Denver: Final post and rating

Anyone who has talked to us recently knows Denver has been our favorite city. But I've had trouble explaining why. Denver is so much more than the 16th Street Mall. More than beer, marijuana, and the Rocky Mountains. It's kind of like dating where it sometimes takes getting to know someone to really appreciate what you've found.

Conveying everything we've found and learned to like about Denver is too overwhelming . It amounts to hundreds of small high-quality realizations instead of a small number of sensational experiences. Even though it's great to visit, Denver is the kind of place that's even better to live in.

After living in each city, we've been giving it a personal rating to track our opinions and decide where we want to settle. Read this if you're unfamiliar with our ratings. Previous city ratings: Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Fresno.


Culture: 8

Union Station
Denver has a vibrant art scene on par with much bigger cities. There are multiple art districts. Each district with its own character and collection of small working studios. The largest, Santa Fe Arts District has 100+ galleries.

The music scene is equally dense with more concerts and music venues than Austin. It wasn't uncommon to skip a great concert because there were so many other things going on. Red Rocks gets the fame, but there are a number of other great outdoors venues.

Street markets, festivals, dog bars, cat cafes, costumed bike rides, coffee houses, book signings, comedy, theater, independent theaters, local
film... There is so much happening in Denver that it takes some narrowing down to find the best of any one thing. Searching for a great coffee house or looking for a weekend market results in whole list of results. Instead of "This is where our farmer's market is" a search results in "Here are our top 10 farmer's markets". This is common in much larger cities but not the cities under a million we've lived in so far. If farmer's markets aren't your thing, the same variety applies to all types of activities and events.

Environment: 8

Dallas took the prize with its immaculate, dog-friendly downtown, but Denver is close behind. No matter where you live in Denver, chances are you're within walking distance of a park. There are over 200 in the city. Most are used heavily with everything from lakes and whitewater chutes to games and concerts.

The city has a number of decent dog parks, but needs more. While we were there the city created new rules allowing dogs on restaurant patios. Previously the allowance had extended only to cafes and bars without major food service.

Vegetarian Restaurants: 7 Estes Park

Sure Denver's specialty is rare game meats and fried testicles, but these items are largely for tourists. People in Denver appear to care about what they eat. No matter where we lived in the city, great produce and vegan items were a short walk away. Our favorite neighborhood had a small vegan market, Nooch. Our favorite eats were Native Foods, City O City, and Sweet Action Ice Cream.

Cost of Living: 8

Denver isn't cheap; especially if you pay rent. But we're not comparing cost of living to every city in the country. We're comparing it to other cities we want to live in. By that criteria, Denver has a great cost of living. Housing seems to be on par with Chicago but much cheaper than desirable Californian cities or New York. Good food and beer is inexpensive. Every weekend there are dozens of inexpensive and free events. Weekend getaway airfare is cheap.

Transportation/Infrastructure: 9

Highest rated! Downtown, dozens of free buses run up and down the outdoor mall. On business days a whole set of different free buses runs from major terminals through the business district. A huge new regional rail project is scheduled for completion in 2018. Major bike arteries run throughout the city. While living there we bought a Car2Go membership so we could instantly drive one of the many cars parked around the city. Scenic trains cut through the Rockies to California. Cheap flights to Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and other cities are available for weekend getaways; sometimes for under $100. Traffic was less than ideal for a city of its size, but congestion was often due to improvements and construction.

 Climate: 9

Also, highest rated! If San Diego represents a perfect 10, Denver is right below it. Our expectations of the weather coming to Denver were totally wrong.

A typical day is sunny with blue skies. When it rains, it usually only lasts a few hours and cools things off. The temperatures dropped below zero at night in December. But even then the dry air prevented the biting cold you get in Chicago or Philadelphia at higher temperature. Plus the same dry air decreases humidity in the summer! Plus the altitude increases metabolism! Plus, we like seasons!

People: 9

We found the people nicely balanced; somewhere between the progressiveness of California and the friendly confidence often found in rural areas. Colorado has one of the highest percentages of four-year degrees in the country and it shows.

Style is casual, but it doesn't seem like they're trying too hard. Most people living in Denver aren't from Denver so it's a wide mix. There is definitely a fare share of ignorance, but it doesn't dominate the scene. Drivers were more laid back than we'd like, but it was more tolerable than other cities we've visited outside of the northeast.

Pass/Fail: Pass

Another great thing about Denver is the number of things to do nearby and how easy and quick it is to get out of the city. Most of the scenic pictures in this post were taken outside of Denver in nearby places like Estes Park and Colorado Springs. We're looking forward to going back to explore more of the Rockies and places like the Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde.

Current city is Charleston! We're loving the beach in the off-season with its laid back bars and empty stores. We've never lived this close to the ocean and can open the windows when it's warm enough to hear the waves and wind. Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets are there for our enjoyment any day we feel like stepping outside. We bought a second kayak to start exploring some of the local marshes. It's everything we expected in areas that matter, but it's not Denver. More on Charleston, later.