So... you're visiting Colorado?
Here is my entirely too thorough recommendations email that I've put together once for a friend coming from the West:
Overall CO Tips
Drink lots of water. You want your pee to be essentially clear for a day before you head up in elevation. I know that sounds dramatic but elevation sickness is real and it sucks. Listen to your body and stay hydrated. Colorado is dry and high. Wear sunscreen every day. Drive safe, that i70 corridor is a freaking beautiful drive so enjoy it but also be careful, i70 is a wild road to drive on sometimes — especially once you get into the city.
And at some point please go to Sweet Cow for honestly the best ice cream ever at any of their locations https://www.sweetcowicecream.com/.
Coming in from i70
I’d super recommend doing the Mt. Evans drive (found this link with tips that seem useful: https://www.denver.org/blog/post/tips-mount-evans/). If it’s a clear day (which it usually is) the views are awesome.
If you decide you want to spend a bit more time in the mountains, around the same area (past Georgetown) you could go north and head to Granby and go to the natural hot springs up there. This would put you west of Rocky Mountain National Park and is a pretty strong deviation from the plan to head from i70 into Denver but something I’d be remiss to not mention I think!
I super highly recommend checking to see if you can time your dates in CO with a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater and if not, maybe consider doing a Film on the Rocks or even just swinging by off of i70. It’s a short detour and the place is breathtaking with or without music. It’s open to the public up until like 5 hours before most shows so you’d have to time it early if there’s a show that night.
Coming out of the i70 corridor, you’d likely just stay on i70 and head straight into Denver but if you’re not too burnt out on driving and want to do a little detour take Hwy 6 through the canyon or even Hwy 93 north from golden up towards Boulder if you decide to rearrange your plans at all (93 is literally my favorite drive in the world). Check these out on the maps as you’re planning and keep an eye on traffic. The canyon (hwy 6) can even be faster than i70 depending on traffic and is WAY prettier.
I’ll first recommend in addition to the art museum (10/10 a great museum) the denver museum of nature and science, it’s so sooo awesome and super not just for kids. This very rad art collective called MeowWolf is opening a new art space in Denver, idk if it will be open by when you’re there but if it is you should FOR SURE go (https://meowwolf.com/visit/denver). Now, I’ll list some regions of Denver I really like and highlights in each.
First, Larimer between Broadway and 33rd is full of amazing food, outdoor areas and tap rooms galore, and Larimer lounge has great shows all the time. I specifically would rec for breweries Our Mutual Friend and Odell’s taproom there but other cool spots are Infinite Monkey Theorem (wine) and Stem Ciders (cider). Osaka Ramen is awesome for food and The Denver Central Market is a very fun food hall with tons of options.
Next, South Broadway between like Speer & Alameda is more of a just bars scene, though still with many breweries and good food. Specifically for bars I like The Historians and Punch Bowl Social is very fun with bowling and games and stuff. Voodoo donuts has a Denver location down here too.
A couple blocks north-west of S. Broadway is the Art District on Santa Fe. Galleries abound over here with the funnest time to visit being the First Friday of any month where there’s musics, food trucks, etc (https://denversartdistrict.org/first-friday) and open studios everywhere. The galleries though are usually open in the daytime too to visitors and there’s also fun breweries etc here too.
East Colfax around Steele St is a fun spot too with good food too. Around the Blue Bird (another venue I love) is kind of the area I’m thinking of. The Denver Zoo is in this area which is a pretty awesome zoo and the Denver Botanical Gardens are pretty cool too around here.
Downtown area kinda spans from Union Station over the i25 corridor, I like Avanti around here, amazing views of the city and such and another cool food hall and bar. In this area, also recommending Recess for its very cool and fun outdoor area and Forrest Room 5 for the same reason, super cool bars but can get a bit much/crowded late at night. Closer to Union Station (our beautiful train/bus station) there’s more fun bars and Larimer Square (a cool spot but not somewhere I’d recommend higher than anything else on this list, but if you’re near by it you should swing through).
On the way out of Denver to Boulder/ heading North
One place I’d really recommend outside of Denver, especially for sunset, is Stem Ciders Acreage (https://acreageco.com/) in Lafayette. Specifically this main location (as opposed to the tap room i mentioned on Larimer in Denver) out there has honestly one of the best possible sunset views in Colorado and their ciders range widely in type. A nice break from the breweries too and they have good food.
Rocky Mountain National Park/Estes
So, heading up this way, Estes is cool but a bit touristy focused, I’d skip stopping here unless you need to. The National Park is incredible and you can drive through some of the most breathtaking regions without even having to hike to them. Down towards Grand Lake is absolutely amazing but might be a little far. In towards Bear Lake is the last place I hiked there and it’s pretty amazing. I’d recommend you stop in a visitors center and talk to a park ranger to help figure out what you want to see that works for you given what you want to do, how long you want to spend, and how you want to get around! It will be super busy on the weekends, aim for a weekday if you can.
Coming out from/to RMNP, you’re reasonably close to Fort Collins if you’re interested in going up there. That’s where Odell’s big taproom is with a fantastic outdoor area and the Fort Collins Historic Downtown is v cute (Disney’s park downtowns are based on it). Horsetooth reservoir is gorgeous too up there.
A couple coffee shops of note that I’d recommend are Trident, the Laughing Goat, and any of the Ozo locations along Pearl Street Mall. Pearl is a walking mall that is super lively and fun. Trident is probably the most unique and funky one as it is also a bookstore. (Sadly, Innisfree is now closed and so I've removed it from this section.)
The other fun walking region of Boulder is “The Hill”, the region above campus. Two specific spots of note there are The Sink, a super long standing historic restaurant with absolutely wild art inside. I’d highly recommend you grab lunch there and wander around to see the art. The other place left on the hill that I love is a Mexican food shop across the street from the Sink, La Choza. I LOVE IT — especially their breakfast burritos I miss these burritos so much. So if you’re in the mood for mexican over burgers, just get a beer at the Sink while you wander around to look at the walls and then grab some food to go at La Choza and wander down into campus to eat.
While you’re in Boulder, you should for sure wander through campus. CU (University of Colorado) is beautiful, worth wandering through for sure.
My favorite restaurant in Boulder for Brunch and Dinner is Arcana but I know you only have like a day and I’d rec The Sink for the experience of it over this. For Boulder bars, the same people from Arcana run an amazing tiki cocktail bar called Jungle that I 10/10 recommend. And two cool other bars to check out: No Name is the brown door next to Cosmos Pizza on the Hill, music every night, Jazz on wednesdays and Bluegrass on mondays and you can order Pizza from Cosmos in the bar & Bitter Bar is a little more swanky but makes excellent cocktails and has a great vibe.