A guide to celebrating the holidays like a Colorado native
If this is your first holiday season in Colorado, welcome!
Don’t worry: I’m not one of those natives who somehow thinks I’m better than you just before I had the good fortune of being born here. People moving here is indicative of Colorado being a great place with a good economy, and while it comes with some growing pains, you can’t get too mad at someone for wanting to enjoy our state.
I’ve lived here my whole life (minus a year in St. Louis but the point is I’m back now), and while this guide might just be one person’s opinion, here are my thoughts on how to enjoy the holiday season in Colorado like a native (even if you’re fresh off the U-Haul from Texas and/or California).
DO: Go to the Parade of Lights
This parade is seriously impressive – and it’s early enough in December that it’s a great way to get you in the holiday spirit before you get burned out on the whole concept/start to hate “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
For the record, I’m not just saying that because I work at 9NEWS and we’re the sponsor.
You can read all about the logistics and two-mile parade route here. As a former band geek who marched in this Colorado tradition, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you to keep an eye out for the unique (yet very gross) phenomenon known as a “spit-cicle” you’ll see coming from the woodwind instruments.
Otherwise, taking the light rail to the parade is usually the best bet to get there – just make sure that you walk to a part of the route away from the Convention Center and 16th Street Mall stops for a better view.
And when the parade winds down, you have the choice between cramming yourself in a train with a bunch of strangers or checking out the rest of the Christmas spectacle downtown to kill time.
Union Station is always worth checking out, as are the lights on the 16th Street Mall.
DON’T: Just enjoy the holiday decorations in Denver
A lot of my coworkers and friends who are new to Colorado live in Capitol Hill … and never venture much farther than the Highlands or City Park. Hey, it’s a great neighborhood and there’s tons of stuff for a millennial who wants to get out of their $1,200-a-month studio to do, but you’d be making a mistake this holiday season if you didn’t at least once see what else the state has to offer.
To begin with, many suburban cities get decked out for the holidays and (gasp!) there’s actually parking (for those of you who live in Capitol Hill: “parking” is this thing where if you go somewhere, you have somewhere you can put your car without having to drive around the block for an hour).
Downtown Littleton always looks absolutely spectacular, and there are a bunch of bars and shops right along main street worth checking out. Nearby Hudson Gardens also has a sweet light show.
The Streets of Southglenn, meanwhile, might appeal to those who prefer a more chain restaurant feel. With that being said, the Christmas lights are spectacular and there’s an ice rink.
Father south, there’s Castle Rock, which has both lights and, for practical reasons, an outlet mall.
Downtown Arvada also has pretty cool lights, and isn’t that far from downtown Denver.
This is more of a hike, but my favorite lights display in Colorado is in Old Town Fort Collins. The entire block is seriously aglow. Pro tip: Plan your trip for a weekday and try to snag a New Belgium tour. It’s free … and it comes with lots of beer.
As for just driving around to look at lights, Greenwood Village does it best. Some of the houses in this (admittedly upscale) Colorado city look absolutely incredible during the Christmas season. Pick a route near Kent Denver.
DO: Head up to the mountains
Look, skiing is a very expensive hobby, and unless you really love it, it can be hard to justify paying upwards of $100 a day to wait in long lift lines and sit in Interstate 70 traffic.
With that being said, skiing isn’t the only thing you can do in the mountains during the winter, despite how it might appear in Colorado’s tourism industry. There’s tubing at many resorts, and it’s quite a bit cheaper.
You can rent snowshoes from REI for fairly cheap too, and it’s pretty fun to stomp around in the snow. The only skills required for snowshoeing are legitimately walking and not getting lost.
And, if you’re like my coworker Jacob and moved to a colder climate without buying snowboots, you’ll need those and a jacket.
THIS IS A THING: Transplant blog: Nobody told me to buy boots
Of course, maybe you want to take an Instagram photo in the mountains without getting particularly active. That’s cool, and you won’t regret it if you drive up to a mountain town like Breckenridge or Winter Park.
Idaho Springs, which is roughly a half hour from downtown Denver on a good day, is a shorter drive and calls multiple breweries home, in addition to some snowy mountain views.
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DON’T: Pack up your shorts and t-shirts quite yet
If your only exposure to Denver is from the graphics used by NBC Sports, you might think that our airport is in the mountains and it’s snowy here like all the time.
Both of those things are wrong. Our airport is in Kansas and sometimes it’s randomly 75 degrees in December.
And unless you work in local news, we don’t really make a big deal out of the latter.
This means you will need clothes for all sorts of weather conditions all the time. And it’s pretty great if you want to go on a long hike on a Saturday in the middle of the winter without bringing snowshoes.
DO: Buy snow tires
First off, you’re legally required to have them if conditions get bad on I-70 in the winter … and if you don’t it could be a hefty fine.
Secondly, it makes everything a lot easier. You don’t want to be in an accident, do you? You don’t want to get stuck, right? Of course not.
Just buy snow tires. And change our your wiper blades while you’re at it.
DON’T: Take down your Christmas lights before the stock show
This is a Denver-specific tradition. With thousands of people flocking to the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in January, the city likes residents to keep things looking festive before they leave.
So, don’t be a stock show Grinch and keep those lights up.
DO: Go to the stock show. Seriously.
Ok, the stock show is technically after Christmas, but given the tradition with the lights, it’s still basically in the holidays.
This is also a dose of Denver’s “cow town” history you don’t see every day.
A few pro tips: the people watching is prime, simply because it’s fun to guess who’s actually a cowboy vs. the posers who are wearing cowboy hats but actually live in a subdivision in Highlands Ranch. You can usually tell by how dirty their boots are.
Also, even if you’re an adult, go to the petting zoo. Last year there were llamas.
Finally, there’s a bar in the slightly underground area where they keep the cows. You’re welcome.
DON'T: Buy yourself a bunch of gear with the Colorado flag on it
You live here now. You're proud of it ... but that Colorado flag bumper sticker on your Subaru might be going a little bit far (and it's a way for the grumpy locals to know you're not from these parts).
With that being said, buy your out-of-state relatives tons of Colorado swag.
DO: Enjoy yourself. Colorado is the awesome
You live in a great place, holidays or not. Enjoy yourself!
I swear not all of us natives are that grumpy.
Have something to add to the list or just want to file an official complaint outside of the comment section? Email Allison.Sylte@9NEWS.com.