Rocky Mountain High, Part Two: Red Rocks, Crafts, and Best Friend Photoshoots

For the second half of my Colorado adventure, my bestie, Katie, flew out to join me. Katie and I have been friends for more than a decade. We first met during a semester abroad in college in Athens, Greece. I would love to say it was friendship at first sight, but, alas, it was not. Let’s just say neither one of us was in peak form after the 9 1/2 hour flight from JFK to Athens. But despite our rocky first impressions, Katie and I became fast friends once we discovered our shared love of pedicures, Starbucks, and not physically exerting ourselves any more than strictly necessary. Fast forward 14ish years and now I am the Godmommy to her twin 7-year-old boys, was the Maid of Honor in her wedding, and, despite her living several states away, we still make it a point to see each other every few months.

Usually, one of us will take the quick flight to the other for a long weekend of spa treatments, wine and cheese, and usually (when she’s with me at least) some napping. For the past few years (2020 aside), we’ve made one of weekend visits an annual girls trip. Usually it would be to Florida for some beach relaxation, but after I booked my spontaneous tickets to Colorado, I convinced her that it would be the perfect Lady Date locale. So, that’s how I ended up picking her up from the airport on the third evening of the trip with a charcuterie board and cookies in tow (we have learned over the years that ample snacks are key to each of us avoiding hanger.)

The first stop on our adventure list was a visit to iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater. Despite our rather indoorsy preferences, both of us wanted to hike around the eponymous red rocks and explore the theater. We decided on the Red Rocks Trading Post Trail, which is a relatively easy 1.5 mile loop. The rock formations are the star of the show, but keep an eye out for wildflowers and wildlife as well. Our hike was interrupted frequently for picture breaks, and we even caught a glimpse of Pride Rock for her boys. If you make it to Red Rocks, see if you can spot it!

After finishing the hike, we drove up to the theater entrance — yes, we drove instead of taking the stairs. Remember what I said above about not exerting ourselves more than strictly necessary? It’s not being lazy; it’s being practical. There are A LOT of stairs. Like, a lot a lot. But anyway, I digress. Y’all, Red Rocks is weird in the day time. There are lots of people doing handstands and flips and heretofore unseen forms of exercise. But God bless them for being able to breathe.

Following our morning of physical activity, we had a less active afternoon on the agenda, which consisted of Happy Hour Crafternoon reservations at Upstairs Circus. Located just steps from Denver’s famed Union Station, Upstairs Circus is a great place for a date or girls night. Basically, instead of a wine and paint night, it’s a full bar and crafts. Katie and I each picked 2 crafts from their menu and got our DIY on whilst enjoying some cocktails. The prices are pretty reasonable, and the craft options range from making jewelry to making luggage tags or creating a whole entire piece of art. It’s definitely a neat place to check out.

DIY projects in tow, we headed down the street to Union Station. I wish all train stations were as lovely and well appointed with delicious food options. We grabbed a drink at Ultreia, which is a Spanish and Portuguese pintxos (or tapas) restaurant with an impressive gin and tonic menu. G&Ts being my beveragino of choice, I was naturally delighted. For sustenance we meandered down the hallway to Mercantile Dining and Provisions. Never ones to turn down a charcuterie, we shared the Market Provisions platter and Katie enjoyed some oysters (real oysters, not the Rocky Mountain variety). We were hoping to get ice cream at the Union Station Milkbox Ice Creamery which is also in the station, but sadly it had closed by the time we were finished eating.

Not to worry, though. We just went to Little Man Ice Cream instead. Situated inside of a giant milk jug, this ice cream wonderland is an Instagrammers dream, especially at night when it’s all lit up with string lights. Fair warning, though — every time we went past Little Man, the line was around the block and parking is insane. The ice cream is good, but I’ll leave it up to you whether it’s “wait half an hour in a line around the block” good.

The next morning, Katie and I had some spa treatments scheduled, but before we could relax, we needed to caffeinate. Conveniently, there was a cute little coffee shop called Pinwheel Coffee a few blocks from our AirBnb. Pinwheel turned out to be much more than just a cute coffee shop — it’s partnered with Embark Education and gives middle and high-school students the opportunity to learn math, English, science, and history in a real-world setting. Students were involved in almost all of the business decision-making, including deciding on the shop location, making branding and marketing decisions, and choosing from which region, climate, and geopolitical atmosphere from which to source their coffee beans. It’s a pretty awesome premise, and I can confirm the coffee and pastries are yummy too. 

We forged onward to Indulgences Day Spa for facials and CBD massages. I went with the Indulgences Signature Facial, and quite honestly, it was one of the best facials I’ve ever gotten. My skin felt moisturized and glowy, and the lymphatic massage from my aesthetician was first class. Unfortunately, the massage was a bit underwhelming, mostly because my masseuse would not. stop. talking. When I get a massage, I want to chill. I want to zone out and daydream. I do not want to have a full on conversation about your weird family history. All in all, though, the prices were reasonable, and the atmosphere was nice, and the shop out front had some very cute gifts.

On the hunt for lunch, Katie and I stumbled upon the Denver Cat Company cat cafe, and I was insistent that we go in and snuggle some kitties. I am an unapologetic cat lady, and even if I couldn’t adopt any of the sweet baby angels, I could certainly give them some top notch scritches. Please go patronize them and love on some kitties.

For dinner, we had reservations at a restaurant in iconic Larimer Square. Unfortunately, the restaurant we went to was closing the following week after many, many years, so I won’t bore you with the details of the delicious meal, but there are tons of other restaurants in Larimer Square worth checking out. Make sure you add it to your itinerary, even if it’s just for the photo op.

I have to say, the highlight of my time with Katie was the photoshoot/walking tour we did around the RiNo neighborhood. The RiNo Art District has become known as a street art mecca. With new murals being added frequently and older pieces being revamped, there is always something new and incredible to look at. The sheer volume of murals can be a little bit overwhelming though, so I very much recommend taking some sort of tour or having a local guide show you the area.

While I was planning the trip, I got an email about AirBnb Experiences in Denver. In you’re unfamiliar, Airbnb Experiences are essentially tours or excursions offered up by a local. One of the recommended experiences stood out to me immediately, and that was a listing for a Photo Shoot with the RiNo Murals. At only $75 per person, a professional photographer would show us around the neighborhood, taking us to her favorite murals, give us posing direction, and provide us with information about the murals and artists. Being relatively narcissistic people who enjoy having our photos taken, Katie and I were in.

We met our photographer Lacey outside one of the many RiNo breweries and got underway. We spent an hour or so wandering the streets and alleys, constantly impressed by the art around every turn. Lacey was an awesome guide and so easy to chat with. She gave us recommendations about where to find the best margaritas, and which restaurants to try for dinner. Regardless of whether or not you’re traveling to Denver, you should check out Lacey’s Instagram and website Woodville Dream Photography.

A few final thoughts before I end this very long blog. Denver is so much fun — the vibe, the people, the food, the scenery. Katie was not entirely sold on why I wanted to go the Denver before she arrived. But by the end of our time in the Mile High City, she admitted this was probably one of the best Friendcations we’ve had. We are both looking forward to returning to Denver in the near future, so share some of your Denver recommendations in the comments.

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