The time has come. Your mom has been grieving over your cross-country move to Denver for the past year, and she finally bought that plane ticket to come see you with three stuffed suitcases and your dad in tow. While excited, your enthusiasm for their impending visit is dampened with the pressured thought of, “What the hell am I supposed to do with them while they’re here?”
So let’s start with the don’ts.
Make them think the only reason you moved here was for legal weed.
This may go without saying, but you should tone down the pot-smoking passion when your folks are in town — that is, if you’re a pot smoker, which only 13.6% of Colorado adults admit to being.
So go on and hide the bong, put away that oversized Sweet Leaf shirt, and light an incense. For the parents who don’t agree with it, they’ll worry and recite the “So have you found a church yet?” conversation. For the parents who don’t mind that kind of lifestyle, they’ll still criticize you for being a millennial-pot-snob-douchebag who’s only contributing to the transplant epidemic to get high. Both will think you suck.
Take them to Casa Bonita.
First of all, if you think South Park is exaggerating in its Casa Bonita episode, you are dead-effing-wrong. Yes, there are cliff divers. Yes, there are people walking around selling neon light-up carnival toys. And yes, there are sopapillas, which are arguably the only redeeming quality of that $17 plate of stale, store-bought chips and tortillas wrapped around Velveeta cheese. Casa Bonita is where you cram in a corner to watch corny gunfight shows and observe all the families with bellies pressed against tables raising their little flags for more sopapillas and think, “How the hell did everyone even end up here?” Then you start asking the same thing about yourself, and it all goes downhill from there.
Let your dad order too many whiskey drinks.
Watch out for that higher altitude. Three Jameson on the rocks later and your dad is slurring his way through that story about the time he accidentally ended up a brothel again. The hangover the next day is even worse, and now your mom won’t cut the silent treatment. Keep hydrated since higher altitude has less moisture in the air to combat the alcohol, and you should be fine.
But as for the do’s…
Convince them your tastebuds have slightly evolved since college.
For breakfast, Habit Doughnut Dispensary is a pretty solid place to start. They have “blazed and glazed” brioche doughnuts; burritos exploding with brioche cone, egg, green chili, mashed tots, and cheese; and for your dad’s hangover, there’s the option to wash down a doughnut with whiskey for $7.50.
Another good breakfast spot is Sassafras in Jefferson Park. Here, your Southern momma can silently judge the fried okra’s breading technique before loudly raving over the fried green tomato benedict and shrimp and grits. Then there’s Rise & Shine Biscuit Kitchen and Cafe. While most in Denver think of Denver Biscuit Company for those magical fluffs of bread, your parents probably won’t want to grub at a place with at least an hour wait. While Rise & Shine is no stranger to their own lines, their different biscuits of the day make it totally worth it. Green chili goat cheese, sour cream dill, cheddar cholula, honey almond, montreal steak, rosemary olive oil, orange zest, beer — I could continue, but I’ll spare you the taste bud pains.
For lunch, take them to Humble Pie, which was named by Thrillist as having one of the “16 Greatest Pies in the Nation.” We’re talking flaky, buttery crusts enveloping warm, rich pot pies and various quiches. And the milkshakes blended with pie crusts? Holy hell. Or check out BookBar, which is the perfect spot to drink in front of your parents while also emphasizing your love for literature. The bar itself is made from old book pages, the menus are laid out in chapters, and there’s plenty of hardbacks to browse as you down that Red Banshee while waiting on your Steinbeck pizza. But for the most straight up, unpretentious Mexican food in the city, La Pasadita Inn takes the crown — and with a smorgasbord of green chili in Denver, that’s saying a lot.
For dinner, head to My Brother’s Bar — the oldest still-operating bar in Denver and former Neal Cassady hangout spot. Here’s where you’ll enjoy classical music hushing the cozy chatter of regulars, drinkers, and families before stuffing yourself with 50-cent popcorn and jalapeno cream cheese burgers washed down with frothy and cold beer from the tap. Or, for pizza, go to Hops and Pie. Remember that Mary-Kate and Ashley “put it on the pizza” video? Not that Hops and Pie smothers their slices in whipped cream and fried chicken, but you can get dollops of mashed potatoes and whole garlic cloves. Not to mention, Wednesdays are $2 craft can nights. Even your mom can get behind that while your dad mocks you and your generation for ordering IPA mac n’ cheese.
But for a restaurant with live music that isn’t the sticky dive-bar you frequent on Fridays, end your night at Nocturne. There’s nightly artist in residence jazz performances here where $5 to $10 fees go directly to fund the music and food. Nocturne also seeks partnerships with local non-profit organizations to provide educational opportunities for youth in Denver. Support this place and you just may see your folks cut loose for the first time since they got drunk at your graduation dinner at Olive Garden. Heads up though — while you can walk in and enjoy the music without calling ahead, for dinner, you’ll usually need a reservation.
Brush up on your tour guide skills.
While it may take your dad some convincing, Elitch Gardens, which has the only downtown waterpark in the country, is a small and usually uncrowded amusement park where you can enjoy views of the Denver skyline and Rocky Mountains while screaming your way through the twists and loops of the Mind Eraser. Or head to Lakeside — because everyone needs a good retro theme park experience from 1908, even if some light whiplash is involved.
But if your parents aren’t quite the adrenaline junkie that you are, Denver Museum of Nature & Science is a good place to kill some time, especially on a day when there’s free entry to the museum, which you can check out on their website. And while we’re on the topic of free — because, let’s be real, your parents have paid enough for you already — there’s City Park Jazz, which happens every Sunday from June to August. Bring a blanket, your own booze (as long as it’s not in a glass bottle or over 3.2%), and eat at the various foods trucks in City Park while dancing to live jazz from 6-8 pm. Another free option is the Art District on Santa Fe. Explore free art viewings, food trucks, craft sales, live music, and dancing every first Friday of the month from 6-9 pm.
Then there’s the Mayan Theatre. Sure, your dad may scoff at the pretentious independent flick you take them to see while your mom praises it for its “pizazz,” but this historic theatre built in 1930 is worth the scoffing just for them to check out. It’s one of the country’s three remaining theatres designed in the Art Deco Mayan Revival style. But let’s be honest — your parents will love this place more so for its free parking and bottles of Not Your Father’s Root Beer sold at the bar upstairs, which you can take into the screening with you. Yes, there are cup holders and yes, your folks will love it. Also, don’t forget to take them to Wax Trax Record Store so they can sift through musty vinyl and relieve their glory days with Del Shannon and Jim Croce before soaking up some sun in Confluence Park or strolling around Sloan’s Lake.
Of course, you also have to get them a mile high. You do this on the 13th step of the Capitol’s stairs, which is the exact marker for one mile above sea level. Just be prepared for the “Hey, hun. Looks like we got high in Denver after all. Heh-heh” jokes from your dad.
Prove to them Colorado is the best state in the country because of its nature.
You are in Colorado, after all. For starters, drive 16 miles away from Denver to Red Rocks. While your folks may not be interested in seeing Gramatik or Chromeo, Red Rocks isn’t just known for its tunes and light shows — it’s also a park full of day hikes with great views of Denver, the Rockies, and the famous red rocks the amphitheatre got its name from. They’ll also enjoy checking out the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, which features all the artists who have performed since 1941, including The Eagles, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Petty, John Denver, and The Beatles.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is a good afternoon outdoor spot within a 25-minute drive from Denver. Go on the 9-mile self driving tour and let your mom go camera-crazy over buffalo, deer, and black-footed ferrets with the Denver skyline and snow-capped Rockies as the backdrop. Or take them to Mount Evans, which is the highest point in North America accessible by car. While the famous peak is only 60 miles from Denver, it’ll take about an hour-and-a-half to convince your car to work its way up the 14,265-foot climb. On your way up, keep an eye out for elk, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, yellow alpine avens, and yellow-bellied marmots. Just be sure to bring a jacket — 90 degrees in Denver translates to 45 degrees on Mount Evans.
Then there’s all the other activities like whitewater rafting in Idaho Springs; hiking the one-mile-roundtrip trek to St. Mary’s Glacier, which is only 50 minutes from Denver; climbing one of the easier 14’ers, Mount Bierstadt, so they can brag to their neighbors back home; going over 95-foot tall trestles on the Georgetown Loop Railroad; or driving the scenic 48-mile Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Those mountain views are guaranteed to help your parents understand why you abandoned them back home.
Show them more love than usual.
Laugh at your dad’s jokes, let your mom take as many pictures as she pleases, and don’t roll your eyes at the repetitive questions they’ll ask about the safety of your neighborhood and how you plan on paying rent. So when you drop them off at the airport, after pointing out the giant, blue horse with red eyes, squeeze them a little tighter than you normally do. Your mom is going to need that extra love when she’s tearing up over her in-flight pretzels and peanuts while planning her next visit.