Moving to Denver, CO: A Bellhops City Guide

You’re thinking about moving to Denver, Colorado, aren’t you? Is it the gorgeous mountain views that are drawing you in? Or is it the exploding job market? Or, is it because cannabis is legal there?

If you're thinking about relocating to the Mile High City, watch out for Denver native Brian Pacini, who we found on Quora. He loves Denver, but he has this to say about all of the young folks moving there: "With many people moving here being younger or softer, I see around the neighborhoods kids being coddled and spoiled, and people that are more interested in the idea of being outdoorsy than a true love of nature. But hey, they have bumper stickers on their Subarus to prove it. Also, new arrivals seem to be preoccupied with a level of coolness which is quite foreign to a long-time resident."

Did Brian scare you off? No? Then allow us, your friends at Bellhops, to guide you in your Should-I-move-to-Denver-decision-making process. We have researched all you need to know about moving to Denver so that you don’t have to. And we've included links to practical resources to help you in your decision. We'll walk you through all that you need to know about moving to and living in Denver with the help of a few current Denver residents (like Brian).

The Denver Basics: Data, People, Cost of Living, and, of course, Jobs

1. The Numbers: Population info and Demographics

Not only is Denver the largest city in Colorado, but it’s also the state capital. Its population was estimated to be 682,545 as of 2016, making it the 22nd most populous city within a 500-mile radius. The metropolitan area, however, has a much larger population of 2.8 million. This website not only provides a demographic breakdown of the city but also provides a brief history of the city and a chart on the population growth dating back to 1860.

Denver is also ranked the no. 2 best place to live according to U.S. News & World Report. But that trend may be slowing down, according to the Denver Post. The Post reports that Colorado’s population growth is slowing down. Many residents are leaving citing rising housing costs, low-paying jobs, and an increase in traffic.

2. The People of Denver

That's enough of the numbers. What about the people? The culture of the city? What's it like living in Denver?

Cairny Loran, who we found on Quora, was born and raised in Southern Colorado. After moving away to college in Iowa and then living in Brooklyn for five years, she moved back in 2016. Though she does have a lot of good things to say about Denver, Cairny says this of her experience so far since moving back:

"People in Denver don't seem to carry the same excitement and enthusiasm for getting to know others as I experienced in other places. People are certainly friendly and outwardly nice. But in my experience, few people want to learn more about you other than the basics. The basics often equate to what trail you hiked or skied, or if you watched the Broncos game."

But Clark Gregg on LinkedIn counters this by saying, "The city is ever changing and a melting pot of people and cultures. People move from all over to Denver and bring a little bit of their home with them."

It just goes to show that everyone has a different point of view and perspective can be everything.

3. The Cost of Living in Denver

According to this article from JumpShell, the cost of living in Denver is only six percent higher than the national average. Housing costs are high and getting higher, but compared to other cities like San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles, it’s still cheaper.

That doesn’t mean that rent is inexpensive. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the Mile High City is around $1,256. And to give you an idea of how much it would cost you to live there in a simple way (and without a car) per month, it would be approximately $2,000. The Jumpshell article we referenced earlier goes into great detail about the cost of everyday expenses such as groceries, internet and cable, meals, and gasoline.

P.J. Clarke, who has lived in Denver since 1994 warns on Quora, "An average hourly wage of $12 to $14 an hour won’t be able to cover your living expenses on just 40 hours a week. And an average of 60 hours a week is what you need to survive in the metro area. And if overtime is offered, then take it, as every little bit helps."

Now keep in mind, it all depends on what type of job you get when you move. This, of course, brings us to...

4. The Denver Job Market

U.S News & World Reports comes through for us again. Denver’s job market is growing in the aerospace and defense sectors thanks to Lockheed Martin’s new headquarters there. The University of Colorado and the University of Denver provide great opportunities in higher education and research.

P.J., who we mentioned earlier, has more to say about jobs, "Denver has a vibrant economy, and is on the cutting edge of technology in R&D. And if you're in the tech industry, job prospects and growth are major draws for employment in the metro area."

Other industries that are prominent in Denver are healthcare, finance, biotech, and hospitality. Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the recreational cannabis industry is also helping with the local economy.

Also, Denver has a low unemployment rate compared to the national average. This article from the Denver Post on the Denver Day Works program and its expansion this year helps explain why.

Photo by Quan Ha. Image has been cropped. Creative Commons License.

Where to Live in Denver? Here's a Mini-Neighborhood Guide.

This article from JumpShell lists some of the best neighborhoods in the Mile High City, complete with maps and Google Street Views. But we’ve also put together our own list that should be pretty useful. (If you're still just exploring the idea of moving to Denver, feel free to skip this section—there's plenty more good stuff after it!)

5. West Side: Something for Everyone

Here, we'll highlight three key West Side neighborhoods: West Colfax, Arvada, and Lakewood.

Colfax Street is the longest street in the U.S., and it spans Denver’s in its entirety from east to west. West Colfax Street offers a convenient location just west of downtown Denver. Once known as “No-Man’s Land” due to a high crime rate, the area has seen a rapid transition since 2013.

Thanks to the West Colfax Business Improvement District (BID for short), millions of dollars have been put to work to revamp the neighborhood’s main street district and bring more businesses to the area. This neighborhood includes easy access to Mile High Stadium for Broncos fans and a short travel time to I-25 and downtown.

Houses in West Colfax tend to have lower prices than neighboring areas, which appeals to both young professionals and families.

Arvada is a popular northwest suburb with a mix of both houses and apartments. A short 25-minute drive from downtown, you're still near to the action. Best of all, you don’t have to deal with the crowds in central Denver. What's more, Olde-town Arvada has something for just about everyone. Highlights include Kline’s, a German Beer Hall, several centrally located restaurants of all cuisines, and convenient distance to I-70.

Smack dab between I-25 and I-70 and a little southwest of downtown Denver lies Lakewood. An outdoor lover's dream, Lakewood is home to over 180 miles of trails for biking, walking, and even horseback riding. Another perk: in the summer, the Lakewood Public Library hosts summer concerts on their front porch for free. Finally, Lakewood provides easy access to shopping options and chain restaurants. For some, this makes Lakewood a majorly convenient West Side neighborhood to call home.

The denver Botanic Gardens. Photo by Kimon Berlin. Image has been cropped. Creative Commons License.

6. Downtown: All the Action

LoDo (short for Lower Downtown) is perfect for people who want to be in the middle of everything. With plenty of restaurants, rooftop bars, and proximity to Coors Field, this neighborhood is perfect for young professionals. Be warned though--housing costs are higher here (as one would expect). The downtown area is made up of several different neighborhoods, so let's dig into a few of the more popular ones.

The Highlands is a diverse, proud community with something for everyone. Located between I-25 on the east and Speer St. to the south, the central location provides accessibility to major roads, yet with a homier feel than LoDo. The Highlands has gone through some redevelopment over the past few years, resulting in an increase in young professionals in the area. This is probably due to generally more affordable housing than other neighborhoods in Denver. Also, residents of The Highlands will likely boast that their neighborhood is home to the best ice cream in the mile-high city, Little Man Ice Cream. And they might just be right.

Capitol Hill is located just south of the 16th St. Mall. The best part of the Capitol Hill neighborhood is the central location. With a walk score of 92/100, one could walk or bike practically anywhere. Apartment hunting can be a little tough here, so check out either or Both are excellent apartment aggregators with impressive databases.

To round out our list of popular downtown neighborhoods, we have to mention Cherry Creek. Cherry Creek is just east of downtown bordered by East 6th Ave. and, of course, Cherry Creek. Predominately a residential area, there is a nice mix of houses and apartments here. Most streets are lined with trees, and the Cherry Creek bike path cuts through the area, giving residents a greener sense of living. And, with over 160 retailers, you can do plenty of shopping at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

7. East Side: Growth and Revitalization

To understand the East Side, let's talk about two neighborhoods: Stapleton and Aurora. Once the site of the old Denver airport, Stapleton has been revamped into one of the fastest-growing home development areas in the nation. Perfect for young families or those looking to buy a home rather than rent, the majority of real estate in Stapleton is less than 10 years old. For those who are active, the 80-acre Central Park provides a wide range of recreation for all ages. Businesses and restaurants are popping up all the time. And being near the airport is a plus.

Aurora, located about 20 minutes east of downtown Denver, has the convenience of the suburbs and easy access to I-225. Frequently named one of Denver’s most affordable suburbs, the median house price is about half that of the neighborhoods in Denver proper. Aurora Town Center provides over 150 stores for shopping and well-known restaurants.

Public Transportation in the City

8. Getting Around Denver

Getting around Denver itself is fairly simple. Most residents do have a car, but bike lanes throughout the city make it possible to travel on two wheels.

The Regional Transport District, Denver’s public transportation system, offers hundreds of bus routes. And The Train That Saved Denver is a fascinating read about the city’s quest to build its public light-rail system.

Resident Ryan Dailey comments on Quora that he likes living in Denver. "I don’t drive or own a car," he says. "With biking and busing, I can get anywhere I need to go." However, there can be a bit of traffic. We'll get to that in just a bit.

Moving to Denver: Pros and Cons

Up to this point, we've mostly discussed the pros of moving to Denver—and it makes sense, there are a lot. But just like any city, living in Denver has its share of drawbacks as well (aside from the high cost of living that we mentioned). Here, we'll briefly list a few more of those. If you're still asking yourself "Should I move to Denver?" right now, our goal is to help you answer that question as honestly as possible.

9. Con: Everyone Wants to Live in Denver

We already mentioned the rapid population growth in Denver. While these things tend to balance themselves out (as we said, the growth is slowing), right now, Denver is still quite crowded. Some locals are a bit cynical about newcomers (like our friend Brian from the beginning of our article). As we've also discussed, this influx of population tends to drive the cost of living up. Finally, all of these people have to get around the city. Which brings us to our next point...

10. Con: The Traffic

Traffic. More people equals more traffic. Thankfully, Denver is a city that was built to handle a large number of people, so the traffic is not nearly as bad as other cities of its size, but it is still not something that you can ignore.

Aside from the population, there's another reason why the traffic can be rough. Denver is quite close to the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies are a popular destination more or less year-round. This can add to the traffic burden. After all, Colorado is the number one destination for skiing in all of North America. In the summer, tourists flock through Denver on their way to the mountains. In the winter, weekend traffic with outgoing skiers can cause some frustration as well. That said, it’s a small price to pay for having the most beautiful scenery in the country right in your backyard.

11. Pro: The Food Scene is Awesome

Denver has a diverse and delightful food scene. Rather than breaking it down extensively, though (we'll leave that to Eatr, an amazing resource for finding all of the best local eats), we've opted to hit you with a few of our favorites.

Located in downtown Denver, Denver’s Union Station boasts an eclectic array of the city’s top restaurants and bars. Union Station was once a major railway station and central transportation hub in Denver. In 2012, the station underwent major renovations, and in 2014 it re-opened as a combination of the Crawford Hotel, several restaurants and retailers, and a train hall. Seriously, this place is awesome. Union Station houses several excellent eateries, including one of 5280 Magazine’s top 2016 restaurants, Mercantile.

Here are a few more of our favorites: Locally sourced sandwiches are a hit at Next Door. A few blocks away in downtown is Rioja. Centrally located on Larimer St., Rioja was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation outstanding chef in 2016. Finally, for a little dessert we recommend a doughnut. Voodoo Doughnuts, in particular. These might be the best doughnuts you've ever tasted. Also, they have some delightful and weird varieties of doughnuts (like a doughnut with Captain Crunch on it). It's the bee's knees.

12. Pro & Con: The Weather and the Altitude

For most people, the increase in altitude is no big deal. But for some, headaches and nausea can set in. It's important to stay hydrated in the mile-high city, especially in the summers. While the 300 days of sunshine a year thing turns out to be a myth, Denver still has generally pleasant weather. And the winters aren't as bad as you might think—temperatures are generally mild from December – April.

The only weather-related downside is the unpredictability. One day it will be 60 and sunny, the next could bring a blizzard. While Denver didn't score in famous data analyst Nate Silver's top ten for most unpredictable weather, you can see from looking at his work that Denver's climate is not exactly on the predictable side.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Photo by Quan Ha.

More Resources for Moving to Denver

Since we can't say everything here, here are even more resources to help you with your moving decision:

13. Five Particularly Helpful Links

  • Denver: The Mile High City: This resource is a great place to get to know more about Colorado’s capital, from food and shopping to culture and jobs.
  • Denver’s Official Website: Here you can find more resources on neighborhoods, local business, and other services available in Denver.
  • The Denver Post: A nationally renowned daily newspaper that has been published in Denver since 1892. Might as well start reading like a local.
  • Colorado Cannabis Guide: And the one you’ve been waiting for, a convenient cannabis dispensary locator.
  • What to do in Denver: The New York Times always does a solid job with this series. Lots of info on food, activities, and places to see.

Like what you see?

We’ll let our buddy Brian from the beginning of this post end this guide by commenting once more on the change he sees in Denver. "Being part of an older group of Denverites, I'm seeing the change from Libertarian, western cow-town to a techy, millennial’s city, which is a bit weird," he says.

"It’s why we overwhelmingly (watch the grammar, Brian!) saw recreational marijuana pass with a 20-point victory, why motorcyclists don’t don helmets, and why mountain folk are just tougher and less whiny than many of the people that move here." Or, as Mark Sanders puts it more succinctly, "It’s a [frickin’] blast."

And hey—if you decide to take the leap and move to Denver, get in touch. We might know some people who can help.

Header photo by Robert Kash. Image has been cropped. Creative Commons License.