Local to Know

Local to KnowLocal writer and adventurist, Brendan Leonard, shares his favorite spots around Denver, Colorado. He recommends breakfast at The Universal and beer at the Denver Bicycle Cafe as local musts in the Dirt Road Travels' Denver, Colorado city guide.

Denver, Colorado

Brendan Leonard

"I empty out my savings and bought an Astra van. Who does that?"

The Universal
Denver Bicycle Cafe
El Taco De Mexico
City, O City
The Mayan Theater
Humble Pie Store

Brendan Leonard

"I empty out my savings and bought an Astra van. Who does that?"

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Denver, Colorado
Brendan Leonard sips on a cup of coffee in Denver.
Brendan Leonard

My Story

"This mountain biker Matthew Lee once said, 'Everybody needs a grand tour, man!" A right of passage where you can leave for a few months to travel and really live, and then come back and start the rest of your life.


We don't get that in America. We're always trying to wedge ourselves into 5 days of vacation or whatever. 

Years ago, I had a job where I was working remotely, and my girlfriend and I had just broken up and my lease was up on my apartment, so I just hit the road. I thought, 'I'll just drive around and do some climbing and backpacking stuff, because I can work from anywhere.'

It ended up lasting 3 years. I was living the life of a working stiff where I'd work 40 hours a week, but on the evenings or weekends I got to climb, or hike or surf. I lived this really charmed life, and I'm pretty stoked to have done it. Honestly, I'd recommend everybody do it if they can.

I learned if you make that one big decision, which might be the opposite of secure, it'll embolden you to do other things like that. 

I emptied out my savings to buy an Astra van to live in. Who does that? But you become just like, 'Fuck it! Whatever, I'll try it!' It all worked out, and that was such a magical time.


Now, it's kind of depressing, but I have these daily thoughts about how we're all going to die. And people say things like, 'When I'm 70. And I think, 'Man, I'd love to be 70!' I hope I make it that far. But I'm not going to plan my life around one day turning 70.

You've got to do this shit now. You don't get that long here. One day you're going to wake-up and you'll be 50, and you'll be like, 'Shit! What about all that stuff I was supposed to do?'


As humans, we procrastinate joy. 'Oh, I'd love to do that one day, but I have all this stuff going on.' Then, when you look back on it you're like, 'Fuck! I've filled my life up with so much bull shit that I don't really want to do.' Or you'll look to someone else and think, 'Why's that person doing that thing and I can't?' If you think about it for just a second, you realize, 'Ohhhh, it's because I tell myself I can't.' That's the only reason.

We don't design our lives around joy. We're all guilty of it. I'm not some saint - my life's full of all that shit too. But I've gotten better. I'm getting really good at not letting myself make excuses. I'm trying to squeeze out all those little moments."


My Advice for Others

"People always want to know the secrets on ways to become successful creatively. I was just talking to my friend Fitz about this, and the thing about the people who are doing it vs. those who aren't is just one thing - they've got drive.

People say, 'Oh yeah, I want to be a photographer! I'm a better photographer than that famous guy, so I can do it!' 

Honestly, who cares? Show me the people that give a fuck. 

You've got to get out there and sell it. You're always going to get rejected; I'm still getting rejected. But if you just keep hammering at it, you eventually break through the wall. It takes years sometimes. I pitched freelance articles for 8 years straight before I was able to write full-time. 

You have to believe in yourself, and that's the only way you're going to get through it as a creative. I don't believe you're ordained by some higher power. It's not like, 'Oh, this one is going to be a writer!' No way, dude. Grind. That's what you do. A lot of people underestimate the amount of grind that goes into the grind."

Brendan Leonard smiles in Denver Colorado.

What I Love Most about Denver

"It's the perfect amount of mountains and city. You can drive an hour to the mountains, and a few more hours from there to the most famous part of the desert in America, just outside of Moab. But I can also walk around the corner from my house Ethiopian food or Indian or Thai. Living on the front range, you're surrounded by all these people who are squeezing in adventures between 5PM and 9AM. It's such a great spot."

My Denver Musts

"I would get breakfast at The Universal, grab a second coffee at the Denver Bicycle Cafe, lunch at El Taco de Mexico, then run a few laps around Cheesman Park or Washington Park, just so I could be hungry again. Then, get an early dinner at City O' City and catch a movie at The Mayan Theater. If I am permitted to be gluttonous, I'd grab a late slice of pie at the The Humble Pie Store. Since that's about 3,500 calories, it's probably best to do all that stuff by bicycle, and I bought my custom steel bike from Gregory at Chocolate Spokes."

More of Brendan's Work


The New American Road Trip Mixtape

Sixty Meters to Anywhere

Make It Till You Make It

The Great Outdoors: A User's Guide

Funny Shit in the Woods

Instagram, Threadless 


Brendan Leonard


Brendan Leonard
Brendan Leonard
Brendan Leonard
The Universal
"The Cornbread Rancheros at The Universal is the best breakfast in Denver."
Denver Bicycle Cafe
"An institution on 17th street."
El Taco De Mexico
"Just about the most consistenly recommended spot in Denver."
City, O City
"Old-school Denver vegetarian grub."
The Mayan Theater
"There's nothing better than a Saturday night indie film at the Mayan."
Humble Pie Store
"It's a one stop shop. They've got every pie form you could want!"
Brendan Leonard
"I empty out my savings and bought an Astra van. Who does that?"

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