At a time where mask-wearing is the status quo and social distancing is a way of life, it can be tough to figure out what to do beyond re-watching your favorite show on Netflix one more time. But not for you. You’re in the Mile High City, where we know how to have a good (and safe) time, even as winter temps are dropping. From street art adventures in the city to discovering ice castles a short drive out of town, we’re making the whole winter wonderland thing happen, COVID-style. If you find yourself ready to hit play on another holiday rom-com out of pure bordeom, check out this list instead and find new ways to get out (and stay in) while enjoying the best of Denver.
Hit the slopes
$$$ Various locations The most Denver thing to do in the winter is to leave Denver and head for the hills where we’re lucky enough to have some of the best ski resorts in the country nearby. The 2020/2021 season’s gonna be… unique. Most resorts are requiring reservations ahead of time and no walk-up tickets, but it’s totally worth the effort for some of that fresh mountain air as you ride down the mountain.
Hit a sledding or tubing hill
Free – $$ Various locations If the idea of strapping on a board or stepping into a pair of skis leaves you saying “nope,” you can-and should-still get out and play in the snow. The best way to get that flying down the mountain experience without all the equipment and skills? Take it back to your childhood and find a sled. If there’s now on the ground in Denver, head to Ruby Hill for a free sledding experience. Or step it up to tubing level-one of the best places to try out this winter excursion is the Fraser Tubing Hill near Winter Park.
Free Rocky Mountain PBS app A beloved winter tradition, the Colorado Ballet isn’t able to perform this classic live this year. Instead, they’re keeping the spirit alive with free access anytime to the full show via the Rocky Mountain PBS app. Put on those festive PJ’s, pour yourself a piping hot mug of cocoa (spiked… if you’re into that), and enjoy this tradition from the comfort of home.
Check out some holiday lights
Free-$$ Various locations All over town, lights are twinkling. From the festive displays at Union Station and the City & County Building that you can enjoy for free while taking a walk downtown to annual favorites like Zoo Lights and Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Garden, there’s no shortage of holiday cheer on display. And if you’re not into being out in the cold, Bandimere Speedway has a drive-thru display so you can turn your heat on high and enjoy the light show from your car.
See some outdoor art exhibits
Free – $ Various locations Museums may be closed, but the creatives of the Mile High are coming through with outdoor alternatives. In Cherry Creek, you can stroll through a rainbow of lights at Prismatica. At the Botanic Garden’s Chatfield location, you can check out the immersive sculptures made of branches and other natural materials that are part of the One Fell Swoop exhibit from artist Partick Dougherty. And you can head over to the Theatre District where Night Lights Denver features rotating content designed by local artists.
Go ice skating
$ Various locations Although the downtown Denver rink at Skyline Park is not opening this year, there are still a couple of great options for a winter skate session in town. The Shops at Northfield have an old fashioned outdoor rink where you can skate through February 28 for $10/person (which includes the skate rental). During the holiday season, head to Four Mile Historic Park where their December Delights event runs through December 27 and includes an outdoor rink along with other festive activities.
$ Dillon There is no better chance to feel like you’ve escaped to an otherworldly winter wonderland than a visit to the Dillon ice castles. Set to open once the weather gets cold enough, this attraction is an annual favorite (and prime selfie-taking destination). Pro tip: Try to score nighttime tickets so you can see the beauty of the ice castles illuminated.
$ Roku TV or Apple TV Miss going to the movies? Already watched everything on Netflix? Set up a couch-seating only theatre in your living room and check out the amazing lineup of films from Denver Film’s virtual cinema program. The selections range from a documentary about Frieda Kahlo presented in partnership with the Denver Art Museum to the 35th anniversary restoration of Smooth Talk, one of Laura Dern’s first films.
Get the hell out of town for a day trip
$-$$ Various locations As much as there is to do in Denver itself, escaping to the Rockies is one of the best ways to spend your time and options for day trips are plentiful. Head up to nearby Boulder to check out some of the local shops on the Pearl Street Mall, spend a weekend in Steamboat Springs (and don’t skip a visit to Strawberry Park Hot Springs), or head south to Colorado Springs for a winter drive up to the snowy summit of Pikes Peak.
Free-$$$ Morrison Yes, what you’ve heard is true: It’s the best place to see music in the known galaxy. But, it’s also not hosting many events right now. But even if you can’t catch a live show, this iconic landmark is totally worth the visit for the view alone. There are also hiking trails where you can explore these sandstone formations beyond the stage.
$ Idaho Springs A quick 30-minute drive from town, this small mountain town is the closest spot to enjoy a nice long soak in the waters from a natural hot spring-which feels especially amazing on a cold day. Reservations for an hour-long session are available for $18 on weekdays and $20 on the weekend. If you score one, you’ll enter the jungle-like dome where a pool with an average temperature of 90 to 100 awaits. And when you’re done, you can make a pit stop at Tommyknocker Brewery for beer and a bite on their outdoor patio before heading back to town.
Free RiNo and the Santa Fe Arts District Over the past few years, Denver’s streets have become a whole lot more colorful thanks to a slew of new works by street artists, especially in these two neighborhoods. All you need is some free time to wander to find eye-catching examples painted everywhere from alleys and underpasses to the outsides of prominent businesses. If you’re looking for a socially distant friendly outdoor activity, these two districts are like open-air museums for modern art, just waiting to be (safely) explored.
$ Various locations With 41 State Parks in Colorado, including many close to the Denver area, it’s incredibly easy to get outside and spend some socially distant time in nature, even if you’ve gotta bundle up a little more than usual. And as the weather cools down, hiking these spots gets even better. Roxborough near Littleton has over 4,000 acres to explore that include forests, red rock formations, meadows, and the historic Waterhouse Homestead-as well as birds, mule deer, and fox. Cherry Creek, Chatfield, and Castlewood Canyon are also great, nearby options for hiking and biking trails.
Sample local eats at a food hall
$-$$ Various locations The food hall craze is going strong in Denver, even if you’ve gotta enjoy your eats at home. Avanti, an OG of the movement, boasts an impressive lineup of rotating concepts. Denver Central Market not only has prepared foods from their vendors, but also great items to take home and cook including meats, cheeses, and other provisions. Milk Market currently has 10 venues open from restaurateur Frank Bonnano serving everything from pasta and pizza to burgers and salads. Stanley Marketplace is not only home to eateries like Annette and Rosenberg’s, but also has shopping. And there’s Zeppelin Station! And there’s The Source! And Broadway Market! And Tributary Food Hall in Golden! And… you get the point.
Go brewery hopping
$$ Various locations The sheer number of Denver breweries can be a bit daunting, but with extra time on your hands, this is the perfect chance to explore as many options as you can. Many breweries are still offering to-go options along with outdoor patios for sipping in person… Scan our roundup of the best breweries to check out now for good options to start with, from newer additions to the classics. Some, like Ratio and Breckenridge Brewery, have also added home delivery to the mix to make it even easier to sip local.
Go distillery, winery, and cidery hopping
$$ Five Points Sure, beer gets most of the attention when it comes to boozy beverages, but the Mile High is also packed with plenty of locally made non-beer options that are absolutely worthy of your attention… Some must-trys: Bigsby’s Folly and Infinite Monkey Theorem for a wine fix, Stem Ciders for bright, dry hard ciders, and The Block Distilling Company for vodka and gin made right in the neighborhood along with to-go cocktails.
Find your favorite bowl of Denver’s most popular dish
$ Various locations Everyone who’s spent a significant amount of time in Denver has a favorite spot for green chile. Everyone. But even if you’re loyal to a certain bowl of this pork-studded regional go-to, there are countless options to try. Pretty much any restaurant with even a slightly Mexican or Latin slant will have a version so start sampling ASAP. Some must-visits on your green chile adventure? El Taco de Mexico, Uno Mas, and North County. Bonus: These spots are all offering to-go.
Crush a breakfast burrito
$ Various locations If you’ve accomplished the task of eating green chile on its own, it’s time to take it up a notch. Perhaps no dish is more uniquely Denver than a breakfast burrito with green chile piled in or atop it. And there are a ton of options to satisfy your quarantine hungover urges-bonus, these babies are made for the to-go life. Santiago’s handhelds are ubiquitous, while at El Taco de Mexico (yeah, we mention the spot a couple of times, you need to go) when they ask if you want it smothered and with onions and salsa, your answers should be a resounding “yes” and “yes.” They’re also a brunch go-to at spots like Bacon Social House and Sam’s No. 3.
$$-$$$ Union Station If you’ve done even a minimal amount of research on Denver, you’ve probably read that the capital’s historic train station has been renovated and stuffed to the gills with awesome stuff to do. And it’s true! Though indoor dining is closed, you can still grab a beer on the patio while enjoying the holiday lights. The Iberian Ultreia is set up for outdoor dining so you cancop a gin & tonic as large as your head. If you’re hungry, head out the back of the station to Tavernetta, an Italian hot spot where you can grab fresh pasta and more to-go.
$ Highland Pretty simple instructions, right? Just go. They’ve got two winter-ready outdoor patios open for dine-in so you can satisfy your craving for a Johnny Burger and a cocktail at Denver’s oldest bar where Kerouac used to imbibe. Sign up here for our daily Denver email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
Molly Martin is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado who is always on the lookout for fun things to do. Follow her Mile High adventures @mollydbu on Twitter and Instagram.
Colin St. John is a Denver-based writer, editor and joke maker. He’s written for Rolling Stone, Deadspin, Esquire, and Pitchfork.
Grab your green and your Guinness-St. Patrick’s Day is around the corner, and there’s fun to be had. In addition to being the first big celebratory holiday after New Year’s, St. Paddy’s is also a signal of spring; more hours of sunshine, T-shirt temps, and filling Blake, Market, and Larimer with drunken revelry make up a particularly Denver type of equinox. However you plan to celebrate-with family friendly activities or for those over the legal drinking age only-there are parades to be watched, playful drinks to be sipped, and a whole lot of shamrock-ing to do.
If you’re ready to put your dancing shoes to good use, wiggle your way on over to Mile High Spirits-doors are opening at 12 pm and there’s no cover ‘til 10. Enjoy MHS’ drinks, big dance floor, and even bigger outdoor patio for all the Irish pride and shenanigans you can handle.
Cook Street’s special St. Paddy’s Day class involves making the perfect steak while sipping on Irish whiskey. On Friday only, learn about proteins, cooking methods, and choosing side dishes carefully while cooking up traditional Irish cuisine.
Crawl around town. You know, figuratively…
March 17 – 18
Is it a drinking holiday in Denver if there aren’t a handful of bar crawls happening? Probably not. St. Paddy’s Day is no different; you can start crawling from a number of bars, but a few in particular have everything plotted out for you (for a small fee). Start at the Ginn Mill and receive a map of over 10 pub locations you’ll be crawling to either Friday or Saturday, plus drink special vouchers. There’s also a crawl departing from Nola Jane (Friday only) with its own food and drink specials, plus a scavenger hunt and some St. Paddy’s merch, too.
Visit one of Denver’s Irish Pubs
March 17 – 18
If you can’t think of a better place to spend St. Paddy’s Day then at a local Irish pub, we salute you-just be prepared to throw a few elbows making your way to the bar. Denver’s got several good ol’ pubs from Broadway to Larimer Square that’ll be in full swing this weekend, pouring fresh pints as far as the eye can see. Check out Scruffy Murphy’s, Nallen’s, The Irish Rover, Finley’s, The Celtic on Market, or the Fainting Goat for that SPD revelry you know, love, and trekked out for.
Sip and savour St. Paddy’s themed bevvies
Through March 17
Everyone pulls out the green food dye and mint flavouring for St. Paddy’s, but there are some other creative drink specials to sample, too. The OG’s got a boozy milkshake for the occasion, aptly named “Who’s Your Paddy,” a mix of vanilla ice cream, Crème de Menthe, Tullamore Dew, Bailey’s, and whipped cream. BEZEL’s Irish Matcha Man is pretty unique, with Teeling Small Batch whiskey, lime, thyme-infused honey, and matcha powder. And then Slater’s 50/50 takes it to another level (unsurprisingly) with its Lucky Mint Green Shake: mint-flavored ice cream in a frosting-rimmed glass with Lucky Charm marshmallows, rainbow stripe sour strips, whipped cream and green sprinkles. Other notable specials can be found at Poka Lola Social Club, Dairy Block’s Moo Bar, and Seven Grand.
Sing along and cheers to live music
Denver’s The Monkey Barrel is known for its regular live performances, and this St. Patrick’s Day you can tune in to Elijah Petty & The Part-Times and other musical guests if you’re in search of a chiller spot to sip your Guinness. Or, have one of the best burgers in town while relishing the shenanigans and live music of Cherry Cricket Cherry Creek this St. Paddy’s Day. Food and drink specials will also be available through the holiday weekend, so leave extra room or wear your stretchy (green) pants.
Feeling restless? Or maybe you’re itching to get a few laps in before hammering down several pints this Saturday? Either way, Highlands Ranch is hosting its St. Patrick’s Day 5K where finishing the race gets you St. Patrick’s Day merch, an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast, and of course, a complimentary pint courtesy of Living the Dream Brewing.
Drink and do good at Holidaily Brewing Co.
This St. Paddy’s Day, Holidaily and the Gluten Intolerance Group are putting on their Raise a Pint, Lend a Hand fundraiser. A special glitter and green Firkin tapping is happening at 4 pm at both taprooms, with special (and gluten-free) treats available at the Golden location, thanks to Farmhouse 5280 and Waive the Grain bakery. 10% of all St. Patrick’s Day sales will be donated to the Gluten Intolerance Group.
March 17 – 18
Talnua Distillery is hosting a St. Patrick’s Day bash to remember this year, featuring food trucks, live music, special themed cocktails, and more. Limited bottles of Talnua’s exclusive Olde Saint’s Keep whiskey will be available for purchase, which you can hang onto while you dance along to pipe bands or eat a brat or two from El Jefe’s.
Watch some Irish step dancing
Head on over to Stanley Marketplace to witness the talent and skill of the students at the Wick School of Irish Dance at 12 pm, and follow it up with a green cerveza at Cheluna Brewing Co. Of course, plenty of tasty lunch and dinner options are available around the marketplace so you can soak up a bit of that beer.