Downtown Denver skyline
Gleaming buildings and blue sky characterize downtown Denver’s skyline. | Photo by Deborah Ross

By Deborah Ross

Denver, the Mile High City, has the enviable distinction of having one of the prettiest scenic backdrops of any major city in the country. One need only look west and there they are: the Rocky Mountains, a not-so-distant mass of blue-green peaks topped by varying amounts of snow according to the season.

As a launching point for many a ski vacation, Denver often defies newcomers’ expectations in several regards.

First, it is not constantly socked in by snowy weather during the winter; in fact, winter days are often sunny and bracing.

Second, it’s not just a stopover for vacationers headed to Aspen, Vail and other resorts. Brimming with historical and cultural sites, it’s a tourist destination in its own right, proudly bearing the title of Queen City of the West.

Third, Denver is a highly livable city, where urban and suburban options are equally appealing. The 2010 census reported a city of Denver population of about 600,000, which places it as the nation’s 26th-largest city.

The metropolitan area is booming with suburbs, especially to the south. Among the better-known cities are Aurora, Arvada, Boulder, Lakewood, Englewood, Golden, Westminster, Northglenn, Thornton and Littleton, which together raise the population above 2 million. At that size, the Denver area has plenty of employment opportunities, along with big-city amenities in the way of entertainment, mass transportation and education.

Diversity is also a hallmark of the city, with a population that is 32 percent Hispanic or Latino and 10 percent African-American, according to the 2010 Census.

Yet Denver is not so huge as to lose track of its roots in gold and silver mining, agriculture, trade and transportation. Residents don’t tend to wear cowboy hats, yet the city exudes a Western sensibility for living life at a more relaxed pace than its East Coast counterparts. Recreation is huge here, making it not so surprising that Colorado ranks high among health-conscious states.

Walking and biking trails, many of them along small creeks, snake throughout the metropolitan area. Denver also boasts one of the nation’s largest networks of city parks, with acres upon acres of greenbelt, majestic trees and colorful flower gardens. Along with views of the Rockies, the city further capitalizes on its allure with an eye-catching downtown skyline and a generous placement of public art.

Among the architectural highlights are the Colorado Convention Center, the Denver Center for Performing Arts, the May D&F Tower, the Denver Public Library and adjacent Denver Art Museum and the Civic Center, right below the star of the show, the gold-domed State Capitol, where a certain step on the main outdoor stairs marks the exact height of one mile, or 5,280 feet. These sites and others are sure to place downtown Denver high on tourists’ itineraries.

Adjacent to downtown, Coors Field, the Pepsi Center arena and Sports Authority Field stand out prominently along the city’s main artery, Interstate 25. The sports venues are testaments to Denverites’ loyalty to and enthusiasm for their major-league teams, from the Colorado Rockies of major league baseball, to the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche hockey team, the Denver Nuggets of basketball fame and, of course, the NFL’s Denver Broncos, who continue to inspire Broncomania.

Complementing the attractions in the metropolitan area are those ever-beckoning mountains. Residents and tourists can head out of the city in almost any direction and within no time come to idyllic spots for hiking, cycling, fishing, wildlife viewing and camping — not to mention skiing. The nearest major ski resorts are just over an hour away.

More Denver
Denver history
Area map

“Must-see” attractions
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
State Capitol
U.S. Mint at Denver

Cultural attractions
Art District on Santa Fe
Denver Art Museum
Tattered Cover Book Store

Dinosaur attractions
Itinerary: Hunting dinosaurs in the Denver area
Dinosaur Ridge
Morrison Natural History Museum
Triceratops Trail

Family attractions
Children’s Museum of Denver
Denver Firefighters Museum
Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park
Lakeside Amusement Park
Tiny Town & Railroad
Water World
Wildlife Experience

Aurora Water Xeriscape Demonstration Garden
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver Water Utility Xeriscape Demonstration Garden
Chester M. Alter Arboretum at University of Denver
Gardens at Lakewood’s Kendrick Lake Park
Hudson Gardens and Event Center in Littleton
Butterfly Pavilion Gardens In Westminster

Historic attractions
Black American West Museum
Brown Palace Hotel
Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave
Byers-Evans House Museum
Four Mile Historic Park
History Colorado Center
Molly Brown House Museum
Oxford Hotel
Union Station
Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum

Cherry Creek State Park
City Park
Denver Civic Center
Denver Skatepark
Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater
Washington Park

Wildlife attractions
Buffalo Herd Nature Preserve
Butterfly Pavilion
Denver Zoo
Downtown Aquarium
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

More attractions
Amtrak’s California Zephyr
Colorado Sports Hall of Fame
Larimer Square
Lower Downtown (LoDo)
16th Street Mall
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

Best movies filmed in Denver
1943: “Lassie Come Home”
1952: “Pat and Mike”
1954: “The Glenn Miller Story”
1973: “Sleeper”
2002: “Bowling for Columbine”

Denver facts
Population: 600,158 (city) and 2.6 million (metropolitan area) (2010 Census).
Land area: 154.9 square miles.
County: Denver (Denver is a combined city-county government).
Altitude: 5,130 feet above sea level.
Climate: Warm summers, mild to cold winters and abundant sunshine year-round. Annual precipitation of 22 inches, including average snowfall of 61 inches. Snow depth of 1 inch in January, February and March. January averages: high 47, low 16. July averages: high 88, low 55. More weather >>