The Summer Vacation

Once upon a time, jetting off to some colorful corner of the world for a well-deserved vacation required outside help and more than a little tedious legwork. From meeting with travel agents to sifting through piles of outdated brochures, there was a lot of toil that needed to happen before a would-be explorer actually got a chance to, well, explore. No longer. Now, the world is at our fingertips, with everything a voyager needs — maps, tips, photos, recommendations, local secrets — just a click away. The only ingredient left is inspiration.

That’s where we come in.

Everyone’s idea of a perfect vacation is different. Trekking a Patagonian ridgeline? Throwing some chips on a Monte Carlo table? Simply digging your toes into the beach, cold drink in hand? There’s no right answer. Which is why we’ve gathered a list of dream vacations from some of the sharpest, most creative minds in our community — to spark your inner adventurer. In the following pages, you’ll encounter our vacation muses’ trips, each unique, detailed and thrilling in its own way. From high-octane adventures to culture-soaked reposes, there’s something here for travelers of all stripes.

Bon voyage.

Moscow: A Collision of Modern and Tsarist Architecture

Stephen Dynia – Principal at Dynia Architects

Our mission on this trip was to seek out as many examples of Russian Constructivist architecture as possible: worker halls, industrial facilities, factory housing etc. — along with tours of traditional icons — the Kremlin, a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, Pushkin Museum, etc. with many incredible caviar and vodka pairings in between!

The triumphant and tragic episodes of Russian history are chronicled in the city’s built fabric. This includes the grandeur of Tsarist buildings like the restored Metropol Hotel with its stained-glass ballroom ceiling, where we had the pleasure of attending a reception; the Constructivist era; Stalinist neoclassical work in the lavish subway stations; and late Soviet brutalism and modernism, as well as 21st century architecture. Of particular note was Gorky Park, which includes the Garage museum, a new venue featuring a variety of modern artists exploring Russia today. It is next to the garden of fallen idols – statues of Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev and other Soviet notables that were toppled during the fall of communism and now reassembled into a narrative of the country’s history.

Walking the streets, my dear Ahita, who reads Russian, stopped to notice the sign of an architectural museum featuring an exhibit on Konstantin Melnikov. We hunted down this important piece of Constructivist architecture, now surrounded by new apartment blocks, and through the overgrown yard saw a woman smoking a cigarette. We asked if we could visit but were told to get lost. The glimpse of this masterpiece sufficed. Melnikov, the Rusakov worker hall designer among other noted works, was later banned from practicing architecture — his individualist artistic vision countered the Soviets’ “collective” mentality.

It is interesting how architecture transcends nationalism. Next to the Kremlin there is Zaryadye Park, by the American firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It is built on the site of the Hotel Rossia, a modernist, 3,000-room Soviet hotel built in the international style in the 1960s and torn down in 2006. The new park includes a contoured landscape with a performance hall, restaurants and a skating rink tucked under the land forms. An observation walkway in the shape of a boomerang cantilevers over the river offering stunning views of the city, which we viewed at dusk as we anticipated the following mornings high speed rail trip to St. Petersburg to catch the magic of the white nights!

Washington DC: A Hometown Exploration Staycation

Sean Campbell – CEO of FORMATIV Development Company

Growing up in downtown Washington, D.C., I was acutely aware of the city’s reputation of being a sleepy government town with great museums, mature cultural outlets and neo-classical architecture. It was never considered a culinary destination or hip city with bold architectural design for active lifestyles.

Well, that has all changed. I recently took a trip back home to experience the amazing evolution of D.C. and its transformation into a culinary power with hip hotels, progressive architectural design, and a “cool” factor that will rival anything in the U.S. Our trip had one rule: We could not do or see anything that we had done before, a true staycation in our hometown. No staying with Mom and Dad, either; new discoveries only, and it was a blast!

Culturally, D.C. is second-to-none with its variety of amazing museums, art galleries and historical destinations. We took a different path, though, and visited the bustling Union Market with all its unique shops and dining options that make up this cool new neighborhood. The developing Navy Yard is also a great experience and is a perfect example of the old and new D.C.

Afternoons spent exploring The Wharf district offers a window into the growth D.C. has seen over the last few years. Sitting right on the Washington’s Potomac River, this project has become one of the preeminent examples of mixed-use development. From public outdoor spaces to bars/restaurants and hotels to luxury apartments and condominiums, it’s incredible to see this city thrive.

There are many new and design-forward hotels to pick from in the nation’s capital, and the culinary scene in D.C. rivals any city in America and is ever-evolving. My wife and folks loved staycationing in Washington D.C. because of the incredible contrast of new and classic. One moment you’re on the original cobblestone streets in Georgetown or the Navy Yard, and the next you’re on a rooftop drinking a finely crafted cocktail in a newly built industrial modern building. From a design standpoint, and as a developer, I am drawn to great design and active placemaking. Take a trip back home and be a tourist in your own back yard, and it works in Denver, too! Make your trips filled with endless inspiration.

Iceland: Land of Isolation, Serenity and Beauty

Brad Tomecek – Principal at Tomecek Studio Architecture

Iceland is situated on top of a volcanic hotspot where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The resulting landscape is a genuine fusion of intense geology and rugged beauty. Ice is ubiquitous as can be expected given the country’s namesake. Glaciers carved fiords millions of years ago, which led to present day topography that is excellent for dramatic hiking and driving experiences. Waterfalls born of melting glacier ice dot the landscape and become defining features.

Reykjavîk is the closest Iceland has to a bustling metropolis on the island, and it’s quite walkable, from Old Town to the Hallgrîmskirkja town church, located at the highest elevation. Grab a dish of Icelandic meat soup or some Skyr yogurt on the Skólavörðustígur, or main street, as you wander through the town. For a more contemporary experience, visit the relatively new Harpa Concert Hall located by the harbor. The multifaceted façade was designed by artist Olafur Eliasson to conjure the play of light on the glaciers.

The Golden Circle — a well-known route close to Reykjavîk — allows adventurers to explore the island’s majestic isolated beauty without venturing too far from civilization. This area includes the massive Gullfoss waterfall, Pingvellir National Park and the Silfra crack — the actual spot where the European and American continents’ tectonic plates meet. Scuba diving the Silfra is a memorable experience as the glacial water allows maximum visual distance with zero distortion. There is even a 5-foot wide, 125-foot deep crevasse where divers can touch both plates at once.

Travel the island’s circumference via the Ring Road and, along the way, visit Vik, known for its vivid black sandy beaches, and Eyjafjallajökull, the site of the volcano responsible for the 2010 eruption that affected global travel. Gazing upon this quiet peak, one can almost forget the disruptive and violent forces that created this quiet and magical landscape.

Finally, the Northern Lights dance seasonally in this area, which is far removed from any light pollution. On a clear night, visit one of the local thermal baths to watch the northern lights and maximize your Icelandic experience!

Mexico City: Design with a Side of Mezcal

Abigail Plonkey – Founder/Chief Experience Curator at Maximalist

I recently traveled to Mexico City where I made an effort to live like a local by staying in an Airbnb instead of a hotel, and hit the streets on foot exploring food markets, dive bars and artisanal shops as well as local art and architecture.

Mexico City is one of those places that fascinated me from day one. The people are kind and welcoming, and there’s no shortage of cafés, parks and inspiring design. The food scene was out of this world — a melting pot of different influences from coastal fresh fish and ceviche to pozole and handmade pasta. The “menu del dia” at rooftop bar La Azotea was a perfect way to experience the food with views for days. You see more Mezcal cocktails than margaritas, and I discovered my new favorite cocktail: the Mezcal Aperol Spritz. I ordered it at Cicatriz, a hole-in-the-wall bar with a friendly neighborhood vibe. They even shared the recipe with me!

Anyone who appreciates architecture and design will love wandering the La Condesa neighborhood. Peppered with Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture around every corner, it’s like stepping into a European city. The Frida Kahlo Museum inspired me as a designer; it was surreal to stand in Frida’s home and see how she lived and created her art. And if you enjoy Denver’s RiNo Art District, you must explore the murals, markets and eclectic boutiques in the Roma district.

As a creative, I’m inspired by experiences where I can immerse myself in the local culture, art, design, fashion and food. I’ve learned that making connections and talking to the locals can lead you to an insider’s guide to the city you may never have expected — and one you’ll never forget.

Puerto Rico: Where History, Nature and Good Food Collide

Emily Adams – Principal, Neoera

Last year I made a promise to myself: never miss an opportunity to vacation where friends and family or even ‘friends of friends’ are living abroad. Experiencing otherwise unknown local spots with killer cuisine and meeting up with people I know well or even tangentially makes me feel as though, in a small way, I am integrating into their culture and becoming a part of the global community. These are the types of vacations for which I long.

I found myself in Spain last year and had the time of my life. This year, my daughters and I are traveling to Puerto Rico. We are curious to see how the island is faring after devastating Hurricane Maria. At first glance, I believe we’ll see a recovered island, but as we wander to some of the more remote areas, I suspect we’ll see a slightly different picture.
We are going to keep our itinerary pretty loose so we can explore. However, we do a have a few “musts” on the trip.
– Explore the colorful buildings and cobblestone streets of Old San Juan
– Pretending we’re in an “Avatar” movie scene by kayaking in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques at night
– Going to Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal — I have a fascination for castles which began while doing a thesis project on a chateaux in southern France
– Visit the El Yunque National Forest, which is the only tropical rain forest in the national forest system
– And of course, the beaches, the cuisine — can’t wait to try mofongo, a plantain-centric dish, the pork dishes and the tamale-like pasteles.

Lake Como: A Sun-Soaked Home Away From Home

Megan Freckelton – Design Director, Punch Bowl Social

Growing up on a lake (my close runner-up for favorite summer vacation spot: Traverse City, MI,) and spending the last 18 years of my life with mountains views, this part of Italy combines the two, making it an idyllic summer vacation spot.

Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, the weather is mild and humid, the perfect environment for the surrounding farms that produce some of the best olive oil, vegetables and eggs I have ever had. Start the day at the café for an espresso, hop on a bike and pedal the cobblestone streets, taking in the occasional renaissance masterpiece, the brightly colored homes dotted with window boxes spilling over with summer flowers, all perfectly framed by the lake and mountains beyond — a breathtaking view around every corner.

Staying in a smaller town on the lake — our pick is Mandello del Lario — is a truly relaxing experience. The larger towns surrounding Lake Como are very busy during high tourist season, mid-May to Mid-September, and the smaller towns are a great jumping off point as there is an easy-to-navigate ferry system. Take a day trip to the busy town of Bellagio and enjoy the mountain views from its 18th century terraced garden. Don’t forget to stop in one of the many shops for a new leather good (when in Italy!). Next up, Varenna, where after a lakeside gelato you can hike to Castello di Vezio — a castle constructed in the middle ages that keeps watch over Lake Como and offers jaw-dropping views.

When you go, grab a group of friends and opt for an Airbnb, as the villas are plentiful. Forever grateful a friend landed on this destination for his birthday and found Villa Confalonieri, a historic property equipped with a pool, a well-armed kitchen and a bell tower perfect for watching the sunset. Once back “home” after a quick stop at the market, with an armful of fresh pasta, seasonal veggies, olive oil and prosecco, toss everything together, set the table in the garden and laugh the night away. The perfect end to a perfect summer day.

Hong Kong: Where East Gloriously Meets West

Jon Hartman and Liz Henderson – Waves Zine and Wunder WerkZ

For the uninitiated Far East traveler, Hong Kong is the perfect first foray — the distinctive Chinese and British influences make it basically two cities in one.

The Western experience starts at the TUVE Hotel, a design masterpiece with brutalist interiors in the Causeway Bay area, and a literal walk in the park away from high-end retail (even if you can’t afford anything at the Off-White store, it’s still fun to look). For more accessible shopping, head to Central and more specifically Hollywood Road, where in addition to some amazing antique shops and galleries you’ll also find PMQ, an old police barracks transformed into a new-era mall made up of over 100 one-off boutiques, galleries, restaurants and offices. While you’re in the neighborhood, fill your stomach and stimulate your senses at Bibo, where you can enjoy a Michelin-rated meal surrounded by works from Kaws, Banksy, Cleon Peterson, King of Kowloon and more. On Wednesday nights, hit up the Happy Valley Racecourse, where a hip crowd turns out for a $10 cover to enjoy live bands and performances, drink specials and, of course, gambling on the horses.

From there, it’s a quick trip to the mainland side for your Eastern experience. Kowloon doesn’t just feel like another city — it feels like another world. In addition to the Goldfish Market, a street lined with pre-bagged goldfish for sale, you can also eat at one of the cheapest Michelin star restaurants in the world: One Dim Sum. A must see for any design aficionado is the CAAU-designed Hong Kong Design Institute — a glass-and-concrete cube housed upon a steel grid and home to classrooms, studios and public galleries dedicated to industrial design, typography and architecture. Before you leave the mainland, make sure to grab a drink at Aqua — it towers over the city and offers one of the best views of Victoria Bay.