The morning after my wedding last year in March, my newly minted husband and I flew out to Colorado because his father was nearing the end of his life. In fact, there had been a possibility of his passing in the days before we got married. Needless to say, it was a very stressful week.
We arrived in Denver at 10am with about five hours to spend before his brother would be able to drive up from Colorado Springs and get us. So, we took the “layover” as an opportunity to explore the Mile High City. I did my usual research ahead of time to figure out where we could go without a car in the limited time we had.
Light Rail: The RTD
It seems the more I visit other large metropolitan cities, the more I realize how far behind the Puget Sound area is. The Denver International Airport sits about 25 miles outside the downtown area of Denver. We were able to hop on the light rail at the airport and be in downtown less than an hour from our plane landing. You can find out more information here.
The map for the transit system was easy to understand with its color coded zones and staff at the platform were helpful when we went to buy our tickets. The day pass made the most sense for us as we would traveling in more than a few zones and for longer than 3 hours. This way we would not have to worry about travel while we were there. For only $6 each, it was a deal.
Our trip in from the airport on Line A was quiet and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains spread out in the distance. The more I visit Colorado, the more I want to return to explore those majestic peaks.
My itinerary had us getting off at Union Station right in the middle of town and doing some walking to stretch our legs from the flight. The places I hoped to visit were all within a reasonable distance for us. Union Station itself was well laid out and there were shops and services conveniently located nearby.
If we were staying in this area, there was a Free Mall Bus that ran regularly that I imagine would be great for those with less mobility. Also, if you only had a few hours for your layover, I think it would be worth it to ride the light rail in, walk around for a short while and hop back on for the airport.
Of course, nowadays, you could ride the light rail in and make use of services like Uber or Lyft if you didn’t want to be limited to where public transit could take you. Public Transit is great but it can eat up precious time.
It took us about 10 minutes to walk from Union Station to the grassy hills in Confluence Park. Built where the Cherry Creek and South Platte River meet, it is a wide open natural area among the tall shiny skyscrapers. We didn’t see any kayakers maneuvering on the river but there were plenty of people out playing and relaxing in the sunshine. What a beautiful green space to have in the middle of all the urban.
The park reminded me of Spokane Riverfront Park in Eastern Washington, a wonderful oasis in the center of dry terrain. It was about 11:10 am.
Just Be Kitchen
As luck would have it when I was looking for places to visit, the one gluten free, paleo restaurant I could find was doable without a car. The Just Be Kitchen was a quaint establishment in an area of town that is seeing revitalization. They are also the only place with a Whole 30 approved menu in Denver! We both ordered a mushroom burger with grilled onions and argula.
The soft lighting in the restaurant was soothing after our long week and I am not ashamed to say we may have spent more than enough time taking pictures of our rings.
As if that wasn’t luck enough, the REI store was right around the corner from the restaurant! If you are an outdoorsy person, you may have a thing like we do for stopping by local REI stores when we travel. Not only is it interesting to see how they are built for the local area, they have free REI shaped stickers you can pick up at the counters.
Kitty corner from the REI was a shop that caught my eye, the Wilderness Exchange. More heavily geared (pun intended) towards climbing, it also offers consignment. The whole bottom floor was filled with bargains! I did pretty well since I was limited to carry-on, but I found some great wool socks for only $5.
I love REI but I also love to support smaller local businesses. The Wilderness Exchange has been in Colorado for 18 years and is known as the best independent outdoor retailer in the city.
Habit Doughnut Dispensary
Okay, just so you don’t think I never indulge, here is this wacky anomoly.
Just down the block from the Wilderness Exchange, the dope doughnuts of Habit Doughnut Dispensary were so fun. Think VooDoo doughnuts of Portland. They offer vegan and gluten free versions but their main draw is that you can buy alcohol syringes to inject into the pastry of your choice. That is why my doughnut looks like a vampire beat me to it.
A strange idea but memorable.
Life is all about balance so we stopped into check out the newly opened Superfood Bar right next door. We probably should have just visited here rather than the doughnut shop but we were making the most of our mini honeymoon (the official one was later in the month).
Everything is made up from scratch as you order and the one guy in the shop was busy. We waited patiently while he made us a smoothie loaded with goodness to share on our walk back into downtown.
Back On The Light Rail With Time To Spare
Stuffed with few spiked donuts and healthy superfoods, we made our way back over to Union Station arriving about quarter to 2. That a total of 3 hours in Denver proper. Factoring in the travel time to and from the airport, it was about 4.5 hours. Not bad.
A few hours in Denver was the perfect way to spend our first day as a married couple before continuing on to Colorado Springs and more somber family time. Look for future posts from Colorado Springs!
Have you had a long layover in Denver? How did you make the most of your time? Share in the comments below!
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