Mocktails. Photo courtesy of Hydrive Energy Water.

Mocktails. Photo courtesy of Hydrive Energy Water.

Mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails) are growing in sophistication and popularity. Even the Wall Street Journal has noticed.

Fueled by those who are more self-conscious, it’s a true testament to a bartender’s skills when he or she is asked to created a “soft” drink.

According to the Wall Street Journal article: “I feel nonalcoholic cocktails are in the same position where vegetables were years back,” said Alex Kratena, head bartender at London’s Artesian Bar. “It used to be that a dish was constructed around a piece of meat, and then chefs became interested in stretching their creativity by experimenting more heavily with vegetables. These days, you see vegetarian tasting menus at Michelin three-star restaurants.”

I recently interviewed several mixologists who are creating healthier versions of classic cocktails and this concept keeps coming up: how can we keep the flavor profiles of these cocktails, keep them boozy, but make them healthier?

Tyler Lymer, a specialty mixologist, award-winning cocktail guru and bartender at Chicago’s tesori, has been switching out ingredients of hangover-inducing, high-calorie cocktails such as a Red Bull and vodka specialty ingredients such HYDRIVE Energy Water to create some of his mocktails. According to the folks at HYDRIVE, the low-calorie energy water combines the light, refreshing taste of enhanced water and the same amount of caffeine as a leading energy drink making it an ideal substitute for high-calorie traditional cocktails.

Want to try your hand at creating mocktails? Tyler Lymer shares two of his recipes with us

Blueberry Chamomile Boost Mocktail. Photo courtesy of Hydrive Energy Water.

Blueberry Chamomile Boost Mocktail. Photo courtesy of Hydrive Energy Water.

Blueberry Chamomile Boost

  • 2 oz. Citrus Burst HYDRIVE Energy Water
  • 2 oz. Chamomile Tea (brewed Double Strength)
  • 1 oz. Blueberry Simple Syrup
  • 1 oz. Lemon Juice

Shake well with ice and Double Strain into a coupe, Garnish with 3 blueberries on a cocktail pick.

Black Cherry High Mocktail. Photo courtesy of Hydrive Energy Water.

Black Cherry High Mocktail. Photo courtesy of Hydrive Energy Water.

Black Cherry High

  • 3 oz. Black Cherry HYDRIVE Energy Water
  • .75 oz. Star Anise Simple Syrup
  • .75 oz. Lemon Juice
  • 2 dash Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters (non-alcoholic)
  • 2 oz. Sparkling Pomegranate Soda (Izze)

Build first 4 ingredients in a shaker, add ice. Shake well, Strain into a Collins Glass with ice. Top with Izze Pomegranate Soda.  Garnish with a full (unbroken) Star Anise and a large straw.

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com, part of the USA Today Travel family, TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom and writes for several other print magazines and online media outlets.

Hurtigruten Whisky. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Hurtigruten Whisky. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Two barrels of decades-old single malt whisky are now counted among the precious cargo of Hurtigruten’s expedition ship, the MS Fram. In an effort to further enhance the quality of the fine single Highlands malt scotch, the American oak barrels will ride along as guests of the ship for nearly a year before being bottled with their own unique label, the “MS Fram Expedition Whisky”. Although the name of the distiller remains a secret, it can be disclosed that it has a near multi-century history of producing some of the world’s finest whiskies. The voyage began in Hamburg in October with bottling expected to take place in July 2014.

Hurtigruten Whisky on the Dock. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Hurtigruten Whisky on the Dock. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

On their voyage aboard the expedition ship, the two 150-liter barrels will journey across four seafaring lines: the northern and southern polar circle, the zero Meridian and the equator.

MS Fram Captain Arild Harvik notes that Hurtigruten’s hope is that the continuous rolling wave movements, temperature changes and sea air will further improve the excellent quality of the single malt. After a voyage of more than 78,000 miles, the cask-strength whisky will be bottled directly from the barrel in a limited edition of no more than 200 bottles per barrel. Hurtigruten expects to begin selling the bottles, which will come with a whisky diary and certificate, in the expedition ship’s shop beginning this fall. Guests will also be able to sample the “MS Fram Expedition Whisky” at the onboard bar.

Whisky Being Loaded on the MS  Fram. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Whisky Being Loaded on the MS Fram. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

Built in 2007, the MS Fram will offer two springtime voyages that focus on the topic of whisky and its origins. Both journeys begin in Bergen, Norway and are accompanied by a Scottish lecturer and whisky expert, who is keen to share his broad knowledge and expertise about his home country and its national drink.

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com, part of the USA Today Travel family, TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom and writes for several other print magazines and online media outlets.

Drunken Devil’s Food Espresso Cupcakes by Sara Rosso. Photo Courtesy of Ms. Adventures in Italy and Sara Rosso.

Drunken Devil’s Food Espresso Cupcakes by Sara Rosso. Photo Courtesy of Ms. Adventures in Italy and Sara Rosso.

Did Sara Rosso and Michelle Fabio realize when they began World Nutella Day in 2007 that it would still be celebrated around the world eight years later (this year it’s being celebrated on February 5)? The American writers living in Italy began the holiday to encourage Nutella enthusiasts worldwide to enjoy and get creative with one of Italy’s national, edible treasures: Nutella.

The chocolate-hazelnut spread is popular on its own but according to Rosso, prior to World Nutella Day, few considered using Nutella as an ingredient in recipes. “Through our extensive recipe list on NutellaDay.com, we’ve inspired people to experiment with Nutella and it’s become a tradition for many families to cook with it as well as just dip their spoons in the jar.” (Phew, I thought I was the only one who just ate the spread straight up from the jar!)

More than 700 recipes using Nutella are on the site, including Nutella Ganache Brownies and Peanut Butter Cream by Cake Duchess, Chocolate Graham Cracker Nutella S’mores by Baking and Boys and this Drunken Devil’s Food Espresso Cupcakes by Rosso, available on her site, Ms. Adventures in Italy.

The Unofficial Guide to Nutella by Sara Rosso and Michelle Fabio. Photo Courtesy of Rosso and Fabio.

The Unofficial Guide to Nutella by Sara Rosso and Michelle Fabio. Photo Courtesy of Rosso and Fabio.

In case you want more goodness at your fingertips, the duo released an e-book available via Amazon a couple of years ago: The Unofficial Guide to Nutella. There are plenty of great recipes available online on sites like Pinterest but the e-book also gives a nice little history about the spread if you want to dig a little deeper on what makes this hazelnut goodness loved by so many around the world.

Now I just need to find someone to make that Drunken Devil’s Food Espresso Cupcake for me!

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com, part of the USA Today Travel family, TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom and writes for several other print magazines and online media outlets.

Iceberg Vodka’s Chocolate Seduction. Photo courtesy of Iceberg Vodka.

Iceberg Vodka’s Chocolate Seduction. Photo courtesy of Iceberg Vodka.

Ahh, Valentine’s Day. The day we’re supposed to show our loved ones how much we love them by publicly acknowledging our emotions and showering them with gifts. It’s a holiday I could do without because, frankly, it’s predictable and predictability and romance aren’t exactly warm bedfellows.

But if you know me well enough by now, you know I love a good cocktail and I am a coffee addict and I am sucker for high quality chocolate. So if you want to swoon me, making this Iceberg Vodka’s Chocolate Seduction might do the trick. It has all of the ingredients that I love. Coupled with the right person and, well, you know…happy Valentine’s Day!

This recipe is meant for two.

Iceberg Vodka’s Chocolate Seduction

Ingredients:

2 oz. Iceberg Vodka

1 oz. coffee liqueur

1 oz. nut liqueur

1 oz. chocolate liqueur

Fine grated bittersweet chocolate

Directions:

Combine Iceberg Vodka and liqueurs in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into two cocktail glasses. Top with chocolate.

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com,  part of the USA Today Travel family, TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom and writes for several other print magazines and online media outlets.

Pangolin Launches Cape Town Photo Tours. Photo Courtesy of Pangolin

Cape Town Photo Tours offers guests access to more than just tourist spots. Photo Courtesy of Cape Town Photo Tours.

Taking photos while on vacation is among the highlights for many travelers. It allows us to see our experiences through the eye of a lens but it also creates memories we can re-live long after the trip ends. Apart from the obvious tourist spots we want to see and photohgraph while traveling (yes, we all have a photo of the Eiffel Tower if we’ve been to Paris or the Sydney Opera House if we’ve been to Sydney), often it’s the images of local life, the food or the buildings that capture the real flavor of a trip.

Photography is important to us for many reasons and we love it when tour operators understand that aspect of the travel experience and help show us the more of less “undiscovered” parts of their cities. Pangolin Photo Safaris of Botswana has recently launched tours specifically to help its guests shoot some of the best part of Cape Town as part of its safari itinerary called Cape Town Photo Tours.

According to the marketing director and co-owner Toby Jermyn, who is based in Cape Town, the company couldn’t find a local operator who could offer exclusive tours to the most iconic photo locations, at the right time of day in a small and like-minded guided group. So, it decided to offer it themselves as an add-on to their itineraries.

“Photographers have very specific needs” admits Jermyn. “The response so far has been amazing from tourists and locals alike. Everyone brings a camera on holiday but so often they don’t know how to use it. These tours are not designed to be a photo course in a day but at least to show clients a few hints and tips to make their images that much more engaging and interesting to see whether taken from a state of the art camera or simply their smartphone.”

The groups intentionally are kept small (12 max) and there is always a photo guide and a driver onboard. The guide is there to teach fundamental photographic techniques along the way for guests wanting to learn the basics. For more advanced photographers, not being rushed from place to place is a bonus and the Cape Town Photo Tours spend longer in most places than other tours to accommodate them.
Through a sponsorship with Samsung, guests are able to use a Samsung NX300 Mirrorless digital camera during the tours free of charge through Cape Town Photo Tours.

Offering photo tours isn’t unique but we love to highlight them nonetheless because it reminds us of the beauty each city offers.

Which photos are among your favorites when you return from vacation?

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com,  part of the USA Today Travel family, TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom and writes for several other print magazines and online media outlets.

Touring the city by bicycle in Italy. Photo courtesy of VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations.

Touring the city by bicycle in Italy. Photo courtesy of VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations.

How do you enjoy seeing the sights and hearing the sounds of a new city? Walking, bus tours or biking? I’m a big fan of bicycling vacations because you get to cover more ground and feel like you’re seeing the city from a local’s perspective.

Last year I seriously considered doing a tour with VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations in Italy but my plans changed and I booked a trip to Cyprus to ride in the Tour of Cyprus. Which, sadly, changed again and got stuck in Germany (long story).

I just learned that VBT is adding a new bicycling vacation in the northwest corner of Tuscany: Cycling Italy’s Middle Ages: Lucca to Pisa. Six departures begin starting this fall on September 7.  

Among the tour highlights are traveling to Pisa and Lucca, as well as more off-the-beaten track destinations such as Montecatini and Vicopisano. Through the tour, you’ll also be able to experience local culture through fun off-the-road experiences such as home-hosted meals, museum visits, guided tours and unique accommodations.

  • Enjoy a prepared lunch with descendants of the Ginori Lisci family, of the world-famous Italian housewares brand. Lunch will be served on the manicured grounds of the Ginori villa.
  • Cycle along undulating rivers, through quaint villages and even atop Lucca’s famous city walls.
  • Discover the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa.
  • Museums are often a highlight of many trips and this one is no different. Visit the Leonard da Vinci museum as part of your tour.

Bike tours aren’t new and you can certainly plan your own for any of your trips. For those who prefer to travel in groups, may feel better being with others who speak the language or want to hit up some spots they may not have discovered on their own, bicycle tours are a great alternative.

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com,  part of the USA Today Travel family, TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom and writes for several other print magazines and online media outlets.

Red Velvet Twinkie by Chef Roger Waysok. Photo courtesy of South Water Kitchen.

Red Velvet Twinkie by Chef Roger Waysok. Photo courtesy of South Water Kitchen.

Holidays like Valentine’s Day give us yet another reason to celebrate our friends and loved one. In honor of Valentine’s Day, Chef Roger Waysok of South Water Kitchen will be preparing a special Red Velvet Twinkie for guests of the popular restaurant in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood.

The Red Velvet Twinkie is a twist to the traditional and predictable cupcake. Chef Waysok kindly shared his recipe with us in case you wanted to try your hand at making it for the special people in your life.

Red Velvet Twinkie:

·         6 large eggs, at room temperature

·         1 1/4 cup sugar

·         1 Tbl cocoa powder

·         1 Tbl red food coloring (chef normally uses beets but this is an easier version for the at-home chef)

·         1/2 teaspoon baking powder

·         1/4 teaspoon salt

·         1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract

·         1 1/2 cup cake flour

Cream Cheese Filling:

·         5oz cream cheese

·         1 1/2  cups confectioners sugar

·         1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Steps:

Beat egg yolks then add, sugar food coloring and vanilla. In separate bowl, combine cocoa powder, flour, salt and baking powder. Add flour mixture to egg mixture mixing just until combined. In separate bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks. In batches, combine whites with cake mixture folding gently to preserve the egg white fluffiness. Put batter into desired pans sprayed with nonstick baking spray. Bake at 350 degrees until cake is fluffy and set. Combine filling ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth and spreadable. Once the cakes are cooled, fill with cream cheese filling using a pastry bag and inserting into cake to fill.

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com,  part of the USA Today Travel family, TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom and writes for several other print magazines and online media outlets.

 

Ultimat Heat Mary,  Photo provided courtesy of Ulimat Vodka, www.ultimatvodka.com. Recipe created by Chef Dave Martin on behalf of Ultimat Vodka.

Ultimat Heat Mary,
Photo provided courtesy of Ultimat Vodka, http://www.ultimatvodka.com. Recipe created by Chef Dave Martin on behalf of Ultimat Vodka.

Most people know that vodka is made by the distillation of fermented substances  including potatoes but wheat, rye and potato? Turns out Ultimat, a relative newcomer, is the only vodka created through a distillation of these three ingredients.

The unique combination of the two grains and potato give this ultra-premium luxury spirit a subtle taste, smooth texture and rich complexity uncommon in most vodkas. It’s stilled in Poland, long considered the birthplace of vodka. And, if you’re a history buff like I am, you may appreciate leaning that production of Polish vodka dates back to the 15th century when it was known as “okowita” or “water of life.”

Today, Poland is Europe’s leading producer of potatoes and rye, as more than half the land in the country is dedicated to agriculture. The most fertile and mineral-rich soil there can be found in West-Central Poland, particularly in the Wielkopolska region, from where most of Ultimat’s wheat, rye and potato are sourced.

The process for creating the vodka for Ultimat begins with milling the grains then steam cooking them to produce a mash for fermentation. Once fermented, the mash is distilled in a column still, then passed through a copper filtration system four times before the alcohol content is reduced to its final level of 80 proof (40 percent alcohol by volume) using purified water. Once distilled, the last step is bottling.

With Super Bowl Sunday around the corner, our thoughts head to the food, including brunch. What brunch is complete without a good Bloody Mary? Chef Dave Martin, a Top Chef alum and accomplished chef in his own right, teamed up with Ultimat Vodka to create these three Bloody Mary recipes.

Promise me that you’ll let me know how these turn out if you make them? I’m going to, ahem, “taste test” them this weekend so I’m ready for the Super Bowl!

ULTIMAT HEAT 

Yields Four 2 oz Shot Glass

Cocktail Formula-

2 oz Ultimat Vodka

4 oz Clamato Juice

2 oz Fire Roasted Tomatoes

1 Roasted Garlic Clove

½ tsp Fresh Lime Juice

1/8 tsp Kosher Salt

1/8 tsp Ground Black Pepper

½ tsp Agave

Garnish:  1 each- 5 inch Bamboo Skewer; 1 roasted Large Shrimp; 1 piece Lemon Rind and 1 piece asparagus

Shake all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and pour into shot glass. Set garnish across the top of the glass and serve.

Ultimat Smokin Hot Mary,  Photo provided courtesy of Ulimat Vodka, www.ultimatvodka.com. Recipe created by Chef Dave Martin on behalf of Ultimat Vodka.

Ultimat Smokin Hot Mary,
Photo provided courtesy of Ultimat Vodka, http://www.ultimatvodka.com. Recipe created by Chef Dave Martin on behalf of Ultimat Vodka.

SMOKIN’ HOT MARY

2 oz Ultimat Vodka

14 oz Yellow Tomatoes (cored and blended)

½ tsp Buffalo or Red Hot Sauce

½ tsp Fresh Horseradish

½ tsp Red Chili Garlic Sauce (Sriracha)

½ tsp Granulated Sugar

1/8 tsp Celery Seed

½ tsp Worcestershire Sauce

1 tsp Fresh Lime Juice

½ tsp Kosher Salt

1/8 tsp Ground Black Pepper

Garnish:  1 each- 4 inch Bamboo Skewer; 1 piece Baby Corn; 1 chicken wing

Dave’s Sweet & Sassy Smokehouse Rub for rim (sub with your favorite smokey bbq rub)

Using your food processor, blender or immersion blender you will need to blend the fresh tomatoes until they become a puree. Then add the remaining ingredients into a shaker or stir in a pitcher. Dampen the rim of your Pint Glass and gently coat with the Smokey Rub and then fill with ice and your cocktail mixture. Rest skewered garnish into Pint Glass and serve. 

Ultimat Captain Mary,  Photo provided courtesy of Ulimat Vodka, www.ultimatvodka.com. Recipe created by Chef Dave Martin on behalf of Ultimat Vodka.

Ultimat Captain Mary,
Photo provided courtesy of Ultimat Vodka, http://www.ultimatvodka.com. Recipe created by Chef Dave Martin on behalf of Ultimat Vodka.

CAPTAIN MARY

Yields One 10 oz Highball Glass

2 oz Ultimat Vodka

4 oz of your Favorite Tomato Juice

2 oz Heirloom Tomatoes

½ tsp Fresh Lemon Juice

1 tsp Red Chili Sauce(sambal olek)

¼ tsp Fresh Horseradish

¼ tsp Worcestershire Sauce

1/8 tsp Celery Seed

1/8 tsp Celery Salt

1/8 tsp Kosher Salt

1/8 tsp Ground Black Pepper

1/8 tsp Tabasco Sauce

Garnish:  1 Marinated Artichoke Heart; 1 Peppedew Pepper; 1 roasted large shrimp or Lobster Claw

Other suggestions: 1 piece Marinated Bocconcini (stuff this into the center of the peppedew pepper), 1 Roasted Garlic Clove

Blend all ingredients along with ice in a shaker or pitcher and then pour over ice cubes into Highball glass. Serve with skewered garnish resting on glass and serve immediately.

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com which is part of the USA Today Travel family and TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom among other print magazines and online media outlets.

You can't miss the Ohio House Motel's retro sign in downtown Chicago.

You can’t miss the Ohio House Motel’s retro sign in downtown Chicago.

While Hyatt and Hilton hotels are pretty much anywhere you visit, there is a certain amount of charm to old, indie hotels and motels. Many of them aren’t historic properties like The Blackstone or Palmer House in Chicago with architectural details that make you want to order a drink and hang out in the lobby all day. Nonetheless, like the salesman who used to travel door to door, there is a nostalgic quality to old properties that remind you of a bygone era.

Growing up in Chicago, the Ohio House Motel was one of those hotels that you’d drive by and wonder ~ does anyone stay there when they visit Chicago? Occasionally I’d learn of a sales representative who loved staying there because it was so close to where he needed to be, inexpensive and reminded him of simpler times. Fair enough.

Turns out the hotel is more than 50 years old. In December 1960, a tiny notice in the Chicago Tribune announced the opening of the Ohio House Motel in western downtown Chicago, at LaSalle and Ohio.

Can't stay at the Ohio House Motel? Send a postcard via email!

Can’t stay at the Ohio House Motel? Send a postcard via email!

Distinguished by its retro diamond motif, the Ohio House is a vintage slice of roadside Americana plopped down right in the middle of downtown Chicago that seems so out of place next to high rises and national chain restaurants. Apart from the diamond roofline, other points of interest include the matching suspended sign, held up by a geometric metal grid which is itself reflected in the pattern block fence that runs along Ohio Street. Rough-faced stone walls and a large stainless steel sign on the east facade add to its distinctly Chicago mid-century design.

According to Larry James, general manager of the Ohio House, planning for the motel began in 1959 when the Miller Development Company proposed a 48-room motel on a downtown lot owned by the Chicago Board of Education, which had previously held a school. The architect was Arthur Salk of Shayman and Salk, who also designed the Summit Motel on Lincoln Avenue and the LaSalle Motor Lodge at LaSalle & Superior (now a Howard Johnson). The firm’s stamp was also on many apartment buildings in the inner suburbs. Construction cost was $500,000. The development needed a zoning variance to build at the back of the lot (without a rear yard) and for its lack of off-street parking.

Can't stay at the Ohio House Motel? Send a postcard via email!

Can’t stay at the Ohio House Motel? Send a postcard via email!

Fast forward to the late 1990s, as the neighborhood transitioned from seedy to gentrified, the motel’s owner planned to demolish the motel and replace it with a far larger chain franchise. The building’s demolition was announced as imminent in 2001. Yet the plans never went through, and the motel still offers clean and remarkably affordable rooms right in downtown Chicago.

These days the rooms come equipped with free Internet access and guests will be able to enjoy a coffee shop soon (I can already taste the awesome diner coffee.). If you’re not lucky enough to stay here, send an Ohio House Motel postcard via email.

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com which is part of the USA Today Travel family and TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom among other print magazines and online media outlets.

With 850 miles of paved, off-road bike paths, Denver is a cyclist’s paradise.  Photo courtesy of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau.

With 850 miles of paved, off-road bike paths, Denver is a cyclist’s paradise.
Photo courtesy of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Mile High City will host a international art shows, one-of-a-kind exhibits and premiere sporting events in 2014, including the largest exhibit of Maya artifacts in American history, a worldwide exclusive showing of Cartier jewels and the World Lacrosse Championships.

There are even more reasons to visit Denver in 2014.

1. Eat Your Way Through Denver. Denver Restaurant Week, (February 22-28 and August 23-29). This year is its 10th anniversary and it’s sure to delight foodies. Last year, a record 355 participating restaurants served 436,650 meals. Check out the website for a list of restaurants participating and be sure to make your reservations early since spots often book quickly.

2. Walk in Ancient WorldsMaya: Hidden Worlds Revealed(February 14 – August 24) The largest exhibition about the ancient Maya ever to be displayed in the United States will be staged in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. The exhibit includes never-before-seen artifacts, hands-on activities, and immersive walk-in environments, including re-creations of an underground cave and a colorful, life-size frieze that once surrounded the top of El Castillo pyramid at Xunantunich in Belize. Visitors will explore the rise and decline of ancient Maya cities, from their 365-day calendar and incredible architecture to experiencing day-to-day life in a Maya neighborhood.

3. Ride ‘em Cowgirl! Rodeo All Star Weekend, April 17-19 – Relive Denver’s Old West heritage when the nation’s top-ranked cowboys and cowgirls ride into town for the Rodeo All-Star Weekend at the National Western Complex.  Steer wrestling, calf roping, and bull riding, are just some of the events, which also include live music and a fashion show.  Speaking of fashion, don’t forget to visit Rockmount Ranch Wear in downtown Denver to pick up some of their original snap button Western shirts, as recently worn by Sir Paul McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live.”

4. Sip a Beer Exactly One Mile Above Sea Level. Coors Field, home to the Colorado Rockies, is being redeveloped to create the largest rooftop deck, bar and terrace in any sports stadium in America. Set to open in April 2014, the two-story area can hold up to 4,500 fans. Called The Rooftop, the new deck will offer the best views in the stadium, with a long terrace overlooking the ballpark, as well as downtown Denver and the majestic, snowcapped Rocky Mountains. The centerpiece of the Rooftop will be the 5280 Craft Bar. To celebrate the fact that the room is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level (one mile high!) the bar will be exactly 52 feet and 80 inches long and offer 52 craft beers on tap. Rollup glass garage doors can transform the area into open air space, where fans can enjoy all the sights and sounds of the ballpark. The CHUBurger Restaurant will offer a Colorado casual dining with a display kitchen open on all four sides so fans can watch their food being prepared and will feature craft burgers made with beef raised from the Hops & Heifers Farm in nearby Longmont, Colorado.

5. Jump into a Computer Game – Literally.  Oh Heck Yeah, June 7-July 26 - Downtown Denver’s Champa Street will be transformed into an immersive two-block long outdoor arcade game during this one-of-a-kind event. The interactive games will be played on huge LED screens, projections on the sides of buildings, and in custom art installations. Visitors can play the games on smart phones or by using their bodies. The games will be simple to learn and play, but might cover the entire side of a building. It will be like walking into Tron. Street art, street performers, music, and food trucks will make this an interactive 21st Century street fair.  Be sure to check out the website to learn how characters will be brought to life via Twitter profiles powered by a local comedian.

6. Stroll through an Outdoor Sculpture GardenChihuly at the Denver Botanic Gardens, (June 13-November 30) The works of Dale Chihuly, one of the world’s most acclaimed sculptors, will take on new beauty when they are displayed in the lush setting of the Denver Botanic Gardens. Chihuly’s elegant blown-glass sculptures – ranging in size from small water floats to large vertical installations – will add bold colors to the 24-acre gardens. Denver Botanic Gardens is recognized as one of the top botanic gardens in the western United States and is home to more than 30,000 plants displayed in 45 gardens.

7. Cheer on Team USA!  World Lacrosse Championship, (July 10-19) US Lacrosse is thrilled to bring the excitement of the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships to Denver in 2014.This marks the first time the United States has hosted this world championship since 1998, and promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for lacrosse fans around the globe. Led by fourth-quarter dramatics from Ned Crotty, the United States edged Canada to win the 2010 FIL World Championship in Manchester, England, avenging a 2006 loss to Canada in the gold medal game. The 2014 championship is expected to be every bit as competitive, with a record total of more than 40 nations expected to participate. Great family entertainment is planned at an International Village at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park

8. Rock at the Red Rocks Summer Concert Series. Last year, Rolling Stone named Red Rocks as “the best outdoor amphitheatre in the U.S.” In 2014, the 9,000-seat concert venue will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles 1964 performance, the first time a rock group had performed at “the Rocks,” and the only concert on the Beatles 1964 tour to not sell out, in part because of local outrage over the high priced, $6.60 tickets. How times have changed! In addition to a stellar lineup (to be announced) of summer concert performers, in 2014 the Colorado Music Hall of Fame is moving into the Red Rocks Trading Post, paying tribute to Centennial State favorites like John Denver (who wrote the official Colorado State Song, “Rocky Mountain High”) and Denver native Judy Collins.

Denver's Union Station will be transformed into a boutique hotel & dining destination in 2014. Photo courtesy of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Denver’s Union Station will be transformed into a boutique hotel & dining destination in 2014.
Photo courtesy of VISIT DENVER, The Convention & Visitors Bureau.

9. Sleep in a Station.  Denver’s Union Station is undergoing a massive restoration and redevelopment that will transform it in July 2014 into a transportation, dining, shopping and entertainment hub, all centered around a new 112-room hotel. The Crawford Hotel (named after Larimer Square developer Dana Crawford) will have two bars in the grand old 1914 waiting room, and will incorporate many architectural features of the station in each room, including giant beams, windows overlooking the tracks, and vaulted ceilings.

Four new Colorado restaurants are being added including a seafood restaurant owned by recent James Beard Award winner for the Best Chef Southwest, Jen Jasinski (owner of Rioja, Bistro Vendome and Euclid Hall) and Alex Siedel, Food & Wine’s 2010 selection for Best New Chef and owner of the acclaimed Fruition restaurant.

The restored station will also have two fast service restaurants and ten local one-of-a-kind boutiques. Two new parks will grace the front of the station, which will also serve daily Amtrak trains and Denver’s 124 miles of light and commuter rail, including a new line to Denver International Airport that will open in 2016.

10. Make Diamonds Your New BFF.  Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century (opening Nov. 16, 2014) This worldwide-exclusive exhibition at the Denver Art Museum will include an astonishing assortment of jewelry, timepieces and precious objects from the Cartier collection.  Many of the pieces in the exhibition were owned by aristocrats, celebrities and royalty, including Princess Grace, Elizabeth Taylor, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, J.P. Morgan and the Aga Khan, among other luminaries.

11. Drive the Highest Continuous Highway in the World.  The editors at National Geographic just selected Rocky Mountain National Park as one of the Top 20 Places to visit in the world in 2014. Located just a little over an hour from Denver, this 100-year-old national park contains 400 square miles (1,036 sq km) of unspoiled scenic beauty, including Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the world crossing the Continental Divide at over two miles above sea level. The park has hundreds of miles of hiking trails, tranquil lakes, waterfalls, wildlife and horseback riding. Stroll the level trail around Bear Lake, climb to scenic Alberta Falls, or for the really adventurous, cross the narrows and scale Longs Peak, one of Colorado’s 54 fourteen thousand foot peaks.

12. Or, Bike Your Way Through Denver. With 850 miles of paved, off-road bike paths, Denver is a cyclist’s paradise.

Who’s ready to book a flight to Denver with me?

~Megy

Megy Karydes is founder of Wandering Tastes, a lifestyle and travel site that is meant to inspire adventure and exploration through traveling and food. She’s also a regular contributor to 10best.com which is part of the USA Today Travel family and TravelingMom.com as Foodie TravelingMom among other print magazines and online media outlets.