Just what do you bring to a birthday party for a city that's now officially 150 years old? If you're heading to Denver, then be sure to bring your Crocs, those bright and colorful rubber shoes that are designed to give you happy feet.
Three guys from Boulder - a vibrant college town 35 miles northwest of Denver - founded the company that first marketed Crocs, and some area hotels have been known to give guests a pair upon check-in in exchange for stashing street shoes aside. These Crocs are made for walking, but there is so much to see and do in the Rocky Mountain cities of Denver and Boulder that your feet will stay happy all day long, no matter what kind of shoes you happen to be wearing.
Your spirits will soar when visiting the Mile High City. The climate is exceptional, with at least 300 days per year of sunshine. And no matter where you go, there are always those spectacular mountain views. For us flatlanders from the Midwest, nothing compares to our first sight of those white-capped beauties.
Denver may have started out as a land of tents, covered wagons and crudely constructed log cabins during the "Pikes Peak or Bust!" gold rush, but today it boasts the 10th largest downtown in America. Within a mile radius, downtown Denver has three major sports stadiums, the nation's second largest performing arts center, three college campuses, an assortment of art and history museums, a mint producing 10 billion coins per year, a river offering whitewater rafting, more than 5,300 hotel rooms, a $140 million amusement park, an aquarium with sharks and sea otters, and more than 300 restaurants, brewpubs, discos and nightspots.
The centerpiece of downtown Denver is the 16th Street pedestrian mall, the 16-block long retail core of the city, filled with shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, hotels and sidewalk cafes. Getting around is a breeze. More than 60,000 riders board the 16th Street Mall's free trolley shuttles on weekdays, with increasing numbers on weekends.
You can ride to the historic Lower Downtown (LoDo) district and visit the Sculpture Garden and art galleries on Writer Square, or explore the nightlife at Larimer Square. With such convenient transportation, the city is your oyster.
A longstanding tradition is indulging in afternoon tea in the lobby of the historic Brown Palace Hotel, 321 17th St. Scones, pastries and delicate tea sandwiches are artfully prepared each day, and Devonshire cream is shipped directly from England. While sipping one of the many varieties of tea, you can enjoy the soothing sounds of a harpist or pianist.
For a change of pace after tea time, take a tour of the U.S. Mint, 320 W. Colfax Ave. Touring the Mint is a fascinating experience, and one that appeals to all ages. Tours are free of charge, but reservations are required.
After your tour, you might feel a bit peckish. Pint's Pub, 221 W. 13th Ave, a popular downtown watering hole and traditional British brewpub, boasts plenty of charm alongside handcrafted ales. Pint's is also the purveyor of the largest selection of single-malt scotches this side of Edinburgh, Scotland. The menu includes lots of good pub grub, including Sheepherders Stew.
Once you're fully fortified, you might want to head to Cherry Creek North, a 16-block sensation of 320 boutiques, restaurants, galleries, spas and salons. Pet lovers will find themselves irresistibly drawn to CB Paws, 278 Filmore St., #A, a specialty boutique featuring unique gifts for dogs, cats and the people who love them. If you're looking for upscale, hard-to-find gifts featuring your favorite breed, you've come to the perfect spot. Fido can even help you pick them out. (Yes, well-behaved dogs are welcome here, too!)
Children (and adults) who are wild about Harry Potter will be enchanted by The Wizard's Chest, 230 Filmore St., billed as "Denver's Most Magical Toy Store and Costume Shop." This two-story, fantasy-inspired castle welcomes shoppers with a drawbridge, as well as a life-sized wizard adorned in purple velvet, holding a staff tipped with a crystal ball. For gaming enthusiasts of all ages, The Wizard's Chest hosts 24-Hour Game-A-Thons. You can easily spend hours here browsing the traditional banks, bouncing balls, and bubbles, as well as such unique items as the "boss toss launcher."
Bibliophiles will positively drool when introduced to any of the three Tattered Cover bookstores, including the one in LoDo at the end of the 16th Street Mall. Tattered Cover is truly a reader's paradise, and the LoDo store offers two stories of books with the added perk of curling up by the fire in comfortable antique furnishings, bathed in lamplight. There is also a cozy coffee shop. The Tattered Cover stores are the scenes of many readings, book signings and other literary events.
Nearby Boulder offers the Celestial Seasonings Tour, which was listed as one of the top 10 tours in the country by USA Today. The tea factory tour is a multi-sensory experience. Guests not only see the process, but they also have the opportunity to taste more than 60 varieties of teas and herbal teas, from Sleepytime to Wild Berry Zinger. The amazing Mint Room is an eye-watering, sinus-clearing experience and usually the highlight of the tour.
If you didn't get your fill of tea at Celestial Seasonings (or earlier at the Brown Palace), then stop by Boulder's spectacular Dushanbe Teahouse - a traditional Tajik choihona - in downtown Boulder, within walking distance of the Farmer's Market. The Teahouse was presented to Boulder by its sister city, Dushanbe,Tajikistan, and is the only one of its kind in the Western hemisphere, a priceless representation of Persian culture and Tajik artistry. You can have a full-course meal there, and the taste of the food rivals the beauty of the surroundings.
Shopping districts in Boulder include Pearl Street Mall, which features entertainment by street performers, including a man who can fit his entire body into a box. A branch of Lush (purveyors of fresh, handmade cosmetics) is located here, as well as a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory store.
Twenty-Ninth Street is a brand-new retail district in Boulder, located in a beautiful open-air environment, with spectacular views of the Flatirons and the foothills beyond. Kids will be enthralled by "The Wonder of Science at Twenty Ninth Street," a set of permanent, interactive science installations.
The best place I've found to lay my head in the area is The Bradley Boulder Inn, just off Pearl Street. Included in their rates are a sumptuous breakfast and a wine and cheese reception, and such elegant touches as beautifully-carved wooden cats "sleeping" on the beds. (In keeping with the intimate, romantic setting, no children younger than 12 are allowed.)
Families with small children can find child-friendly accommodations at the luxurious Brown Palace - home of the afternoon tea - in downtown Denver. Brown's "Family Fun" package includes a horse-drawn carriage ride, and a teddy bear turndown service. A more affordable alternative is the Comfort Inn, 401 17th St., connected via Skybridge to the Brown.
And as long as you've brought your Crocs, be sure to take the Denver Crocs City Tour. At each stop along the walking tour, you can pick up exclusive, custom-designed Jibbitz charms, the delightful Crocs accessories that children love. So put on those comfy shoes, and start discovering Denver.
Story published Friday, January 9, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 1 )