My husband and I just spent a long weekend in Denver, Colorado. We went to watch our teenage son compete in the Drums Along the Rockies competition in Mile High Stadium – he’s a trumpet player in the Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps. We of course used miles and hotel points for our trip – spending only $22 for our Southwest Airlines flights, and paying absolutely nothing to stay one night at the Crowne Plaza and two nights at the posh Hyatt Regency Denver.

We’ve been to Colorado a number of times before as my husband has family outside of Colorado Springs. We’d pretty much only flown in and out of Denver, never having spent a significant amount of time in the city itself. I can’t comment on the extended urban area around Denver, but downtown itself left us completely impressed. Apparently Denver is growing rapidly – with plenty of people being drawn to the area by high tech and other industry. The resulting urban renewal, coupled with what seems to be well thought-out city planning, is transforming Denver into quite the appealing city.

Here’s a laundry list of what struck us. Wide open spaces which often felt like Europe – large boulevards and sidewalks with plenty of room for outside dining and socializing. Beautifully restored old buildings set far back from the street, along with stunning new modern architecture – many of these mixed use buildings had huge roof decks and terraces. The cleanliness of downtown was also striking – it felt very different than other major American cities I’ve been in.  There was a surprising amount of great art installations and street art throughout the city core.  We saw quite a few creative strategies being implemented in the city in regards to homelessness – one of which were special “parking meters” through  which you could donate to help the homeless be fed and sheltered.

Union Station was hands down the most beautiful American train station I’ve been in to date – with a gorgeous central area with vintage desks and chairs, a shuffleboard game area in the middle, free wifi, multiple restaurants with creative menus and modern decor, small shops, the stunning Terminal Bar where you can go get a drink – all in a impeccably restored historic train station building. It looked like something out of a movie set and it clearly wasn’t just travelers who were enjoying this space as a central hub for socializing, working, eating and shopping. The train from the airport takes you directly to Union Station, making it the first stop for travelers coming into Denver – and what a fabulous welcome. The station platform area is also gorgeous, with white sails floating above the tracks – again very modern architecture which reminded me more of structures I’d seen in Paris or Spain.

Other highlights included Mile High Stadium – an incredible place to watch any sporting or outdoor event. The city’s light rail system quickly took us wherever we wanted to go – so much more than what we have in Seattle. We also appreciated the free bus downtown that took us up and down the popular and mostly pedestrian 16th street mall. There were a plethora of colorful restaurants offering organic, local foods and innovative menus. We enjoyed the handful of restaurants that we sampled – didn’t go wrong during our stay.  And then there’s the Denver Art Museum – the building itself an impressive modern art piece.

I also have to put a word in for the Hyatt Regency Denver. My gold status (thanks to my Hyatt credit card) meant we had a free upgrade to a club regency floor. We were on the 34th floor with jaw dropping views over downtown Denver, Mile High Stadium and out to the Rockies beyond. The hotel itself was stunning with lovely modern decor, wide hallways, spacious rooms with all of the amenities, a lovely gym with dozens of workout machines, an indoor lap pool and outdoor hot tub for late night soaking. The Peaks Lounge on the 27th floor was a spectacular place to sit and look out over the city at sunset – enjoying the view over cocktails and/or dessert.

If you ever have the chance to spend a little time in the Mile High City, do it. There’s a lot to explore, see and do, and I’m sure we only barely scratched the surface. It has made it into my personal list of top American cities as far as architecture, planning and design.  Don’t miss the opportunity to discover this rapidly developing Colorado gem… I know we will definitely be returning.

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