Photos: Ten best places in Denver to people watch

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There are few places better for people watching than Denver. Given Colorado's magnetic effect on tourists and folks looking for a better place to live than their crappy hometown, not to mention our own highly original locals, there's typically a wide variety of humanity on display, and checking them out is free.

But what are the best spots for this pastime? For that, we consulted our handy Best of Denver archive. Look below to check out best people watching spots from more than a decade's worth of editions. They're worth watching.

Best Place to People Watch — Outdoors: Washington Park

Parks usually make for good people-watching, but Washington Park, which pops off with free entertainment year-round, is the cream of the crop. You'll find moms pushing strollers the size of ATVs and dads on rollerblades with ski poles; bar-based running clubs in the afternoons and lane-weaving cruiser-bike fanatics; overzealous triathlon types on racing bikes; tanned-and-toned sorority gals; school groups; and, of course, people who look like their dogs. It's a melting pot of eye-catching splendor.Best of Denver 2013

Best Place to People Watch — Indoors: Cherry Creek Shopping Center

An indoor retail oasis in the middle of the city, the Cherry Creek Shopping Center has banked on its elite status since opening in 1990. But if you're not shopping, buy a latte and grab a seat — there are several living rooms' worth of cushy furniture and a giant flat-screen TV in front of Abercrombie & Fitch — because you could sit for hours watching people. Who's there? Everyone from early-morning Silver Sneakers Club mall walkers and the lady with her dog in a stroller to international shoppers, teenagers, well-heeled fashionistas, and solo moms with a cell phone in one hand and a pocketbook in the other. Best of Denver 2013

Best Place to People Watch (2011): 16th Street Mall

Downtown boosters recently conducted a major study of the 16th Street Mall, which turns thirty next year, trying to determine what directional changes it needed to truly be a pedestrian paradise. Their conclusion? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. So beyond getting some basic repair work and a general sprucing up, the 16th Street Mall will carry on as it has for almost three decades, a mile-plus artery stretching through downtown that's an ideal place to stroll, window-shop for bad Colorado souvenirs made in China, and watch all kinds of people — from punks to businesspeople to buskers to tourists amazed by the bustle, some good, some bad, all lively. That's what you get at the heart of a vibrant city. Best of Denver 2011

Best Bus for People Watching: RTD #15

No matter how much the city cleans up East Colfax Avenue, RTD's #15 bus will always be the true gauge of this neighborhood. Hop on between Colorado and Broadway, and listen to East High School students talking with the homeless. Or as happy hour turns to night, watch as drunken blue-collars heading home from the strip's rougher bars rub shoulders with twenty-something hipsters on their way to hear live music. Conversation is the sole soundtrack to this route, because music is allowed with headphones only — and you'd better have exact change, because RTD doesn't dish any out. Other than that, though, no rules apply and all bets are off. Whether you're chatting with an immigrant about the world he left behind or hoping that the drug dealer to your left will leave you alone, the #15 delivers the bold, hard facts on the real Colfax.Best of Denver 2008

Best Place to People Watch (2009): Denver Nuggets home games

At NBA games, the best seats in the house are on the floor, which means the rich and the gaudy are front and center rather than tucked away in skyboxes. Check out the enormous bodybuilder guys in silk shirts and the buxom babes squeezed into zany zebra stripes. Take a gander at the old guys with rings on every finger, ponytails and berets, or chance a guess at which synthetically boobed and tanned women are wives, which are trophy wives and which are mistresses. You'll see playas, big shots, CEOs, homies and hotties all dressed to the nines. The Nuggets are exciting, but some of the best action is definitely off the court. Best of Denver 2009

Continue to see more of the best places in Denver to people watch.

Best People Watching (2005): Clayton Lane

We're not in Kansas anymore! And that's about all we know when we land at this intersection of Second Avenue and Clayton, which used to lead directly into the Sears automotive-service area. But now this one-block stretch is all va-va-vroom, with a prettified name — Clayton Lane — giving a certain je ne sais fucking quoi to a slicked-up street life that bears no resemblance to the kinds of life you find anywhere else in town. Get an eyeful as all the beautiful people — are we on Planet Pretty? — flit in and out of the new shops, the new restaurants, the new hotel. Cherry Creek's on a stroll, and we're watching. Best of Denver 2005

Best Place to Watch Drug Deals on Your Lunch Hour

Anchored at either end by the Denver City and County Building and the Colorado State Capitol, Civic Center Park is home to the People's Fair, the Taste of Colorado and Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup celebrations. It's also home to scores of drug dealers who ply their wares 24/7 behind the pillars of the Greek Theater. Anyone curious about who's buying weed, opium and crack in Denver these days is advised to pack a picnic lunch, head down to the park on a sunny day and take up an observation post on a concrete bench close to the flower gardens. The action's usually heaviest around lunchtime, when the men in neckties come in search of a midday hit. Best of Denver 2002

Best Free Lunch and People Watching

Think there's no such thing as a free lunch? Think again. On weekends at Whole Foods Market in Cherry Creek, you can watch groceryland's most eclectic, entertaining crowd while snacking on enough bite-sized organic niblets to fill you up — and then some. On any given Saturday, you'll find trays of sliced fruit, cups of deli delights or chunks of kalamata-laced bread, and to top it off, you're always free to sample from that Mediterranean Mecca known to shoppers as the Olive Bar. The only downside to this lovely Saturday-morning excursion is that the parking can get a trifle hairy, but at least you can build up your appetite while waiting for that gas-guzzling Mercedes SUV to back out. Best of Denver 2003

Best Bus Route for People Watching (2003): RTD Route 52 Arvada to University Hills

When it comes to people-watching, RTD passengers are spoiled. Every route offers the amateur sociologist a wide array of snooping opportunities, but Route 52 is particularly choice. This is one of the routes subcontracted out to Laidlaw, a private firm that hires non-union drivers to drive smaller-than-usual buses, and the cramped quarters are especially conducive to unfettered eavesdropping. Route 52 serves four schools — Regis University, the University of Denver, South High School and P.S. 1 — which gives passengers a chance to catch up on all the latest student gossip. (The P.S. 1 riders are especially loud in sharing the most graphic details of their peers' private lives.) In stark contrast to those lively youth are the moribund riders who use the bus to access care at Denver Health; it's a testament to the human spirit to see them at their worst, yet holding their own against the attitudes of impatient youth. The bickering/gossiping is the perfect soundtrack for a route that zigs and zags nonsensically from an outer-city suburb to an inner-city strip mall, and the confusion is only amplified when the driver makes a wrong turn (it happens!) and has to be shouted back on course by a bus full of anxious backseat drivers. With Route 52, RTD is more than just "the Ride"; it's a thrill-a-minute amusement-park ride.Best of Denver 2003

Best (Very) Late Night People Watching: Ramada Inn Downtown

The Ramada Inn Downtown Denver is like a rock-and-roll RV park on weekend nights, when tour buses crowd the parking lot and bleary-eyed musicians trickle through the lobby at all hours. The crash pad for artists and crews in town for shows at the Fillmore, Ogden and Bluebird theaters — as well as an actual hotel for normal people in town for things like vacations and conventions — the Ramada is a totally entertaining culture clash. On a single floor, you might find a cluster of cattlemen, a sweet family of four from Omaha, the Insane Clown Posse and a bunch of college kids tripping on acid after a killer String Cheese Incident show. This human mishmash creates some amusingly weird scenes inside the elevator, and the Ramada's rock-star element also makes for fun rounds of Who's Who in the Lobby: Is that Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, or just a Capitol Hill hipster look-alike? Only the front-desk clerk knows for sure. — Best of Denver 2006

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