Why is Denver the #1 most-traveled to destination from Ontario Airport outside of California and its neighboring states? Probably because Colorado has the best skiing, snowboarding, beer, art and more in the west. Think you can’t do it on a budget? Think again! We’ll show you how to get on the slopes in Vail / Beaver Creek and party it up in Denver for just $400!
While Denver may seem distant, you can fly to Denver in less time than you can drive to Vegas. In fact, that two hour (or less) flight from ONT to DEN might be quicker than a drive from LA to Moreno Valley through rush hour traffic, or from the I.E. to Vegas.
We’ll give you the best information on getting to and living it up in Colorado on a budget or in luxury with friends and family.
Despite the cutbacks at Ontario Airport, you can still catch a non-stop flight to Denver several times a day on United, Southwest, Continental and U.S. Air. While the Denver airport is on the outskirts of the city (about 17 miles from the city center), it is no further than LAX is to downtown LA (or from ONT to Riverside or San Bernardino).
If you’re planning on skiing, arrive a day early, whether you’re staying in Denver, Vail, Boulder or elsewhere. At 5,280 feet in elevation, the Mile High City will require a day or so to acclimate to the elevation. If you’ve got some extra funds, you can fly directly into Vail or Beaver Creek through the Eagle County Regional Airport located just 15 miles away. You’ll have to fly out of LAX, and the flight will run you another few hundred bucks round trip.
Instead, just head to Denver, as there is plenty to do whether that is your stopping point on the way to the mountains or your destination.
Where to Stay
- The Curtis – Denver – The official hipster hotel or generally cool place to stay (think Ace Hotel in Palm Springs), The Curtis (a Double Tree by Hilton) is decorated with pop culture and is located in the Theater District. Most importantly, it’s right next to the convention center (home to the annual Great American Beer Festival) and about a half-mile from Great Divide Brewery, Coors Brewery and Wynkoop Brewing. It is also near plenty of shopping, nightlife, Denver’s eight professional sports teams, world-class zoo and brand-new Contemporary Art Museum. Best of all, the prices are very reasonable for a hot spot like this (as low as $100 a night in the winter off-season and as much as $300 in the busy summer months).
If you’re not impressed yet, check out the room service that can bring you your favorite retro candy and soda. Hungry? Head down to their super-hip restaurant, The Corner Office (a Sage Restaurant Group concept by restaurateur Peter Karpinksi) which features $3 beers from all around Colorado every Friday for happy hour (just $4 normally) and an impressive array of comfort food served in generous portions and at surprisingly affordable prices (we recommend the mussels and hummus plate). Book your room quickly before they figure out they really could be charging more.
- Westin Riverfront - Beaver Creek (near Vail) – With Beaver Creek’s motto “Not exactly roughing it,” The Westin Riverfront should be declared city hall. This five star resort offers door front gondolas straight to the Beaver Creek ski resort, which is run by the same folks that run the famous Vail resort just 10 miles down the road. The resort features a spa, heated pool, three infinity hot tubs, luxurious fitness center, yoga studio, full bar (with tasty Crazy Mountain Brewing from Vail), ski rental shop, funky coffee shop and in-room fire place. The entire resort has a gorgeous view of the Beaver Creek ski resort. They’re even environmentally friendly to boot. If you’re still not sold that this is the ultimate relaxation center, just trust Conde Nast, which named the Westin Riverfront the #1 U.S. ski resort in the nation. Chances are, Conde Nast dropped by the new Cima restaurant located in the hotel. Cima is designed by Richard Sandoval, whose other restaurants are scattered throughout the nation, including one at the Ritz-Carlton Dana Point in Orange County and two in Santa Monica. The menu includes the popular smoked swordfish dip, which brings the flavors alive to prepare you for your main course. The presentation of the Colorado Lamb Shank is as impressive as the taste. You may not need a knife as the succulent meat falls off the bone.
- St Julien Hotel & Spa – Boulder – Considered the nicest spot if you’re looking to stay in Boulder, the hip college town.
Skiing / Snowboarding
- Vail – the U.S. largest ski resort. Located 100 miles West of Denver. This makes an excellent day trip, place to stay for a night or hot spot for an entire weekend of fun. At 5,289 skiable acres, this is more than 25 times the size of Bear Mountain’s 198 skiable acres. This is America’s largest and busiest ski resort. Expect lines and upscale hotels. If you want nightlife in your ski resort, Vail is where its at. You may prefer to just ski at the resort and head down to Denver for the bars and clubs.
Beaver Creek – “Not Exactly Roughing It” is their motto, and you’ll understand why once you go there. At 1,815 skiable acres, this resort is almost 10 times larger than Bear Mountain, which comes in at just 198 skiable acres and nearly 7 times larger than Mt. High, which comes in at 290 skiable acres. There are multiple points that you can access this mountain, and can ride numerous bowls where the only way out is to take a lift. Beaver Creek averages 290 inches of snow a year, so this is no joke. Located just 10 miles west of Vail, this is a popular favorite of Denver locals. As the ski resort has a lower profile than Vail or Breckenridge, the lines are generally shorter than the other ski resorts. Beaver Creek village provides upscale shopping, dining and entertainment to ensure you have a great time. In the word of one Yelp reviewer, “This ski resort makes Big Bear look like a joke. . . . I think I will cry next time I try to go to Mountain High to try and get some skiing in.” While we wouldn’t go that far—Mountain High and Big Bear are fantastic local spots to go—you may be a bit spoiled once you’ve gone to Vail, Beaver Creek or one of the numerous other ski and snowboard destinations in Colorado.
- Breckenridge - Slightly closer than Vail and operated by the same company, this is another popular skiing destination.
- There are many, many other ski resorts in the region, many of which are owned by the same folks who run Vail.
- Ski Rentals: Check out Breeze in Denver! As low as $8 a day if you book ahead of time (snowboards are closer to $20 a day). Rentals are more expensive if you’d prefer the convenience of renting at the resort or your hotel. They’re owned by the same folks that will take care of you up in the mountains, just at a lower price. In fact, you can even drop off your equipment after your day in the snow at their sister companies located right next to the ski lifts in Vail, Beaver Creek and more.
With dozens of breweries, Denver and the entire state of Colorado are considered hot spots for beer lovers (along with San Diego and Portland). Here’s the low down on some of the most well known and some favorites of ours.
- Great Divide – Denver (AVAILABLE IN THE I.E) - At 30,000 barrels a year, these guys are twice the size of Hangar 24 and distributed in more than half of the states in America. Their Yeti and Titan IPA are available throughout the Inland Empire and much of the nation. Their Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout is rated as one of the top 50 beers in the world by BeerRate.com. Check out our full review of Great Divide.
- Avery Brewing Co. – Boulder (AVAILABLE IN THE I.E)- Located in Colorado’s famously liberal college town, Avery is famous for its White Rascal Belgian White Ale and IPA. Their tasting room currently hidden in a back alley packed full of fans will be moving in 2012 along with the brewery to a bigger location just a mile away with food cooked and served on the premises. The tasting room has many beers that you can’t find on stores throughout the Inland Empire and elsewhere. Check out our full review of Avery (coming soon).
New Belgium Brewing – Fort Collins (AVAILABLE IN THE I.E) - About an hour north of Denver, New Belgium is Colorado’s largest brewery. Known for their Fat Tire beer, which is available at bars throughout the Inland Empire, Southern California and elsewhere.
- Wynkoop - Denver – Founded by a former Denver mayor who went on to become governor of Colorado, this brewery is steeped in tradition. It has recently joined forced with Breckenridge Brewery. The food is incredible. We recommend the burger and fries, but we hear that nothing on the menu is bad. This is a popular weekend spot if you want to go bar hopping.
Breckenridge Brewery – Surprisingly good beer that is not distributed in California. Check out their location adjacent to Coors field in downtown when you’re in Denver. They feature guest handles with beers from around Colorado.
- Bull & Bush – Denver (Cherry Creek) – Kudos to these guys for their sense of humor and marketing. Bull & Bush has developed a large following on BeerRate.com.
- Crazy Mountain Brewery – Vail – A brewery right in the popular skiing town of Vail.
- Golden City Brewery – These guys live in the shadow of Coors, also in Golden, and have a good sense of humor about it, calling themselves the “Second Largest Brewery” in Golden. The brewery is tiny and the small town has character.
- Coors – Golden (available everywhere) - Tours are available of one of America’s largest breweries.
Distilleries / Mixology / Speakeasies
As the New York Times recently reported, Denver and Boulder are quickly becoming a hot spot for lovers of mixology. A few of the most popular include:
- Great American Beer Festival – America’s premier beer event, with all you can drink nights open to the public at a reasonable price. This is an all weekend party throughout Denver.
Red Rocks – One of the world’s most famous concert venues!
- Botanic Gardens – Denver – Located in the city center, this is a good escape from the nature lovers that won’t be leaving the city while they’re in Denver. They’re well known for their indoor tropical conservancy, which preserves the climate of the tropical and subtropical regions while the outside is frozen cold in the Denver winters or baking in the Denver summers. Best to visit in the spring or summer.
- REI “flagship” store in Denver (Available in the I.E. – Rancho Cucamonga)- Technically, the Seattle store is the flagship, but this is more impressive. Located in a building that was formerly used by the railroads and many other tenants, the three story brick building includes a rock climbing wall that reaches nearly to the ceiling.
- Cima – Beaver Creek – Impressive, upscale restaurant in the Westin Beaver Creek. See our review above if you want dining that matches the reputation of this exclusive ski town.
- The Corner Office – Denver – Cool gastropub-esque bar with a young, hip vibe and great food that won’t break the bank. Try the mussels!
- Linger - Denver
- Rootdown - Denver – All natural, locally grown ingredients.
Art / Museums
- Denver Art Museum
- Clyfford Still Museum – Just opened in 2011, Denver beat many other cities in its bid to create a museum to house previously unseen works from the famous American artist.
The hispters and young folks are all over Denver, but they have a particular affinity for:
- South Broadway (“SoBo”) – Plenty of inexpensive and offbeat shopping options, including antique row.
- Cherry Creek – The “Rodeo Drive” of Denver
- Downtown Denver – The 16th Street Mall has numerous shopping options, Denver Pavilions features the biggest retailers such as Banana Republic and Barnes & Noble and Larimer Square offers many shops with hip clothing and accessories.
- B-Cycle – Denver is the home to this bicycle sharing program that has spread to 50 stations around the city.
- Light Rail – Currently only serves small portions of the city, but will expand to the airport in the coming years and Boulder by 2017.
- Rental cars are available from the Denver airport at below $10 a day that will get you to the mountains and back. If you’re heading there while it is snowing or expected to snow, you may want a four wheel drive vehicle, especially if you’re headed to the ski resorts.
Skiing in Vail / Beaver Creek for just $400
Think skiing in Colorado is only for the rich and famous? Well, it’s pretty much true. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see this American treasure on a budget! You can get up on the slopes in some of America’s nicest ski resorts and party it up in Denver for just $400. Here’s how.
- Flights: As low as $99 each way fron Ontario or Santa Ana. Check Kayak.com for some good deals. Total cost: $198.
- Parking: Park at the Ontario airport for just $9 a day. Total cost: $27.
- Stay at the always-hip Curtis in Denver. If you’re on a budget, visiting the ski resort towns for the day will save you some money. Cost: as low as $200 for two nights (winter is the slow season for Denver hotels).
Rent a car near the airport. Cost: around $50 for two days. Gas will cost you another $30 (don’t fill up at the expensive gas station near the airport). Make sure the back seat folds down for the skis. Total cost: $80.
- Ski rentals: Breeze in Denver for just $8 a day! You can even return them at the ski resort for no extra charge. If you want to rent them on the slopes, you’ll pay $50-60 dollars for the convience of not having to pick them up in Denver. Cost: $8.
- Lift tickets: This part isn’t so cheap, but they’re about $100 if you book online. Check Liftopia for some great deals, but they won’t be at the most prestigious resorts. Chances are, the skiing will still be better than anything you’ll ever see in So Cal. Cost: $100.
- Fixed costs (parking, car, hotel): $307. Cost per person (lift ticket, rental, flight): $306. If you split the fixed costs with one other person, your cost is just $459.50. Grab a group of four and your cost is just $382.75. That leaves another $17.25 for breweries!
- If you’re looking to save some dough, pack a lunch for the ski slopes.
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