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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Family Trip to Denver

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

Hiking near Boulder, Colorado

Every year, except when paused for Covid, our family takes a trip. This year our journey was to Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado. Because time was limited, the entire family, ranging in age from 6-66, flew to Denver, rented a Chevrolet Suburban, and set off for a new adventure. Thankfully, the vehicle had enough room for all of us plus our luggage!

Day 1

We opted to stay at the Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown Denver by the Convention Center. Our first serendipitous discovery was that the Amazing Denver Fan Expo (aka Comic-Con) was taking place at the Convention Center across the street. Everywhere we turned we encountered a famous person—Storm Troopers, Black Widow, Sonic, Disney princesses, and so many more, including those that I did not recognize but our 6 and 11-year-old grands did! The costumed characters were more than willing to pose for pictures to make our trip even more fun. Throughout the weekend we had fun watching for characters and identifying them or learning who they were.

Two of the Great Comic-Con Characters

We ventured four blocks to Stout Street Social for a delicious lunch with a great server. (Food is very important to everyone in our family as you will probably notice throughout our trip!)

The Inventing Room

The only activity we had scheduled for the day was a visit to The Inventing Room. (Reservations are required.) This amazing place was the idea of Chef Ian Kleinman who wanted to show how science and sweets can be fun and delicious! The 15 of us, our family plus people from two other groups, watched as the chef for the day made the first item—Cheetos “fried” in liquid nitrogen. Everyone had fun sampling the super crispy treats which, when eaten, resulted in smoke coming from both your mouth and nose. Throughout the hour we waited eagerly for the next creations. Our chef made glow in the dark cotton candy and encouraged us to take it into the black-light lit room to enjoy it. He also made flash frozen taffy and other treats before ending the demonstration with our choice of liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream sundaes. Maybe we should have planned the visit so it was not right before dinner, but the treats were excellent and the science was fun for all ages.

Dinner was our divide and conquer night. Grandparents, that’s us, took the kids the short distance to 16th Street Mall for a quick dinner while their parents went out for a cooking class. (The 16th Street Mall is an easy walk from the hotel and gives many restaurant locations. Everything does close relatively early, so don’t plan on a late-night dinner unless you have reservations.)

Day 2

Before I go further, I must explain that, for this trip, each member of the family planned a day. This idea was great in theory, but we learned we all had to be flexible when life gave surprises.

Meow Wolf--Like Stepping into Someone's Imagination

Our first full day was designated by its planner as the psychedelic day. We began the adventure at Meow Wolf, an interactive, imaginative, multi-dimensional, unexplainable art collaboration and mystery all rolled into one amazing bundle. (I will post suggestions for visiting this Meow Wolf later.) We arrived for our 10:00 ticket time to find a line that seemed overwhelmingly long, but once the doors opened, the line moved very quickly, and we were transported by elevator to the third floor. (If you are going to try to solve the mystery, get your QPass before you get on the elevator.) Explosion of images and ideas greeted us as we left the elevator. A city street unlike any we have seen before welcomed us. We opted to enter the Sun Valley bus as our first stop which opened to an entirely different scene.

Meow Wolf Convergence Station

We wandered through the rooms, opening doors and crawling through spaces whenever possible, to explore all, hopefully, that Meow Wolf Convergence Station has to offer. We spent time in the library trying to discover the “mission” and its background. (We gave up on solving the mystery of the Convergence on this visit, but it would make a great and intriguing second visit!)

After 5 hours, we made our mandatory stop in the gift store and headed for our next stop, The Church of Cannabis. (No usage of cannabis is allowed during public hours.) We waited for our time slot in the arcade and tv-filled basement before being ushered into the large public room. The colorful paintings on the wall, along with beanbag chairs and an inviting floor, make visitors feel welcome. We settled in for the amazing one-hour light and sound show that illuminated both walls and ceilings. (The show was created entirely by volunteers.)

Church of Cannibis

We returned to our hotel and, once again, walked to dinner on the 16th Street Mall at 5280 Burger Bar with a great waiter and good food.

The next morning, we ventured away from our included hotel breakfast to the Denver Biscuit Company. Awesome service and great, huge servings. Some of the more unusual dishes we tried were Biscuit Pot Pie and Biscuit Shrimp and Grits. We definitely should have shared!

Beautiful Hiking Scenery near the Chautauqua Auditorium

We drove through Boulder and to the Chautauqua Auditorium area for our first hike—and major lessons for our family vacation. The weather was warm as we pulled into the trailhead parking, but we were prepared with water, hats, snacks, and sunscreen for everyone. The McClintock and Mesa Trails, even though unshaded, were a relatively easy hike. It was, however, 1.9 miles. We only hiked 1.5 miles since we decided to turn back early.

Our lessons learned:

1. Our family overall is not into hiking. (We should have known this since one adult thinks the word “hike” is a bad four-letter word.)

2. Don’t mention the possibility of snakes being present to a six-year old before attempting a hike. She stopped everyone coming the opposite direction and asked if they had seen snakes.

3. Make certain to take music and headphones for entertainment for the younger ones.

4. Don’t hike in hot weather when there is little or no shade. (Need I say more?!?!)

McClintock Trail

We enjoyed walking around the historic Chautauqua and playing on the playground, but we already needed more nourishment—and what fantastic nourishment we received at Lucile’s Creole Café which was within walking distance of Pearl Street, the downtown Boulder pedestrian area. After drinking lots of cold water and having a luscious meal, we headed to the Boulder Book Store, a multi-level building with something for everyone.

We spent the afternoon wandering Pearl Street and exploring stores before driving back to Denver for dinner. (We also learned that planning too much for every day is good, but we had to be prepared to be flexible and not accomplish everything.)

Day 4

Denver Art Museum--Great Hands-On Experience

The Denver Art Museum was high on several lists, so that was our first stop of the day. The DAM has lots of hand-on exhibits and opportunities for creativity in addition to more traditional art exhibits. In fact, this museum may be the most child-friendly one I have visited. We took in the Armor Exhibit where visitors could try on gauntlets and feel chain mail. We followed clues in the 19th Century in European and American Art Exhibition to find out in which painting Rip, the dog, belongs. We colored and pasted and cut and learned through multiple creative centers. We enjoyed the bathrooms that, on one level, included an art installation of sinks that sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to make sure visitors are washing their hands thoroughly. We also viewed the special and regular exhibits that have great breadth if not as much depth. The 7th floor terraces offer great views of the Capitol and the city. This first stop of the day was so enjoyable that it ended up being the only stop for the day. (Due to timing and popular family demand, we skipped the nearby Capitol.)

Denver Art Museum

We walked to the edge of Larimer Square where we found our first choice of restaurant was not open. (Note to self: Check Google, not Yelp for open times or, better yet, call the restaurant!) Instead, we ate at Jovani’s for an excellent Italian dinner. Our table was one of the most unusual ever. The huge, heavy tabletop was suspended by massive girders. We discovered that it was suspended in an old elevator shaft that had been built as part of the factory that the building originally housed.

Day 5

Red Rocks Amphitheater

Our first stop of the day was at The Red Rocks Amphitheater which was modeled on the Roman amphitheater in Taormina, Sicily. The magnificent venue has acoustics that have been utilized by musical groups since before the amphitheater was built. In certain rows, visitors can see both the performers and the light-dotted cities in the distance. Some of our family members took advantage of the opportunity to get steps in but, again, the non-hikers in our group were not thrilled about the sharp incline, the heat, and the large number of stairs. Those who dared the stairs to the top were rewarded with an informative tour through the visitor center and museum.

Red Rocks Amphitheater

Flexibility again came into play as we cancelled our hiking trip to St. Mary’s Glacier and instead settled for a stop in Morrison that was cut short when we realized that the Denver Children’s Museum, a new item on our itinerary, closes at 4:00.

Adventure Forest at the Denver Children's Museum

Thanks to GPS, we made it to the Children’s Museum in time to explore. The museum was perfect for the six-year-old in our group, but really too young for the 11-year-old. Hands-on experiments and opportunities to use tools to build were fun features of the museum, but the favorite for all ages was the outdoor Adventure Forest. From a short zip line to admiring the art, to deciphering the code, to climbing up to exactly 5,280 feet above sea level before sliding down to reality, the experience was great fun. (And, as my family pointed out, it was much more fun to reach the mile high mark by climbing and crawling than by walking up to the 13th stair of the Capitol.)

We had to make a stop at another bookstore—our family loves bookstores as much as food—this time at the Tattered Cover, a huge locally-owned store in an old theater. As always, we had fun exploring the books and the building.

The Tattered Cover Bookstore

We only had one more item on our must-see list in Denver which was, thankfully, near our hotel. We walked down (We never use the word “hike” anymore!) to see “All Things Colorado” plaques in the sidewalk on California Street between 15th and 16th streets. The plaques cover many Colorado-related trivia items including the Denver Omelet recipe, the penning of “America, The Beautiful, and Oscar Wilde’s visit to Colorado. (According to the plaque, Wilde, “while in the Matchless Mine last Thursday night…drank twelve snorters from a bottle of whisky, and the miners present voted him a perfect gentleman.”)

One of the Intriguing "All Things Colorado" Plaques

And, just like that, our stay in Denver was over and we were on to Colorado Springs for more family adventure.

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