Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Development has severely cut into Denver's arts districts, but the Art District on Santa Fe keeps chugging along, with thousands of people coming out every First Friday to experience the offerings of dozens of arts-related enterprises that line the sidewalks between West Fourth and West 11th avenues. In this time zone, you'd have to get down to the original Santa Fe — in New Mexico — to find as many art spots in one area. Among the attractions are some of the city's great commercial galleries, including Mai Wyn Fine Art, Space, Rule and Michael Warren; co-ops, notably Spark and Core; and arts groups like CHAC, as well as numerous artist spaces and studios. There are even a couple of small museums: the Museo de las Americas and MSU Denver's Center for Visual Art. But it's not just the fine arts that drive this stretch of Santa Fe; you'll also find the Denver Civic Theatre, home to Su Teatro, and the Colorado Ballet in its ambitious new home. The main thoroughfare for Denver's Latino community for generations, the strip also sports a fine assortment of Mexican restaurants, perfect for recharging between art shows.
Readers' Choice: Art District on Santa Fe
You expect to check out books and movies from the local library, but did you know you can also check out experiences? If you have a Denver Public Library card, you can visit the DPL's website to book a free pass to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver or the History Colorado Center up to thirty days in advance. Each museum offers different plans for families, but they typically start with free admission for two adults; at the DMNS, the one-day membership also includes discounts on ticketed exhibits and IMAX shows. You're more of the outdoorsy type? You can also check out a free, one-week Colorado State Park pass and activity backpack at any DPL branch. Way to go.
Readers' Choice: City Park Jazz
The National Center for Atmospheric Research offers plenty of ways to expand your brain while exercising the other muscles in your body. Noon tours on most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays provide primers on atmospheric science and current NCAR research, and free tablets loaded with audio, videos and additional content are available as well. Visitors can also conduct self-guided tours of the facility's sprawling campus; our favorite jaunt is the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail, which offers signage explaining wind, cold fronts, climate zones and even the notorious brown cloud along a nearly half-mile loop. But you don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing: All of these options are free.
Readers' Choice: Coors Brewery
Natives and transplants alike can get a crash course in all things local by exploring History Colorado's tours (two- to six-hour jaunts around the metro area that might involve walks, bikes or buses) and treks (overnight trips to areas fifty miles or more away from Denver). Many facets of the state's history and culture await: walking tours of Denver alley art or its lesser-known parks; an overnight canoe trip on the Colorado River; a visit to Sugar Beet Days in Sterling; tea at Cherokee Ranch Castle; the wineries of Grand Junction — the list goes on, and with a little advance planning, so can you.
Who says the best things in Denver have to be shiny and new? Riverside Cemetery is the city's oldest functioning cemetery, located between the Platte River, the train tracks and the industrial Northside. But what makes this spot, where many of Denver's founders are buried, so remarkable is the diversity of tombstones. Sure, there are plenty of standard rectangles, and the more recently people were buried, the less interesting their markers seem to be. But go back in history and you'll see remarkable horses, life-sized sculptures of city founders, a decidedly not-religious tree stump, puzzling babies, a tombstone to a Serbian soldier that looks something like a hot-air balloon, and so much more.
Lakeside Amusement Park's storied past never fails to amuse its faithful fans. A true place of mystery on the northwest edge of town, Lakeside has always played second banana to the tonier Elitch Gardens (inasmuch as an amusement park can be tony), but that's what makes it so charming: It's a place stuck in time, a neon anachronism that's slowly crumbling (physically, even, after a car recently crashed into a parking structure next to the welcoming Lakeside tower). Author David Forsyth endeavored to put that charm and mystery into words by digging deep into the park's history for Denver's Lakeside Amusement Park ($34.95, University Press of Colorado), a fun read that uncovers Lakeside's untold stories.