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Stay and Play: The Best Colorado Vacations

Relax and unwind in Rocky Mountain country

Hotel Monaco

Hotel Monaco

We all know how it goes—five days of getting up before the sun, rushing to work, toiling through eight or more hours, shuffling back home, and cramming in other to-dos
before the sun sets. Sleep, rise, repeat. Isn’t it about time you took a break?

Instead of talking yourself out of a vacation simply because of the cost of air travel and the logistics of putting it together, consider our new favorite indulgence: the staycation. In case you didn’t already know, Denver and Boulder are home to some world-class hotel properties, with plenty to enjoy on-premise and in the city. So why make your vacation more complicated than it needs to be? Stay, play, and rejuvenate in these top-notch hotels right in our own backyard.

JW Marriott, Second Home Restaurant

JW Marriott, Second Home Restaurant

JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek {150 Clayton Lane, Denver; 303.316.2700; jwmarriottdenver.com}

Stay: At the JW Marriott Denver Cherry Creek, the core of every guest’s stay is the top-notch hospitality of the staff. But what brings guests in is undoubtedly the hotel’s AAA Four Diamond rating and the Rocky Mountaininspired design. It’s also ideally located in Cherry Creek, where guests can wander to restaurants of every caliber, or engage in some serious shopping. Onsite, expect spacious and chic guestrooms and suites with marble baths, luxurious furnishings, and complimentary turndown service. Oh, and did we mention the hotel’s destination restaurant?

Eat: Second Home Kitchen + Bar is one of those unique culinary features you’d expect to find in LA or New York, but has amassed a world of culinary creativity right here in Denver. Helmed by Executive Chef David Anderson, Second Home is modern to its core, leaning heavily on locally sourced ingredients, the bounty of the seasons, and classic comfort foods. Cases in point: Mile High Meatloaf and Blue Crab Arancini. If you’re a brunch fiend, then stop by for everything from savory small plates to griddled goodness (that’s right, Challah French Toast, we mean you).

Dalliance: Being in the heart of the city, there’s an abundance of activities to capture your spirit of adventure, but consider these first: a trek through the Denver Zoo {denverzoo.org}; a leisurely stroll in the sun at Denver Botanic Gardens {botanicgardens.org}; an educational afternoon at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science {dmns.org}; and a historic tour of the University of Denver {du.edu}.

Ameristar Casino Blackhawk

Ameristar Casino Blackhawk

Ameristar Casino Blackhawk {111 Richman Street, Black Hawk; 720.946.4000; ameristar.com/black-hawk}

Stay: If you’re a sucker for cards and dice, this is the spot for you. Ameristar Casino Resort Spa features a 71,500-square-foot casino with over 1,300 slot machines, 33 table games, and 22 poker tables; a luxury AAA Four Diamond hotel with 536 well-appointed rooms, including 64 luxurious suites; a roof-top pool; fitness center; dining and entertainment venues; a full-service luxury day spa and ARA Spa; 15,000 square-feet of meeting and event space; and the largest parking garage in the market. How’s that for luxury? If you’re intent on experiencing the best the property has to offer, then consider the staff’s recommendations for self-pampering: a Fire & Ice Pedicure at ARA Spa, followed by the Candy Bar dessert at Timberline Grill and live music at Bar 8042.

Eat: With four top-notch culinary outlets onsite, you certainly won’t go hungry. Executive Chef Steve Jamison is the mastermind behind them all, though each boasts a unique menu and setting. At Timberline Grill, expect elegant dining in mountain retreat environs. Among the delectable offerings on the menu, the dry-aged steaks (especially the NY Strip), Rocky Mountain Trout, and King Crab are must-haves. The Centennial Buffet is a great goto for more casual, DIY mealtimes. Flush with inspired options, the buffet offers everything from fresh seafood and Italian pasta to carving stations. While the setting is relaxed, it’s still impressive; wrought-iron fixtures and stone columns make for an awesome dining experience. Another grab-and-go option is the Waypost Deli, with sandwiches, burgers, pizzas, and more for those craving casual American eats. Last (but not least), Fireside Kitchen on the upper level of the property showcases phenomenal breakfast treats, including fluffy pancakes, skillets, a Green Chile-Smothered Burrito, and of course, a healthy helping of lunch and dinner selections.

Dalliance: The Ameristar concierge is full of ideas for adventures off property, but here are a few to get started: a production at the Central City Opera House {centralcityopera.org}, the nation’s fifth-oldest opera company; water rafting with Clear Creek Rafting {clearcreekrafting.com} just 20 minutes away; or a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Rocky Mountains with Rocky Mountain Hot Air Balloon {rockymountainhotair.com}.

The Inverness, a Destination Hotel {200 Inverness Drive West, Englewood; 303.799.5800; invernesshotel.com}

Stay: Enjoying a $1.3-million renovation, The Inverness, a Destination Hotel is a Denver landmark. With 302 plush rooms and suites, a business center, leisure amenities including a golf course and shops, and multiple culinary concepts, this is a stay-and-play destination extraordinaire. One of the biggest renovation highlights is the hotel lobby, updated with a fireplace, cozy seating nooks, and modern fixtures. Also consider spending a day at the on-property spa, where seven treatment rooms, hot tubs, and steam rooms await.

Eat: You don’t have to go far afield for top-notch Colorado cuisine when staying at the Inverness. The Garden Terrace, Fireside Bar + Grill, The Spotted Dog, and Golf Grille showcase an elegant Colorado/Western vibe with menus inspired by the seasons, surroundings, and guests. Executive Chef Rodney Herwerth continues to offer exceptional globally influenced New World eats, while also serving one of Colorado’s most sought-after buffet brunches. If you’re really looking for a treat, consider the Champagne Sunday Brunch on the Garden Terrace, featuring snow crab, oysters, Belgian waffles with heaps of fresh toppings, a carving station, charcuterie, and more. And for the dress-down dinner, nothing beats a burger and beer at The Spotted Dog—complete with pub games. At dusk, enjoy a craft cocktail by the fire.

Dalliance: For offsite meals, consider Shanahan’s Steakhouse {shanahanssteakhouse.com} with globally inspired fare, and the Buckhorn Exchange {buckhorn.com}, accessible by light rail. For shopping and dining nearby, indulge at the Park Meadows Mall {parkmeadows.com}. Looking for some events to pass the time? iFLY Denver {denver.iflyworld.com} gives you a one-of-a-kind indoor skydiving experience, while nearby Fiddler’s Green {fiddlersgreenamp.com} offers guests a world of musical adventure.

Want to learn more? Check out our more detailed staycation itinerary at The Inverness here. 

range Steak at the Renaissance Downtown

range Steak at the Renaissance Downtown

Renaissance Downtown {918 17th Street, Denver; 303.867.8100; rendendowntown.com}

Stay: Situated in one of Denver’s most iconic structures, the historic Colorado National Bank building, the Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center opened in 2014. The hotel features 230 guestrooms, 6,000 squarefeet of meeting space, and range, an original concept restaurant. Artfully decorated with a series of 16 original murals from the iconic Western muralist Allen Tupper True, the property showcases historic elements from the building’s initial construction in 1915, juxtaposed with the accommodations and comforts of a modern luxury hotel. The eight-story property boasts a prime location within Denver’s financial district, just a half block from the 16th Street Mall.

Eat: Under the direction of Executive Chef Paul Nagan, range offers cuisine that celebrates the cultural heritage and adventurous spirit of the American West, prepared with modern-day sophistication. The restaurant features a private dining room and a wood-fired oven, in which much of the fare is prepared. The restaurant offers a signature beer, Countinghouse Cream Ale, created exclusively for range and the Renaissance Denver Downtown by local Denver craft brewer Former Future Brewing.

Dalliance: Renaissance’s onsite Navigators are available to make personal recommendations as to the best places to places to savor, sip, shop, and discover the local culture. Here are a few they offer for summertime guests: Drop by Former Future Brewing Co. {embracegoodtaste.com} on Broadway to try a Salted Caramel Porter; take a hike up Mount Evans, one of Colorado’s 14ers; get some tutelage in wine and cheese at Wine & Whey {wineandwhey.com} in LoDo; or visit the DIY hub Upstairs Circus {upstairscircus.com} on Wynkoop for crafts and cocktails.

Spa at the St Julien

Spa at the St Julien

St Julien Hotel & Spa {900 Walnut Street, Boulder; 720.406.9696; stjulien.com}

Stay: With 201 total guest rooms in the center of Boulder, St Julien is an experience every local should enjoy. In addition to standard rooms, the hotel boasts 12 suites (six two-bedroom suites and six executive suites with sitting areas). If you want the full view, be sure to get a room with a Flatiron vista and veranda for some sun-soaked lounging. When evening hits, head downstairs for nightly entertainment in the lobby or out on the terrace, and be sure to take advantage of the 12-room spa with sauna and steam rooms, not to mention a co-ed lounge, lap pool, fitness area, and jacuzzi. For summertime guests, consider purchasing a special package like the Boulder Adventure, which features a farm-to-table dinner at onsite restaurant Jill’s, a spa treatment, and a guided hiking tour up into the Flatirons. You can also indulge in the Boulder Brew package, which includes an Avery Brewing Co. tour.

Eat: Helmed by seasoned Chef Laurent Mechin, Jill’s is a well-balanced mixture of New and Old World fare, rooted in classical French technique. Yes, there are tried-and-true French features, like the ever-popular Steak Diane flambéed tableside, but Mechin is charting new territory with features like Vegan Fridays. The menu’s magic is in the diversity of offerings—from Caesar Salad to Spice-Rubbed Tofu and daily risottos—executed with care and culinary mastery. Two popular (and must-try) features include the Ooh-La-La Lunch, offering a prixe-fixe $12.95 menu complete with a glass of Rosé de Provence, and Vegan Fridays, which showcase the best of Colorado produce prepared simply at the hands of Chef Mechin. For those interested in a more classic experience, rest assured—you can order à la carte from the menu at any time, and weekly-rotating menus offer regular specials and seasonal signatures. Also keep Jill’s in mind for breakfast, when savory Benedicts and fluffy pancakes emerge from the bustling kitchen—aptly paired with bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys.

Dalliance: Guests with a weak spot for all things local will enjoy the Boulder Farmers’ Market {boulderfarmers.org} (one of the largest in the state), every Saturday morning and Wednesday night, complete with food trucks and music, while Pearl Street music like Band on the Bricks on Wednesday nights, showcasing local bands, is a great way to get some quality, free entertainment. Also consider planning ahead for the Boulder Arts and Jazz Fest {dickensstore.com} in July; Boulder Fall Fest by Boulder Creek in September; Colorado Music Festival {comusic.org} at Chautauqua; and high tea at Dushanbe Teahouse {boulderteahouse.com}.

Hotel Monaco {1717 Champa Street, Denver; 303.296.1717; monaco-denver.com}

Stay: Revered as one of Denver’s finest boutique hotels, the Hotel Monaco sits proudly on 17th Street downtown, steps away from countless landmarks and cultural outposts. Recently, the hotel completed a makeover; the resulting contemporary destination is a combination of sleek and sophisticated with fun features like the evening Wine Hour, alongside practical amenities like 4,000 square-feet of meeting space, including a working wine room. But the rooms are really the gem: pet-friendly and tech-rich, they offer guests feather down comforters on the bed, turn-down service, and sound-proof windows to block out the noise of over-zealous nightcrawlers. Did you know they even provide guests with a complimentary pet goldfish? All you have to do is ask.

Eat: It’s hard to do much better than Panzano for a hotel restaurant. This is no second-thought culinary concept; esteemed Chef Elise Wiggins guides the kitchen through exquisite northern Italian creations, paired fittingly with an Italian-heavy, award-winning wine list. Classics are always in attendance—the Veal Scaloppini, for instance, is a heart-stealer with lemon, capers, and sundried tomatoes—while gluten-free options and seasonal features abound. Brunch is also a delectable treat at Panzano, and veers away from tired American staples. Case in point: Pumpkin Pancakes, or the Wild Boar Croquette with an overeasy egg. Wine dinners, cooking classes, and special events round out Panzano’s rich offerings, meaning you don’t even have to leave the hotel for a world-class dining experience.

Dalliance: There is hardly a better location for downtown revelers than Hotel Monaco. You can enjoy a Rockies game at Coors Field {colorado.rockies.mlb.com}, a show at the DCPA {denvercenter.org} (“The Book of Mormon” is around this year), big-time events at the Convention Center {denverconvention.com}, and fun downtown fests like A Taste of Colorado {atasteofcolorado.com}.

The Ritz-Carlton Denver

The Ritz-Carlton Denver

The Ritz-Carlton Denver {1881 Curtis Street, Denver; 303.312.3800; ritzcarlton.com}

Stay: The Ritz-Carlton Denver is a five-time recipient of the coveted AAA Five-Diamond Award and was pinned with four stars by Forbes Travel Guide. How’s that for decorated? Situated in the heart of downtown, the hotel offers easy access to business districts, RiNo, and the famed Larimer Square and LoDo. The property has 202 newly renovated guestrooms, 47 suites, and 32 Club Level rooms, highlighted by a sophisticated, 3,000-squarefoot Ritz-Carlton Suite. The urban destination also features the Forbes Four Star-winning Ritz-Carlton Spa, not to mention Elway’s Downtown, the hotel’s signature steakhouse famous for USDA Prime steaks, an award-winning wine program, and an outdoor terrace. Scrumptious.

Eat: Elway’s is caparisoned in medals—perhaps most notably for its extensive wine list, which has been lauded by Wine Spectator seven times. Elway’s features a luscious assortment of prime steaks and freshly caught seafood. To wit: the Ahi Tuna, which shares menu real estate with the Buffalo Rib-Eye. Served in a leather-rich dining room with a striking wine wall and crisp linens, Elway’s is a top choice for an elegant night out—or for just a drink at the bar. Pro tip: Order the Green Chile Cheese Fondue and make it a
Colorado-centric experience.

Dalliance: If you’re a baseball nut, then get yourself some tickets to a game at Coors Field (go Rockies!). More of a craft beer aficionado? Enjoy a beer sampler at Great Divide Brewing Co. {greatdivide.com}. There are also any number of packages that can be set up by the onsite concierge—just call or go online for details.

Flatz's patio at the Renaissance Boulder Flatiron

Flatz’s patio at the Renaissance Boulder Flatiron

Renaissance Boulder Flatiron {500 Flatiron Boulevard, Broomfield; 303.464.8400; renaissanceflatiron.com}

Stay: The Renaissance Boulder Flatiron hotel is tops on our list because it boasts the holy trinity of hospitality: pampering service, comfortable rooms, and delectables eats. To be fair, that’s why all of these hotels are our faves, but this one’s got the views: 232 suites that offer great vistas of the Rocky Mountains. The Renaissance is an often-overlooked treat for nearby residents looking to stay and make a vacation of it. Granite counter tops, plush robes, Aveda spa amenities, and HDTVs make the stay that much more luxe, without breaking the bank. Consider stopping by the Summer Music Series on the patio come Wednesdays, best paired with a local brew from Broomfield neighbor Four Noses Brewery. Guests can also indulge in special package deals for romantic, family, or other getaways. That is, stayaways.

Eat: The hotel’s world-class restaurant, Flatz, boasts gorgeous views of the mountains, not to mention a firepit-anchored patio for lingering over a cocktail or a relaxed meal. Inside, an open exhibition kitchen gives guests a front row seat to the preparation of the restaurant’s distinctive menu crafted by Executive Chef Drew Anderson, formed with fresh, local produce, meat, and dairy. Private dining is available inside the restaurant for hosting private events and work luncheons, while the wine list dazzles aficionados with 150 carefully curated bottles and 20 varietals by the glass.

Dalliance: Plan a hike in Chautauqua Park {chautauqua.com}, just 15 minutes from the hotel; run the Interlocken Loop (two to five miles); go shopping at Flatiron Crossing Mall {flatironcrossing.com} right next door; or visit Lakeshore Athletic Club Water Park {lsac-flatiron.com} for some aquatic fun times, only two minutes away.

—Jeffrey Steen

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