This tour of Denver brought to you by Kara Williams from The Vacation Gals.
The Mile High City of Denver is so nicknamed because it sits at 5,280 feet in elevation. At that altitude, we enjoy a glorious mild climate and lots of clear, sunny days all year long. But summer is an especially lovely time to visit Denver with kids because of the plethora of things to do outdoors, as well as some wonderful museums, kid-friendly hotels and tasty restaurants that will please the whole family.
Here are just a few of my “don’t-miss” highlights for visiting families, as well as some suggestions on where to stay and where to eat when you’re in town.
Denver Zoo: In City Park, just a few minutes from downtown Denver, the Denver Zoo is home to more than 3,500 animals representing more than 650 different species, including 144 endangered animals. From penguins and polar bears to tarantulas and turtles—you name the animal, and you can likely find it here. Preschoolers especially enjoy the $2 carousel and $2 train ride around the zoo.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science: This is hands’ down my kids’ favorite Denver museum, also located in City Park. At ages 12 and 10, they can understand—and appreciate—the detailed exhibits that range from Egyptian Mummies to Prehistoric Journey to Space Odyssey . Our favorite permanent exhibit is Expedition Health, where kids can learn about their own bodies with all sorts of awesome interactive stations. Temporary exhibitions are great, too; Lizards and Snakes runs through July 8. Also on site is a planetarium offering informative and entertaining shows, as well as an IMAX Theatre—To the Arctic 3D narrated by Meryl Streep is airing through the summer.
Elitch Gardens: Smack dab in the middle of downtown Denver, Eltich Gardens is an amusement park for all ages. Thrill rides at Elitch's (as it's called by locals) include the Mind Eraser roller coaster and the Tower of Doom – teens love these. Family-friendly attractions include the 82-year-old carousel, the Tea Cups and KiddieLand with rides for kids less than 54 inches tall. Getting wet at the water park—filled with slides, rides, sprays and a lazy river—is included with your admission.
Children’s Museum of Denver: Ideal for kids from infancy through eight years old, the Children’s Museum is conveniently located in downtown Denver. It offers interactive “playscapes” for various age groups. In the “Center for the Young Child,” babies, toddlers and preschoolers have a safe place to explore, climb and make believe at a pretend fishing pond. Bigger kids can explore a real fire truck, sell goods at a market, make train tracks, shoot baskets and put on a puppet show.
U.S. Mint: Kids can see how coins are made, and learn about the craftsmanship involved in creating each one, with a free tour of Denver’s downtown U.S. Mint. (This is only one of two mint locations nationwide where tours are offered.) Tours are only 30 minutes long—most appropriate for ages 7 and up—and available weekdays between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations are required.
History Colorado Center: This brand-new museum just opened its doors in late April; my family hasn’t visited yet, but it sure looks great for kids of all ages. When you move a “time machine” over a giant floor map of Colorado, video screens come to life with interesting facts about that particular area of the state. Plus, meet the people who settled on the prairie in the early 1900s, as well as other key players who make up Colorado’s fascinating stories – from the Ute Indians to silver miners to ski jumpers.
City Parks & Recreation Trails: Denver is home to more than 200 city parks, which provide a great respite for visiting kids to run off some steam outside. Denver also encourages plenty of biking, strolling and jogging, with more than 850 miles of recreation paths in and around the city. We like the relatively flat paths that radiate from Confluence Park downtown – right in front of a giant REI store (great for outdoor-gear shopping; inside there’s a little kids’ play area and a climbing wall).
JW Marriott Cherry Creek: Kids are welcomed at this Denver hotel with open arms – or more specifically, a fun neighborhood scavenger hunt. Child-sized robes to borrow and a full library of complimentary family-friendly DVDs and books are also on hand. Second Home Kitchen + Bar has a particularly great weekend “Pajama Brunch” menu (not to mention an upbeat adults’ lounge scene and cozy outdoor fire pit in the evenings). The expansive Cherry Creek Shopping Center is right next door.
Four Seasons Denver: For a splurge, consider this upscale property kitty-corner from downtown’s Denver Center for the Performing Arts; it’s particularly convenient place to stay if you’ve got tickets to a family-friendly musical here. At check-in, young children receive a special age-appropriate welcome amenity, and the kitchen typically sends a special chocolate treat up to the room. If you’re traveling with an infant, you’ll receive complimentary baby bath products, and staff is happy to help baby-proof your room. A heated pool and Jacuzzi on the third-floor terrace are open year-round.
Grand Hyatt Denver: The AAA Four-Diamond Grand Hyatt Denver gets high marks for its prime location a half block from the 16th Street Mall (and its free trolley ride – fun for young kids). Hyatt also partners with Babies Travel Lite to have baby gear – from diapers to formula to sunscreen – conveniently delivered to your room (for a fee). But the real draw for families is the highrise’s indoor pool, open in the wee hours of the morning until just before midnight.
Wazee Supper Club: Don’t let the name fool you – it’s not a retro dance club for adults only. The Wazee Supper Club is a casual, upbeat restaurant in a historic building in downtown Denver serving kid-pleasing items like made-from-scratch pizza, pasta, sandwiches and delectable desserts.
Rock Bottom Brewery: I am a huge fan of seeking out local brewpubs whenever we travel with our children. No, not because my kids drive me to drink when we’re vacationing together, but because I know each of the four of us will find something we like on the menu – burgers and fries, hearty salads, fish and chips and more. Denver is home to dozens of microbreweries and brewpubs, but I like Rock Bottom for its convenient downtown location and kids’ menu that includes steamed veggies for a healthy side dish, as well as a fun make-your-own sundae.
White Fence Farm: This restaurant is much more of an entertaining attraction than just a place to eat. Technically it’s in Lakewood, just outside of Denver, but if you’re road-tripping and have a car at your convenience, it’s a great place to bring young children. Before your meal, explore the Treehouse Playground, pet the animals in the OK Corral (wash your hands afterwards!) and slide down the Pig Chute. Then settle into one of eight dining rooms (yes, this place is vast) for fried chicken and all the trimmings: hot corn fritters, pickled red beets, bean salad, cottage cheese, and creamy coleslaw.