Bodrie Chandler, 3, jumps to step on a fish while playing on the digital stream bed in the Wildlife Hall on June 23, 2015 at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver. (Denver Post file)
With Denver Public Schools’ week-long spring break arriving March 26-31, and plenty of museums and parks gearing up for warm-weather activities, springs feels like it’s already arrived (even if we have to officially wait until March 20 for the vernal equinox).
Here are five family-friendly suggestions for keeping the kids busy during your Colorado staycation, regardless of how the weather whips across the Front Range.
Erik Sundblad prepared a Cheddar Cheeseburger at American Grind at the Avanti food hall on April 26, 2017. (John Leyba, The Denver Post)
Adventures in Flavor
Denver’s booming food scene often feel like the province of trendy night-lifers, but a number of modern food halls and mixed-use developments are turning meal time into all-day experiences. Haven’t walked around the rebooted River North neighborhood yet? Plan a lunch at one of the many eateries at Denver Central Market (2669 Larimer St.) or the newly opened Zeppelin Station (38th and Blake, near the light rail station) and book-end it with a stroll around the fast-changing neighborhood, which pops with colorful murals, boutiques, galleries and craft breweries (the latter of which are often kid-friendly and also offer food). Avanti Food & Beverage (3200 N. Pecos) offers a similar experience for the Lower Highland neighborhood, while the still-sparkling Stanley Marketplace (2501 Dallas St.) is a self-contained food hall, shopping center, gym and hang-out space (a hipster mall, basically) on the western edge of Aurora.
Inside the new Punch Bowl Social Stapleton. (Amber Boutwell, Provided by Punch Bowl Social)
We’re also partial to kid-friendly patios that take full advantage of the ever-warming weather, such as Lowry Beer Garden (7577 E. Academy Blvd.), the new Stapleton location of Punch Bowl Social (think outdoor spaces and games galore), the ping pong-happy Ace Eat Serve (501 E. 17th Ave), Vine Street Pub & Brewery (1700 Vine St.), Linger (2030 W. 30th Ave.), Kaos Pizzeria (1439 South Pearl St.) and Agave Taco Bar (2217 E. Mississippi Ave.).
Denver Botanic Gardens (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
They vary by month, but a number of metro-area museums and cultural institutions offer free days — supported by the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District — that allow budget-conscious families catch up on their zoo babies and touring exhibits. For the next few weeks they include: the Mizel Museum (Thursday), Denver Botanic Gardens at Plains Conservation Center (March 19), Denver Botanic Gardens’ York Street location (March 22 and April 8), Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms (April 3), Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus (4-8 p.m. April 3), Museo de las Americas’ free “Cultural First Fridays” (April 6), Denver Art Museum (April 7) and Denver Museum of Nature & Science (April 9).
Notably, the Denver Art Museum is also free every day to patrons aged 18 and under, and right next door, the acclaimed Clyfford Still Museum is always free on Friday evenings, 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Free all-the-time — as in, whenever they’re open to the public — are the Arvada Center Galleries (Mondays-Sundays), Aurora History Museum (Tuesdays-Sundays), Broomfield Veterans Memorial Museum (Thursdays and Saturdays, Hudson Gardens (Mondays-Sundays) and Museum of Outdoor Arts (Tuesdays-Saturdays). Visit scfd.org for hours and locations.
Young skier Riley Anderson “rests” on the way up the Easy Rider carpet ride while honing in her skiing skills on opening day at Copper Mountain ski area in 2011. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)
Riding High (Country)For many families, spring break marks the last time in the ski season where the entire clan can play together during the week, given the elbow-room afforded by consecutive days off school. To drive lift-ticket sales during these lean, waning days of the season, Aspen Skiing Company, Crested Butte, Beaver Creek, Monarch Mountain, Purgatory Resort (near Durango), Ski Cooper (Leadville) and others are offering deep discounts on passes, many of which involve lodging packages or an extra-day free with a minimum purchase.
Pick a hill you’ve never visited or double-down on your favorite slopes while you check out tourist-friendly towns in your off-hours. Visit colorado.com/special-offers for a round-up of deals or denver.org for details on fun (if slightly more leisurely) day-trip activities like the Winter Park ski train, which departs from downtown Denver’s bustling Union Station.
A sheer 150-foot-long rock wall exposes more than 1,500 Jurassic-period bones at Dinosaur National Monument’s Quarry Hall in Maybell, Utah. (Photo for The Washington Post by John Kimble)
Get Out, Dig In
Slugging it out with thousands of other motorists on I-70 isn’t the only way to tap into high-country nature. If you’re in it for the long haul (meaning you can spend a half-day or more on travel) Colorado’s national parks, monuments and historic sites offer unforgettable views and stories off the beaten, east-west mountain path for a fraction of the price of a lift ticket (or, in some cases, for free). Rocky Mountain National Park (about 65 miles north of Denver in Estes Park) may be the state’s most popular overall attraction, with three million visitors per year according to Visit Denver, but its 265,000-plus acres accommodate the breadth of wilderness experiences, from easy family hikes and kid-friendly crafts at the visitor’s center to more technical, calorie-burning activities.
Been there and done that? Dinosaur National Monument (five hours northwest of Denver) boasts one of the densest deposits of dinosaur and reptile fossils in the world, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (five hours southwest of Denver) offers both thrilling hikes and eye-catching drives and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve (four hours southwest of Denver) feels like a spectacular alien landscape plopped down at the foot of the mighty Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Bust out your map-apps for similar experiences at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, Browns Canyon National Monument, Colorado National Monument and more via the National Park Service list at nps.gov/state/co/index.htm.
The Denver Children’s Theatre production of “Rumpelstiltskin.” You could check out a different production by the company during Spring Break. (Jason Coviello, handout)
In addition to catching up at area museums, check out gloriously random cultural activities like Saturday’s Children’s Festival of Stories, a free event at the McNichols Building at Civic Center (9 a.m.-4 p.m., 144 W. Colfax Ave.) that unites more than two-dozen children’s book authors and illustrators, plus entertainers, book signings, giveaways and plenty of chances to hear from and meet book creators. Parent to a burgeoning gearhead or audiophile? The Vintage Voltage Expo ($5, and children 12 and under are free) returns to the Denver Mart 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. And cash-in on the “Hamilton” hype by introducing your kids to the theater, with matinees of kid-friendly stage shows like the Dr. Seuss-inspired “Seussical” (through May 25 at the Arvada Center), “Sleeping Beauty” (through May 4 at Denver Children’s Theatre) and Peanut Butter Players’ “Wizard of Oz,” which closes March 17, with details at coloradotheatreguild.org.
Still hungry for more arts and culture? Our partners at Mile High on the Cheap have a comprehensive roundup of always-free activities and events, half-price tickets to shows, and other discounts at milehighonthecheap.com.