Denver is not short on ways to entertain, indulge and intrigue you, from cultural treasures at the stellar Denver Art Museum to a wealth of opportunities under the almost-always sunny or star-filled Colorado skies, including Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, and Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, which is arguably one of the most acoustically perfect natural amphitheaters on the planet. There's also Union Station, where architecture, easy transportation, art, food, lodging, shopping and camaraderie combine to pique all the senses, and visitors can learn something about Denver history, too. For those visiting with kids, Elitch Gardens is a city-center combo theme park and water park that has been thrilling Colorado families for generations, while the U.S. Mint tour and visits to the exceptional History Colorado Center provide engaging learning opportunities for all ages. If the term "learning opportunities" sounds dull and pedantic, you're not hearing us: Everything on this list–and we mean everything–is cool, fun and interest-piquing. Visitors and locals alike will find the same double-hitter of fun and immersive engagement on a brewery tour in Denver's RiNo district with Aspire Tours, along with a taste of some of the best craft brews in the nation. We've culled our 10 Best list from the best of the best, so go out and discover what makes Denver so hot... and so cool.
Denver has seven professional sports teams: basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, hockey, rugby and, of course, Major League Baseball. If you've got baseball in your blood, you have to make a pilgrimage to Coors Field. Not only is it a great stadium, it's one more place to find local craft brews and food and a fine way to enjoy Denver's warm days and cool evenings. By the way, if you're in row 20 of the upper deck, you'll find yourself in a purple seat, indicating that you're exactly a mile above sea level. Modestly priced tours are offered year-round, but times may vary so call ahead to confirm. (303-762-5437)
Colorado Shakespeare Festival
With a season that lasts just two months during which only a handful of plays are staged, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is the second oldest Shakespeare festival in the country and has been recognized as one of the top three in the United States. Part of its indisputable charm is its popular setting in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre, tucked into a serene grove on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder. There is an indoor theater as well, where typically half of the productions are staged. Shows go on even during summer rain showers and are rarely cancelled, so bring a rain jacket just in case. (303-492-8008)
Aspire Tours, founded by two entrepreneurial, well-traveled women, offers guests an authentic, memorable local experience with tours that cover Denver's craft brew scene, neighborhoods, history, architecture and more. Aspire also takes groups outside Denver to the Rocky Mountains and beyond (even Cuba). Stops on Denver's first walking tour of the RiNo area's boutique craft breweries may include Epic, Black Shirt, Beryl and Our Mutual Friends breweries, among others, where participants experience the unique vibe and back story of each, not just a discourse on the brewing process. Denver's only Urban Adventure Tour is a driving tour covering the city's wild-west history, public art, shops and eclectic neighborhoods, with ample time to walk for a true sense of place. Denver has solid public transportation as well as Uber and Lyft, so no need for a car to get to the meeting points. (720-583-2654)
United States Mint
If you've never visited a U.S. Mint, take a tour at the facility in Denver where coins are produced and gold and silver bullion stored. The tours are geared for ages seven and older and provide fascinating insight and fun facts about the history of coin production and the process of making the money we use every day. Tours are offered Monday through Thursday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. They're best when production is in process but there is no guarantee that production will be up and running during every tour. Be advised that tour guests must arrive 30 minutes prior to the tour or they will not be admitted. Don't skip the Mint's gift shop with its fun, educational items, including books and money-themed gifts. (303-405-4761, 800-872-6468)
Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park
With rides named Mind Eraser and Brain Drain, it's clear that Elitch Gardens is a thrill-seeker's paradise and, not surprising, a perennial teen favorite. But there's a little something for everyone at this park that first opened in 1890. Twister II, the popular 10-story wooden coaster, perfectly evokes the park's old-school/new-thrill vibe. A portion of the grounds are also devoted to a summer water park, which features about a dozen attractions including high-speed slides and drops, lagoons and wave pools. Parking on the grounds is pricey; consider visiting via the RTD bus or Light Rail, which stop just outside the park. Do note that height requirements are enforced on rides, so check the park's website before going. (303-595-4386)
Denver Art Museum
Denver Art Museum is highly regarded for its collection of Native American art, which includes over 16,000 pieces from more than 100 tribes across the country. The seven-story contemporary building also houses impressive displays of Pre-Columbian and Central American art and textiles, a fascinating Asian collection, and a fine assortment of modern American and European paintings. The Architecture, Design and Graphics galleries are notable as well, as is the Western Art collection. In 2006, the Frederic C. Hamilton Building, a wondrous structure of steel and glass designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, opened its doors across 13th Street from the original building. Libeskind's deeply angled ediface dramatically increases the museum's gallery and education space while redefining the Denver skyline and the way in which art can be exhibited. (720-865-5000)
To start, Denver Zoo's conservation efforts, some 600 projects here and in the wild, are impressive. "We value all animals, big and small, from all over the world. We envision a world where all people appreciate, respect and conserve animals and their habitats globally." Supporting the zoo helps fund that vision and mission--and you can do it while enjoying a day with friends, family and an assortment of cool creatures. In addition to strolling past bears, birds, big cats, hyenas, monkeys and more, you can get up close with zoo residents via behind-the-scenes tours and experiences. Depending on the season, there are meet-and-greets with rhinos, hippos and Komodo dragons; encounters with penguins, elephants and great apes; and a backstage experience offering access to zookeepers and animals. Any given year, new residents are born at the zoo, always an event to celebrate. (303-376-4800)
History Colorado Center
Replacing the Colorado History Museum, Denver welcomed the new History Colorado Center in 2012 into a LEED-certified building in the Golden Triangle Museum District. The new space gave the state's historical society the opportunity to start from scratch, creating new ways to interpret Colorado history. The exhibits highlight the courage, persistence, triumphs, tragedies and character of those who first called Colorado home, including Native Americans, white and African American settlers, men, women, children, the famous and the infamous.
Exhibits offer interactive and digital experiences, including a virtual look at sailing off Steamboat's 1915 ski jump, life in a Japanese relocation center during World War II and explorations of life for Colorado's early residents, including pioneers and miners. For those mesmerized by the Denver 1860 Diorama exhibited in the old Colorado History Museum for nearly 75 years, good news: it's in the new center, too. ((303) 866-3682)
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
It's called the most acoustically perfect natural amphitheater on the planet. But it's not just the exceptional acoustics and music played here that make Red Rocks so special. Dinosaurs once roamed this geologically compelling landscape; did they hear one another's soft grunts from far, far below? We'll never know. But we do know that to sit among the towering sandstone formations as the sky deepens to inky purple, to watch the sun dip below the horizon as stars crowd the sky above, the bright lights of Denver twinkle on below and the band plays on is an experience found nowhere else on earth. If you haven't experienced Red Rocks, you haven't experienced the best of Denver. BTW: It's not just music. Red Rocks offers a film series, yoga series, hiking trails and more. (303-697-5968, 720-865-2494)
Denver Union Station
Why should a train station be on Denver's top attractions list? Simply put, it's more than a station. Yes, Amtrak trains come and go and Union Station serves as a major hub for local buses and light rail. But it's also Denver history remade, a gorgeous Beaux Art building meticulously renovated and reopened with shops, restaurants from top local chefs, two bars and a fabulous boutique hotel. It also showcases Colorado artists. It's a place to gather before or after a baseball game--perhaps at Terminal Bar, set where passengers once bought train tickets and now serving more than 30 Colorado craft beers. The Crawford Hotel offers tours of Union Station on Fridays (advance reservations required), and throughout the year the station is a setting for holiday and seasonal events, including author readings at the station's outpost of Denver's beloved Tattered Cover bookstore. Souvenir? Check out the station's retail shops. (303-534-6333, 800-872-7245)
About Christine Loomis
Christine has written about every aspect of travel, from romance and adventure to family and wellness. She is also lucky to have had three major home states through the years: New York, Colorado and California. Today she divides time between the Denver and San Francisco areas.
Christine loves shoe shopping and fishing; walking anywhere; horseback riding (she was on the equestrian team at the University of Oregon); and discovering menus that include small-batch whiskeys, craft beer and lesser-known wines.
She would go anywhere in an RV and believes summer is best when it includes a rafting trip.
Read more about Christine Loomis here.