Best Sports Bar for Playing Games 2014 | The 1up LoDo | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The downtown location of the 1up arcade bar is a cross between Jeff Bridges's Tron arcade and a neighborhood dive. Flashy 8-bit colors and music loops pour out of its 45 vintage arcade games, while geeky bartenders pour craft beers and shots to sate the relentless audience of quarter jockeys night after night. At just a quarter or two a pop, the 1up's finely curated selection of games and pinball machines is as likely to evoke childhood memories as it is to provoke heated challenges between drinking buddies. Thankfully, there's a can of Olde English or an Ectoplasm shot waiting at the bar to settle a dispute or toast an extra life. The arcade never died; it just grew up, got a Dig Dug tattoo and started pounding back PBRs.

The winner and still the chomp! Blake Street Tavern blew us away last year with its menu, which includes not only sports-bar staples such as burgers, wings and sandwiches, but some of the best green chile in town. And with the addition of the Underground Social, which converted the vast basement space into a big game room with its own bar filled with craft beers alongside the usual bottled suspects, there are more places than ever to score great food and drink. Bonus points for the private rooms, where your group can give Blake Street's dishes — and, yes, the sporting events on its big TVs — the attention they deserve.

Remember when you and your friends used to hang in the back yard, running through the sprinkler, playing flag football or Wiffle ball, or just kicking a rock around? Even though you're a big kid now, those good times are still within reach: When summer heats up, the ViewHouse opens its own back yard every Sunday for outdoor games that are nothing but fun, including everything from volleyball to tooth-and-nail water fights, only with grownup refreshments. Feeling more serious about hitting a ball over a net? Stay tuned for weeknight volleyball leagues, also starting up this summer.

Are you tired of the packed-in feel of small dog parks, and the same forced questions from well-meaning fellow dog lovers: Is it a boy or a girl? What's his name? How old is she? If so, then escape to the Westminster Dog Park, 420 acres of off-leash open space where you and your best friend can wander the empty landscape. In the summer, gather around a pond, throw sticks and balls and let your dog cool off in the water; in the winter, ski, snowshoe and sled alongside Fido. You'll both be worn out afterward.

Looking for love? Forget OKCupid and the bars. Get your pooch (or borrow one) and head to Stapleton Dog Park. The chatty dog lovers who congregate here in droves are friendly and flirty and seem plenty willing to hand out their phone numbers. If you're lucky, you just might meet someone who's looking to share a poop-scooping LTR.

You might think swimming with sharks would be a tall order in a landlocked state like Colorado. But the Downtown Aquarium — housing more than a million gallons of water in the heart of the city — has you covered. For $185, certified scuba divers can sign up to plunge into the aquarium's "Sunken Shipwreck" exhibit and get up close and personal with several species of sharks, as well as sea turtles, guitarfish (which look kinda like a cross between a shark and a ray) and barracudas. As a bonus, the fee includes a "Dive With the Sharks" T-shirt and a free appetizer at the aquarium's restaurant. (The Downtown Aquarium is actually owned by Landry's Restaurants, which bought it in 2003.) Who needs an ocean when you can have complimentary beef sliders?

Fishing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when Denverites think of the South Platte River. Pollution, maybe. Or used condoms. But the river that winds through the Mile High City is more than most people give it credit for, especially when it comes to stalking big-ass fish. In recent years, fly-fishing the South Platte for carp has become increasingly popular; there's even an annual Carp Slam fly-fishing tournament hosted by the Denver chapter of Trout Unlimited. Carp are resilient freshwater fish that can grow to nearly 100 pounds, and they're plentiful in the South Platte. That doesn't mean they're easy to catch, though: They're excellent at avoiding fishermen's hooks, which makes reeling one in that much more of an accomplishment.

Crested Butte isn't called the Wildflower Capital of Colorado for nothing. When it's not digging gold out of skiers' wallets, the old mining town banks on other colors. In the summer, the valley and mountainsides are a riot of wildflowers, a sight so spectacular that it inspired the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, a week-long celebration of petal power. This year's event, set for July 7 through 13, features classes where you can draw wildflowers, photograph them and cook with them; on various tours, you can see wildflowers while walking, biking, jeeping or riding on horseback. You'll spot everything from the mainstream mule's ear to wisps of prairie smoke — but the king of the hill is the columbine, Colorado's state flower, in hues ranging from pale pink to yellow to blue to deep purple. Look, but don't pick.

Aaron Thackeray

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is home to what's widely considered the best, if not the biggest, rhodochrosite specimen in the world. Discovered in 1992 in the Sweet Home Mine, a former silver mine near the town of Alma, the impressive block of nearly transparent, cherry-red crystal is called the Alma King. And if its regal name isn't enough to entice you to go see it, consider how one museum geologist describes it: "It reminds me of a giant piece of candy. It makes you want to go up and lick it." Sadly, you can't, because the Alma King is kept behind glass and away from visitors' tongues.

Castlewood Canyon State Park Facebook page

The best way to find our state insect — the Colorado Hairstreak butterfly — is to first find a Gambel oak tree, where said butterfly prefers to spend its time flitting around and dining on tree sap, honeydew and raindrops (adorable!). Castlewood Canyon State Park, near Franktown, happens to be full of Gambel oaks and is therefore a prime location for the Hairstreak. Optimal viewing season is from June to August — and you'll know you've spotted one by its colors: purple and black, just like a certain Colorado baseball team...

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