When the Steelers kick off their season next Sunday against Denver, there won't just be Broncos fans filling seats in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. They'll also be littered with Pittsburgh fans, waving a sea of Terrible Towels.
Such is the power of Steelers Nation, among the most-traveled fan bases in the NFL.
Getting to Mile High in time for the kickoff at 8:20 p.m. is the easy part -- it's figuring out what to do with the rest of the weekend that may have fans scratching their heads. Below are suggestions for exploring Colorado's largest city.
Located in the South Platte River Valley at the foot of the snow-peaked Rocky Mountains, Denver sits exactly one mile, or 5,280 feet, above sea level, earning its altitudinal nickname, the "Mile High City." You'll be breathing 15 percent less oxygen, so don't be surprised if you feel a little lightheaded, especially if you're drinking alcohol. It runs on Mountain Time, so set your watch back two hours. If you fly into Denver International Airport, there's a $55.15 flat rate for the 25-minute taxi to the downtown area; the city also operates an airport express bus service called SkyRide. Info: www.rtd-denver.com.
The lower downtown area (LoDo), where gold was first discovered in Colorado in the 1850s, is the hippest neighborhood in town, playing host to a bustling nightlife and restaurant scene (and the Rockies baseball team), along with chic shops and art galleries. Also worth exploring is the city's oldest and most historic block, Larimer Square, and Five Points, sometimes referred to as the "Harlem of the West" for its jazz history. Its restaurants serve soul food, barbecue and Caribbean cuisine. Washington Park is known for its flower gardens (there's an exact replica of Martha Washington's garden at Mount Vernon). The Capitol Hill neighborhood, which centers on the gold-domed Capitol building, also offers lively bars and eateries.
To get from the metro area to Sports Authority Field, hop on the Federal or Market Street Shuttle, which operate every 3 to 5 minutes starting two hours before game time, until 10 minutes after kickoff. Fares and locations: www.rtd-denver.com.
Two of the grandest hotels also are the city's oldest. The five-story Oxford Hotel dates to 1891 (www.theoxfordhotel.com; 1-800-228-5838), while the Brown Palace Hotel, built in the Italian Renaissance style using Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone, opened in 1892 (www.brownpalace.com; 1-800-321-2599). Designed by the same architect, both are luxurious enough to have played host to presidents, famous actors and other celebrities. Amenities include beautifully appointed guest rooms, 24-hour room service and spa treatments. With its eight-story atrium and onyx lobby, the Brown is impressive enough that nonguests pony up $10 for a 75-minute guided tour (Wed. and Sat. at 3 p.m.).
Other good options include The Warwick (warwickdenver.com; 1-800-525-2888); Hotel VQ (hotelvq.com; 1-800-388-5381), just steps from the stadium and with views of the Rockies; and the JW Marriott at Cherry Creek (jwmarriott.com; 1-866-706-7814), recognized on Conde Nast Travelers' 2011 Gold List as one of the best places to stay in the world. For B&B fans, period choices are the Queen Anne Urban Bed & Breakfast Inn on Tremont Place ($145 and up) and the turreted Capitol Hill Mansion ($129 and up) just southeast of the State Capitol and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rather spend your travel dollars on entertainment? There's plenty for more modest budgets at chain hotels such as Ramada, Comfort Inn and Embassy Suites. For info, visit denver.org/hotels.
The first permanent structure in Denver was a saloon, so the city has a thriving beer scene. There are more than 70 craft breweries within a 90-mile radius of downtown, earning it the title "The Napa Valley of Beer." You'll find many of those brews on tap at local taverns such as Euclid Hall Bar & Kitchen at 1317 14th St. on Larimer Square. Or, go directly to the source. The Wynkoop and Great Divide Brewing companies and Breckenridge Brewery all have brewpubs with full menus. Offered on weekends, the walking Denver Microbrew Tour ($25, www.denvermicrobrewtour.com) gets you samplings at four breweries, beer trivia and a rundown of the city's scandalous history.
The world's biggest single-site brewery, Coors in nearby Golden, brews 22 million barrels a year and offers tours from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. and Mon. and noon-4 p.m. Sun. (www.millercoors.com).
If cocktails are more your style, some of the city's best martinis are served in the Cruise Room Bar off the main lobby of the Oxford Hotel. Fashioned after one of the lounges on the Queen Mary ocean liner, the Art Deco bar opened the day after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. At the Green Russell (www.greenrussell.com), a Prohibition-style speakeasy at 1422 Larimer St., bartenders craft original cocktails with pressed-to-order juices and fresh herbs. For scratch margaritas, head to D'Corazon at 1530 Blake St. in LoDo. Strong and cheap, choices include a pomegranate version made with Oro Azul silver tequila and Chateau Pomari.
You can't visit Denver and not sample the city's signature green chile in stews, sauces and salsa. Some of the best, according to Denver Post restaurant critic William Porter, is dished up just a few blocks north of the stadium at Jack-n-Grill at 2524 N. Federal Boulevard, a mom-and-pop eatery serving New Mexican-style food. (Heavy on the chiles, no tomatoes.) This is where you'll also find the 12-egg 7-pound smothered breakfast burrito ($20) featured on The Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food." (Finish and you'll get your picture taken.)
Other Mile High must-eats include the cream cheese- and jalapeno-topped Johnnyburger at My Brothers Bar at 2376 25th St.; the Mexican cuisine at LoLa in a hip neighborhood called LoHi; Chef Jennifer Jasinski's Colorado Lamb Two Way at Rioja in Larimer Square; and just about anything on the menu at The Squeaky Bean at 1500 Wynkoop St., hailed as the best new restaurant in Denver.
For Old West fare including buffalo and other game, alligator or Rocky Mountain oysters (remember, they're not seafood!), make reservations at Denver's oldest restaurant, The Buckhorn Exchange. Just south of the art museum at 1000 Osage St., it has Western music every Saturday night.
For more elegant eats, consider high tea at the Brown Palace's luxurious lobby ($32, or $16 for kids 6 and under). Offered daily from noon to 4 p.m., it pairs more than a dozen teas with homemade scones served with Devonshire cream imported from England, finger sandwiches and other classic tea pastries. An additional $8 buys you chocolate truffles and a glass of champagne. Accompanying piano music is free.
A late kickoff means there's plenty of time to explore the city's other attractions. The Denver Art Museum (www.denverartmuseum.org) is world famous for its American Indian art collection, while the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (2001 Colorado Blvd.; www.dmns.org) impresses with its collection of dinosaur bones and wildlife dioramas; a new exhibition called "A Day in Pompeii" includes hundreds of artifacts from the ancient Italian city. Both museums cost $12 adults, $10 seniors and $8 students.
You also can take a free tour of the United States Mint at 320 W. Colfax Ave., which pumps out 50 million "D"-stamped coins a day, but only Mon.-Fri. Reservations required (www.usmint.gov/mint_tours). For a panoramic view of Denver's downtown and snowcapped peaks, climb the 99 steps to the dome of the State Capitol Building at 200 E. Colfax St. (closed on weekends). Step 13 on the west side is exactly 1 mile above sea level.
Love old houses? Denver's historic house museums include that of "the unsinkable" Molly Brown, a suffragette who survived the sinking of the Titanic (1340 Pennsylvania Ave., www.mollybrown.org). Tues.-Sun., $10 adults/$8 seniors. For shopaholics, Larimer Square has a full block of speciality boutiques, including Cry Baby Ranch (1421 Larimer St.), where a pair of hand-stitched cowboy boots can easily set you back $500. Rockmount Ranch Wear in LoDo (1626 Wazee St., www.rockmount.com) also merits a visit. Opened in 1946, the third-generation store popularized Western wear the world over -- its fitted shirts with snap fasteners, which redefined how cowboys and ranchers living in the American West dressed, are in the Smithsonian.
The tree-lined 16th Street Mall is a mile-long promenade through the center of downtown, from the Civic Center to Union Station, with more than 300 stores, street performers and a free shuttle bus when your feet get tired. Ten minutes from downtown in Henderson is the Mile High Flea Market (www.milehighfleamarket.com; 1-303-289-4656), an open-air treasure trove with hundreds of stalls and delicious street food. It's open Fri.-Sun. from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; entry is $3.
The best Steelers bar in town is The Rusty Bucket in Lakewood (the-rusty-bucket.com). In addition to the game on 15 flat-screen TVs, it has Iron City on tap and pierogies and Primanti's-style sandwiches on the menu.
Next up on Sept. 16: Oakland, Calif.travel - Steelers
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.