Acquired by the city in 1881, City Park, Denver's largest public space (330 acres), contains rose gardens, lakes, a golf course, tennis courts, and a huge playground. A shuttle runs between two of the city's most popular attractions: the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature & Science,
both on the site. City Park is east of downtown Denver, and runs from East 17th Avenue to East 26th Avenue, between York Street and Colorado Boulevard.
If you have children or are an animal lover, you could easily spend half a day in City Park. Plan to arrive early on weekends, as parking can be difficult to obtain (it's free at the attractions, but goes fast), and in warm-weather months pack a picnic, as the park itself is a delightful daytime rest area, with plenty of room to stretch.
You can tell from its skyline alone that Denver is a major metropolis, with a Major League Baseball stadium at one end of downtown and the State Capitol building at the other. But look to the west to see where Denver distinguishes itself in the majestic Rocky Mountains, snow-peaked and breathtakingly huge, looming in the distance. This combination of urban sprawl and proximity to nature is what gives the city character and sets it apart as a destination.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when the city mushroomed on a huge surge of oil and energy revenues, Denver worked on the transition from Old West "cow town" to a comfortable, modern place to live. The city demolished its large downtown Skid Row area, paving the way for developments such as the Tabor Center and the Auraria multicollege campus. In the early 1990s mayors Federico Peña and Wellington Webb championed a massive new airport to replace the rickety Stapleton. Then the city lured major-league baseball, in the form of the purple-and-black Colorado Rockies, and built Coors Field in the heart of downtown. Around the stadium, planners developed LoDo, a business-and-shopping area including hip nightclubs, Larimer Square boutiques, and bike and walking paths.
Since the mid-1990s Denver has caught the attention of several major national corporations looking to move their operations to a thriving city that enjoys a relatively stable economy and a healthy business climate. And win or lose, the sports teams continue to imbue the city with a sense of pride.
Many Denverites are unabashed nature lovers who can also enjoy the outdoors within the city limits by walking along the park-lined river paths downtown. (Perhaps as a result of their active lifestyle, Denverites are among the "thinnest" city residents in the United States, and the city is named annually as one of the healthiest in the nation.) For Denverites, preserving the environment and the city's rich mining and ranching heritage are of equally vital importance to the quality of life.
LoDo, a business-and-shopping area, buzzes with jazz clubs, restaurants, and art galleries housed in carefully restored century-old buildings. The culturally diverse populace avidly supports the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Museo de las Americas, and the new History Colorado Center (formerly the Colorado History Museum). The Denver Performing Arts Complex is the nation's second-largest theatrical venue, bested in capacity only by New York's Lincoln Center. An excellent public transportation system, including a popular, growing light-rail system and 850 miles of bike paths, makes getting around easy.
Denver's downtown is an intriguing mix of well-preserved monuments from the state's frontier past and modern high-tech marvels. You can often catch the reflection of an elegant Victorian building in the mirrored glass of a skyscraper. Hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into the city in the 1990s in such projects as Coors Field, the downtown home of Denver's baseball Rockies; the relocation of Elitch Gardens, the first amusement park in the country to move into a downtown urban area; and an expansion of the light-rail system to run from downtown into the southern suburbs. Lower downtown, or LoDo, is a Victorian warehouse district revitalized by the ballpark, loft condominiums, and numerous brewpubs, nightclubs, and restaurants.
Less than a mile west of downtown is the booming Central Platte Valley. Once the cluttered heart of Denver's railroad system, it's now overflowing with attractions. The imposing glass facade of the NFL Broncos' Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the stately Pepsi Center sports arena, the Downtown Aquarium, and the flagship REI outdoors store are four of the biggest attractions. New restaurants, a couple of coffeehouses, and a few small, locally owned shops, including a wine boutique, make it appealing to wander around. The sights in this area are so popular that the light-rail line was extended to connect the attractions with downtown.
The South Platte River valley concrete path, which extends several miles from downtown to the east and west, snakes along the water through out-of-the-way parks and trails. The 15th Street Bridge is particularly cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly, connecting LoDo with growing northwest Denver in a seamless way. The most relaxed, and easiest, way to see the area is on one of the half-hour or hour-long tours on the Platte Valley Trolley (303/458–6255 www.denvertrolley.org $5), which can be accessed by parking at the Children's Museum and catching the streetcar east of the lot by the river.