Happy almost-Christmas friends! This Christmas is going to be a lot different at the Thompson household- for the first time ever, our Christmas celebrations are not only going to include family, but also significant others (not mine, *lol*). Growing up is such a strange thing, isn’t it?
My sisters decided to up the ante though, because bringing boyfriends just wasn’t exciting enough, so they’re bringing boyfriends who have *literally never been to the United States before.* That’s right, not only did they go and live their dreams abroad, they met their matches while doing so. Katie has been teaching English in Tokyo and will be introducing us to her boyfriend Ryoji. Stephanie was studying at the London School of Economics, where she met Chris who I had the opportunity to grill when I visited London back in March. I, of course, will have my dog Finley by my side (are we at all surprised by this??). Since Ryoji and Chris are visiting the good ol’ U.S. of A for the first time, I get to play host out of my apartment turned visiting-sisters-and-boyfriends-crash-pad in Denver and I am SO EXCITED! I love playing tourist in my own city, and while brainstorming some options around town I thought it would be great to share them with those of you who will also be hosting friends and family in Denver this holiday season! (or for those who just want to go out and explore by themselves- no shame in the solo game!)
Well, as I started making a list, it just kept growing and growing (the list addiction is REAL). So, below you can find 7 categories with 40+ options in the city to entertain this December. I didn’t include any restaurants or many breweries this time around as those are more obvious choices, but of course these are always wonderful options as well! First up: coffee & cocktails!
Coffee & Cocktails & Coffee-Cocktails
Depending on who’s visiting you, you might need a boost from coffee, a cocktail, or both. Thankfully, Denver has some lovely spots to enjoy both (separately or at the same time ;)). For ~aesthetic~ check out Hudson Hill on 13th or Call in RiNo. For simultaneously imbibing, caffeinating, and satisfying your sweet tooth, head to Carbon Café & Bar on Platte which shares an entrance with Habit doughnuts (yum!), or D Bar in Uptown for cakes & confections. If you’re looking for some spots with variety and top notch people watching, head over to Union Station (home to Terminal Bar and Pigtrain Coffee), or Dairy Block & Milk Market just a few streets over! Both spots are also sporting some seriously festive decorations right now perfect for getting in the spirit.
Panic Gift Shopping
Hi. I may or may not have added this particular section because I, too, procrastinated on Christmas shopping. Never fear though, the mile high city is chock-full of lovely local spots for those of us on the struggle bus. Capitol Hill offers Queen City General Store, a little boutique full of succulents, crystals, minimalist jewelry, hip clothing, and cheeky cards (aka an instagrammer’s dream). A few blocks over you’ll find Kilgore, a used bookstore boasting some of the most popular and obscure titles you could ever want. Head a bit further east on Colfax, and you’ll run into Midnight Rambler, a beautiful boutique full of clothing, jewelry, décor, skin care, and just all around beautiful things. A bit further down is Coloradical, a shop full of garb celebrating the Centennial State. If you REALLY feel like going east, I highly suggest Stanley Marketplace for a one-stop shop full of Coloradan vendors- particularly the Zero Waste Market. More centrally, you can find Rosehouse (plants & apothecary), Hope Tank (where every item has an associated cause), and Fancy Tiger (half clothing boutique/half craft supplies/makers boutique) on Broadway.
Everyone’s Favorite ‘Hood*
Okay maybe this is just me, but I don’t think that a visit to Denver is complete without checking out RiNo. The artful area boasts some of my favorite spots in the city and exploring it can easily provide a day’s worth of entertainment. I recommend walking along Larimer street (and on the parallel alley between Larimer and Walnut) heading north from 25th Street. Along the way you’ll see amazing murals and run into great spots like Our Mutual Friend and Ratio for craft brews, Finn’s Manor for cocktails and live music, Modern Nomad for browsing and shopping, Denver Central Market for food, and a multitude of other wonderful spots you can pop into. Further north in the neighborhood, you can find Backyard on Blake and Improper City which both offer an opportunity to sit and enjoy each other’s company both inside and outside (if it’s warm enough!).
*if loving RiNo is wrong I don’t want to be right.
The Obvis but Goodies
Of course when looking up what to do in a city, the museums are always a DUH. But, there’s a reason for that, and the reason is because they are GREEEEAT. Seriously, if you or your guests love art or clothes or looking at things that you can only ever dream of affording (ya girl’s on a budget) hop on over to the perfectly curated Dior exhibit at the Denver Art Museum. If you’re trying to educate your fellow transplants about this rad state, check out the History Colorado Center to learn some fun facts that you can blurt out during potential awkward silences at the Christmas Eve dinner table (#you’rewelcome). And of course, Blossoms of Light at the Botanic Gardens is always a safe and twinkly bet!
Spots that Make you say Okurrr
Okay, they may not evoke that exact reaction, but if you’re looking for some unique spots to show you just how niche Denver can get- look no further. The kombucha taproom (yes, they even have flights) at American Cultures is a great shout, along with Forest Room 5 for kitschy summer camp in the mountain vibes and a brew, Bigsby’s Folly for wine tasting and feeling ~fancy~, First Draft Denver that offers serve-it-yourself taps when you just can’t decide which craft brewery to visit, Yeah Baby for gin cocktails and psychedelic rainbow vibes, and the café on the roof at the Museum of Contemporary Art for some ~culture~. For some activities that don’t include walking or drinking, try out bouldering at the Denver Bouldering Club, or getting a non-toxic mani pedi at Base Coat Nail Salon.
Locals Only (no Californians allowed- just kidding)
If you really want to deep dive into some local spots with your guests, I suggest Don’s Club Tavern on 6th Ave. Not sure how they nailed the townie vibe so well in the heart of the city, but I’m not mad about it. For less Coors Banquets, head to the Thin Man in uptown to drink in dim red light among approx. 1 million pictures of Jesus Christ (this sounds awful- but trust me on this one). For a lowkey daytime stop, wander over to South Pearl street to browse and grab a coffee in the cozy and adorable abode that is Stella’s. For a show, try Larimer Lounge in RiNo- inexpensive and intimate in the way only a divey concert hall can be. OBVIOUSLY also take your guests to Illegal Pete’s for some chips and queso served by Denver’s finest punks (I say this lovingly- ❤ you Pete’s).
FREE FINDS FOR MY FRUGAL FRIENDS (@ me)
The most important category of all: freebies. Hosting can get so expensive! While it’s fun to get out and explore, it seriously adds up quickly. To give your wallet a break, wander into the mountains to walk around (and brag about all the concerts you’ve seen) at Red Rocks Amphitheater or check out some nearby beginner-friendly hikes. As mentioned earlier, walking throughout RiNo to view murals and art installations is always a crowd-pleaser. While downtown, enjoy a free skate at the Skyline Park ice skating rink then cross the street to enjoy free music and browsing at the Christkindl (German Christmas) market. For more Christmas spirit, take a drive around the Cherry Creek neighborhood and along 6th and 7th Aves to view Christmas lights while singing along to your favorite carols. Last, but not least, if you have extreme willpower and appreciate food, walk around the incredible Union Station Whole Foods (warning: this trip will likely begin free and possibly end in a $100+ basket full of fancy cheese you can’t pronounce and essence water).
There’s no shortage of entertainment here in Denver, and I hope my recommendations above can help you choose perfect fits for your guests! I love sharing this city as much as I love living in it, and despite my sarcasm I really am excited to be a mini tour guide/ 3rd wheel for my sisters. I’d love to hear about where you like to bring guests in Denver and where you wow your visitors around town- let me know in the comments below! Until next time,