With its stunning mountain views and downtown skyline, Denver, the capital city of Colorado, is a great place to take the family. But forget about what you thought you knew about the Mile High City. Local resident and Traveling Grandmom brings you the top 10 things you didn’t know about Denver.
Busting the Mile High Myths: Top 10 Things you Didn’t Know About Denver
As a long-time transplanted Denver resident (over 30 years), before I moved here, I had preset ideas about the Mile High City. I was prepared for more blizzards than even my Midwest home state of Iowa, because after all, Denver is in the mountains, right? Wrong. Read on to discover the top 10 things you didn’t know about Denver.
1. Denver is Not Located in the Rocky Mountains
Really. Most travelers picture a city located at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Contrary to this popular myth, Denver is built on the high planes and actually is one of the flattest cities in America.
True that Denver offers some of the best city views of the nearby and often snow-peaked mountains. On a clear day, from Denver visitors can see over 200 named mountain peaks! So…NOT located in the Rocky Mountains, but awesomely located near enough to get there! (Hello, Colorado ski resorts!)
2. Not so Snowy Denver
And weather? This is perhaps the best-kept secret, and I’m almost reluctant to let it out. Denver is surprisingly sunny and mild. Denver sees the sun at least 300 days a year and records more annual hours of sun than San Diego or Miami Beach. Winters are mild, hitting a daily average high of 45 degrees and keeping the city warmer than, say, blustery Boston or snowy St. Louis.
And best of all? Those warmer temperatures have low humidity, which is why you’ll see locals wearing light jackets – and gasp, even shorts in the winter months. But we do enjoy all four seasons, which I personally love.
It is true that we will occasionally receive a blast of cold air or a blizzard, but with such mild temperature, locals have a saying, “Don’t like the weather? Wait a day…or even a few hours.”
In my three decades of living here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced 60-degree temps in the morning, followed by a huge drop to below freezing in the afternoon, with snow by evening. And then 60 degrees the next day. Be like a local — embrace Denver’s bipolar weather.
3. Downtown Denver IS Family-Friendly
Unlike some downtowns (not judging, just saying), Denver is family friendly. Start with accessibility upon landing at Denver’s airport and then continue to explore its walkable downtown.
Visitors landing at Denver International Airport can skip the car rental. With the 2016 opening of the University of Colorado A-Line, Denver International Airport (DEN) connects to the heart of downtown Denver. Take the light rail from the airport to Union Station with your family, and discover multiple family-friendly hotels such as the Westin, Brown Palace, and the Curtis Hotel.
Once you arrive in downtown and check into your hotel, freshen up, unpack and get ready for a fun-filled vacation with plenty of things to do in Denver. From museums to restaurants to simply walking the pedestrian-only 16th Street Mall, and you’ll discover family-friendly things to do in Denver. Within walking (or short driving distance), your family can enjoy the Denver Zoo, Downtown Aquarium, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Center for Performing Arts Complex, and more.
4. Colorado LOVES its Dinosaurs
Okay, maybe this isn’t such a big secret, but long, long ago dinosaurs roamed the land where Colorado lies. Some of the most notorious dinosaurs (stegosauruses, triceratops, and other long-necked dinosaur giants) were first discovered on Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison (about 15 minutes from Denver). Since these first-in-Colorado finds, this dino-sight has become one of the world’s most famous dinosaur fossil areas.
Also worth a stop is the nearby Morrison Natural History Museum, where you’ll discover the first Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus ever dug out of the ground.
Dinosaur lovers should also include a visit to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Here families can get their fill of dinosaur-themed exhibits and events, from the Prehistoric Journey exhibit and Dinosaur Gulch in the Discovery Zone to films and dino-themed events.
Want more dinosaur experiences? Consider a stay at the “Dino-Hotel,” the Best Western Denver Southwest. Located just 20 minutes from downtown Denver and 10 minutes from Dinosaur Ridge, this hotel features a collection of fossils, dinosaur casts, specimens and original art to bring prehistory to life. Guests are greeted by the Stegosaurus statue and a Jurassic dig pit for kids, while inside, prehistoric murals, life-sized T-Rex painting, and more.
5. Denver is Home of the first Cheeseburger
“Cheeseburger” was first trademarked by Luis Ballast, a Denver resident, in 1935. He opened the first drive-in, the Humpty Dumpty Barrel Drive-In. Denver continues serving amazing beef and bison burgers across the city. Perhaps the (arguably) most well-known and famously tasty local cheeseburger is the Cherry Cricket in Cherry Creek, an affordable and family friendly restaurant.
6. Denver is Still Kind of Like the Wild West
Yes, even the urban and cosmopolitan downtown embraces its Old West roots. Denver is home to one of the oldest and the world’s largest rodeos, the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo, held annually every January.
As a kick off to the rodeo, downtown Denver becomes a sea of cowboy hats, horses – and even a longhorn cattle drive. During this annual rodeo, enter the doors of the historic Brown Palace to get an up-close-and-personal view of the prize bull.
Continue the Wild West theme by dining at the Buckhorn Exchange, which holds liquor license Number One in the State of Colorado). Don’t even ask yourself “Will I even like bull testicles?” Go ahead and embrace your adventurous Old West self and order Rocky Mountain Oysters.
7. Denverites Spend A LOT of Time Outdoors
Always. After all, we are consistently ranked as the fittest and healthiest city in the United States. It’s easy to get outdoors as Denver offers more than 200 parks, 100 miles of bike lanes, and almost 400 miles of signed bike routes. And then there are those mountains on the western horizon just begging to be explored.
8. Denver is home to 7 Professional Sports Team
Likely sports fans are familiar with the Denver Broncos Football, Colorado Rockies Baseball, Denver Nuggets Basketball, and Colorado Avalanche Hockey professional teams. But we are also home to 3 more teams: Colorado Rapids Soccer, Colorado Mammoth Lacrosse, and Denver Barbarians Rugby.
Although tickets can be pricey for our professional football and hockey home games, take the family to the Colorado baseball game with cheap seats (called the “Rockpile”) starting at just $4 bucks! (Adult Rockpile tickets are $4, kids 12 and under and seniors 55 and older are $1.)
9. Denver Arts and Museums
Denver also loves its art and culture scene, so much that the city holds an annual Denver Arts Week! The city collects more money for the arts per capita than any other U.S. city resulting in a thriving arts and culture scene, from world-class museums to unique art districts.
My grandchildren’s favorite museums are the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, History Colorado, and Colorado Railroad Museum, but there are SO many to choose from! Check out Denver’s family-friendly museums.
10. Eat More Denver Ice Cream
Denver also LOVES ice cream. And that’s important to a kid (all ages), right? A visit to the Mile High City wouldn’t be the same without a stop at Little Man Ice Cream. This vintage Coney-island-inspired ice cream shop is marked by a HUGE vintage milk can – 28-foot-tall, 14,000-pound can, to be exact.
Located in Lower Highlands (LoHi), a bustling and family friendly Denver neighborhood, you’ll find this ice cream shop fun for all, as you bee-bop to its piped music. The staff wears those old-fashioned envelope style hats with red-striped aprons. Pick any flavor, seriously they are all good. For those with younger kids, consider ordering the mini-ice cream cones (Itty Bitty), at about 3” tall and at just $1 buck.