You can't have bragging rights from a Denver vacation until you see these sights. Warning: it may take more than one visit! Here are some of Denver's Mile High Must-Sees, arranged by location.
CLYFFORD STILL MUSEUM
Clyfford Still, considered one of the most important painters of the 20th century, was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionist artists. The Clyfford Still Museum, which opened at the end of 2011, was founded to promote the late artist's work and legacy. Still's estate - 2,400 artworks - has been sealed off from the public since 1980.
Learn how to make money! The U.S. Mint can produce more than 50 million coins a day, each one stamped with a little "D" for Denver. Free guided tours show every step in the process of turning a dull, blank, metal slug into shiny pocket change. Same-day tickets are available starting at 7 a.m.; no advance reservations.
HISTORY COLORADO CENTER
The History Colorado Center, one of Denver’s newest cultural attractions, is designed to ignite imaginations of all ages about Colorado history through high-tech and hands-on exhibits, programs for children and adults, and special events.
THE BLUE BEAR AT THE COLORADO CONVENTION CENTER
The Colorado Convention Center is home to “I See What You Mean,” AKA the giant Blue Bear that peers into the Center’s interior. Created by Colorado-based artist Lawrence Argent, the curious blue bear stands 40 feet tall – you can walk under it and get a great photo.
16TH STREET MALL - PEDESTRIAN MALL
Lined with 200 trees and 50,000 flowers, this festive, mile-long 16th Street Mall has 28 outdoor cafes and offers Denver's best people-watching. Renowned architect I.M. Pei designed the gray and pink granite pathway to resemble the pattern of a diamondback rattlesnake. Hop on the bus – they're free and stop on every corner. After dark, horse-drawn carriages clatter up and down the Mall.
Larimer Square is a trendy block of Victorian buildings is home to chic shopping, dance clubs, a comedy club, outdoor cafes and a dozen of Denver's best restaurants. For 40 years in downtown Denver, it's hip to be at the "Square."
LODO HISTORIC DISTRICT
Denver's happening historic district is filled with turn-of-the-century warehouses, now home to 90 brewpubs, sports bars, restaurants and rooftop cafes. While you're in Lower Downtown (LoDo), stop by Rockmount Ranch Wear for a snap button Western shirt at the store where they were invented; browse from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Tattered Cover Bookstore; listen to jazz at El Chapultepec, one of Esquire Magazine's 50 best bars; or sip a handcrafted beer at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, Denver's first brewpub opened by former Denver Mayor (now Colorado Governor), John Hickenlooper.
DENVER UNION STATION
Denver Union Station has undergone a massive restoration that transformed the landmark into a transportation, dining, shopping and entertainment hub and hotel. The historic, Beaux Arts 1914 train terminal is now a foodie destination, with a dozen restaurants and bars, from farm-to-table favorite Mercantile to the Terminal Bar, situated in the station's old ticket windows. A handful of local retailers includes a branch of the popular Tattered Cover Book Store. Union Station is also fulfilling its original role as a major ground transportation hub, serving as an AMTRAK, light rail and shuttle bus station with direct rail service to Denver International Airport.
Denver was founded at Confluence Park as a gold mining camp in 1858. Today, the river park is the heart of Denver's 85-mile bike trail network, and is surrounded by attractions. Ride the Platte River Trolley to the Downtown Aquarium to see stingrays and sharks and The Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus, with dozens of interactive "playscapes" for younger kids; eat and drink in the nearby neighborhoods of Riverfront, LoHi and Highlands.
ELITCH GARDENS THEME & WATER PARK
The only downtown theme park in America is really two parks in one: on one side of Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park, experience 53 thrill rides, including looping roller coasters; on the other side, cool off in a wet 'n' wild water park with tubes waterslides and wave pools. The park is open from early May to early November.
City Park, Denver's largest park, has several lakes, spectacular mountain views, a public golf course, flower gardens and a hiking/jogging trail that is exactly one mile high.
DENVER MUSEUM OF NATURE & SCIENCE
From stunning prehistoric fossils to an exploration of outer space, The Denver Museum of Nature & Science never fails to astound and amaze with realistic visions of the past, present and future. The Gates Planetarium is one of the most sophisticated planetariums in the country, giving visitors unparalleled insight into the workings of the cosmos, and the Phipps IMAX Theater features brilliantly filmed IMAX entertainment.
Lions and tigers and bears – and so much more, on lovely grounds make the Denver Zoo one of the most popular zoos in America. Go eyeball-to-eyeball with a gorilla in Primate Panorama or an Amur tiger at The Edge. Predator Ridge recreates the plains of Africa with a pride of lions, while Tropical Discovery is rainforest teeming with crocodiles and Gila monsters.
The tree-shaded Cherry Creek neighborhood is just two miles from downtown and easily accessible by bike on the Cherry Creek Bike Path.
CHERRY CREEK SHOPPING DISTRICT
More than 500 department stores, boutiques, galleries, spas, and one-of-a-kind shops grace this browsing paradise – the largest concentration of stores between St. Louis and San Francisco. Cherry Creek Shopping Center is an ultra-upscale mall with Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Tiffany's, while across 1st Ave., Cherry Creek North offers tree-lined streets with cafes, spas and galleries amidst fountains and public art.
DENVER BOTANIC GARDENS
Denver Botanic Gardens, a 23-acre oasis in the middle of the city, has 45 different gardens (some 33,000 plants), as well as one of the nation's top 10 conservatories. Relax in the Japanese Garden, climb through the Rock Alpine Garden and explore the new Mordecai Children's Garden. The Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory is the largest single structure tropical conservatory in the U.S., including banyan tree roots and cloud forest orchids.
Golden, Colorado's first capital, celebrates its Old West history and mountain location with a trendy downtown filled with galleries and recreation shops. Sip a beer at an outdoor café, while kayakers float by on fast rushing Clear Creek.
RED ROCKS PARK & AMPHITHEATRE
Carved from towering red rock monuments, Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre is one of the world's most renowned concert venues and has hosted everyone from the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen. Listening to a concert here is on the "bucket list" of every true music fan. When there's no concert, the Visitor Center has a free museum and Performers' Hall of Fame, while the surrounding park has hiking trails that weave in, around and over the colorful red rocks.
COORS BREWERY TOUR
"Taste the Rockies!" Coors Brewery, the world's largest brewing site still uses the same Rocky Mountain spring water that Adolph Coors discovered in 1873. Free, self-guided tours show every step in the brewing process and end with free samples for those over 21.
WITHIN AN HOUR FROM DENVER
CENTRAL CITY & BLACK HAWK
These two old gold mining towns (once known as the "Richest Square Mile on Earth") have come alive with casino gambling. Central City and Black Hawk offer two dozen casinos rock 24-7 with 10,000 slot machines, poker, blackjack, roulette and craps. The surrounding hills are covered with abandoned gold mines, Victorian buildings and Old West history. Every summer, the Central City Opera Association hosts a season of world-class opera.
Nestled in a steep mountain valley, Georgetown is one of Colorado's most elegant mining towns with 200 Victorian buildings. Ride the Georgetown Loop Railroad over a 100-foot high trestle to neighboring Silver Plume, tour historic homes and shop on the quaint Main Street that has been used in films featuring Clint Eastwood and John Denver