Well, Three Nights in Colorado
Note: Scroll to the very bottom for a quick list of links to the
places where we stayed and the things we did.
In June, CJ and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary. We knew we wanted to do something special but I left the planning up to CJ. He’s kind of a savant when it comes to planning. We went out to dinner right around our anniversary and he said, “So, we’re going to go on a trip to celebrate. Do you want to take a guess where?” We had talked about exploring the United States more so my first guess was the Rocky Mountains. He blinked, laughed and said, “Basically, yeah!”
After 15 years together, you start to know each other pretty well.
He walked me through the plans and of course I was excited. But sitting at the beginning of an entire summer, October felt like a million years away. It wasn’t, of course. Before I knew it, we were stepping off the plane in Denver. Within 24 hours, I was absolutely in love. It’s an incredible city. And it’s so easy to get into some of the most stunning corners of the United States from there. Before I was home, I knew I would have to share all of the things we did! So let’s do this. Three nights in Colorado.
Day 1 | Night 1
Our first accommodations were with the boutique Hotel Teatro. The Teatro is in downtown Denver and was named one of the Top Hotels in Colorado. It’s pretty awesome. The building is older and quite charming. Out on the balcony, we could see the mountains on the first day. By day two, the fog had settled over everything with its frothy veil. It actually added to the vibe. It just felt right, even though a huge reason to visit Denver and its surrounding cities is specifically for the mountain views.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We dropped off our gear at the hotel and headed out for a bite. We were ravenous and not extremely picky. In our brief meanderings, we stumbled into Tamayo, which as far as accidental restaurants go, was best in show. We sat outside (the only day we were able to comfortably, but not the only day we dined in the elements) and were entertained by a street festival. It seems the local firemen were hosting a chili cook-off. And they had their calendar boys there, looking like they strategically implanted boulders under their skin. But I digress.
Let me turn your attention to the spicy mango margarita, which seems to have been drained in the picture below. It had just the right amount of bite and wasn’t too sweet. Definitely start with one of those. I’d skip the guacamole next time, which is such a disappointment from an otherwise incredible Mexican dining experience. But literally everything else was great. I had the crispy tofu tacos and as you can see below, it was a substantial dish. CJ got the mahi-mahi tacos and felt the same about his. If you compare my beans with CJ’s you’ll notice they are more than happy to accommodate special requests, like a vegan diet. Oh and btw, the vegan beans were flavorful and delicious.
Thumbs up all around.
After lunch we walked around a bit and landed at a jazz bar that was open but clearly not awake yet. We had a drink and sat outside again, enjoying the beautiful Denver day. And then we were like, “We should take a nap.” That might sound ridiculous to some people but anyone over the age of 33 (especially if kids are in your house) feels me on this. We went back to the hotel and stopped in the bar for one last drink. Then it was up to the room for a good, uninterrupted snooze. You guys, that nap? It was one of the most glorious moments of the trip. That’s only a tiny bit hyperbolic.
After nearly two hours (!!) we peeled ourselves out of bed, ordered some beers to the room and started getting ready for the night. Things are looking real tough, I know. Now this part is where CJ’s planning expertise really starts to shine.
Dinner was at a little joint called Linger. This spot used to be a mortuary, which led us to believe there is a double entendre going on with the name. (Linger with friends to enjoy eats and spirits… or let your spirit linger in lethality.) By the time we arrived, it was very packed and very dark. But I understand there is quite a bit to take in while you eat. Think “vintage funeral fans, a giant photo from Harold and Maude, and other little touches just on the whimsical side of macabre.”
Let’s get to the important stuff. We ordered drinks and they were incredible but I couldn’t even tell you what they were because I blacked out everything except the bao buns. Probably the single best food item we consumed all weekend, the bao buns were this delightful pillow of dough stuffed with a cornucopia of delicious ingredients. Two of the buns can be made vegan on request so we got the veganized version of the Korean Fried Chicken, which was adapted with crispy tofu. Honestly, if you’ve never had one it’s just something you need to experience for yourself. The buns were flavorful and doughy but not chewy. They were somehow feather light and stick-to-your-ribs heavy all at once. It was my first time with a bao bun and I think I’m ruined. I highly recommend ruining yourself at Linger too.
After an exquisite dinner, it was time to walk to the speak easy. Green Russell is tucked down a set of stairs, because of course it is. They have a few rules like “enjoy the privacy of our telephone booth” if you need to use your phone and “dress smartly.” It’s otherwise pretty straight forward and not at all intimidating. (Speakeasies have always felt so exclusive to me.) The drinks are adventurous and the crowd is fun. Tell your bartender what you like and then let them have at it. You’ll be delighted.
Properly stuffed and boozed, we went back to the room for a couple night caps. We didn’t rage because we had a BIG DAY on deck. Nobody wants a hangover.
DAY 2 | NIGHT 2
We took our time getting up on Saturday. Breakfast in the room was actually better than I expected (the overnight oats are *chef’s kiss*). You can order food service through your tv. Have you seen this? It was a little strange at first but God forbid we have to speak to too many other humans on this trip.
The Enterprise was just a mile from the hotel so we checked out and left our stuff with the concierge while we walked over. Transportation secured, we scooped our things and made for the mountains. It’s an easy 1.5 hour drive through Boulder and other smaller towns. So there’s stuff (grocery stores, ATMs, etc.) along the way. But when you get into the mountains, the glory of the landscape starts to emerge. It’s a little intense if you’re not used to it. Big. And so much.
We landed in Estes Park. Again, you don’t have to worry about being stranded without options for food or gear. We grabbed Subway sandwiches to go and picked up a pair of gloves and hand warmers (for me, because I’m a lizard actually). And up we went into Rocky Mountain National Park.
As you can imagine, everything is well marked so it’s pretty easy to get there from Estes Park. We had to park and ride a bus up to Bear Lake Trailhead, which I guess is pretty typical even though the weather was kind of awful. Seeping skies and ice chips dripping off of branches. Just north of frozen puddles and fog so thick we could barely see across the lake. That said, the moment we came to the clearing, I wanted to sink into the ground and become the earth. It’s difficult to describe how awestruck I was by this place. The picture below is taken with my iPhone, no filter. It looks like a goddam Bob Ross painting. We hiked around the lake, which is like hiking anywhere in the deciduous forests of the Northeast except you see this iconic monstrous and delicate landscape at every glimpse and it looks different and just as overwhelming every few feet. After going around Bear Lake, which is very low on the mountain, we went back to the entrance to eat our sandwiches. Nosh nosh and then we were ready to put in some serious steps. We hiked up to Nymph Lake and stopped just short of going to Dream Lake. The big deterrence for us going any further was the weather. It was pretty wet and slippery and I was just wearing sneakers (a flexible hiking boot would be ideal here) so once we got to the water falls, we turned back. But even that gave us so much so see.
Even the bus ride down from the mountain was inspiring. I wanted to film every moment of it so that I could remember it with clarity. Stunning. If you’re driving, beware of wildlife and the people who stop for it. Literally, people will pull to the side of the road and scramble from their cars to get video and photos of these poor creatures. Thankfully they’re used to it. But be careful of these maniacal humans.
Our accommodations for the evening were slightly more rustic but in no way less comfortable. CJ set us up with a cabin on the grounds of Della Terra Mountain Chateau. I’ve never been to a chateau before so I felt extra fancy way out there in the wilderness. Check out the website… it’s no wonder they’re booked almost every single day of the year for weddings and other events. Most cabins (if not all) have all of the things you could want, including a hot tub. Come on… we can’t get through our 10-year anniversary without a hot tub.
We had some time before dinner so we settled in for a bit. Me with wine. CJ with a nap. First downs and personal fouls quietly tinkling in the background. When it was time to grab something to drink and eat, we decided to keep things simple and walk up to the tiny “restaurant” in the chateau. It’s not fair to call this room a restaurant, however our server/bartender for the evening could work some MAGIC with a microwave and a panini press. On our walk up the steep drive, we rounded a tree when CJ said, “Is that thing real? Look at that.” It was an elk, which is rather common in Colorado. Except I saw my first one that day and this one was lying in the grass, about 8 feet from my face and still as stone. Nature in the Centennial State is so big. We only became certain that this guy was real when we got beyond him a bit and this time when we looked, he turned his head and looked back. We saw him again later. He was eating in our cabin’s back yard and even more gargantuan on all fours. I got a picture of his ass from our bathroom window. It’s magnificent.
Day 3 | Night 3
For breakfast the next morning we went to a diner across the street from the chateau, which is so quintessential Colorado I don’t even know what to say. The food was solid and the view remained stunning. We decided to get back to Denver rather early so we could explore a bit more. I sure had a new appreciation for what I was seeing on my way down the mountain.
We dropped off the car and then walked over to Denver Union Station because that’s where our hotel was located. It was incredible. Walking into the literal terminal there was the Terminal Bar like water in the desert. There were little shops all along the walls. And tucked into a little alcove, hiding in plain sight, was the front desk to The Crawford Hotel.
We were early and our room wasn’t ready but we could check in and drop off our things while we visited the bar and grabbed some lunch. When we eventually got into the room I have to say… it’s by far the nicest place I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying in. Rustic and modern and hip but not for the sake of it. They really captured something special at The Crawford.
We took another nap because naps are glorious little gifts that we don’t receive very often anymore. And then we ventured out for some pre-dinner drinks at The Cooper Lounge, which is a hotel bar on sexy, sexy crank. My internal thesaurus is officially tapped for how to describe these incredible spots! I guess you could say The Cooper Lounge is where Don Draper meets a female client and then beds her at The Crawford because… Don Draper.
After an artisan cocktail or two and an itty bitty serving of a tasty nut mix, we were famished. Dinner was at Root Down, which happens to be in the same restaurant family as Linger. Again, the menu is extremely vegan-friendly and is clearly marked with gluten-free options too. We both left thoroughly satisfied. I even had dessert! Do you know how rare it is to get a vegan dessert at a restaurant that isn’t sorbet or a bowl of fruit??
After dinner, we decided to head back to Union Station. Why not, right? We ended up hanging around the terminal, checking out the shuffle board and all of the nooks and crannies. We were up later than was responsible but it was worth it.
Travel day. The saddest day. We took our time getting up and out of The Crawford. It was such a delightful stay, I wanted another week’s worth of it. But alas, we had to go. CJ specifically booked a later flight so we could enjoy one last day in Denver. It was really cold and rainy so we didn’t do a lot of touring around. But we did head over to The Denver Central Market to grab some food and hang out. It was nice to just sit with no place to be. We talked a little, read a little, sat quietly and just generally enjoyed the remaining hours of our anniversary celebration. The one thing I noticed during our walk to the market was the Denver street art is pretty incredible and it is everywhere. We took a quick walk behind the market to see an alley full of diverse pieces of art.
We headed back to the airport late that afternoon. I was very sad to leave Denver behind. It’s a brilliant city with so much going on. We didn’t even scratch the surface, even though it felt like we did all the things in that short period of time.
One last Pro Tip, and this one sort of applies to any vacation travel you may book in the future. CJ and I had never flown first-class before. He decided if there is ever a time to splurge, this trip was it. And I am SO GLAD he did. But here’s the sneaky part - If you’re going to book one first-class flight, do it for the flight HOME. On the flight to your destination, you’re probably pumped up to be off from work and to be heading someplace amazing. Don’t waste the first-class experience then. Numb your post-vacation sadness with first class on your flight home. It’s a genius way to dull that pain even a little (especially with all of those drinks).
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!
This is the most epic post I think I have ever written in my ~nine years of blogging. But part of writing this was to document our experience so I could go back and remember just how incredible our 10-year anniversary celebration was and how fantastic CJ is at planning a truly delightful travel experience.
Have you ever been to Denver? What did we miss?? We’re DEFINITELY heading back so I’m looking forward to your recommendations!