Our trip to Denver, like most of our travel lately, was somewhat spontaneous. I’ve wanted to visit Colorado for years, and even put it on my 2016 Travel Wish List, but I’ve always felt that if I was going to fly to the middle of the country I should go visit my family in Oklahoma.
When I saw that my former favorite band (The Flaming Lips) were playing my favorite album (The Soft Bulletin) at an outdoor amphitheater that’s long been on my bucket list (Red Rocks), I knew the stars had finally aligned and that I just had to get myself there.
It wasn’t an easy trip in planning or in execution, but in the end it was every bit as wonderful as I’d always hoped.
We had to make sure to pay attention to three things during our trip:
- Finding affordable things to do in Denver
- Getting by without a vehicle
- Finding plenty of dog-friendly activities
Since we were traveling over Memorial Weekend, car rentals were pricier than we would have liked. We opted against renting one and instead decided to spend the majority of our time within Denver city limits. This was kind of a disappointment because I would have loved to have seen Boulder and done lots of hiking in the mountains. We’ll go back and do that another time for that. However, Denver itself does offers plenty to do without breaking the bank or getting behind the wheel.
It was also easier to stick to the city because we decided to take Ashton with us. Our usual pup sitters (Tom’s parents) were on a really cool vacation of their own, and it’s not any cheaper for us to board him than it is for him to tag along. Plus, he’s an old guy and I don’t know if he was boarded before we adopted him. My overprotective dog-parenting just won’t let me do it. Honestly, if I could, I would take him everywhere.
Fun, Affordable Things To Do in Denver Without a Car
Denver isn’t a huge city, so it’s definitely possible to get by without a car. Most neighborhoods, even the less popular ones, offer quick access into the city.
Get to Know a Less Buzzy Neighborhood
You’ll hear a lot about RiNo (River North), LoDo (lower downtown) and the Highlands to name a few when planning a trip to Denver, but staying in one of those neighborhoods could make your trip more expensive.
We stayed in quiet Whittier, and could walk to downtown within a half our or so, or take a short Lyft ride. Opting for an Airbnb over a hotel also saved us a lot of money. We still felt right in the middle of the action most of the time. Our hosts were incredibly friendly, even picking us up from Union Station and driving us to the guest house after we arrived in the city. The accommodations themselves were perfect, cute and comfortable.
I highly recommend this little guest house if you’re visiting Denver, as long as you’re not afraid of a couple of very large, but very sweet dogs greeting you at the door on occasion.
Budget Tip: The Denver airport is very far outside of the city, but a new light rail recently opened offering direct service to Union Station downtown. You can connect to other parts of town from Union Station (admittedly, not that many), or take a more affordable cab from there. Tickets are $9 for a day pass, with access directly outside of Denver International Airport.
Get Your Nature Fix at Local Parks
Denver has a ton of green space. Even if you can’t make it out to the mountains there’s still plenty of nature to explore. Over the course of our trip we visited two popular parks, City Park and Washington Park.
City Park was a short walk from our Airbnb and is home to the Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature and Science. We opted just to explore the grounds with the dog on a beautiful sunny morning.
Even in a landlocked city, I always seek out water views. City Park has two lakes: Duck Lake (above) is smaller and borders the zoo while Ferril Lake (below) is more expansive with a bordering walking trail.
We took a scenic break at Ferril Lake so Ashton could catch his breath (watch out for your pets in the higher altitude) and ham it up for the camera.
He was pretty happy he got to tag along, don’t you think?
The next day, we took a Lyft (they’re not paying me, Uber if you want) to the Washington Park neighborhood for brunch and then explored the area. It had a kind of old money feel with lots of gorgeous houses and tree-lined streets.
This park was prettier than City Park, in my opinion. Unfortunately, it was a really cold and windy day so we didn’t stay too long.
I was surprised how rare it was to catch a glimpse of the mountains in Denver, but we did manage to do so from Wash Park… sort of. Can you spot them?
Explore the 16th Street Mall and LoDo
One of Denver’s most popular attractions, the 16th Street Mall is packed with shops, restaurants and museums. We spent a lot of time here, as it was close to Union Station where we began and ended our trip.
Union Station is definitely worth a visit, even if you don’t take the light rail. It was recently renovated and is beautiful inside and out.
The rest of our time in LoDo was mostly spent eating (find more on our favorite restaurants here), but it’s also a great area to take a walk, go shopping or do some people watching.
Budget Tip: If your feet get tired, there’s a shuttle that will take you up and down the 16th Street Mall for free.
Check out a Brewery… or Five
Denver is almost synonymous with beer, and there are many to try inside city limits. While I tend to prefer wine over beer, I had a great time tasting local Colorado brews.
Each had a different vibe. Great Divide was hip and crowded, with beers that weren’t quite to my taste. Crooked Stave was even hipper and also crowded, but sour beers are my favorite so I as a fan. Prost has an awesome outdoor beer garden that’s pet friendly, with easy drinking beers that are perfect for a sunny afternoon.
For a complete list and map of Denver breweries, click here.
Picnic in Confluence Park
Another LoDo gem, Confluence Park is perfectly scenic and serene. It’s a great place to picnic or catch up on your reading.
A friend of ours who lives in Denver described Confluence Park as “where all the hippies hang out” so take from that what you will.
We walked through the park going from Prost back to LoDo and caught lots of fun sights along the way.
Budget Tip: If you’re in the area, stop by Corks wine store where nothing is over $15. We may have grabbed a few cans of wine for sipping back at the Airbnb. Yes, cans. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
Gaze at Street Art in RiNo
You guys know I’m obsessed with street murals, and RiNo has some of the best I’ve seen outside of São Paulo.
See a Show at Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Okay this one is kind of cheating, but from what I understand it is possible to get to Red Rocks without a car. There are several shuttles from downtown Denver to Red Rocks so don’t count out seeing a show just because you don’t have a vehicle.
Luckily, our friend offered to drive us so I can’t vouch for a specific shuttle service but get thee to Yelp and Trip Advisor and I’m sure you can make an educated decision.
So how was the big bucket list trip to Red Rocks? Found out here!