The Children's Museum of Denver is all about kid-powered learning, aka interactive fun and exploration for children from newborn to eight years. Among the most popular exhibits is Kinetics!, a space dedicated to physical science where kids build ramps and tracks to send bright orange balls soaring all over the room. The Center for the Young Child is the hot spot for the very youngest visitors. Other favorites include spaces where children and families can explore bubbles, water, a fire station and energy, among other intriguing options. There's also an art studio, an area called Assembly Plant where kids use real tools and their vivid imaginations to create objects, and an expansive outdoor adventure space. Every exhibit is geared for particular ages, e.g. 0-3, 2-5, and 4-8.
Even if you don't ride yourself, this is the place to see how it's done by some of the best boarders in the city tackling Denver's largest and most celebrated skate park. At 60,000-square-feet it's massive, a concrete paradise of ledges, rails, banks and bowls, with territory for all skill levels and ages. Located just north of downtown between 19th and 20th streets on Little Raven, this park offers awesome riding and views, and it has bathrooms, picnic tables and a water fountain among its amenities. There are no rentals or concessions, however, so you need to bring all your own gear. The park is open every day and it's free. Denver urban parks open at 5 a.m. and close at 11 p.m. Staying in a park after hours is prohibited.
From humble beginnings in a tiny space in the 1970s, Tattered Cover evolved into one of the largest independent bookstores in the nation. It has weathered a retail climate that has been less than friendly to brick-and-mortar booksellers, yet the Tattered Cover has not just survived but thrived. Today, it has four locations including an expansive space on Colfax in a former theater. Book lovers can browse, sip coffee and listen to authors read from their works. There are also calendars, toys, games, cards and other gift items. Best of all, staff members know and love books and can offer genuinely helpful suggestions and advice. If you have a young child, head to a cozy chair in the children's area and read a book together. No one will mind however long you linger and share the joy of reading (but buying books helps support this incredible store).
Since 1982 when the 16th Street Mall opened in downtown Denver, RTD has been running the Free MallRide bus. Today, fully electric buses travel the one-mile route from Union Station to Civic Center Station and back again, seven days a week, with stops on every block. Passengers can hop on and off at any street along the route at no charge. In 2015, more than 13 million riders took advantage of the complimentary buses. Weekdays the first bus starts out at 4:59 a.m., while on Saturdays and Sundays the first buses start at 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., respectively. The last bus of the day is always at 1:21 a.m. from Union Station. There's a lot of construction downtown these days, so check RTD's website to find out about any closures or changes in bus stops.
First Friday Artwork in the Santa Fe Arts District, the city's first major art district, features more than 100 art galleries, studios and creative spaces. South of downtown, the district is bordered by 13th Street on the north, Alameda on the south, Kalamath to the wet and Inca to the east. Most of the galleries are walkable from one to another between 5th and 11th streets. Gallery exploration can make you hungry and thirsty, so look for food trucks and many of the area's restaurants along 7th and 9th streets. Not every business stays open between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. when the Art Walk takes place, but many do. No car? No problem. Take the light rail to the 10th and Osage stop. There you can pick up the free, guided shuttle that loops every 20 minutes during the Art Walk, going down Kalamath, back up Santa Fe.
Open weekdays only, the Money Museum is perfect for families with school-age children. Set along the 16th Street Mall inside the Denver branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, this compact museum provides an informative look at how paper money is made, how and when it's destroyed, how credit works, what Federal Reserve banks do, how to spot counterfeit bills and more. There are several hands-on activities including creating your own "money" by rubbing crayons over metal plates and moving a knob along a track to see how much money someone loses paying off a loan over six years vs. one (a lot!). There's also a case with authentic and counterfeit bills, and if you can't tell the difference look for hints on the sides of the case. Plan on 30 to 60 minutes at most and don't forget to take your free bag of shredded bills.
Denver Union Station has it all. It's a transportation hub for the city's light rail and bus systems, an Amtrak station taking travelers west to California and east to Chicago, home to multiple food and beverage options and to a stellar hotel. Almost any time of day or night you'll find people sitting at wooden tables or in the station's cozy seating areas working away on their various devices, holding business meetings or simply gathering with friends. That's because Union Station offers free Wi-Fi all the time. From spring to fall, kids of all ages can be found splashing in the nearly block-long fountain in front of the station, one of the city's happiest free attractions for families (and a few dogs, too). Like the Wi-Fi, the fountain, blue sky, sun and laughter are all complimentary so go ahead, indulge.
Colorado's State Capitol Building offers free public tours hourly between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays. You can also do a self-guided tour but you can only visit the dome with a guide. The building, opened in 1894, was designed by Elijah E. Meyers to evoke the layout of the capitol in Washington, DC. The white granite, rose onyx and marble were all quarried in Colorado, and it took 200 ounces of gold to gild the dome, a gift from Colorado gold miners in 1908. Inside, look for carved statues, stained-glass windows and renderings of U.S. presidents. Outside, view memorials dedicated to patriots who served the country and the state. Then climb the steps on the building's west side to snap a selfie at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, a mile high. The correct step now is the 13th, not the 15th or 18th as previously thought.
Denver Art Museum (DAM) is highly regarded for its American Indian art collection, which represents pieces from nearly every tribe across the United States. But the museum, which is comprised of two buildings, also has impressive displays of Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art, a stellar Asian collection as well as textiles, plus a fine assortment of modern American and European paintings. When the architecturally intriguing Frederic C. Hamilton Building opened in 2006, designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the museum itself became part of the art it offers. For one thing, the building's sharp interior angles forced curators to think about exhibiting collections in new ways. In addition to its artwork, DAM offers an impressive museum shop (say yes to holiday shopping here), some of the best family and children's programs of any museum in the country, stellar temporary exhibits and a nice cafe.
Experience the dramatic formations of Denver's celebrated Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, part of the city's Mountain Parks collection, for free. Red Rocks combines 640 acres of natural geological wonders with a concert venue acclaimed for its stunning acoustics. Although concerts aren't free, much of the park is, including the massive red sandstone formations, some more than 250 million years old and 300 feet high. Two moderate trails offer worthy photo ops and exercise. A longer trail is also accessed here. Don't miss the Visitor Center providing a wealth of information on the park, plus the Colorado Music Hall of Fame on the lower level detailing the impressive history of music at Red Rocks. The famed Easter sunrise service is a free annual event, and those wanting a free robust workout at 6,400 feet can join the throngs who challenge themselves on the amphitheater steps at designated times.