The Mile High City, got its start as a jumping off point for the Colorado Gold Rush that started in 1850s. Denver was founded as a mining and supply settlement in 1858. Today, the bustling town of around 600,000 inhabitants, is a terrific place to visit. Here are SeeTheSouthwest’s top 10 picks of things to see and do in Denver and the surrounding area.
1. Denver Zoo
Denver Zoo is a great place to visit at any time of year (especially during the Christmas holidays with its spectacular Holiday Light Safari). Some of the special exhibits are truly fantastic. Predator Ridge is a large, natural setting that encompasses 14 African species of mammals, birds and reptiles totaling 50 animals including lions, spotted hyenas, African wild dogs, crowned cranes, African porcupines, banded mongoose, vulturine guineafowl and more. Bear Mountain is another naturalistic setting that is home to grizzly bears, Asiatic black bears and the coati. The Asian Tropics, the Indoor Rainforest, and the 7-acre Primate Panorama all make Denver Zoo one of the most respected and interesting in the world.
2. Denver Botanic Gardens
Located in the middle of the Mile High City, Denver Botanic Gardens was one of the first gardens in the country to emphasize native plants and to champion environmentally responsible practices, such as water conservation and biological control of pests. One of the top-ranked botanical gardens in the US, Denver Botanic Gardens offers spectacular plant displays and unlimited opportunities for lifelong learning.
3. Larimer Square (awesome shopping)
As the Mile High City’s oldest and most historic block, its buildings tell vividly the story of the birth and early years of Denver. It is downtown Denver’s historic (and walkable) dining and shopping district. It’s got over a dozen restaurants, more than 20 unique boutiques and high-end shops, and seven great clubs and bars. The historic walking tour of the square provides you with a deep appreciation for the history of Denver and the people who were part of it.
4. Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Mount Evans is the road to the sky. Drive from 8,700 feet at Idaho Spring where you turn off Interstate 70 to 14,240 feet to the summit of Mount Evans. You will pass through three distant climate zones, from ancient trees, lakes and forests to above timberline. Dress appropriately because it can be 90 degrees in Denver and 40 degrees at the top of Mount Evans. Don’t be surprised if you spot Mountain Goats and Bighorn Sheep at the top of the world.
5. Denver Museum of Nature and Science
This is a fantastic place for families with kids! Explore more than a dozen exhibits that experiencing the story of real pirates, exploring Egyptian mummies and artifacts, journeying with dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures, exploring North American Native American Indian cultures, learning more about gems and minerals, and much, much more.
6. Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
Red Rocks is a geologically formed, open-air Amphitheatre that is not duplicated anywhere in the world. With Mother Nature as the architect, the design of the Amphitheatre consists of two, three hundred-foot monoliths (Ship Rock and Creation Rock) that provide acoustic perfection for any performance. The dramatic sandstone monoliths serve as a history book of animal and plant life in the area for the past 250 million years. As spectators gaze at the towering red sandstone rocks, they view the ancient tales of prehistoric times. Best of all, the list of shows, concerts and performances from April to September is staggering. In addition, the park offers great hiking and biking trails if you just want to get out and explore this beautiful natural setting.
7. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts is an exhilarating mix of Broadway shows, professional theatre, acting instruction and dazzling venues. If you love the theater arts, then this is a must see. You can even take a tour backstage and learn how the magic is created.
8. The LoDo
LoDo is the affectionate name that the folks of Denver call the Lower Downtown Historic District. LoDo, the city’s birthplace, is an exciting, fun and hip part of the city. This 23-square block area offers great historic buildings that house a variety of shops, restaurants, businesses, hotels, and also create a unique urban living environment. Some of the most notable places to visit in the area are the Denver Children’s Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Elitch Gardens, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, not to mention dozens of great restaurants and places to shop.
9. The Wild Animal Sanctuary
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is the oldest and largest nonprofit Sanctuary in the US dedicated exclusively to rescuing captive exotic and endangered large carnivores. The Sanctuary currently sits on 320 acres so there is plenty of space for the animals in 15 large acreage habitats, along with room to grow while still maintaining large grassland buffers. The Sanctuary’s primary focus has always been rescuing the larger cats, bears and wolves.
10. Downtown Aquarium
Amazing at it sounds, considering that much of the Southwest is water poor, the area does have some terrific underwater adventure spots. The Downtown Aquarium in Denver, Colorado, is a great place to visit if you are in the area. Not only is the aquarium top notch, but the facility also has a unique dining complex, an upscale bar, a ballroom and terrific shopping, plus its location downtown provides unique access to other fine dining, shopping and tourist attractions.