Denver, the largest city between San Francisco and Chicago, and commercial and cultural center for an 800-mile radius, has a treasury of sophisticated shops, museums, restaurants and other attractions to delight visitors.
Downtown Denver holds special promise for shoppers. Fine stores center around the 16th Street Mall, the mile-high city's mile-long, pedestrians-only street. Tree-lined and landscaped with flowers and fountains, the mall is pleasant for strolling.
It extends a dozen blocks from the Civic Center to Market Street. A free continual shuttle bus runs back and forth, with stops at every other block from one end of the mall to the other.
The largest number of shops is toward the Market Street end, where a concentration of four shopping centers is clustered within a few blocks. Larimer Square, Tivoli Denver, Writer Square and the Tabor Center each has its own ambiance and a special blend of local merchants and national chain stores. Merchandise is eclectic enough to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.
Larimer Square, with more than 30 deluxe shops scattered among 18 elegantly restored Victorian buildings, is most picturesque. The buildings were once the homes of Bat Masterson, Buffalo Bill Cody and other legendary heroes of the Old West, but the merchandise is decidedly up-to-date in style and international in scope.
Some trendy clothing and accessories stores are tucked away in Larimer Square's brick-floored courtyards. Best is Bolder Space, with a collection of unusual women's ensembles in permanently wrinkled silk, heavy cotton and other fabrics. These super-chic styles appeal to women who develop their individual looks. There are elements from which to build outfits for attending picnics or the opera. Prices for ensembles average around $200.
For accessories, Bolder Space also offers the unusual, including broad belts of supple leather or suede in rich colors, with glamorous seashell clasps (about $70) and pretty hair combs decorated with small silk flowers ($12 and up). Bolder Space also has a fine sampling of hand-loomed shawls and long scarfs, made of nubby wool in beautifully muted colors ($175 and up) and hand-made baskets and ceramics for the home.
Max features women's silk and linen ensembles by Byblos, Ghost and other labels, displayed in a minimalist, high-tech environment. The clothes work well together for women who want to look contemporary without causing a scandal. Prices are reasonable compared to other stores, and there is a rack of sale items that have hardly gone out of season.
In the Better Sweater you'll find locally made and imported bulky angoras and woolen knit tops, selected for both style and warmth. Some are sporty, many are embellished with sequins, beads and applique. Sweaters cost about $80 and up, and the shop has seasonal sales with really good buys. These sweaters are attractive and different from those in other stores.
For home accessories and gift items, the Colorado Sampler sells local crafts, including wooden napkin holders ($10), hand-decorated tin cups and pitcher by Karen Daugherty ($8 to $30) and paper cutout lamp shades ($45).
Squash Blossom has Native American artwork, and the Andean Shop imports South American crafts. Locally crafted gift items are sold at Colorado Peddler and Lokstok 'N Barel. Design your own necklace at the Bead Collection, which has a good mix of antique baubles to combine with newer beads for a distinctive look.
Antiques at Larimer Square has some beautiful and unusual pieces, including ceremonial cartwheels carved with Madonna and Child (19th-Century Spanish, $925), English pub benches with curved backs (dated 1840, $1,275) and smaller items such as pewter candlestick holders, plates and mugs. The staff of this easygoing shop is especially helpful.
Tivoli Denver is a beautifully restored Victorian brewery. The white exterior houses a maze of about 50 shops, a dozen movie theaters and half a dozen restaurants. Many of the brewery's original fixtures and fittings have been incorporated into the new design, and the place has a delightful ambiance.
While you're browsing around, stop in at Engstrom Candies for a nibble of delicious handmade toffee that doesn't stick to your teeth. At Shaliko Indian Arts you'll find a beautiful collection of affordable pieces, including Kachina dolls, sand paintings, beadwork and lovely silver jewelry.
Tivoli Denver is four blocks away from Larimer Square and the 16th Street Mall, but free transportation is offered on distinctive red Tivoli Trolleys. The ride is fun.
At 1434 Blake St. near the 16th Street Mall you'll find City Spirit, a delightful cafe and bookshop. The delicious food is reasonably priced (lunch is about $7) and the bookstore has one of the West's finest selections of art, architecture and design titles. Browsers are welcome, and this is the ideal place to refresh yourself during or after a shopping tour of downtown Denver.