Getaway This Fall to Lo-Do: Denver’s Lower Downtown District

Craig OuthierSeptember 14, 2023
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Denver’s lower downtown district is a manna for culture vultures and pedal-heads.

Contrary to popular perception, America’s “Mile High City” is not a particularly mountainous or forested place. “It’s called the Queen City of the Plains, not the Queen City of the Rockies, for a reason,” tour guide Jared Ozga says while maneuvering his all-electric eTuk cart through the city’s theater district. “It’s pretty flat here, and not a whole lot of trees.”

For visitors who crave an alpine experience, that means driving about an hour west into the Colorado Rocky Mountains and its legendary harem of ski towns. But for weekenders with more citified aspirations – chef-driven restaurants and a bikeable smorgasbord of arts and events, all in the cradle of Denver’s deliciously mild fall weather – it means staying blessedly, carlessly put.

biking a bridge in Lo-Do, Photo by Rebecca Tood/Courtesy Visit Denver
biking a bridge in Lo-Do, Photo by Rebecca Tood/Courtesy Visit Denver
Day 1: Plane, Train & 5-Speed

When it comes to Denver’s lower downtown area, known by its catchy portmanteau, Lo-Do, the “going carless” concept isn’t just lip service – it truly is the best way to visit the place. After flying into Denver International Airport, located about 20 miles from central Denver, you’ll take a quick walk to a rail depot located near the baggage carousels and board the “A train” to Lo-Do’s Union Station. Minutes later, the train spits you out into the heart of downtown. So, so easy.

At this point, you’re within steps of several appealing hotels that have sprung up around Union Station over the past 25 years as the once-blighted area has been reborn as a business and entertainment hub. If you’re serious about exploring Lo-Do on bike, you’ll hardly do better than Limelight Hotel, a terrifically stylish boutique stay-over that lends five-speed city bikes free to guests ( Among the hotel’s many attributes: Citizen Rail, its on-site, chef-driven gastropub, which excels both with small culinary touches (e.g. the house-made orgeat and rose syrup in its craft cocktails) and grand gastronomy gestures (e.g. delectable steelhead trout, poached and served on its own crispy skin with a wardrobe of oyster-Champagne cream and smoked salmon roe). 

To work off dinner, take a post-prandial stroll to Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, located less than 1 mile from the hotel.

Union Station, Photo by Scott Dressel-Martin/Courtesy Visit Denver
Union Station, Photo by Scott Dressel-Martin/Courtesy Visit Denver
Day 2: Arts & Weed Worship

For phase one of your Denver bike excursion, it pays to pedal south. Heading down 16th Street from Lo-Do, it’s about 2 miles to Civic Center Park, home of the impressive neo-classical Denver City Hall, the Colorado State Capitol and a nearby welter of big-ticket cultural attractions, including the Denver Art Museum. Respected for its cache of America Western and 19th-century Impressionist art, the museum recently added an entirely new, four-level wing. Photo op: Gustave Doré’s “Les Saltimbanques” (1874), a tortuously profound painting depicting destitute Parisian street acrobats mourning the death of their child.  

Bike a couple miles farther south and you’ll stumble on a true Denver original, the International Church of Cannabis ( Set in a converted, early 20th-century Lutheran church, it’s a shrine to all things THC (read: plenty of video game consoles, motivation-sapping plush couches and The Simpsons black light posters) and the gathering place of local parishioners that call themselves Elevationists. Be warned: The four-times-daily public gathering ($20) in the main chapel is essentially a Pink Floyd light show with some sententious stoner voice-over, but what do you expect from THC devotees? Sit back and enjoy. 

After returning to Lo-Do, nearby dinner options are plentiful, but none more captivating than Mercantile (, arguably the city’s leading farm-to-table restaurant. Sourcing from his own produce grow-op, Fruition Farms, chef Alex Seidel turns dishes like bucatini with caramelized leeks and burrata salad strewn with heirloom pole beans into feats of culinary holism. For the entrée, get whatever iteration of Seidel’s pan-roasted duck breast happens to be on the seasonal menu – and that goes double if it’s the one that’s lightly brined with maple leaf and served with sunchokes and cherries. Absolutely, insanely good.

Fox and The Hen, Photo by Craig Outhier
Fox and The Hen, Photo by Craig Outhier
Day 3: Meow Wolf & Riverside Cruise

Peddling north on 15th Street, you’ll leave Lo-Do for the hilly Lower Highland neighborhood, where local brunch enthusiasts have found a valued ally in Fox and The Hen (, a new all-day concept from Top Chef alum Carrie Baird. Known for its creative menu of A.M.-friendly cocktails, the restaurant also serves terrific breakfast tacos and a Bobbly-Flay-beating huevos rancheros: two sunny-side-up eggs served chilaquiles-style on a crispy corn tortilla over a tangy bath of chunky tomatillo salsa and black beans.

Gliding down Zuni Street from the restaurant, you’ll bank westward and pass Mile High Stadium on a pleasant bike lane that joins with the South Platte River Trail and takes you in short order to Meow Wolf Convergence Station ( – an arena-size labyrinth of family-friendly psychedelia that’s difficult to describe and harder to resist. This is the newest and largest of the three extant locations of Meow Wolf, a New Mexico-based artist collective that’s been described as the “Disney of the experience economy.” Essentially, it’s a PG-rated indoor Burning Man, with jaw-dropping set pieces (e.g. a three-story, tree-like “super organism” that you can climb through) and an endless arsenal of clever, interactive curios that will whisk you away from reality and keep you entertained for hours.

After getting your fill of Meow Wolf, a bike cruise of the South Platte River Trail is the perfect afternoon-capper. Stretching roughly 12 miles along South Platte River – a sizeable tributary to the Rio Grande that cuts through the middle of downtown – the trail is studded with breweries, landmarks and lovely views of the Rockies ( Get your fill – it’s still hot back home.

Craig Outhier
Bike Alternative: eTuk

Not up for the quad workout? Take a guided 90-minute tour of downtown in an all-electric, three-wheel eTuk cart, piloted by knowledgeable locals with a yen for all things Denver.

Oktoberfest Extra!

A staple two-weekend festival in downtown Denver since 1969, Denver Oktoberfest offers everything from keg bowling to stein hoisting, live music and more. September 22 and 29.

Getting There

Southwest, United, American and Frontier Airlines all fly nonstop from Phoenix to Denver.