Ten worst Denver tourist traps according to Yahoo -- and why they're (mostly) wrong
Big photos below.
Photo by Kate Levy
Search for Denver tourist traps and you're likely to stumble upon this ten-worst Yahoo list from 2008. How does it hold up in 2014? Not very well, in our admittedly biased opinion, although we do have to concede a few points.
Count down the photo-illustrated top ten below, with Yahoo's takes followed by ours.
Number 10 according to Yahoo: Platte Valley Trolley
Yahoo's take: This trolley, next to Platte River, costs $5 to ride to visit many of Denver's tourist destinations. It's cheesy, so avoid it if you can.
Our take: Granted, the Platte Valley Trolley doesn't exactly compare to the cable cars in San Francisco. What does? But it's got a low-key charm -- and as a bonus, the price for a ride hasn't gone up in the six years since Yahoo's list was published.
Number 9 according to Yahoo: Buckhorn Exchange
Yahoo's take: If you've seen ads for the many things to see and do in Denver, you've seen ads for the Buckhorn Exchange. It's claimed as the city's oldest restaurant. The food is overpriced at $25-$50 per entrée and the service doesn't match the food. Our take: The Exchange will definitely put a dent in your pocketbook; the cheapest supper entrée on the current menu is $25 (for Grandma's Pot Roast), and the costs go up from there. But you're paying for the history as much as the food, as noted in our listing for the venue, which reads:
Henry H. Zeitz opened his restaurant in this spot more than a century ago, after scouting for Buffalo Bill Cody, and although the ownership of the Buckhorn Exchange has changed over the years, the upstairs bar remains a veritable museum of beer steins and shotguns, the downstairs dining rooms a taxidermy zoo of delicious mammals distantly related to what will soon arrive on your plate. Although you can order everything from buffalo to yak to rattlesnake here, the Big Steak -- big indeed, bloody rare and served with all the trimmings -- is the dish to get.
Yahoo's take: This small theme park is expensive for the size. Admission is $34.99 for general admission. The food is also expensive and you'll find the ride lines are long if you go during the warmer months. If you absolutely have to go there, you'll only go once. Our take: Yahoo's credibility is immediately called into question by its spelling of the park as "Eliche Gardens." And Lakeside is definitely cheaper, has more personality (sometimes too much) and sports rides capable of scaring people to death (how is the Wild Chipmunk still standing?). But Elitch's standard ticket price has held steady at $34.99 since 2008 and the attraction has plenty to recommend, as noted by our Byron Graham in a recent tribute post. Here's an excerpt:
Easily accessible by bus and light rail, Elitch's is situated on a prime piece of Denver real estate. The park's Ferris wheel and observation tower have become iconic parts of the city's skyline. On summer days, you can hear the din of the merry crowds. It's added a level of whimsy to the character of our city. Where else can you catch a postcard view of the gleaming cityscape in the thrilling microseconds before a 200-foot freefall?
Number 7 according to Yahoo: LoDo's restaurants
Yahoo's take: The bars here are crowded and noisy. You'll have a much better time visiting a neighborhood that isn't filled with noisy kids spoiled on vacation.
Our take: Are you kidding? Shorthanding this vibrant area by saying all the bars are noisy and crowded and the restaurants are packed with spoiled brats was ridiculously reductive six years ago and even more ignorant now. LoDo eateries and nightspots regularly make our Best of Denver issue -- and there are plenty of good reasons for that.
Yahoo's take: This garden is considered a tourist trap because better gardens can be found elsewhere. If you're a garden buff, save your money (admission is $10.50) for other more impressive gardens or take a stroll through one of the free parks.
Our take: In some ways, Denver Botanic Gardens gets a bad rap because it happens to be located in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. There are indeed great gardens and other fabulous slabs of nature available for eyeballing at no charge. But those who love flowers not intended for smoking will find plenty of beauty on display even at the slightly higher admission price of $12 -- and it's a great concert venue.
Number 5 according to Yahoo: Adolph Coors Brewery
Yahoo's take: If you're a big beer fan you may not be able to resist the Adolph Coors Brewery. Note that you'll get a sample of beer, but very little. If you aren't a beer fan, pass this one up.
Our take: Why would you even bother with a brewery tour if you're not a beer fan? And while most tour participants won't get loaded, that's a good thing. As for the tour itself, even beer snobs who look down on Coors as watered-down and wince-inducing tend to enjoy themselves during the wide-ranging look at the plant.
Yahoo's take: After Sept. 11 the mint was closed to tours unless you prearrange the trip through a group, such as a school trip. So if you're headed for the Denver Mint without a reservation, you'll be wasting your time.
Our take: Reservations are still required, so some advanced planning is required. In regard to the tour itself, it's not exactly a thrill a minute, especially if you arrive at one of those times when coins aren't being made. On the plus side, the whole thing takes less than an hour and is free. That doesn't exactly make it a trap, but there are plenty of more interesting things to do in Denver.
Number 3 according to Yahoo: 16th Street Mall
Yahoo's take: Many tourists have complained that there isn't much to do in this setting. There is a horse drawn carriage to get to one side of the mall to the other, which is pretty pricey. Take the free shuttle instead.
Our take: In some ways, the term "tourist trap" fits the 16th Street Mall, just as it does more famous locations such as New York's Times Square and Hollywood Boulevard in L.A. But it remains a lively place where you'll bump into every sort of human imaginable from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Visitors may be pleased or appalled, but they probably won't be bored.
Yahoo's take: This indoor aquarium is possibly the most well known tourist trap in Denver. It's a bit pricey after you pay for parking an admission and the whole attraction only lasts about an hour and half. The food is also expensive. If you do go, eat before.
Our take: Since Yahoo's list was created, Colorado's Ocean Journey has been rebranded as the Downtown Aquarium. However, it's hard to argue with the rest of the blurb. Aquarium fans are apt to be diverted. But if your interest in the aquatic is only moderate, you may indeed feel trapped.
Number 1 according to Yahoo: Casa Bonita
Yahoo's take: If you're looking for a popular place to eat, you may get recommendations to visit Casa Bonita. The restaurant boasts cliff divers, escaping gorillas and an amusement arcade. Beware the bland Mexican food though because it isn't authentic.
Our take: The most idiotic item on this list. True, the food would have to improve considerably in order to qualify as mediocre. But no one is going to Casa Bonita for authentic Mexican food. They're going for the gloriously cheesy spectacle -- and they're rewarded handsomely. Don't be dissuaded, tourists. After all, it's Cartman approved!
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
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