FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Denver: Peak Prospects

Jun 1, 2010
2010 / June 2010

DenverAn enticing blend of past, present and future, the colorful city of Denver is a product of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush that began in the American West during the mid-1800s. The scramble for gold fueled Denver’s swift transformation from a mining settlement of fortune hunters into a thriving frontier town and to its present incarnation as a modern city with a strong commitment to sustainability and the environment. Backdropped by the snowy crests of the Rocky Mountains, Denver has served as the state capital ever since Colorado was admitted into the Union in 1876. Its once rough and feisty reputation — enhanced by the long-ago nefarious deeds of corrupt officials and crime bosses, including one of the Old West’s most notorious scoundrels, con artist Soapy Smith — has evolved into a highly regarded center of commerce with a vibrant arts presence that still manages to retain a hint of authentic cowboy culture.

Denver’s elevation has earned it the nickname Mile High City, while its geographic setting on the plains along the Front Range of the Rockies has resulted in a mild, semi-arid climate. While it enjoys four clearly defined seasons with an average temperature of 50 degrees, June snow is not out of the question. Despite that possibility, Denver’s residents love to be outside. The city is also home to teams from all eight major sports leagues competing in state-of-the art venues including the Pepsi Center, Coors Field and Invesco Field at Mile High. Well-maintained parks are the setting for numerous festivals and musical events, and the easy proximity to world-class skiing makes the city a popular choice for residents who appreciate the great outdoors.

Strong environmental commitment led to the recent launch of the citywide B-Cycle bike share program (www.denver.bcycle.com), the first of its kind in the nation. Visitors and residents can pick up a three-speed Tetra bicycle at any one of 500 stations throughout the city and ride to their destination, leaving the bike at the closest station. Users simply swipe a credit card to enter the system. A full 24-hour membership costs $5, with the first half-hour free.

Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art (tel 303 298 7554) recently earned LEED certification and was awarded Gold status for its sustainable, energy-efficient design that encourages a direct connection between visitors and exhibits. The museum is located in LoDo, Denver’s Lower Downtown district, where more than 23 square blocks of the original city have evolved into an incorporated neighborhood of galleries, brew pubs, wine bars, clubs, restaurants and shops, many occupying historic buildings that once housed saloons and brothels. Union Station, the main depot for the light rail transit system, is also located here.

Nearby, between 14th and 15th streets, Larimer Square — once the humble site of the city’s first post office — has become a trendy shopping and dining district. Denver takes dining very seriously. In keeping with a growing number of restaurant awards and chef recognition, several prestigious annual food and wine events are held here, including the annual Denver International Beer Competition, the Denver International Wine Festival, the Denver Food & Wine Classic and the Denver Beer Fest.

A sought-after convention and conference destination, Denver has twice hosted the Democratic National Convention, in 1908 and 2008. The city embraces its Wild West past for the annual Western Stock Show, the largest of its kind in the world. Beginning this year, Denver will be the site of the Biennial of the Americas, bringing together some of the world’s leading thinkers for a seven-week-long brainstorming session including a public dialogue series, seminars, workshops and programming from prestigious cultural and scientific institutions. Other economic development has seen the additionof a significant number of hotels, including the current construction of a 45-story Four Seasons Private Residences in the heart of the downtown theater district.

Along with the thriving downtown Santa Fe Arts District, with more than 60 galleries, other city showpieces are the Denver Art Museum, with its much-celebrated Frederic C. Hamilton Building, world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind’s first U.S. building. Construction is underway on a new addition to the museum which will house the 2,400-piece Clyfford Still Collection, spanning the late American’s rich body of Abstract Expressionist work.

Denver International Airport (DEN) has gained national attention for its massive solar power project, with a photovoltaic system generating an annual 3.5 million kilowatt-hours of clean electricity and reducing carbon emissions of more than 5 million pounds each year. Contributing to its status as one of the top 10 U.S. cities for sustainability, the city’s green initiatives extend to the Denver Zoo. The new $50 million Asian Tropics Exhibit is being constructed according to green, LEED certification specifications and will include an 18,000-square-foot Elephant Barn with a combination of private and public parlors for the elephant residents.

Other new projects sparking job creation include a significant expansion of the city’s light rail transit system, soon to offer service between Union Station and Denver International Airport, and to nearby towns. The entire extension project is scheduled for completion in 2016. A station was recently added to the Colorado Convention Center, making for easy access between the city’s core and nearby hotels and attractions.

Next time you find yourself beneath Denver’s beautiful blue skies, be sure to pause at the Convention Center, where the colossal, 40-foot-tall “Blue Bear” stands outside the striking glass structure. Designed by artist Lawrence Argent, the bear’s proper name is I See What You Mean and celebrates both regional wilderness themes and the legends of the Ute tribes who once dwelled here. You can debate with the locals whether the bear is holding up the building or merely peering inside with curiosity.


Diversions

There’s plenty to keep you busy in Denver. Start at the extensive Denver Botanic Gardens (tel 720 865 3500), featuring themed gardens and an exhibit of sculptures by Henry Moore, running through the end of the year. The bistro-café has a living, green roof, where you can enjoy breakfast or lunch from a menu featuring locally sourced, sustainable ingredients. Move on to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (2001 Colorado Blvd., tel 303 370 6000) and take a spin through Gems & Minerals (a recreated Colorado mine) and Prehistoric Journey with its stunning collection of dinosaurs — many of which were locally excavated. Next door is the Denver Zoo (tel 303 376 4800), boasting numerous conservation projects.

Back downtown, stroll the shops of the pedestrian-friendly 16th Street Mall (or treat yourself to a horse-and-carriage ride along its length), then enjoy a lavish afternoon tea at the historic Brown Palace Hotel at the mall’s southeast end. Close by, the Denver Art Museum (tel 720 865 5000) is preparing for the July 1 opening of the King Tut exhibit, showcasing 50 artifacts found in Tut’s tomb.

Visit the Museo de las Americas (861 Santa Fe Drive, tel 303 571 4401), recognized for outstanding exhibits celebrating ancient and contemporary Latin American art and artists. Take a guided tour of the United States Mint — entrance is free, but you need to make reservations. You can also catch a show or concert at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the nation’s second-largest after New York’s Lincoln Center. Or catch an NHL Avalanche game at the Pepsi Center or a Colorado Rockies baseball game at Coors Field. When you’re ready to sit down, take your kids to Elitch Gardens and ride the roller coasters with them.


Lodging

The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa
Often the lodging of choice for visiting dignitaries, this city landmark has been open continuously since 1892. Elegantly modern, with full business amenities. 321 17th St., tel 303 297 3111, $$$$

Hotel Monaco Denver
Hip boutique Kimpton property combines two historic downtown buildings. Plenty of special touches; easy walk to museums, convention center and 16th Street Mall. 1717 Champa St., tel 303 296 1717, $$$

Hotel Teatro
Historic luxury boutique lodgings, centrally located across from the Center for the Performing Arts. Romantic but with modern amenities for business travelers. 1100 14th St., tel 303 228 1100, $$$$


Dining

Fruition
Seasonal menu with an elegant spin on comfort foods from Alex Seidel, one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2010. Dinner nightly. 1313 E. 6th Ave., tel 303 831 1962, $$$

Mizuna
Contemporary French menu changes monthly. If it’s offered, don’t miss chef/owner Frank Bonanno’s pan-roasted ostrich loin with walnut bouche. Dinner Tue.–Sat. 225 E. 7th Ave., tel 303 832 4778, $$$$

Rioja
Mediterranean fare with local, seasonal flair from star chef Jen Jasinski. Dinner nightly; lunch Wed.–Fri.; weekend brunch. 1431 Larimer St. in historic Larimer Square, tel 303 820 2282, $$$

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FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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