From art walks to delicious wine, here's what the locals do when they want to have fun.

By Megan and Megan Barber
December 09, 2015
great hall
Credit: James Ray spahn

Forget Red Rocks, access to skiing, or even the Broncos. The best things about Denver are secrets to just about everyone living outside of the Mile High City. If it wasn't on your 2016 travel list, it should be. Gone are the days when the city was just a stopover or a cow town lacking quality restaurants. Today, the city has a thriving art scene, amazing outdoor activities, and boasts topnotch places to imbibe. Here are seven underrated spots sure to impress (and, if you're curious, what made the list for overrated attractions, too).

1. The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver

This edgy and well-located museum provides a perfect afternoon escape for art lovers downtown. Don't miss the rotating exhibitions and the rooftop cafe. Want to take advantage of the area's successful bike sharing program? The museum is right across the street from the 15th & Delgany B-Cycle station, and just a block off the Cherry Creek Bike Trail.

2. Its Wineries and Distilleries

Denver might be known for its breweries, but when locals need something different, they look beyond red ales and IPAs. Check out the Infinite Monkey Theorem, an urban winery in the hot River North neighborhood. It prides itself on throwing epic parties and making seriously good wine, all without the pretense. Pro tip: one of the area's best restaurants, the Populist, is right around the corner, so grab dinner first and then head to the winery for a post-meal indulgence. Cocktail lovers shouldn't miss a trip to Leopold Bros, where visitors can taste everything from well-balanced gins to decadent flavored liqueurs. Is whiskey your go-to drink? Head to Stranahan's for a tour or a sampling of their hand-crafted, small-batch whiskey.

3. Sloan's Lake

While some prefer Washington Park, lately Sloan's Lake is becoming a hot spot for a quick run or walk. Located just west of the city and near the happening Highland's neighborhood, it boasts multiple playgrounds, tennis courts, and views of both the city skyline and the mountains. After you tackle the two-mile trip around the lake, head to nearby Hogshead Brewery for a pint of English-style ale.

4. First Friday Art Walks

On the first Friday of each month, the local art world shows off in seven different neighborhoods around town. Featuring gallery exhibits, food trucks, and plenty of tasty booze, First Fridays are the perfect way to dive into this thriving art scene. For the largest concentration of art galleries in Colorado, head to the Art District on Santa Fe. Ditch the car and take advantage of free shuttle coaches that ferry visitors from the light rail station at 10th Avenue and Osage to all the happenings on Santa Fe.

5. Denver Restaurants

As a whole, Denver restaurants lack the national awards and famous chefs that dominate the culinary world of other urban areas. But in the last five years, the local dining scene has exploded with a plethora of new restaurants and worth-the-stop destinations. Whatever your fancy, there's sure to be something delicious. For breakfast, try bagels at Rosenberg's Deli or on-point grits at the Universal. Midday, turn to Vert Kitchen for French-inspired sandwiches (the chicken curry or tuna are both hits) or Biju's Little Curry Shop for fast-casual Indian food with plenty of spice.

Denver's not lacking for dinner options, but don't miss creative wood-fired meats at Acorn or upscale Italian (and an amazing wine list) at Luca. After dinner, try to get a reservation at Williams & Graham for award-winning cocktails, or opt for a low-key beer and late-night snacks (Pad Thai Pig Ears, anyone?) at Euclid Hall. You won't be disappointed.

6. The Weather

When people from outside of Colorado think of Denver's climate, they think of snow. But the best-kept secret here is the amazing weather, boasting more than 300 days of sunshine—which allows plenty of time for patios and outdoor fun.

7. Denver Union Station

What used to be a boring and unkempt train station has become the hottest spot in Lower Downtown. As the city's transit headquarters, Denver Union Station now houses seven restaurants, a hotel, and even a kids' fountain in the summer. Union Station will also soon be the hub for the new Light Rail that will connect the city to the Denver International Airport in April 2016. Try dinner at the seafood-centric Stoic & Genuine, or grab a drink at the Terminal Bar, the train station's renovated ticketing office. Finally, satisfy your sweet tooth with a trip to the Milkbox Ice Creamery. You'll get sixteen flavors of Little Man Ice Cream and a look at the former barbershop space's large mirrors and Terrazzo floor.