8 Little-Known Things to do on a Visit to Denver!


 The view from Sapphire Ridge in Frisco, CO The view from Sapphire Ridge in Frisco, CO

Denver was the second stop on our “Follow the Pirates on the Road” tour and I have to say, we absolutely loved visiting the Mile High City! Unlike in California, where we blew off the Pirates vs. the Angels because of traffic, this time we actually went to the game! Most surprising of all, the Pirates won!

  1. Visit South Pearl Street. We discovered this gem of a neighborhood because it just happened to be the location of our AirBnB, but it is worth checking out even if you stay elsewhere. (Though you should absolutely stay at the AirBnB we rented if you have the chance. More on that later.) South Pearl is a mostly residential area with a few blocks of super nice boutiques, coffee shops, high-end consignment shops, an adorable independently-owned children’s bookstore, and restaurants. https://www.southpearlstreet.com

2. Eat at Sushi Den! https://www.sushiden.net (Another reason to visit South Pearl. It was just down the street from our rental.) I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but thanks to the marvelously skilled chefs at this establishment, I’ve grown to love sushi! Rick and I ate there twice (in a four day stay!), both times sitting at the sushi bar and watching the chefs create edible art with flown-in-daily fresh-from-all-over-the-world fish. Denver’s city magazine, 5280, named Sushi Den the reader’s choice best Japanese restaurant. I guess I’m going to have to see what restaurant Pittsburgh Magazine recommends here at home and stop picking up bland California Roll at Fresh Market:)

3. Walk around older neighborhoods and gawk at the beautiful Craftsman bungalows. Newer housing in Denver seems to lean heavily towards mixed-use residential/retail construction like some of the recent additions here in Pittsburgh (Bakery Square, Lawrenceville, and the Strip District come to mind. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say!) But the bungalows in the older established neighborhoods just pull at my heartstrings.

4. Go to a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater! Okay, so this is one we didn’t technically do. It seems the more places we go, the longer our bucket list gets! Because we have to get back here someday for a show. We walked around and admired this amazing venue, but we weren’t interested in seeing Josh Groban who was performing while we were in town. If only we’d been there on August 22 when Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats were there! We’ve been wanting to see them for two years! https://www.redrocksonline.com

5. Walk like a dinosaur! Or at least, walk where they walked! Dinosaur Ridge is on the way to Red Rocks Amphitheater and is one of the best places in the world to view dinosaur fossils in their original habitat. Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Allosaurus (arguably some of the most recognizable dinos) were originally discovered here in 1877. Rick and I hiked around the two-mile site and it was really cool to see the evidence of these pre-historic creatures out in the open as opposed to in a museum. http://dinoridge.org

6. Take a hike! We drove to Frisco, CO for the day (about an hour’s drive) and hiked the North Tenmile Trail along a mountain stream. I’m not sure why it’s called the “Tenmile trail” because it’s actually 6.8 miles round-trip. Maybe it’s because with the altitude, you’ll feel like you hiked ten miles after you’ve walked ten minutes! And, I shouldn’t even admit to this because it’s such a rookie mistake, we forgot to take water with us. No matter. It was one of the prettiest hikes we’ve ever taken. We then drove up to Sapphire Point Overlook and walked around enjoying the dramatic views of the Dillon Reservoir and surrounding mountains.

7. Eat at Jovavina’s Broken Italian Restaurant. This was another recommendation from 5280, which recognized it as the best Italian restaurant in the area. It’s a charming space with lanterns hanging from the ceiling, drippy candelabras on the tables, and an Italian motorbike as the base of the reception table. The food’s what really counts though, and we got a great crispy thin-crust pizza along with two amazing roasted veggie sides. https://jovanina.com

8. Stay at South Pearl Alley AirBnB! This is, hands down, the nicest AirBnB we’ve ever rented! Everywhere you look, there’s another thoughtful detail. From the antique sewing machine base of the marble bathroom sink to the stylish Smeg refrigerator and toaster in the kitchen, every inch of this place is begging to be posted on Instagram! A comfortable bed, yummy snacks and beverages, convenient washer/dryer so you don’t have to overpack, adorable outdoor patio, and a seamless check-in system make this place a winner! If you search South Pearl Street on the AirBnB app, it’s the listing headed “Chill in the Bamboo Orb Seat.”

 Another perk of traveling is getting to catch up with out-of-town friends! Over dinner at Kona Grill (more sushi!) Rick and his buddy George Crunkleton reminisced about their glory days while his wife Versella and I definitely didn’t hear any stories we’d heard before. LOL. Another perk of traveling is getting to catch up with out-of-town friends! Over dinner at Kona Grill (more sushi!) Rick and his buddy George Crunkleton reminisced about their glory days while his wife Versella and I definitely didn’t hear any stories we’d heard before. LOL.

Following the Pirates to Southern California…or not

Following the Pirates to Southern California…or not

Earlier this summer, when the Pirates were just two and a half games out of first place in their division, Rick and I had the bright idea to go watch them play in a couple of cities we wanted to visit.  Then we sat down one night with our calendars and the laptop to book flights and find AirBnBs in Santa Monica, CA and Denver, CO.  If you follow the Pirates at all, you know that their competitive streak came to its inevitable end almost immediately.  But, what the heck, we have family in southern California and neither of us have ever been to Denver, so off we went.

Originally, we had non-stop flights to and from Los Angeles, but that turned into a layover in Phoenix on our way out and Chicago on the way home since the airlines had to remove all of the 727s from service.  Fine by me. I’d rather have a layover than fly on a faulty plane.

Once we arrived at LAX we picked up our rental car and ventured out onto the crazy busy highways.  Let me just say that if you have ever complained about traffic in Pittsburgh, fifteen minutes on Southern California’s eight-lane bumper-to-bumper roads will have you nostalgic for the Burgh’s hills, bridges and tunnel back ups.  

Our Santa Monica AirBnB was in a great location, just half a block to the beach and walking distance to shops and restaurants. It was a cute little place that included a kitchen stocked with snacks, a comfortable bed, fluffy towels and nice bath amenities. Unfortunately, there were some unwanted visitors on the roof.  Picture the movie Caddy Shack with squirrels instead of groundhogs and me as Bill Murray.  After the third night of them doing God-knows-what in the ceiling, our host kindly refunded our remaining two days rent and we finished the trip at a Hampton Inn.

Now, about that Pirates game.  We’d planned to watch them play the Angels in Anaheim, but we wanted to stay closer to the beach and our California family members.  Looking at the map before we left, it didn’t look so bad -just 42 miles from our AirBnB to the stadium. Then reality hit. The game was scheduled for 5:07 p.m., which would put us on the road at the peak of rush hour and turn the 42 mile drive into a two and a half hour nightmare.  With the Buccos hovering around the bottom of major league standings, we decided to skip it. (There’s a reason my fantasy football name is “Fair Weather Fan.”) 

So what did we do out in sunny California? As pictured above, Rick became an overnight beach volleyball pro. I’m still not sure how it all went down. He was supposed to be meeting me for a walk on the beach and called my cellphone to ask if I could wait until he finished a volleyball game. I walked back to find him and three 20-somethings in a death-match on the sand. Despite never having played beach volleyball, Rick and his partner Pascal (pictured above) managed to beat Trash-talking Ted (pictured with the ball) and his partner. (Unlike the Pirates, Rick is nothing if not competitive.)

We also had a wonderful time visiting with all of our beautiful west coast family (who we don’t get to see nearly often enough) and we visited the fabulous Getty Center, a $1.3 billion museum complex nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking the city of Los Angeles.

 Getty Center
Getty Center

The Getty Center’s permanent collection includes pre-20th century European paintings, drawings, sculpture and decorative arts, as well as 19th and 20th century photographs, and contemporary and modern sculpture. Our favorites, of course, were the Impressionists. Especially, Van Gogh’s Irises and Monet’s Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light, pictured below.

As impressive as the art was, the setting and architecture of the museum itself rivals its contents.  Undulating walls of travertine stone soar above the hilltop and strategically placed balconies allow you to view for miles in every direction. Also from the balconies, you get a bird’s eye view of the Central Garden, a formal design of water features, over 500 plant varieties, and a floating maze of azaleas.  A thoughtful touch – the Getty Center provides umbrellas for strolling around the grounds, not for the threat of rain (It Never Rains in Southern California – there’s even a song about it:)), but to protect you from the ever-present sun.

 The Central Garden
The Central Garden

If you ever find yourself in LA with a few hours to fill, you should definitely check this place out.  The art is amazing, the setting is beautiful, the price is right – parking in the garage is $20, but museum entrance is free, there’s a pleasant little scenic tram ride from the parking garage up the hill to the museum, even lunch at the cafe was impressive.

For more information about the Getty Center, visit https://www.getty.edu/visit/center/

Blown away by the Windy City

Blown away by the Windy City
Have you “bean” to the Cloud Gate in Millennium Park?

We packed a lot into our long weekend in Chicago! The theater, museums, a Cubs game, rooftop bars, walks along Lake Shore Drive, and a river cruise all enjoyed in the midst of a crazy nationwide heat wave.

We left Pittsburgh around 10 a.m. and made it to Hilton’s Magnificent Mile Suites by 6.  Our progress was slowed a bit because we had to make some stops for our traveling companion, Dot. (Since this was a spur of the moment trip, our usual sitter wasn’t available. Luckily, Dottie is a good traveler and hotels are a lot more accommodating than they used to be. The Hilton charged just $75 additional for the entire four-night stay.)

 

Once we got Dot situated, we set out to explore. Our hotel was just off of Michigan Avenue, or the Magnificent Mile, which is renowned for its upscale shopping. (Chicago’s version of Fifth Avenue, maybe?) The first item on the Chicago must-do list was deep dish pizza!  Bella Bacino was recommended to us by our daughter’s friend who lives in the city. After a pleasant half-mile walk (the Sahara-like temperatures hadn’t arrived yet), we snagged a table on the sidewalk overlooking the Chicago River.  My usual go-to pizza is Neapolitan-style from the Jersey shore and I was afraid the pies in Chicago might have more in common with the thick, overly bread-y Sicilian’s I’ve tried. Not so!  Yes, it’s a thick slab of pizza, but instead of gobs of bread you get gobs of cheese! Perfection! 

We also loved Bella Bacino’s sun-dried tomato focaccia bread (which I plan to try making myself one day and will share in a future post if it’s any good!)

The next morning we got up early trying to beat the heat for a walk along Lake Michigan. There was no beating the heat, but we did get a good workout along the wide paved promenade and enjoyed beautiful views of the city.

In the afternoon, we headed back to the Chicago River to take the best tour in the city (according to TripAdvisor), the First Lady River Cruise.  The 90-minute tour is narrated by volunteer docents from Chicago’s Architecture Foundation and highlights the most important buildings here in the birthplace of the skyscraper. Does that sound as dry as dust? Somehow, it wasn’t. Our guy’s enthusiasm was infectious and the soaring buildings are even more impressive when you hear the stories behind them. My two favorites were 150 N. Riverside, which balances on a wedge-shaped base:

and River Point, which features arched cutouts at the top and bottom.

 

Chicago isn’t the most walkable city in the world because it’s huge! 227 square miles vs. Pittsburgh’s cozy 55.  But it is laid out in a grid (Pittsburgh, not so much) and it’s flat (Pittsburgh, hahahahaha). From our location on the Magnificient Mile, everything we wanted to see (with the exception of Wrigley Field) was less than a mile away, which for us is walkable. We hoofed it to the Art Institute of Chicago, Millennium Park, and the American Writers Museum. To get to the Cubs game, we took the L and the night we saw Hamilton we used Uber, but only because the heat index was 100 F and I was wearing heels.  

We had a great time in this fabulous friendly city.

Until next time Chicago!

 Rooftop bars - best place to enjoy a cocktail at sunset! This is the drumBAR.
Rooftop bars – best place to enjoy a cocktail at sunset! This is the drumBAR.

 The John Hancock Center
The John Hancock Center