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The largest city in Colorado is a sprawling metropolis today, but it dates all the way back to the Wild West. While the peaks of the dramatic Rockies that can be seen to the west provide a spectacular backdrop, you’ll find a ton of things to see and do downtown, indoors and out. For those who are on a limited schedule, be sure to put some of these top things to do on your must-experience list.
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This entertainment and dining complex hosts the largest aquarium between Chicago and California. The Downtown Aquarium showcases over a million gallons of underwater exhibits, highlighting fascinating ecosystems across the globe for viewing colorful marine life many wouldn’t be able to see without traveling far distances. It houses more than 500 species of animals, an interactive Stingray Reef touch tank, the Aquarium Restaurant, Dive Lounge, the Nautilus Ballroom and lots of family-friendly activities.
The mile-long 16th Street Mall is one of the city’s best places for avid shoppers, with a wealth of opportunities for indulging. There are brand name stores along with local, independent shops and more than 40 outdoor cafes to take advantage of the over 300 days of Sunshine Denver gets every year in between. Browse the decades-old bookshops, like the local favorite Tattered Cover, buy western apparel at the famous inventor of the snap-button shirt, Rockmount Ranch Wear, popular with legendary musicians like Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen. After dark, join in on the hopping nightlife or cozy up with the one you love on a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Coors Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies, is often named among the most attractive stadiums in the country, as well as being the ballpark with the highest elevation in the league, which has likely resulted in its record for hosting the most home runs in history. Its downtown location provides spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains, and watching a game here is a great way to get to know the city and its residents better while sipping a cold brew paired with the rather impressive baseball fare.
Elitch Gardens is a popular spot for both kids and the kid-at-heart, open from early May through early November. It’s the only downtown theme park in the country, and is actually two parks in one. One side is the water park with slides, tubes and wave pools and the other is filled with amusements, including over 50 thrill rides like the massive roller coaster known as the Mind Eraser, a Ferris wheel and many other major rides. Little ones can enjoy the 75-year-old carousel and Star Toons Studio. The Island Kingdom Water Park is included with your admission to Elitch Gardens, making it a good deal if you plan to experience both on a nice day.
Denver’s art scene has exploded in recent years with new galleries seeming to pop up practically every week to go along with the city’s world-class art museums and several smaller art institutions. You’ll also find outstanding street art, unique arts districts, art in public spaces and more. The Arts Districts are a great place to start your exploration, including the Art District on Santa Fe, RiNo (the River North Art District), the Golden Triangle Creative District and the Tennyson Street Cultural District. Check out the Denver Art Museum too, one of the largest of its kind in the West, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, one of the true gems of the city’s art scene.
Denver is a famous brew town, with a wealth of options for brew enthusiasts in pubs, taverns, breweries and more. Great Divide Brewing Co. is internationally acclaimed, a craft brewery with 18 Great American Beer Festival medals and five World Cup Beer awards. In the downtown Denver bar, you can choose from 16 taps of seasonal and year-round beers, that all source high quality, local ingredients whenever possible.
You’ve probably at least heard of the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” either in history class or at least from the blockbuster movie “Titanic.” This real-life Titanic survivor and activist for women’s rights, as well as many other issues, was also a socialite and a philanthropist. Her former home, located at 1340 Pennsylvania Street in Denver, has been transformed into a museum that can be toured and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in the 1880s, it represents an impeccably-preserved example of Victorian Denver, with English Baroque architecture used in the triangular pediment detailing over the porch, the sash windows and stone quoins.
Located in City Park, the Denver Zoo is home to more than 4,000 animals from 750 species and is different from many others thanks to its eco-friendly operations and variety of natural habitats. Species from across the globe can be seen here, from delicate butterflies to slithering reptiles and lumbering elephants. Get up close to huge Asian elephants, listen to the roar of a lion, watch the frolicking polar bears in the Northern Shores area and stare back at the curious orangutans in the Primate Panorama.
LoDo (Lower Downtown) is the place to go for nightlife, set across 28 square blocks of restored Victorian buildings that were renovated to create the perfect venues for a good time after dark. There are brewpubs, sports bars and restaurants, live music venues, and more. If you have to choose one, check out the Cooper Lounge on the mezzanine of Union Station. It overlooks the Great Hall, evoking the glamour of the 1930s post-prohibition lounges.
This fantastic museum is a hit with adults and kids alike, exhibiting everything from dinosaur bones and gems to Egyptian mummies. The facility houses artifacts focused on paleontology, health sciences, anthropology, zoology, geology and space science, and includes more than 90 habitat scenes and information on animals from across the globe. It also hosts daily shows and screenings in the planetarium and an IMAX Theater.