David Zalubowski  /  AP
The Denver skyline sits in the early morning light.
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 6/12/2006 12:22:26 PM ET 2006-06-12T16:22:26

It’s easy to get lightheaded in Denver. The awesome beauty of the surrounding mountains, the growing number of sophisticated local restaurants and the booming cultural scene--combined with the fact that you’re breathing in 15% less oxygen in the “Mile High City” than at sea level--can make for a somewhat dizzying experience. One full day here will give you a small taste of the city’s giddy delights. I’ve attempted to pick out some of the best of them below.

9 a.m. - 10 a.m.: A whopping breakfast burrito, stuffed with hashbrowns, eggs and tasty chili is the heavy, but popular way, to start the day in Denver. And the best breakfast burrito in town, spatulas down, is served up by greasy spoon Pete’s Kitchen .

10 a.m. - noon: Viewing great architecture is your first activity of the day. Architect Daniel Libeskind may have been jettisoned from the Ground Zero project in New York City, but his soaring, severely angled expansion of Denver’s Art Museum promises to put this Colorado city on the architectural map. The new section will open in October of 2006; until then you can tour through the museum’s interactive exhibit on the design and construction or through a superb retrospective of Cheyenne Indian art.

Morning Alternative: Ask Denver residents why they live here and they’ll give you the same answer: to get out of town. Denver is surrounded by some of the most glorious mountain scenery in the country, and the folks here make good use of it, spending their weekends hiking, biking, skiing and climbing. To get a quick and mountain-boot-free view of the area, book a balloon ride with Life Cycle Balloon Adventures Limited , with a stellar safety record that stretches back 30 years.

Noon-2 p.m.: Not only Denver’s oldest restaurant (established 1893), but also its oddest, the Buckhorn Exchange is a taxidermy fans’ Mecca. Everywhere you turn are mounted mountain lions, elk and eagles. Open your menu, and you’ll find the same kind of critters there, as the Buckhorn specializes in gourmet treatment of exotic ingredients—rattlesnake, rocky mountain oysters, buffalo sausage. Be adventurous, you won’t be disappointed.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Stroll the afternoon away in Denver’s charming historic district, beginning in Larimer Square and going from there to the gold-domed State Capital via the mile-long 16th Street pedestrian mall. Shop, grab a seat at an outdoor café (weather permitting) and enjoy the sounds of the street musicians strumming and warbling in the sunlight.

Afternoon alternative: There’s gold in them hills…still, and you can try your luck panning for it (or just exploring this historic area) with a quick 35 mile trip to Idaho Springs , the epicenter of the famous gold strike of 1859. Tour the Argo Gold Mine, Mill and Museum , on the national registry of historic places; or pan yourself at the Phoenix Gold Mine .

5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.: With 10,000 bottles of premium bottles in its cellars, Restaurant Kevin Taylor has the finest wine list in all of Denver, if not the state. Its exquisite fare complements the vino, with such imaginative dishes as macadamia crusted foie gras served with a banana brulee; pomegranate-glazed antelope; and green-tea infused Hawaiian tuna in a coriander coconut broth. All of this is served in a modern, blond wood room that’s as understated as it is elegant, and being just minutes from the Denver Center (see below), it’s the perfect place for a pre-theater meal.

8 p.m. - 11 p.m.: See a show. In summer, simply sitting under the stars at the Red Rocks Amphitheater , 15 miles southwest of the city, is an unparalleled experience. In a way it doesn’t matter who’s playing there (though the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and many major symphony orchestras have), the setting at the foot of the Rocky Mountains is just so darn beautiful. When the weather is chilly, you can get your culture at the esteemed Denver Center for the Performing Arts . Along with touring Broadway Productions, artistic director Kent Thompson (formerly of the well-respected Alabama Shakespeare Festival) puts on an intelligent, entertaining roster of plays and musicals.

11 p.m. on: Line dancing is hip in Denver, and the best place to practice your synchronized stepping is at the Grizzly Rose . Over the years, LeAnne Rimes, Garth Brooks and Brooks and Dunne have crooned here and the club still serves up top-quality live music five nights a week (Tues-Sat). Sunday is family night and line dancing is taught earlier in the evenings (usually on Wednesdays) for those new to the form. 

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

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Pete’s Kitchen: 1962 East Colfax Ave; 302/331-3139; Open 24 hours, seven days a week; http://www.petesrestaurantstoo.com/

Denver’s Art Museum:100 West 14th Ave; 720/865-5000; Tues and Thurs-Sat 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Wed 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sun noon-5 p.m.; $6 adults, $4.50 seniors and students; http://www.denverartmuseum.org/

Life Cycle Balloon Adventures Limited: 800/980-9272; rates from $170 per passenger; http://www.lifecycleballoons.com/

Buckhorn Exchange: 1000 Osage St at West 10th Ave; 303/534-9505; Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5:30-9:00 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. and 5:00-10 p.m., Sun 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.

State Capital: Lincoln Street and Colfax Ave; 303/866-2604; Hourly free tours year round from 9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Idaho Springs: For more info contact the Chamber of Commerce at 303/567-4382; www.idahospringschamber.com

Argo Gold Mine, Mill and Museum: 2350 Riverside Drive; 303/567-2421; www.historicargotours.com

Phoenix Gold Mine: On Trail Creek Road; 303/567-0422

Restaurant Kevin Taylor: At the Hotel Teatro, 1106 14th Street; 303/820-2600; www.restaurantkevintaylor.com

Red Rocks Amphitheater: 16351 County Road 93, Morrison; 303/295-4444; www.redrocksonline.com

Denver Center for the Performing Arts: 14th and Curtis; 303/893-4100; www.denvercenter.org

Grizzly Rose: 5450 North Valley Highway; 303/295-1330; cover charges range from about $10-$25 depending on the act and the night of the week; www.grizzlyrose.com

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer Guidebooks which will be debuting in bookstores this July.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Photos: High times in Denver

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  1. Fronting the Front Range

    Denver lies at the base of the Rocky Mountains and is a commercial hub for the Mountain States. Its elevation is officially 5,280 feet. (Stan Obert / Denver Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A full Platte

    Park goers watch from the banks of the Platte River at Denver's Confluence Park as a couple of kayakers make their way through the white water. Denver has more than 200 parks, rivers and trail areas, public golf courses and recreation centers. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Cleaning up town

    Phoebe and Joel Mackler are dwarfed by the size of a sculpture of a broom and dustpan at the Denver Art Museum in downtown Denver. Admission to the art musem is free on the first Saturday of every month. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Peak-a-boo!

    The sun breaks through the clouds to highlight the summit of Pikes Peak as seen from the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Ed Andrieski / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Dome of the Rockies

    The Colorado State Capitol Building is located downtown at the east end of Civic Center Park. The 15th step on the west side of the building is exactly 1 mile above sea level. (Stan Obert / Denver Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Red Rocks and rock concerts

    Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a 9,000-seat arena that has been carved out of the local sandstone rock formations. Located 12 miles west of Denver, the venue has hosted everyone from the Beatles to top symphony orchestras. (Ron Ruhoff / Denver Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Downtown shopping

    Denver Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall has nearly 50 shops and restaurants. Located downtown near the Colorado Convention Center, the lively shopping center hosts a number of concerts and festivals. (Stan Obert / Denver Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. High ball

    Coors Field, the home of Major League Baseball's Colorado Rockies, has 50,000 seats, most with great views of Denver and the mountains. (Denver Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Belles of the mountains

    The Maroon Bells, a range of snowcapped peaks near Aspen, is one of the most photographed spots in Colorado. (Stan Obert / Denver Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The cowboy way

    Paul Stewart founded the Black American West Museum, which tells the story of African-American cowboys. (David Falconer / Denver Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. It's the water

    The Downtown Aquarium immerses visitors on two journeys, one from the Continental Divide in Colorado to Mexico's Sea of Cortez, the other from an Indonesian rain forest to the Pacific Ocean. (Randy Brown / Denver Visitors Bureau) Back to slideshow navigation
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