Denver Botanic Gardens

The Denver Botanic Gardens is a typical botanic gardens located in the center of Denver. The Botanic Gardens is located just a few miles from downtown Denver, near Cheesman Park, on Josephine Street. Admission costs $12.50 for adults and $9 for kids. Kids 2 and under are free. The Botanic Gardens, of course, has acres of flowers, plants, and trees.

denver botanic gardens flowers

One of the most interesting thing about the Botanic Gardens in Denver is its Tropical Conservatory. One of Denver’s first wealthy families was the Boettchers. You have seen their name on things if you have been sightseeing in Denver at all. In fact, today’s Governor’s residence is in, you guessed it, Boettcher Mansion. The Boettchers made their money in cement, supplying the building materials during Denver’s boom. So, when the time came to build something to house tropical plants, the Boettchers donated it, and cast the whole thing out of cement.

denver botanic gardens tropical conservatory

Inside, the tropical forest has live, towering jungle trees, flowers, coffee trees, and more. There are also some ducks. Stairs in the center take you up three stories to the top of the jungle canopy. It’s worth the price of admission on it’s own.

Next door, a newer addition has a warm, moist area for a collection of orchids and other plants.

orchids at denver botanic gardens

Outside, wide open trails and a friendly attitude make it a great place for a stroll, with or without kids. Around the edges are “hidden” paths off of the main paved trails. There is also a science pyramid, a bonazi garden, lilly pad ponds, beautiful fountains and more. The Botanic Gardens had a very successful show of Chihuly glass art in 2014. When the show left, the Gardens bought a beautiful, permanent, glass work to display. You’ll find it near the Gardens southeast corner.

permanent chihuly glass sculpture at denver botanic gardens

As an added treat, there is a Botanic Gardens Cafe near the entrance. The pastries and quiches here are very good, and definitely worth a stop. The cafe in the middle of the gardens near the Japanese ponds is more hit or miss, but if you need a burger, or slice of pizza, it’s your place.

botanic gardens lilly ponds

Across the street on top of the parking  structure, is a Children’s Garden. It has fun paths, including a simulated hike up to 10,000 feet, and hearty plants. The main draw for most kids is the, go ahead and play in it, simulated stream in the center of the Children’s Garden.

Around Christmas time, the Denver Botanic Gardens does an extensive Christmas light show using the trees and plants in the Gardens. It can get cold at night in Colorado during December, so check the weather and bundle up.

Usually, the Botanic Gardens is not crowded and a great, relaxing experience. However, the Botanic Gardens offers free days that get very crowded, and they have big plant sales a few times each year which bring out the crowds as well. If you want the gardens to yourself, you’ll want to avoid those days.

The Denver Botanic Gardens hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m from Mother’s Day until Labor Day and 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during the winter months. They are open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

If you want a less sculpted, more outdoorsy experience, there is another branch of the Botanic Gardens south of Denver at Chatfield Reservoir.

Money Museum Denver Federal Reserve Bank

The Denver Federal Reserve building is in downtown Denver on 16th Street between Curtis St. and Arapahoe St.. The free 16th Street mall shuttle bus passes directly in front of the Federal Reserve, a large gray stone building with a wrought iron fence surrounding it. Until a few years ago, the only way members of the public could see inside the Federal Reserve in Denver was as part of an official tour group. Now, the downtown Denver Fed bank offers a Denver tourist attraction called the Money Museum.

federal-reserve-bank-denverUnlike tours of the Denver Mint, or the main Federal Reserve building, no reservations are required for the Money Museum in the Denver Federal Reserve Bank. (Tours of the actual Federal Reserve building require reservations made at least two weeks in advance.) The Money Museum hours are open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for banking holidays.

Admission to the Money Museum is free. People older than 18 do have to provide a photo ID for admission.

Highlights of the Money Museum include a display of $30 million in cash, displays of historical U.S. currency, various interactive exhibits and a station where you can design your own money.  Visitors to the Money Museum also receive a bag of actual U.S. dollar bills that has been shredded by the bank because it is no longer fit for circulation.

With its location right downtown, the Denver Money Museum makes a great stop not only for travelers sightseeing in Denver, but also for people attending events at the Denver Convention Center, or just for people who work downtown on their lunch hour. There is no public parking for the Money Museum, so you’ll need to grab a parking meter or park in a parking lot or parking garage downtown.

If you think you might be hearing strange sounds from the sidewalk grates outside the Money Museum entrance, you aren’t crazy. An art installation beneath the sidewalk pumps up sounds to the street of things like waves on a beach, or the sound of a subway train. Different vents have different sounds. Take a second to stand over each one to hear all the sounds.

If you are trying to look up information about the Federal Reserve’s Denver Money Museum online, you might be confused by your search results. That’s because the Federal Reserve building in Denver, is actually a Federal Reserve Branch Bank. The word “Branch” is the key. The actual Federal Reserve Bank for the region is in Kansas City. While you’ll see a D mint mark on coins, you won’t see Denver or a D on any dollar bills, only Kansas City.

Although, it also has to do with money, the Denver Mint is a different organization and not directly connected with the Federal Reserve. You can find information about touring the Denver Mint at the the United States Mint website. Note that tours of the Denver Mint do require tickets which can be purchased in advanced. Standby tickets can be picked up starting at 7:30 a.m. at the mint.  Tours there are free as well, but you generally cannot just show up and walk in because the tours sell out in advance.

Be sure to hop on the free 16th Street Shuttle bus and have lunch or dinner at one of the many great restaurants in the downtown Denver.

Estes Park Denver Day Trip

When most people think of Colorado, they think of mountains. The Rocky Mountains are visible from Downtown Denver and provide a handy navigational guide (they’re west). Although Denver sits along the front range and its weather is dominated by the mountains, the city isn’t really in the mountains. Many Denver visitors enjoy a trip into the mountains.

There are numerous choices for a mountain day trip. One popular and fund mountain day trip from Denver is Estes Park. Estes Park is a small community located right near Rocky Mountain National Park. Many park visitors use Estes, as it is known locally, as their base of operations when visiting RMNP, but it is a fun destination all on its own.

Getting to Estes Park from Denver

Estes Park is about an hour and a half drive from Denver. Of course, if you aren’t used to driving the winding, twisting mountain roads, it can take a little longer.

There are basically two ways to drive to Estes. The most common, and shortest, route is to to drive north on I-25 to the Boulder Turnpike (U.S. 36) and then up to Boulder, Colorado. Plenty of visitors enjoy a visit to Boulder, and its a good place to grab a bite to eat if you are hungry on the way up, or on the way down. Stay on Highway 36 (U.S. 36) through town and up to the north. Eventually, you’ll come to a T intersection. Head left through the town of Lyons.

Beware the speed limit in Lyons. Even though this part of town is little more than a single block wide spot in the road, they drop the speed limit on the highway down to 25 MPH and they mean it. There is little for the police here to do other than ticket speeders, so slow down, grit your teeth and remember that Lyons isn’t very big. Head right (north) through town and follow the winding road all the way into Estes Park.

If you prefer a more interstate heavy route, take I-25 all the way north to Loveland and then head west on Highway 34.

What To Do in Estes Park

There isn’t any particular thing you do in Estes Park. Remember, you come here for the beauty of the mountain area. That being said, Estes is a charming little mountain town. While there is a whole residential area on the eastern part of the town, most visitors will want to stick with quaint walking area on the western part of town.

Drive into town on Elkhorn Ave. and find a parking space anywhere. The larger public lots are city owned and free, with no time limit. If you make it up early in the day on the weekend or anytime during the week, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a spot. On busy weekend afternoons, you might have to circle a lot or tow and wait for someone to pull out, but it usually works out well.

The main attraction of Estes park is the line of shops along Elkhorn Avenue. This part of Estes sits on a mountain so that as soon as it ends, your heading up the side. Walking up is west, down is east.

There are plenty of tourist traps in here, along with the requisite “funny” T-shirt shops, but there are plenty of quaint little shops and interesting stores as well. What makes the walk so worthwhile is the eclectic mixture of shops ranging from clothing and rustic furniture and decorations to a handful of Christmas shops (open year round) and other specialty stores. Take your time and duck into any of the shops that pique your interest. Look for the Golden Leaf on the eastern (lower) end of town for a selection of nesting dolls bigger than any you’ve seen not in a place called “Little Russia.”

On your walk down (East) be sure to turn up Riverside Drive at the stop light and head toward the old movie theater. Right before you get there, look for a path that follows the river down the mountain. There are plenty of nice shops back along this way and a nice view of the river and mountainside across it as you go down. Work your way back up (if necessary) on the main Elkhorn road.

Eating in Estes Park

The other reason people loving going up to Estes is the food, but not necessarily the restaurants. Rather, Estes has more than its share of mom and pop sweets stores. You’ll find fresh saltwater taffy, homemade ice cream, multiple kinds of fudge, and more. A personal favorite, called Grandma’s near the west edge of town sells cookies (and more) made into sandwiches with a huge frosting middle. Get the snicker-doodle cookie sandwich.

You’re welcome.

Staying in Estes Park

There are more hotels and motels in Estes Park than you might imagine. Remember that there aren’t a lot of lodging options in Rocky Mountain National Park and you’ll know why there are plenty of lodging options here.

The most famous (and most expensive) hotel in Estes is the Stanley Hotel. The Stanley is famous for being the place where the Shining movie was filmed, the original one with Jack Nicholson, not the crappy remake. Of course, the hotel was only used for the exterior shots. The inside was filmed at a movie studio lot.

If there isn’t a major event or it isn’t too crowded, you can drive right up to the hotel and park in a visitor lot. Otherwise, you’ll have to hike up. Either way, head inside to the bar and grab a drink to enjoy out on the huge front patio. You’ll get a nice drink, a great view, and wonderful ambiance.

2011 Denver Zoo Lights

Don’t forget the Denver Zoo has its annual Zoo Lights event in December. The zoo lights up a large portion of its park with Christmas lights of all kinds and an array of animal light sculptures. If you are looking for places to take kids to see Christmas lights in Denver, Zoo Lights should be at the top of your list. You can find more information about Denver Zoo Lights 2011 on the Undefeated Daddy blog along with other useful dad parenting tips.

More Christmas events and attractions coming soon!