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Five Cities for a Fresh Start: Denver

This is Part 1 of Five Cities for a Fresh Start. Each week, we'll feature another American city ready for motivated and creative people looking to move. Click here to read the series' Introduction.

Last week, we introduced Five Cities for a Fresh Start, our series on the best cities in America to consider for a move. For this first week, we're stopping in Denver, Colorado to get a breath of mountain air and a beer. 

Just to let you know, our goal is not to rank these five cities. We've picked our best set of five—within that group, it's up to you what's best.

Last thing before getting into it: we've distilled our important questions to this list of 10, plus this first one about our preconceptions. We'll be using these questions for each of the cities that follow.

Denver, Colorado

0. Our Preconceptions (for Full Disclosure)
We've never been to Denver, but a close friend moved there about a year ago and has given the place a positive spin. We're looking forward to visiting.

1. What's its story?
Denver was founded in 1858 during the westward rush for expansion (and gold), then incorporated in 1861 after Colorado became a state. Once Denver was connected by railroad, it grew as a major commercial and service hub, especially (in its early years) for other travelers heading west. Along the way, it grew enough and attracted enough business and wealth to become a city of permanent prestige.

2. How many people are there, and how do they look overall?
Denver itself has a population of about 650,000, while the metro area has closer to 3 million people. Around two-thirds of the people are white, about 20% Hispanic, and about 10% black, with smaller numbers of Asian and other minority groups. Denver is a bit older on average; its biggest population segment is 35-50, and Denver is popular with Baby Boomers. Don't let that discourage you if you're younger; there's still a solid block under 30, and it's been growing in recent years. 

3. What's the place like? How's the weather?
Denver is in Colorado, yes, but it's not in the mountains per se. The city itself is on high plains next to the mountains. There's very little rainfall—15 inches or less throughout the year—and the summers are dry and mild. Winters are a mixed bag; sometimes it gets legit warm (like, 70 in January), but sometimes it drops below zero, and there's always the possibility of snow, especially being adjacent to the mountains.

Image from Denver Post—Snowy Roads Outside of Denver

4. How much does it cost to live there?
Just slightly above the national average—Denver's cost of living index is 107, compared to the average of 100. The median household income is around $55,000, and the biggest chunk of households take in $75-100K—healthy, but not exorbitant. Denver is big and important enough that you'll pay a premium to live downtown in style—but if you're willing to drive a bit, you can comfortably get away with rent under $1000. 

5. How educated are the people, and what do they do for work?
Denver is actually one of the best-educated cities in the country, with more than 35% of its residents holding a Bachelor's degree or more. In terms of industry, Denver is a sort of multi-purpose business hub that doesn't specialize heavily in any one industry. A handful of minor companies are or were headquartered here (Russell Stover, Big-O, Shane Co. Jewelers), and a number of major companies that are not headquartered here (United Airlines, Lockheed Martin, Kroger) also employ large numbers of people.

6. What's there to eat and drink?
Beer. Denver is a decent enough city for eating, but an especially good one for drinking. The big breweries there are worth a tour even if you're snobby about the beer itself—looking at you, Coors—but then there are tons of craft breweries to explore, too. Breckenridge and Great Divide are two we've already heard of, but there are more than 30 right there in the city—and, aside from them, plenty of local eateries that brew their own beer on-site.

Image from—New Belgium Brewing Company staff

7. How are the people?
Friendly. According to our friend there, it's a stereotype that, when you move to Colorado, you do three things: grow a beard, get a dog, and buy a Subaru. Sure enough, when our friend visited, he'd grown the beard and traded in his Mini Cooper for a Subaru Outback (of necessity)—and then he started talking about getting an Irish wolfhound or something. He's not the sort to conform, yet here he was; maybe the stereotype has its merits.  

8. What's within driving distance?
The lack of places within a day's drive might count against Denver—we see only Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, at 8 and 12 hours respectively—except that there's a ton within an hour. City-wise, Boulder is a mere 45 minutes away, and there's plenty to do (and eat) there. To the extent we can tell, Boulder is to Denver as Cape Cod is to Boston: Boulder, like Cape Cod, might be prettier and wealthier and more cultured per capita, but it's also far less livable unless you already have lots of money.

9. What do you get here that you don't get anywhere else?
As we said before, Denver probably has the freshest air of any place we're featuring—and by far the best vistas and outdoor scenery. Every city we feature is pretty in some way, or at least isn't ugly—but it's hard to compete with the Rocky Mountains. Denver wins by a landslide in "Stuff To Do Outside."

10. What's the final word?
Denver isn't the most exciting city in America, nor is it the youngest—but it's a beautiful, healthy place to live, and it's a stable hub for certain kinds of business. Denver is a great choice for a fresh start if you want crisp, cool air, a steadier pace, and a place where you can set down roots without giving up a happy and productive work life. 

Coming Up Next Week (Can You Guess?)
Next week, we shift to the Midwest. Our next city likes racing, barrels, dirty rivers, and throwing shade at their northern neighbors. It's one of America's better-kept secrets with friendly living conditions and a burgeoning youth culture. More next week!

Thanks for reading Ampersand, a Code&Quill blog. Next week, we'll be covering City #2 in our series Five Cities for a Fresh StartIf you’d like highlights from the blog, plus brand-new info about upcoming products and promotions, feel free to join our email newsletter here.



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