Dear Denver, My little nephews are coming to town and I have no idea what to do with them. Any ideas?
Dear reader, although most of my friends these days are having babies and making families, I can’t say that I am terribly interested in that (sorry Mom). However I will say that I LOVE being an aunt. I love watching my little nephews grow and hearing their vocabulary expand and watching them navigate this crazy world. After a couple of days of not seeing them, I start to miss them terribly. My boyfriend and I often imitate them when they are not around and just laugh and laugh and laugh. I especially love playing the role of the cool (aging) aunt, and finding unique kid-friendly events to take them to. And luckily in Denver there are quite a few.
However for this post, I called in the expertise of my older sister, Lynda (affectionately known as “L”), and dedicated mama of Owen and Everett (aka Honey Bear), who provided the bulk of the recommendations below.
For an easy way to spend an afternoon, head to one of the many parks within Denver. Whether you visit one of the large urban parks or just a small one in your neighborhood, you will find nice playground equipment and other kids/new best friends. Also, be sure to check the events going on in town; almost every weekend you can find a food truck party, street fair, vegan bake sale, etc. right in your neighborhood! These are always kid-friendly and more often than not, there will be a bouncy castle. Score.
Nothing says summer like a trip to the amusement park. However skip overpriced Elitch Gardens and head to old timey Lakeside Amusement Park. True, at first glance the park may seem a little rough around the edges (as do many of the patrons), but walk around and you will see it is actually quite quaint and pretty! You can bring in a picnic (I would suggest that as the food is a bit radioactive looking), and admission is a nostalgic $2.50, which includes parking and some bonus ride coupons. Kiddie rides are 50 cents each, adults rides are up to 3 bucks, or you could go big and get a wristband ($11 for kids, $22 for adults on weekends).
Who doesn’t love the zoo? Well maybe not the animals, but the Denver Zoo has very nice habitats and promotes conservation and education. Come holiday season, a Denver tradition is the Zoo Lights. Go at the beginning of December for (slightly) less insane crowds. The zoo is also a place where if you plan on going more than once a year, you many want to consider a membership.
Speaking of animals, why not check-out Little Monkey Bizness, located at 7th and Colorado. Little Monkey Bizness offers interactive inflatables, play structures, climbing walls, art projects, and games so that your kids can literally go ape shit. Open Play is available Monday through Friday 9:00am – 5:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00am – 12:00pm; also check-out their Wednesday evening Family Nights for reduced admission and pizza and drink specials. Little Monkey Bizness caters to children 6 years old and younger.
For more indoor fun, check-out the History Colorado Center. This is a good value for the pre-school set, as kids 5 and under are free (Adults $10, kids over 5 years old $6). A sleek, modern museum with lots of interactive and interesting exhibits. Hits in our family are the plains/farmhouse and the ski jump.
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is another great place to spend the day. It is huge and has something for everyone. In addition to the most popular areas like Space Odyssey, Prehistoric Journey, and the Wildlife Exhibits (I still love those too!), don’t miss the Discovery Zone on Level 2. It is a big contained playroom where kids can safely play and the parents can take a load off. A membership here could be a good value as admission is a little pricey for a single visit. (Adults $10, kids 3-18 years old $8) $85 gives you an annual membership for 2 adults + kids + 3 guest passes.
Like little stuff? Well come stop by the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys, which offers a number of kid-friendly family workshops and seasonal events! Learn about their special projects, children’s tea parties, and birthday parties as well.
Buntport Theater also offers programming for all ages on the second Saturday of the month, and the Denver Puppet Theater provides some old-school entertainment for $7/person (includes simple crafts and the ability to play with the puppets after the show).
Is your 3-year old a budding jock? Well check-out one of Denver’s many athletic offerings. For a stadium experience without the hefty price tag, check-out the Denver Outlaws professional men’s lacrosse team at Sports Authority Field. You can often find tickets for about 10 bucks. Or, if your kids prefer 3 hour baseball games, take advantage of the tried and true Rockpile tickets, which are only 4 bucks a pop. Protip: Purchase your ballpark food at the stand next to the playground on the main level. This stand, awesomely called Buckaroos, offers kids’ meals for only $5!
And speaking of food…most restaurants in this sun-soaked city are pretty kid-friendly. Many places with “bar” or “tap” in their names offer kids’ menus, and I have seen highchairs in places that I would never think to bring my kids to, but if you dare, they are ready. We like Ernie’s Bar and Pizza, which has a casual but classy atmosphere, super-friendly service, cups with lids for the kids, and a great tap list for the grown-ups. Steuben’s also offers some extra TLC for kids, with kid-friendly partitioned plates, offering extra servings of fruits and veggies (not to mention delicious cocktails for the mommies and daddies). We also like heading down Federal to one of the great Asian restaurants. Saigon Bowl and Star Kitchen are always packed with families and have great food at very reasonable prices. Plus, no harm in expanding your child’s cultural palette early on!
Other quick ideas…
Live near a library? Peep the DPL website for free events and activities.
Take a bus ride! RTD may not be your idea of a good time, but taking the bus downtown always is amusing in our house. Just let the kids pull the bell when it is time to get off or expect tears!
REI Denver. Tents, a rock climbing wall, play area, and lots of stuff provide a great urban escape, especially during the winter months. Free to browse, but that new gear you pick-up may set you back a couple hundo.
And although the summer may be winding down, another good way to pass the time (and wear out the wee ones) is heading to a public swimming pool. Denver Parks and Recreation offer both indoor and outdoor pools with low admission prices. For indoor we like Ashland Recreation Center in NW Denver. For an outdoor swim, Globeville and Congress Park are popular spots. If you want bigger pools with more features, head to the nearby ‘burbs (Golden, Wheat Ridge, Westminster, etc. Anderson Outdoor Pool is particularly nice) and then hightail it back to the big D!
Know of any kid-friendly places, restaurants, and/or destinations that are missing? Let me know in the comments section or send me an email.