BEST OF DENVER WEEKEND
An insider’s guide to Denver’s best family-friendly things to do this spring
By Rebecca Treon
The Mile High City has been ranked the Number One place in the country to call home by U.S. News & World Report, which is no secret to the folks who have long called it home. Denver Hotel Magazine has collected the best family activities in the metro area from locals in the know—just think of this as your little black book when doing Denver with the kids.
BOTANIC GARDENS AT CHATFIELD
We love the downtown Botanic Gardens (their Seedlings class, designed for tots, and the Mordecai Children’s Garden are a don’t miss), but the Southwest Metro outpost of the Gardens is worth a visit, too. Near Chatfield Reservoir (where there are miles of walking and biking trails, picnic spots, and even a ‘beach’), the Botanic Gardens at Chatfield is home to the historic Hildebrand Ranch, where you and the kids can experience what it was like to live on an 1860’s farmstead. There’s plenty of space to run around, picnic, and play amid the working farm.
Springtime at the Denver Zoo means babies—the nursery just welcomed a new (endangered) lowland mountain gorilla baby named Whimsy Adepa to its family, who can be visited in the Great Apes building. Wander the plant-lined paths of the zoo, where peacocks roam free, or check out exciting feeding times. Interactive exhibits will both educate and entertain, and kids can get in on the action with the chance to feed a giraffe or pet a rhino.
DENVER MUSEUM OF NATURE & SCIENCE
The next-door neighbor of the Denver Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is a classic destination. From the saber-tooth tiger that roars when fed coins to the mummy exhibit, the museum is stuffed full to bursting with things for families to do and experience. The new discovery zone features a water park, there are wildlife exhibits that span the globe, a planetarium, an IMAX theatre, dinosaur bones (including one of an ancient wooly mammoth recently excavated near Aspen) as part of its permanent collections. The museum also features exciting and interactive temporary exhibits, like Chocolate, which explores the history of everyone’s favorite treat from the ancient Aztecs to today.
PUNCH BOWL SOCIAL
Everyone has to eat, and at Punch Bowl Social you can nosh on updated versions of American diner classics while you play at the same time. On the playtime menu: bowling, billiards, vintage arcade games, darts, ping pong, shuffleboard, and marbles.
ADAMS MYSTERY PLAYHOUSE
This funky theater, located in a Victorian mansion in Denver’s historic Highlands neighborhood, has been the city’s best interactive theater for more than 20 years. If one of your clan is a budding gumshoe, they’ll love Adams Mystery Playhouse’s mysteries for kids—all G-rated and great for kids over five—a fun and entertaining cooperative performance where your kid gets to solve the mystery.
Just because we’re landlocked doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy creatures from the sea, thanks to our world-class aquarium. With exhibits that feature ecosystems from around the globe, there are plenty of, ahem, fish in the sea to observe. Favorites include the shark tank and the underwater tunnel filled with stingrays fluttering overhead, but an insider tip is the Aquarium’s mermaids. These lovely ladies (who really do hold their breath the whole time they’re underwater) swim at select times and days in a choreographed underwater dance with an educational message. Bonus: The aquarium also houses exotic animals, including a sloth named Aspen and a pair of trained Sumatran tigers.
Denver’s Children’s Museum just underwent a multimillion dollar revamp, with a host of new exhibits both indoors and out. Kids can explore role-play with exhibits like the fire-engine, the supermarket and kitchen, the giant tree with animal costumes, and the veterinary clinic. Science-minded kids will love the bubble exhibit, the kinetic ball exhibit, and the water exhibit. There’s a new park outdoors, too, that replicates Colorado’s landscape and lets kids climb, dig, zipline, and splash.
STIR COOKING SCHOOL
One of Denver’s favorite cooking schools, Stir teaches recreational cooking classes that make a popular date night, help you brush up on your knife skills, or teach you about an exotic cuisine. But they also offer a list of family-friendly classes where kids and their grown-ups can get cooking together. Classes like ‘Mastering Mac and Cheese’ and ‘Stuffed STUFF: International Filled Bites’ are a fun and interactive way to create something delicious as a family (plus, your kids will go home knowing how to make a meal … an added bonus!).
The Denver Mint is one of only a handful in the United States and tours allow for a unique experience to learn how our country’s currency is produced. Here, you can learn about the craftsmanship involved in each step in the process, then take a tour of the facility, where you’ll see coins being pressed. At the gift shop, you’ll be able to buy collectible coins made onsite. Note: tours are free, but by reservation only, and they fill up fast.
DENVER FIREFIGHTER’S MUSEUM
Denver’s original Station House 1, which dates back to 1909, houses select exhibits exploring the rich history of area firefighters. An array of antique fire trucks, displays that delve into the lives of minority firefighters and firefighter artists, hands-on activities that engage kids to dress as firefighters and practice fire safety—they’ll even get to slide down the fire pole! www.denverfirefightersmuseum.org
The multi-level, dual building DAM is anything but stuffy. With one of the largest collections of Western art and Native American art and artifacts, the Denver Art Museum also features compelling temporary exhibitions, like this spring’s Samurai exhibit. The permanent collections range from Pre-Columbian artifacts to contemporary painting and sculpture. To engage kids, get a Family Backpack, geared to match up with a collection full of art-making, games, and puzzles. Galleries also feature boards with I-Spy, Bingo, and Memory-like games designed to engage kids with the artworks, and there are a number of art-making stations throughout the museum. Some galleries include dress-up clothes and building materials that relate to the art. A number of community events happen year-round, from a Native-American Pow-Wow to Día del Niño, celebrating children, in April. Pro tip: Don’t miss the intricate sand mandala in the Asian collection.
MOLLY BROWN HOUSE
Visit the onetime home of Titanic survivor, philanthropist, and Denver society dame Molly Brown. Tour the restored Victorian home and learn about her rags-to-riches story, starting with her marriage to a mine baron. The tour showcases the home’s unique features and trends of the Victorian era, and finishes with Molly’s social activism after the Titanic tragedy. In April, they host special Titanic tours and year round there are several special events, from high tea to a Victorian Halloween party.
DENVER CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
Get a little slice of Broadway without heading to the Big Apple—Denver gets a plethora of shows that also are seen on other big-city stages. And many of them are family-friendly. (This year, for example, they’ll have Finding Neverland, while Frozen hits the stage in 2017.) Stage productions have included productions like the Secret Garden. Your kids will gain an appreciation for live theater, and you’ll be entertained, too.
ADVENTURE SCAVENGER HUNT
Denver’s downtown landscape becomes a giant game board with Urban Adventure Quest, a family-based scavenger hunt that is like the hit TV show The Amazing Race combined with a tour of the city. Guided by a smart phone, groups explore both well-known and hidden gems around town while solving clues and learning local history at the same time. Starting at the Colorado State Capitol, you’ll wind through Denver’s centers of arts and culture and through the gardens and courtyards of buildings rich with history. Stop for a bite, some ice cream, and some window shopping along the 16th St. mall on this self-paced adventure.