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Five things to do in Denver when you’re (mostly) sober (updated with new links)

Submitted by on September 14, 2010 – 4:00 am10 Comments

Image courtesy of Great American Beer FestivalThe Great American Beer Festival, the terminus of the year’s biggest road trip for beer for many, the holy grail of ale, the mecca of malt, will be here soon.

And I’m not going.

September is a big month in my personal life with two major birthdays this year: my daughter’s 7th and my 50th.  Besides, I started my full-time freelancing life less than a year ago; for some reason, the big checks do not arrive regularly in my UPS Store mailbox as I expected. Or small checks, for that matter.

However, Road Trips  for Beer is not negligent enough to leave unmentioned the three-day celebration of fermentation taking place Sept. 16-18 in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado.

Other writers have posted some great stuff about the festival itself; there are links to some of those at the bottom of this post. But for the purposes of this story, I will write about Five Things to Do in Denver When You’re (Mostly) Sober.

I lived in Denver for a couple of years in the early 1980s, when the craft brewing revolution was only a gleam in the eyes of a few bearded visionaries who were boiling wort and bottling their own beer in garages and sheds. But even though I fueled up with Old Style, Budweiser and the occasional Grolsch or Heineken at the time, I still managed to have fun. And I have since made several return trips to the area.

So for those of you who will be in Denver for a few days before or after the GABF, here is a handful of  things that I did that 30 years ago that you can still do today. Please keep in mind that things may have changed since the last time I visited about four years ago.

Hang out in Washington Park

Photo courtesy of about.comThis 165-acre verdant oasis in the middle of the historic Washington Park neighborhood is the largest and oldest urban park in Denver. You can bike, jog or skate on the 2.6-mile trail that circles the park, or if that’s too ambitious, or just pack a lunch and spend a lazy hour or two people watching and enjoying the weather. There are two lakes and a pond inside the park, 10 tennis courts and a recreation center, too.


Have a Burrito

Photo courtesy of www.petesrestaurants.comTry the “Ole” Special Platter at Pete’s  Satire Lounge and Restaurant. Though in general the Mexican food in Denver is some of the best in the country, the Satire’s ginormous concoction of shredded meat, lettuce and tomato wrapped in a flour burrito and smothered with green chile and cheese is a delicious gut bomb of legendary proportions. If you have it for lunch, you’ll likely be able to skip dinner.  Be aware of your surroundings though. This area of East Colfax Avenue is not the most upscale of neighborhoods, at least not the last time I visited.

Wander around Red Rocks

Photo courtesy of Red Rocks Park and AmpitheatreRed Rocks Park and Ampitheatre is about 15 miles west of Denver, but maintained by the city as part of its Mountain Parks system. It’s home of arguably the world’s best concert setting in a natural ampitheatre,  but visitors can take a day trip there just to marvel at the massive red sandstone outcroppings , hike its sometimes challenging trails or check out the ampitheatre during non-concert days.  The Zac Brown Band with Robert Randolph & the Family Band are on the concert schedule for the evening of Sept. 19.

Tour the Mint

Photo courtesy of U.S. MintWho doesn’t like to see money being made? The U.S. Mint in Denver is conveniently located in downtown, and tours are free. You must schedule your tour ahead of time on the Mint’s website. Note that “tour policies are subject to change without notification.  If the Department of Homeland Security level is elevated to CODE ORANGE, the United States Mint at Denver will be CLOSED to the public unless otherwise noted.” Be prepared to go through a metal detector.

Take a Day Trip

Photo courtesy of National Scenic Byway ProgramCome on, you’ll be on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. There’s plenty you can do and see in a day’s drive. Head up to one of the old mining towns, like Idaho Springs, where you can still try your luck panning for gold. Have some fun in the laidback college town of Boulder, where you can check out the street performers and shops of the Pearl Street Mall or hike its extensive urban trail system. Drive to the top of a mountain, like Mount Evans, which is 60 miles west of Denver, or Pike’s Peak, about 98 miles south near the city of Colorado Springs. Better yet, engage in one of my favorite activities: Get a map and drive aimlessly through the Rockies. Consult the map only when you’re ready to get back to Denver – or when you start running low on gas. You never know what you’ll find – maybe even some September snow.

Though Road Trips for Beer will not be at the 2010 GABF, plans are being made for next year.  And I’ll be in Boulder in November to get my microbrew-and-mountains fix at the inaugural Beer Bloggers Conference.

Here are some links to some previews of the 2010 Great American Beer Festival and the Denver Beer Fest.

Beer Advocate: Guide to the Great American Beer Festival

WestWord: A dozen non-Colorado breweries to try

Ladies of Craft Beer: Denver restaurants tap craft beer events

The Hop Press: When in Rome, err, Denver

Drink with the Wench: Mutinous Battle Chai release party announcement

Craftbeer.com: A Festival Deserving of ‘Great’

Jenn and Beer: Top Five: I’m really excited for GABF

TheFullPint.com: Going to GABF 2010!

Visit Denver:  The Great American Beer Festival 2010

Road Trips for Foodies: A Citywide Suds Celebration in Denver

Pints for Prostates: Denver Rare Beer Tasting II Releases Beer List


Downtown Denver hotels offer microbrew package tours

Some beer festival guidelines

Top 10 summer beer festivals


  • Sober… in Denver? Ha!


    I think.

    Great list. If I get the chance, I will look into some of these!



  • Rich Grant says:

    What a perfect list! I’ve lived in Denver 40 years and worked for the convention bureau selling it for 30, and this is as fine a recommended list as I’ve seen.

    If you can’t get in the U.S. Mint (it fills up earlier than most beer drinkers will be out in the morning), an alternative is Rockmount Ranch Wear, a stone’s thrown from the Wynkoop Brewing Company. This is where the snap-button western shirt was invented. Bruce Sprinsteen, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton have all shopped here — even Elvis used to wear these shirts. They’re designed for cowboys (the shirt “snaps” open when snagged on barbed wire rather than busting a button that has to be threaded back on) but they’re also perfect for drinking beer, hiking in the Rockies, and, did I mention drinking beer? Have a great time in Denver, everyone coming, and check out http://www.DenverBeerFest.com for 150 events taking place around GABF. Cheers! Rich

  • Gerard says:

    Thanks for the kind words and the additional suggestions, Rich. I never visited Rockmount, but I have worn snap-button shirts before. Now I may have to pick one or two up when I go to Boulder in November.

  • Paul Unwin says:

    Gerard, I’m off to Fort Collins this Saturday for 2 nights, then Boulder for 3 nights. Never been to FC, but have been to Denver, so know some of these places you wrote about. But Sun night I will be looking around Morrison and Redrocks, as David Gray is playing there. Its my first time, but I do believe after seeing that list you wrote a while back that you’ve been there many times!!

  • Gerard says:

    I saw quite a few shows at Red Rocks when I lived in Denver. It’s hard to recall them all, for some reason, but off the top of my head I remember: The Moody Blues, the Doobie Brothers, The Clash, Chuck Mangione, Lyle Metheny, the Go-Gos (!).

    I’m eager to hear what you think about it, Paul. I would advise getting there when gates open for the pre-concert experience. The venue is more liberal than most as far as what you can bring in: You can pack non-alcoholic drinks and food in a soft-side cooler, even, and have a picnic before the show starts. Be sure to bring a blanket and something soft to put under your butt, unless you enjoy sitting on bare concrete.

    Check the website for all the rules.

    Have a fun and safe trip!

  • other suggestions –
    See a Rockies game.
    Attend Ladies of Craftbeer event – Beer for Boobs Brunch

  • Paul Unwin says:

    Fort Collins is a must do, the Denver Botanical Gardens are cool as well, in a nice neighborhood, and a nice walk. I agree 110% about Redrocks, beautifull Gerard. Also the Buckhouse Exchange is worth a visit for lunch or dinner, well if you like game style food, and you can get Rattlesnake and Rocky Mountain Oysters!!

  • Terri says:

    Gerard, thanks for mentioning the Pearl Street Mall! If people want to find out more, here is a link to our web site: http://www.boulderdowntown.com!

  • Gerard says:

    Good suggestions, Paul. I never visited the Botanical Gardens, but I’ve heard it’s awesome. Used to go to the Museum of Natural History once in a while. Its butterfly collection was awesome.

  • Gerard says:

    You’re welcome, Terri. It’s a cool place. I can’t wait to get back there in November for the Beer Bloggers Conference.

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