Residents of Denver love its recreational opportunities, and with 300 days of annual sunshine, it's easy to see why. The majestic Rocky Mountains serve as the city's playground and provide inspiring views that beckon folks outside. More than 81 percent of Denver residents exercise each month, according to surveys from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Take your choice: Opportunities for kayaking, hiking, and skiing are plentiful. Another of the secrets to why Denverites love living here is found in the city's approach to development. Strict laws help preserve the plethora of walking paths and open spaces that weave through most neighborhoods-ensuring residents room to roam for years to come.
Denver earned the 7th spot on our top 20 list of Cooking Light Cities for low percentage of population with diabetes, low percentage of population that's overweight, high percentage who participated in physical activity during the last month, dollars per capita spent on parkland, and chef wages.
Best splurge meal: The menu at Rioja (303-820-2282) changes with the seasons, which is one of the reasons why the Mediterranean-inspired outpost of top Denver chef and Wolfgang Puck protégé Jennifer Jasinski is one of the hottest dining spots in town. A gem in the Larimer Square historic district, its copper-topped bar and hand-blown glass fixtures provide eye candy. Feather-light homemade pasta, specialty salads, and a fig-gorgonzola pizza with zucchini chips delight the palate.
Best bistro: A few minutes west of downtown, Duo (303-477-4141) serves upscale meals in comfortable surroundings. Try the grilled bread appetizer with whatever seasonal spread (such as hummus) Chef John Broening has dreamed up. Save room for desserts like the pistachio nougat, a frozen confection made with egg whites and cream, as well as caramelized pistachios.
Best pretheater dining: Fine dining thrives at longtime local chef Kevin Taylor's digs (303-640-1012) in the gorgeously renovated Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Noted chefs from around the country scramble to put flavorful and tender Colorado lamb on their menus; sample it Taylor-style, charbroiled with braised lentils, fennel, and a black olive jus.
Best food finds: Just a short walk east of the landmark Brown Palace Hotel, Marczyk Fine Foods (303-894-9499) is Denver's favorite shop for gourmet ingredients-from AA-grade dried Italian porcini mushrooms to organic Spanish olives. It also has some of the best takeout in the city.
In the summer, pick up juicy peaches from Colorado's Western Slope, or come on Friday night for grilled burgers made from organically raised meat.
Best way to reach new heights: The area's mountainous terrain makes rock climbing a popular activity around Denver. Beginners can step into one of the city's biggest indoor training facilities, Thrillseekers, Inc. (303-733-8810), and train with the locals. Once you've gained your footing, make a 30-mile trip northeast of downtown to Eldorado Canyon State Park (303-494-3943) where climbers from around the world practice on 500 routes rated for all levels-from easy to expert.