Hi everyone! This is Molly McCoy, Atlas Travel’s community manager, reporting from our Massachusetts headquarters after a week-long stint in Colorado. I traveled to this Rocky Mountain state for my best friend’s wedding on August 18. It was an amazing week, and I got to experience a LOT of Colorado while I was there. Below you can find my “Greatest Hits” takeaways from this trip, along with a few photos to help you imagine what it was like – although, you’re probably running on way more sleep than I got all week long!
- I flew JetBlue roundtrip on direct flights from Boston’s Logan Airport to Denver International Airport (DIA). Logan’s C Terminal (where JetBlue flies from) has recently added a lot of great shops and dining options, so there are plenty of ways to whet your whistle if your departure is delayed (although mine was right on time). On the flipside, Denver’s airport is such a delightful sight, the roof of which was designed to represent its neighbors, the Rocky Mountains. Like a charming circus tent pitched in the middle of the desert, DIA offers a whimsical welcome as you come in to land.
- While most of my nights were spent in friends’ and families’ homes, I had a fantastic experience at the Hotel Monaco Denver on the evening of the bachelorette party. Flawlessly chic from the moment you step through the door, this hotel surpassed my expectations by additionally providing incredible service, reasonable rates (a AAA discount made our rooms even more affordable), and an overall comfortable vibe. Check-in was a breeze (not to mention the insanely handsome desk staff), and the potential for snobbiness at this stylish downtown hotel was immediately squashed by smiling faces and inviting personnel at every turn. The rooms were HUGE with a very luxe feel (think animal print details and quality fabrics), and served as the perfect venue for our pre-dinner festivities with the bride. To my ultimate surprise, I received a prank phone call from the front desk, which began as a noise complaint and then cheerfully shifted to, “We’re just kidding with you. You ladies just sound like you’re having a great time up there. Can we assist you with any beverages or help to make any dining plans this evening?” I was FLOORED by this level of service, and sense of humor, and I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone visiting the Mile High City.
- On a pre-wedding budget, you can imagine that we ate a lot of Whole Foods and Chipotle, but I also managed to enjoy some really delicious dining in Denver and Fort Collins (the bride’s hometown and wedding homebase). On the same night as Hotel Monaco, we took 19 girls to dine at Tamayo for dinner. I was in charge of planning this part of the evening, and let me just say, it took some WORK! Planning for that many seats and yet not reserving a private room proved a challenge for most of our first-choice restaurants. Close to our hotel and offering something for every palate, Tamayo surfaced as the perfect solution. Not only did they accommodate our large party, but they also allowed us to order directly off their regular menu. They even seated us on their charming upstairs terrace, giving us fresh air and a great view of the neighborhood. I wasn’t a huge fan of their house margarita, but the food was delicious and the staff was very friendly.
- Apparently our group of friends was on a real Mexican kick, because my Fort Collins dining recommendation is also of that ilk. A local favorite based on the food and margaritas, the Rio Grande on Mountain Avenue is completely worth the wait (and there will be one). The restaurant is part of a six-location chain, but this site (the original Rio) is locally owned and exudes the same sass and charm that you find throughout the streets of FoCo’s Old Town. They adamantly enforce a three-drink limit, but you probably won’t get that far anyway. They were even voted Best Margarita in the Nation (!!!) by CitySearch.com. My personal favorite? Big Tex, which for a modest $7.50 gets you a perfect blend of Herradura Silver, fresh citrus, and orange liqueur, served on the rocks. With an exceptional tequila menu – and a healthy list of beers and wines – you’d hardly need me to convince you with the food. Still, their menu boasts some of the most delicious Mexican food I’ve ever had, with standards and unique offerings alike. Sit outside on their gorgeous back patio if you can, but any seat in this establishment is a coveted one.
- As an honorable mention, I’d like to give a shout out to Domenic’s Bistro & Wine Bar in Fort Collins: the sometimes employer of my best friend and newlywed Madeline, and the current employer of new friends Cellanie and Randi. The decor is slightly upscale and the food is thoughtfully delicious, but the staff is inviting and the overall vibe mixes to become a comfortable, trendy restaurant. The wine list is extensive and artfully pairs with the menu, with many items changing daily to reflect fresh ingredients and inspired cooking. As their website states, “Have a drink. Stay for dinner.” That’s exactly what we did!
SEE, DRINK & PLAY:
If you don’t have a wedding urging you to visit Colorado, there are plenty of other reasons to go! Built into my itinerary were a few other heavy-hitting items that I’d definitely recommend: The Color Run, Denver Microbrew Tour and Estes Park.
- Six of us started the bachelorette party day (at a bright-eyed 6am!) with The Color Run in Colorado Springs. While this event was a one-time-only for CO Springs, the organization holds identical events around the country throughout the year, and I would definitely suggest attending one! This friendly 5k is as athletic as you want it to be, and encourages all attendees – young and old – to get in the spirit with costumes, teams and fun. At each kilometer marker, Color Run volunteers douse the participants with colored corn starch dust, so you finish covered in colors and hopefully with a sense of accomplishment. As my first 5k, it was a great way to get into the spirit of the day. Plus, our bridal group even made the local news!
- As the day progressed, we made our way back to Denver to continue the festivities with the Denver Microbrew Tour. Led by a knowledgable and friendly guide, the tour took us walking through downtown Denver, the LoDo (lower downtown) district, and adjacent to Coors Field. We got to learn about the science (and art!) of brewing different beers, sample a lot of local brews, visit a few really cool taprooms and hear a lot of fun facts about Denver in the process. This was an awesome activity for our large group – which had expanded to about 16 people – and it was a great way to take in the sights and sips of Denver. Don’t forget to tip your guide!
- Although I missed it on this particular trip, my family made sure to visit Estes Park during their short wedding-centric stay in the state; a stop I was lucky enough to make on my previous and first visit to Colorado. Estes Park is part of the Rocky Mountain National Park system, and offers a beautiful glimpse of Mother Nature’s handiwork. As you leave the foothills of the Rockies heading for Estes Park on US Highway 34, you climb a winding steep-sided pass. Towering on either side of you are rock formations, and the frequent appearance of a road-side stream, that are awe-inspiring. When you emerge from your climb into a valley with high snow-capped peaks all around you, you’ve arrived at the town that is an official gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a mix of restaurants, horseback riding, an aerial tramway that looks like a thrilling ride (didn’t get a chance to take it), art exhibits, shops and overnight accommodations of all kinds. If you drive just five miles west of Estes Park, you come to the Fall River Visitor Center (at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet), which affords even more great views.
- Yet another wonderful side trip (only about 20 minutes outside the center of Denver) is Golden, Colorado. It is an absolutely charming little town that feels a little like a vignette from Frontierland in Disney World. If you don’t have a chance to drive into the mountains, this stop in the foothills is a great second option. An arched sign spanning the main street in Golden welcomes visitors and the street is lined on both sides with lovely shops, galleries, restaurants (a great local ice cream emporium serving homemade everything.) Lunch at the Table Mountain Inn offers a variety of Mexican and American cuisine and when you look across the street, you see the flat-topped mountain that gave the inn its name. There is great civic pride here and beautiful bronze statues are found throughout the town as a reminder of the history and wildlife in the area. Clear Creek, a lovely meandering river, rolls through the center of town and the walkway alongside it allows glimpses of families enjoying a real-life “lazy river ride” in inner tubes and kayaks. If you drive just a few blocks from downtown, you see the sprawling Coors Beer factory buildings and notice how much of a company town Golden is, with signs announcing companies including “Coors Credit Union” and “Coors Tech.” While the town sprouted a large national brand, it hasn’t lost its charm and the shop owners are friendly and helpful at every turn.
Many thanks to my Colorado friends and family – new and old – for making this such an incredible trip. Unlike a tourist jaunt, this visit had a very definite purpose, but I was still able to explore parts of the state that I had never encountered before and meet the most wonderful people. I really love the vibe of Denver and Fort Collins, especially, and hopefully I’ll make it back sooner rather than later. If not for all the reasons listed above, then at least for a pint of Fat Tire…
Do you have any Colorado travel tips or suggestions for visitors? Add your recommendations in the comments!