Things to do in Denver: your guide to family fun in the Mile-High City
Visiting Denver with your family? Great choice! There is so much to see and do, and this post will give you some great ideas for how to plan your trip to Denver, the Mile-High City.
I made it 34 years before I ever set foot in Denver (except for the airport — who hasn’t been to that airport?) and then visited four times in two years!
Denver is a lovely, unique city, located high up in the Rocky Mountains, but interestingly gets a lot more sun and warm weather than you might expect. At the same time, it’s not unusual to see snow in May!
The city is large and spread out, so you can get that downtown vibe or head to the outskirts for a more suburban feel.
In 2016, the U.S. News & World Report named Denver as the best place to live in the United States, and the city has consistently ranked in the top three in the past several years.
There are lots of fun things to do in Denver, and it’s a very family-friendly city with a variety of attractions! It gets all four seasons, and we unintentionally managed to visit during each one.
First, our family of six visited for a weekend in December 2018 before heading from the west coast to the east coast on our family gap year. Then, we stayed a few days in July 2019 while passing through on our way back west. I visited on my own for a work retreat in March 2020. And our most recent visit was in October 2020, when we stayed for a full two weeks. So we’ve hit Denver in the winter, summer, spring, and fall!
Read on for our family’s favorite things to do in Denver, for kids, for adults, and for the whole family!
Fun family activities in Denver
First, here’s a map showing all the locations I mention in this post:
Hammond’s Candies is a must-visit for all chocolate lovers. The shop has a wide variety of chocolates, including truffles, turtles, and caramel apples, and they offer tours of their factory. The factory produces some of the best chocolate in the world, and the tours are a great way to learn about the chocolate-making process. Just be prepared, because you’ll definitely want to walk out with a bag of their delicious creations.
Colorado Railroad Museum
The Colorado Railroad Museum is a great place to learn about the history of trains in the United States. The museum has a large collection of train cars and locomotives, as well as interactive exhibits that allow visitors to explore the history and mechanics of trains, and kids will love taking a train ride!
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre is a world-famous outdoor concert and recreation area just outside of Denver. The amphitheatre is carved into the red sandstone cliffs and capable of hosting over 9,500 people. It’s one of the most popular concert venues in the United States and has hosted many famous performers, including The Beatles, U2, and The Grateful Dead. But you don’t have to attend a concert to visit — there’s lots of great hiking in the park and you can visit for free.
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Botanic Gardens is an oasis in the heart of the city. Its 23 acres is home to more than 9,000 plants from all over the world. DBG has something for everyone, from the serene Japanese Garden to the interactive Children’s Garden. There are also several gardens that are specific to the seasons, like the Spring Blooms Garden and the Holiday Lights Garden.
Denver Art Museum
The Denver Art Museum is one of the most renowned art museums in the United States. Its two uniquely-designed buildings feature a wide array of art from all around the world, including pieces from ancient civilizations and from some of the most famous contemporary artists. Art lovers can spend hours exploring the exhibits.
The Denver Zoo is housed at City Park, and it’s a great place for animal lovers of all ages. The zoo is home to many endangered species, including the black rhinoceros and the Sumatran orangutan. The whole family will enjoy visiting a wide variety of exhibits, including the Primate Panorama, the Predator Ridge, and the new Pinnacol African Penguin Point.
Washington Park is a large park in Denver where you’ll find many different types of plants and animals, as well as several sports fields, a playground, and two lakes. The park is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike and is a great place to spend a sunny day walking, biking, or just lounging.
Colorado Rockies baseball game at Coors Field
If you’re a fan of America’s favorite pastime, make sure to see the Colorado Rockies play at Coors Field. The stadium, located in the heart of downtown Denver, is one of the most beautiful in the country, and the views of the Rocky Mountains in the background are unbeatable. The atmosphere at a Rockies game is always electric, with the enthusiastic fans cheering on their team. And of course, there’s nothing quite like enjoying a cold beer while watching the game in the great outdoors.
Capitol Hill is one of the most popular neighborhoods in Denver for a reason — there’s something for everyone here! This vibrant and eclectic community offers plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops, as well as art galleries, music venues, and parks. You’ll find historic homes and buildings alongside new construction, and the neighborhood is always buzzing with energy.
Shopping in Denver
Visit 16th Street Mall
The 16th Street Mall is a mile-long pedestrian mall in downtown Denver. The mall features a variety of shops, restaurants, and bars, as well as a free shuttle service that runs up and down the length of the mall. It’s also home to a number of art installations and public sculptures, and is a popular spot for people-watching and enjoying the Colorado weather.
Larimer Square is a historic district that’s home to some of the best shopping and dining in Denver. You’ll find everything from high-end boutiques to local restaurants, and there’s always something going on in the lively nightlife scene.
Cherry Creek Shopping Center
From high-end retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus to popular chains like Apple and The Gap, there’s something for everyone at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center. In addition to shopping, the center also features a variety of restaurants, a movie theater, and a fitness center.
Scenic drives in Denver
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is a 28-mile road that winds its way up to the summit of Mount Evans, one of the tallest peaks in Colorado. The road is open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend and is a popular destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. The drive to the summit is a beautiful one, with stunning views of the Rocky Mountains and the surrounding countryside.
Pikes Peak Highway
The Pikes Peak Highway is a 19-mile scenic drive up Pikes Peak. The highway is open year-round, but the best time to visit is during the fall when the leaves are changing color. The highway climbs to an elevation of 14,115 feet, making it the highest paved road in the United States. The views from the summit are stunning, and on a clear day you can see for miles in all directions.
Best free activities in Denver
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time in Denver. You can check off some must-do landmark visits, relax or play in the parks, and even learn about compound interest — all for free!
- Stand a mile high on the Colorado State Capitol steps
- Have a picnic in Cheesman Park or play at Centennial Center Park
- Go for a hike at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre
- Learn how to save money at the Money Museum
- Attend a local event
- Head south to the Garden of the Gods
Things to do in Denver in fall
- Water Lantern Festival
- Visit a pumpkin patch
- Great American Beer Festival
- Glow at the Gardens (Halloween event at Denver Botanic Gardens)
Things to do in Denver in winter
- Go ice skating at the Downtown Denver Rink at Skyline Park
- Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Gardens
- Shop at Denver Christkindlmarket (Christmas Market) in Civic Center Park
Things to do in Denver in spring
- Catch a Rockies game
- Go hiking in the foothills
Things to do in Denver in summer
- City Park’s free Sunday night jazz concerts
- Cherry Creek Arts Festival
- Dragon Boat Festival
Delicious places to eat in Denver
We always get excited about enjoying the local food at our destinations, and Denver has several restaurants that we’ve come to love and look forward to enjoying each time we stop by.
I’m sure there are SO many more places than the ones I’m mentioning here, but these are ones we’ve actually visited, so here are our recommendations based on our own experience:
Best Brunch: Denver Biscuit Company
If you love a big fluffy biscuit, this is a must-stop for you. Get a biscuit sandwich stuffed with chicken and cheese, go breakfast-style with eggs and bacon, or satisfy your sweet tooth with a French-toast style biscuit with butter and syrup. Get a giant biscuit cinnamon roll, but make sure you have at least a few friends or family members with you to help finish it! You can’t really go wrong here!
Best Lunch: Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs
We head to Biker Jim’s every time we visit Denver because it’s one of my husband’s favorites. They have some rather exotic meats but also all-beef and vegan options, with a plethora of topping choices. Their fries and fried mac and cheese are great too!
Best Diner: Steuben’s
I discovered Steuben’s when making meal plans for my work retreat, and it was top of the list to revisit with our family. It’s a classic American diner where everything on the menu is a hit. My order: a Monte Cristo sandwich with an Egg Cream.
Best View: Viewhouse Ballpark
This is another place I booked for my work team and then revisited with my husband for a date night. Sit on the roof patio for great nighttime views of the city. Their menu has a bit of everything, for food and drinks! Try a burger and a craft beer.
Best Dinner: Earl’s
We brought the extended family to Earl’s — the six of us, my parents, my sister, and my brother-in-law. The service was great, the patio was lovely, and it seemed like every last one of us really enjoyed our meal — kids, adults, vegans, and meat-eaters!
Best Unique Experience: Casa Bonita
I’m just going to say it… I didn’t hate the food at Casa Bonita. And while that’s not exactly a glowing review, you’ll find a lot of haters out there! The thing is, you don’t go to Casa Bonita for the food. You go for the experience. Casa Bonita is a national landmark but got launched into pop culture nationally when it was featured on South Park. Yep, that was our inspiration for going there. I’m not ashamed.
We’ve been twice now — once we walked right in and once we waited at least an hour in line. So we strongly suggest going during their less busy hours.
There’s lots for the kids to run around and do: puppet shows, pinatas, caves to explore…even chasing a gorilla. Yeah, that happened. Try to get a table near the waterfall because the divers are actually fun to watch. It’ll definitely be a unique experience. And yeah, I liked the cheese enchiladas and french fries (on which I poured a generous amount of honey, which is on the table for your free sopapillas).
Best Anytime Snack: Voodoo Donuts
Voodoo Donuts are good any time of the day, but probably best as a late-night snack. I like the ODB, with its Oreo pieces and peanut butter drizzle. Mmm…
Where to stay in Denver
As we plan where to stay on our family gap year travels, we generally stick to this rule: if we’re staying in a location for four weeks or longer, it’s best to get an Airbnb, and if we’re staying somewhere for a few days up to two weeks, it’s best to get a hotel room. (What do we do if we’re staying somewhere for three weeks? Who knows? We haven’t run into that situation yet!)
We’ve stayed in a hotel right downtown on Colfax Ave near the Capitol, as well as out in the Centennial neighborhood. The downtown location was great for being close to things, but definitely had a big city vibe (for better and worse), and the Centennial hotel was great for a longer-term stay (two weeks) because we had two queen beds and a pull-out sofa bed in a separate sitting area, so plenty of room for the six of us. We stayed there near the end of Covid restrictions, so they had just started offering grab-and-go breakfast, and one of the things our kids remember most about that trip is the microwave breakfast burritos they had every morning!
For more information on Denver’s neighborhoods and hotel recommendations, visit this comprehensive article on where to stay in Denver by The Crazy Tourist.
Getting around in Denver
Like I mentioned, Denver is pretty spread out, so it can be a good place to have a car, especially if you plan to visit the outskirts of town or do a day trip from Denver. Even heading downtown, we’ve usually had a fairly easy time finding a place to park — and parking is free on Sundays! That being said, downtown Denver can get congested, so it might be best to avoid during rush hour or special events.
No car? No problem! There are other ways to navigate the city, from light rail, to bus, to bikes and scooters…even horse & carriage! Check out this article from denver.org for more information about getting around Denver without a car.
For the adults: nightlife in Denver
When the kids go to bed, there’s more fun to be had for mom and dad! Our oldest is now 13 and can babysit the other kiddos, which means we can have a fun family day, put the littles to bed, and let our oldest stay up on his computer where he can communicate with us while we explore nearby.
Our favorite adults-only Denver activity is definitely the 1UP Arcade Bar. We are kids at heart, so when we can drink AND play Skee-Ball, pinball, and Pac-Man, it’s a good night!
If you visit the 1UP on Colfax, you can walk from there over to Voodoo Doughnuts. After a few rounds of drinks and games, enjoy a late-night snack before heading to bed!
Here are some other great ideas for what to do at night in Denver, from Thrillist.
Day trips from Denver
While visiting Denver, there are several nearby day trips that are totally worth making. These must-see places are all within about an hour’s drive of Denver, so you can even make it a half-day journey if you’re short on time.
Garden of the Gods
In Colorado Springs, just south of Denver, you’ll find the Garden of the Gods. You can drive through the park and see some of its impressive rock formations rather quickly, but I recommend taking your time, pulling over, and taking a few hikes to experience the best views and enjoy the beauty of the park.
We visited the Garden of the Gods in October and it quickly made my list of one of the most beautiful places we’ve visited. It’s definitely a must-do if you find yourself in the area!
The Stanley Hotel
If you happen to be a fan of Stephen King, like me, you’ll want to make the drive up to Estes Park to visit the Stanley Hotel. This is one trip I strongly recommend taking in the wintertime if you’re a true fan of the book and want the full experience. Book the tour and, if you’re brave, book an overnight stay!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is a stunningly beautiful park located in the Rocky Mountains of north-central Colorado, about an hour west of Denver. We haven’t made it there yet, but it certainly belongs on any list of Denver day trips.
The perfect place for some outdoor adventures, the park is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, with soaring mountains, rushing rivers, and pristine forests. Whether you’re looking for a scenic drive, a challenging hike, or a relaxing camping trip, you’ll find it here.
Denver is a wonderful place for families to visit (or live!). There is so much to do in every season — you’ll never run out of fun activities. I hope this guide helps you plan the perfect trip to the mile-high city!
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