What first comes to mind when you think of Denver? Mountains and snow? Sure, the city does have beautiful mountain views and gets its fair share of winter weather. But there are also plenty of sunny days, even in the colder months, which makes it easy to explore the city throughout the year. Plus, Denver’s laid-back vibe and varied attractions — not to mention kid-friendly hikes — will appeal to travelers of any age.
I grew up about an hour north of the Mile-High City and visited some of the same spots as a kid that I now take my 4- and 7-year-old to. Denver has also grown a lot in recent years, and these days it offers plenty of restaurants, hotels, and cultural attractions that rival even bigger U.S. cities.
Where to Go
Exploring the different neighborhoods can give you a good feel for the city. Craft breweries are plentiful and often kid-friendly, and the city hosts a rotating roster of festivals and events to keep you entertained. Denver’s museums are also great pit stops for kids. Below are the ones where we can’t help but renew our annual passes.
The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus has indoor and outdoor exhibits for even the youngest visitors. Babies and crawlers can explore the soft spaces of an indoor fabric meadow, preschoolers can clamber into a fire truck, and older kids can zip-line or take a cooking class. An elaborate outdoor aerial adventure course is also slated to open in 2019.
At the Denver Zoo, kids can feed giraffes and lorikeets (yes, those exist) and see tapirs and gorillas. The winter months are often less crowded here, and if you visit on a cold day, you can warm up in one of the indoor areas housing reptiles or birds.
I remember touring the animal dioramas at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science on field trips as a kid, and my kids now love going to see the dinosaur fossils, gems and minerals, as well as the interactive Discovery Zone play area. Families can spot the elves hidden in the dioramas and exhibits throughout the museum; stop by the information desk for a list of hints to locate them.
Local bookstores are also ideal family-friendly options. Stop by one of the locations of the Tattered Cover, which first opened in 1971, or BookBar, which has a winning combination of wine, books and kid-friendly events.
Where to Eat
Denver’s culinary scene is thriving, and food halls are a new appealing trend for families. These hip eateries come with the conveniences of a food court — a variety of choices for picky kid eaters and no long waits for the check — but without the fluorescent lighting, plastic trays, and, you know, crappy food.
The Denver Central market serves local charcuterie, pizza, and artisanal chocolates in a bustling brick building with tiled floors and large windows that look out onto the street. A mini version of the market also opened at Denver International Airport (DIA) in late 2018.
Sample fried chicken, fresh pasta, or bao buns at Milk Market, a 16-venue spot that celebrated local chef Frank Bonanno opened in 2018. At Avanti Food & Beverage in the LoHi neighborhood above downtown, parents will appreciate the city skyline views — and the fact that they can enjoy a trendy cocktail and steak frites while their kids eat burgers or tacos.
For an alternative to the food halls, try the conveyer belt sushi at Sushi-Rama, which has a few locations throughout the city. (When my son was six, a visit there encouraged him to try more adventurous rolls. He liked seeing the options go by before making a decision, and the small plate sizes meant we could sample a variety without truly committing.)
Snooze has several locations that offer inventive pancakes for breakfast and lunch. For dessert, stop by the Inventing Room for whimsical treats like Butter Beer Floats and Nitro Popcorn. The Dessert Shop is open during the summer season and there are pop-up events throughout the year.
Where to Stay
Downtown is a good central base for exploring the city, especially since a train connects DIA to downtown’s Union Station — and some hotels offer complimentary car service to nearby destinations.
The rooms at The Crawford Hotel encircle Denver’s hip Union Station that completed a renovation in 2014. Perks for guests include a free draft beer at the Terminal Bar and ice cream scoop at Milkbox Ice Creamery. A collection of shops and restaurants surround the always-buzzing Great Hall, making it easy to grab food.
Walk by an indoor airstream trailer and yarn-bombed tree to check into The Maven, which opened in 2017. Parents can enjoy the modern design details and complimentary happy hour drink served from the airstream, and kids will like the swings chairs that dangle outside the elevators on each floor and the bunk beds that are available in some rooms.
If you want to see more of Colorado, train excursions allow you to visit the mountains without battling traffic or weather.
During ski season, The Winter Park Express is a two-hour ride from Denver’s Union Station to Winter Park Resort. Riders are dropped off just steps from the ski lifts and the train can be ridden as a day or weekend trip. Last winter, our family stayed at the Crawford Hotel in Union Station the night before taking the train, which made for a fun and easy trip.
The mountain town of Glenwood Springs is also accessible via train from Denver and is famous for its expansive outdoor hot springs pool where you can soak and swim in an idyllic mountain setting. The train ride is over five hours each way, so it’s better to plan to spend a night or two before returning to Denver.
From Colorado craft beers to unique neighborhoods and kid-friendly attractions, Denver is full of (pleasant) surpirses for families throughout the year.