding down the Rocky Mountains, the visual of Grand Lake, Colorado's largest natural body of water, felt cathartic. Just like a mountain town, there are no condos, chain stores or fancy structures, just a handful of restaurants, shops, one grocery store + among a sea of wooden cabins + pine.
The Lupine Village Summer Cabin was my favorite Airbnb of them all because it reminded me of my own childhood 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 + 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 + 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. I really liked Polly's Sweet Shop because it was just to darn precious. 1106 Grand Ave
Besides our cozy cabin + 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 + 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 the sleepy mountain towns, but Denver was calling. Denver was much larger than I thought, although there is a central downtown, it feels there area dozen urban neighborhoods full of vintage shops, dispensaries, salons, breweries, restaurants + 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.
We have lots of luck aligning with amazing Airbnb's + The Brass Rabbit in Denver's Globeville area was no exception. Think tiny home in the host's backyard with historic, a bit gothic + modern decor. This was the ideal "nest" for our next leg of our trip.
EAT + DRINK
Although many Denverites don't feel their city is on the culinary map, we were impressed with the food scene + a couple of places get some praise.
City O City is open 7am to 1:30am every day + boasts a vegetarian + vegan focused menu that is out of this world. It took me forever to decide but I settled on the smoky tempeh salad with peppery arugula, greens, tomato, candied nuts, avocado + smoky tempeh tossed in a maple mustard dressing (half portion $8, full $12). It was amazing, the dressing had a kick + balanced well with cool slices of avocado. Ashleigh went another direction + ordered the BBQ Mac Wrap with bbq tofu, vegan mac & cheese coleslaw, house pickles (amazing) + crispy shallots ($12) ... we're still talking about it. The menu has everything from kimchi pancakes + a udon noodle bowl to chicken + waffles. 206 E 13th Ave
We came across the High Lonesome while getting slightly lost, made a mental note + came back to it the next night. This bar was one of my favorites, partly because it was no frills with a slight western energy. Padded swivel bar stools, solid whisky selection + 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 meal + ambience goes to Root Down. From the moment we walked in, the feel good vibe is felt, everywhere. The people worked there were genuinely kind, most of the ingredients are locally sourced + sustainable, the restaurant was built with reused or reclaimed materials + they use biodegradable products for nearly everything. Besides the cocktail programs at my favorite places in Richmond (that would be Pasture + Saison), Root Down killed it with the Coconut Gin Fizz, a concoction of gin, coconut milk, ginger, lime + prosecco ($10). We went smorgasbord style + split the Black Gnocchi adorned with sweet corn pudding, pecorino, charred tomatoes, corn nuts, kale pesto + coconut charcoal ($19), Sweet Potato Fries with a creamy + cool curry lime yogurt ($8) + Kashmiri Chicken with green chili grit cake, kale, piquillo coulis + green curry ($27). One of our favorite + most memorable meals together, especially with the kind words + well wishes from our server. This place needs a reservation, you don't want to miss out. 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) + pairing a cappuccino with avocado toast with almonds + pea puree from Black Eye (3408 navajo st) is a win-win. Want more Denver coffee recommendations? Find an excellent list here.
Since Colorado is experienced in the weed realm, we were curious to learn more about growing, laws + strains 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 + learned about the grow process, which is pretty complicated + should change the whole concept of a lazy stoner. The tour guides provided solid knowledge on the history of the green, how different strains affect you differently + also gave solid 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 idea.
Synchronicity is delightful, especially when it is snagging tickets to see Ryan Adams play 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, a spectral view + perfect acoustics. Check out 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 + 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 + got a workout with a steep incline. After our hike, we rewarded ourselves with some beers from Golden City Brewing + New Terrain Brewing (amazing views).
I usually loathe shopping, but Denver had me feeling like Vivian on Rodeo Drive (Pretty Woman, come on). Each store I stepped in felt so different than the other, but all featured local goods, beautiful clothes, wooden wares + 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 + 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 + it was chock full of an array of products. From clothes to home wares (found my favorite cedar incense there) + 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 + apothecary shops have always had a solid market in Colorado. In between geeking out + spending a little much, I really adored Rhizome Apothecary (4346 alcott st, check out their workshops) + 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 found bliss at Peace of Mind Massage, it was the perfect way to soothe our sore hiking muscles + just zen out.
My time in Colorado provided many things including a more intense connection with nature + the power in it. Climbing through the mountains or even sipping on a beer with a majestic views, it becomes clearer that mother nature needs love. Sometimes travel opens your eyes a bit more, for me it certainly did. I am forever grateful for this getaway.