Located at the base of the Rocky Mountains, Denver is a beautiful, walkable, outdoor city with 300 days of sunshine and blue skies, a lively downtown, vast parks, and architecture that combines the old with the new.
Denver’s historic lower district, playfully called the LoDo, is defined by Larimer Square and Larimer Street. LoDo is the perfect place to sample fine dining, shopping, beauty pampering, and nightlife, all under the street’s signature canopy of lights.
The nearby Denver Millennial Bridge, the world’s first cable-stayed bridge, is an iconic footbridge that connects the popular 16th Street Mall with the Commons Park in the Central Platte Valley District of the Union Station neighborhood.
A hotspot for lovers of art, urban food halls, and design, the River North Art District (Rino) offers an industrial landscape colored by street art. It is home to the Denver Beer Trail with its craft breweries and live music venues.
Touring Denver Signs: a Different Perspective
When we think of signs, we rarely think that they could make for iconic landmarks that one would wish to visit or be photographed with. In reality, though, iconic signs do work as landmarks—as the famous Hollywood sign confirms.
Denver is rich in signs that are part of the city’s landmarks. What makes them even more interesting is the fact they cover several decades of Denver’s history. Today, many of them are basking in newfound glory thanks to millions of photos posted on Instagram and other social media.
So, here is an idea for discovering the city from a different perspective: tour its different eras through its signs!
Welcome to Colorful Colorado
As the saying goes, you can’t spell Colorado without color. For decades, these iconic “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” signs, installed by the Colorado Department of Transportation in 41 locations, welcome travelers who stop and snap a quick picture before they head for the mountains.
The sign is a symbol of branding resilience. In 1989, CDOT launched a contest to design a new sign. The aim was to replace the wooden structure with something more colorful. However, the new signs sparked widespread outrage. Eight years after their installation, they were re-replaced with the old, rustic signs.
If you’re wondering, there are 42 signs; not 41. A 42nd sign is located in the History Colorado Center in Denver. If you are in the neighborhood, don’t miss the opportunity for a selfie with the sign that speaks so strongly to the hearts of all Coloradans.
The Ghost Signs of Denver
Probably the older signs in the city, dating from the beginning of the 20th century, are Denver’s “ghost signs.” Ghost signs are large promotional murals that were painted over brick walls—usually the sides of tall warehouse buildings—to advertise products and businesses. The painters of the signs, the so-called “wall dogs,” had their work cut out for them considering the height they had to climb and the lead paints they used back in the day.
Many of those painted signs were later buried under plaster, paint, and other maintenance and renovation work. As the historic lower downtown district is gradually redeveloped, however, many of them have come to light once again.
Since 2014, the owners of historic property who discover signs on their buildings are mandated by law to preserve them. A great example is the Ice House in LoDo—the city’s lower district. The Ice House, once a cold storage warehouse, today houses lofts. Its iconic sign, painted on the intricate façade of the renovated building, is a typical example of how old signs have become part of Denver’s historical urban landscape.
Denver’s Famous Neon Signs
Have you ever visited Colfax Avenue by night? It is a spectacular display of iconic neon signs, many of which date back to the 30s, 40s, or 50s when Colfax Avenue used to be “the Gateway to the Rockies.” Motels and restaurants on the avenue used flashy, often intricate neon signs to attract passing travelers.
Neon signs fell out of fashion later on, partly because of a belief that they were costly to maintain. Over time, many of Denver’s neon signs disappeared altogether. However, there is a growing trend these past years in preserving them.
Several businesses still consider their neon signs as iconic trademarks and don’t even think about replacing them. Pete’s Kitchen (in business since 1944), Candlelight Tavern (erected in 1954), Billy’s Inn (since 1933), the Paramount Theatre, the Bluebird Theater, the Landmark Mayan Theatre, and several other businesses still proudly display a myriad of neon colors on their façade.
Nowadays, neon is making a comeback and many new businesses include neon signs in their branding, looking for a nostalgic retro vibe. Many purposefully turn their neon signs into talk-of-the-town places where visitors go to snap a picture for Instagram. For example, the Urban Farmer modern steakhouse features a famous neon quote by David Bowie. If you have a drink at the 54Thirty, visit the bathroom for its iconic “Mountains are Calling” and “I love you to Denver and back” neon signs.
Denver’s Landmarks and Their Signs
Denver is an architectural gem with many beautiful buildings and landmarks. Combining historical buildings and modern architecture, the city is a melting pot of old and new that will delight you. Many of the city’s buildings are closely associated with the signs that adorn them.
Denver Union Station
The main railway station of Denver in the LoDo district features, among more contemporary constructions, the historical terminal building, built in 1914. With its magnificent red sign that was preserved through several renovations, the façade of Denver Union Station is one of the most popular icons of Denver.
Mile High Stadium
Home to the NFL’s Denver Broncos football team, the stadium is called “Mile High” due to Denver’s elevation at 5,280 feet above sea level. Visitors can admire the display of Bucky the Bronco, a 30-foot-high replica of Roy Rogers horse, Trigger, on top of the main scoreboard. This iconic sign is visible from the outside of the stadium.
The Big Blue Bear
Although not a sign but a work of art by local artist Lawrence Argent, the remarkable, larger-than-life Big Blue Bear set outside the Colorado Convention Center is one of the most endearing symbols of Denver. The curious Coloradan bear peeking into the lobby of the Convention Center can’t go unnoticed, and it will make you curious to go take a look inside, too—or, at least, take a selfie with it.
There is so much more to discover in Denver than can fit in 1000 words, in 1000 selfies, or even in 1000 signs. Take your time to enjoy the city, walk its neighborhoods, and appreciate the variety of urban and natural scenery Denver has to offer. And keep an eye on its tale-telling signs that can travel you through time in this beautiful city.