Denver's Top Must-See Attractions: See It, Do It, Love It
By Christine Loomis
Denver Local Expert
Denver is not short on ways to entertain, indulge and intrigue you, from cultural treasures such as the somewhat quirky Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art and 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. 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. And 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. Adults-only groups will find the same double-hitter of fun and must-know facts on a brewery tour of this city that has made a name for itself on the world stage of impeccable craft brewing. 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)
Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art
Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art is an interior landscape of vibrant color and eye-catching pieces, many of the items displayed together in salon-style settings. The result is that you feel you have stumbled into the parlor of a long-lost relative--that is if your long-lost relative collected an abundance of artwork, furnishings and quirky collectibles and left them out in the parlor. It is unlike most other museums you might visit, but deeply rooted in the arts community of Colorado in general and Denver in particular. More than that, it's simply a fun place to wander around and get lost in a collection of seriously eclectic pieces. No visitors under age 13 permitted. (303-832-8576)
Denver Brews Cruise
More than 200 beers are crafted in Denver daily, and there are more than 50 brewpubs and breweries in the area, so exploring local pubs and tasting rooms provides the true flavor of the city. Beer aficionado "Captain Brent" Scheiwe is the owner/operator of Denver Brews Cruise. He has solid relationships with several breweries and has crafted a tour that includes not only generous samplings but also behind-the-scenes peaks at the brewery process. Tours accommodate just four to 12 participants, making it a VIP-like experience. Currently on the tour schedule are Breckenridge Brewery, Strange Craft Brew Company, Wits End Brewing Company, Black Sky Brewery and Renegade Brewing. For those who aren't full-on beer lovers, Colorado Cider Company, which produces fresh, local hard cider, offers a different taste treat. Tour price: $42 per person. (303-993-7308)
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. 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)
Denver has more than 850 miles of paved, off-road trails that connect across the city and to hundreds of additional miles of dirt trails beloved by mountain bikers. Don't have a bike? No problem. Denver B-Cycle is the city's famed bike-sharing program. Check out one of 700 bikes from 82 stations and return it to any other station. Once you have your bike, consider starting at the Cherry Creek Bike Path, a paved trail that begins where Denver was founded and runs along pretty Cherry Creek for 40 miles. Another option: The Greenway Trail, which follows the South Platte River for almost 30 miles. The Colorado Historical Society has erected 20 historic markers along the trail that help tell the story of the area. The Platte River Bike Path, part of the Greenway Trail, connects the lively LoDo and RiNo neighborhoods, offering plenty of options for stops along the way. (303-825-3325)
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)
With rides named Mind Eraser and Brain Drain, it's clear that Elitch Gardens is a thrillseeker'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 Island Kingdom 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 that stop just outside the park. (303-595-4386)
History Colorado Center
Replacing the Colorado History Museum, Denver welcomed the new History Colorado Center in 2012 into a new 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 exploration of life in a 1920s farming town. New exhibits are opening soon, and 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)
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.