Things to do in Denver when you’re sick of snow
May 7, 2011
Granted, it’s not that terribly difficult to jump on Interstate 70 and visit Denver, but perhaps too often we’re focused on specific tasks when we do so: the Costco run, hitting Applejack’s or a quick back-and-forth to see a show or a game. But at this time of year, when the never-ending snows of spring coincide with the conclusion of the ski season, it’s a good time to set aside that “Dirty D” moniker and look at our big sister to the east with a bit more affection.After all, Denver is a fair-sized city, and with that size come more than a few amenities we either lack completely in the mountains or have only in smaller doses. So if a trip to Mazatlan or the Kona coast isn’t in your immediate plans but you’d still like a change of scenery and distractions, take a day or two and check out what Denver has to offer.Assuming most folks know all about the Rockies, the Nuggets and other sporting events, I’ll focus on the cultural and family attractions.
First things first: It’s not a real getaway if you have to drive back up to the county late at night. Fortunately, Denver has some pretty decent deals on hotel rooms right now, many of which are easily found at http://www.denver.org – the website of Visit Denver, the city’s travel and visitor bureau. If you don’t mind being a little out of downtown, you can get a room in the Denver Tech area for as little as $69 (the DoubleTree’s Memorial Day deal). If you want to be a bit closer to the action, the Grand Hyatt right downtown has rooms starting at $109.Check the website for specific deals, such as for Memorial Day Weekend or in conjunction with attractions such as the Pirates exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (the rate includes VIP tickets to the exhibit).Of course, you can always hit up those friends who live down there and made the mistake of bragging about their guest room.
I like to tell people I can get from my home in Frisco to a seat at the Denver Center for a show in about 75 minutes (barring any blizzards, rockslides, semi jackknife incidents or the like). It’s even better to get a room, see a show and not worry about the drive back up.Showing now at the Denver Center is the big touring musical “9 to 5”; the acrobatic “Traces” and a couple of smaller stage plays – “Superior Doughnuts” and “Five Course Love.” Check http://www.denvercenter.org for the complete schedule and tickets.Denver abounds with lots of smaller, way-cool theaters, as well, and the best place to get a handle on what’s playing and whether it’s worth seeing is to touch base with Denver Post theater critic John Moore at http://www.denverpost.com/theater. The man knows the Denver stage better than anyone.For visual-art fans, Denver has quite an amazing array of galleries in several distinct art districts throughout the city. They’re open all the time, but a fun way to check them out initially is to hit “First Fridays” – a sort of citywide open house across eight arts districts in the metro area.Earlier this winter, we joined a media tour of First Fridays and had a wonderful time strolling the streets and checking out the galleries. On First Fridays, many of the exhibiting artists are on hand to discuss their work. Many of the galleries serve refreshments, and no one seemed to mind that folks were walking from place to place with cups of wine.Even if the last thing on your mind or in your budget is to purchase an original work of art, doing a gallery walk in Denver is a ton of fun and represents a vastly different city experience than we have in the mountains. That is to say, there are people walking around after 9 p.m.!For information about Denver’s art districts and First Fridays, go to http://www.denvergov.org/DOCA. When you’re down in the city, try to find a copy of the excellent “Denver Gallery Guide” produced by the city’s office of cultural affairs.Also, be sure to check out the 2-for-1 deals on theater, winery tours and other attractions on http://www.denver.org.
The big news in Denver this season is the recently opened “Real Pirates” exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Running through Aug. 21, the exhibit depicts the real-life history of a slave ship turned pirate ship called the Whydah. Plying the seas off the coast of American nearly 300 years ago, the Whydah sank in a storm off Cape Cod, and many of its artifacts were later found and salvaged for the exhibit.This is a big one. The exhibit takes a good hour or more to walk through and includes interactive things for kids such as knot-tying, a treasure hunt and a walk-through of a life-sized replica of the Whydah (or part of it, anyway). There are cannons, tools and even slaves’ manacles to ponder, as well as a well-done narrative that runs throughout the exhibit depicting the life and times of the Whydah’s crew and eventual fate – either in Davy Jones’ locker or at the gallows.Truth told, this exhibit may bore kids younger than 8, but the museum has a lot of other great interactive exhibits – especially in the “Space Odyssey” exhibit. And who can resist those old dinosaur bones?Find more information at http://www.dmns.org.For kids looking for more alive critters, it’s tough to beat the Denver Zoo, which is open year round. The springtime – before it gets too hot and the crowds get too big – is the best time to visit the zoo. The Denver Zoo has it all – from polar bears and tapirs to elephants and sealions. Be sure to bring kids into the “Lorikeet Adventure” area, where, for a buck, you can get a little cup of sugar water and have the birds alight on your arm for a sip. Also, don’t miss what to our family is the best part of the zoo: “Tropical Discovery” – an entire rainforest exhibit full of tanks containing everything from poisonous tree frogs and giant turtles to Komodo dragons and piranhas.Believe it or not, Elitch Gardens opened Saturday, and once again, springtime is the best time to hit Denver’s favorite amusement park. Before the heat and the crowds, you can enjoy the rides a lot more – although the waterpark section isn’t open until Memorial Day. Elitch’s can be a little spendy for a family ($38 for adults and $28 for kids), and on top of that, they ding you another 10 bucks or so for parking. If you think you’ll hit the park at least three times this season, it’s worth it to buy the season pass for $70 (through May 31). Another way to save is to go right after lunch and leave before dinner so you don’t have to drop another bundle on food.Find more information at http://www.elitchgardens.com.So there’s a smattering of stuff. For food options, check out http://www.denver-restaurants.com. For everything else, http://www.denver.org is a great site for all things Denver.Enjoy – but please don’t moan too loudly when you pop out of the tunnel and see it’s still snowing.