Travel – Denver with Kids

View of Red Rocks from Dinosaur Ridge

Last year when the Boy and I were out in Colorado for the long holiday weekend, we had such a good time that we decided to go back for a longer vacation the next year (this year), knowing that things would be different.  Having a baby has changed the way we travel, and what we can do a little bit, but it didn’t stop us from having a great time.  Having the girls with us was such a joy and help (most of the time!), and it ended up being a terrific trip.

 

Hotel

We stayed at the Courtyard Denver Downtown, mostly because it was centrally located and allowed us access to many different food and sightseeing options.  We also got a good deal on the stay, and the Boy has status with Marriott, so if we weren’t able to use points and instead would be paying money, this was the way to do it.  The only downside of staying where we were was how crowded it was – less of an issue if it’s just adults, but keeping track of two pre-teens and a baby on the sidewalks, and trying to avoid awkward interactions with the occasionally loud indigent population was a challenge.  There was also an anime convention in town up the street, so it made getting into some restaurants more difficult, but did make for some terrific people-watching.  Valet parking is a little expensive, but since we were driving in from the mountains and planned to go to places in the city that are a little further out, it was worth it (especially with 5 of us!).

Activities

My main piece of advice for travel with a baby in general after this particular trip is not trying to do too much.  You will know if your child is getting enough nap-time during the day, and if necessary, you can cut activities short and spend the afternoon resting and letting baby sleep.  Our big girls didn’t mind the opportunity to read and watch TV either.

State Capitol Tour – this was free and pretty darn good.  I feel like I came away with a better general understanding of the history of Colorado (though a trip to the history museum wouldn’t hurt to add to that), and I got to see a cool space.  While you can walk into the capitol and wander around it on your own, the tour is the only way to go up to the dome at the top and get the gorgeous views of the city and landscape.  This last part is not stroller-friendly, but nearly everything else in the building is accessible, especially if you use the elevator. [200 E Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80203; Free public tours are offered hourly 10am-3pm, weekdays]

Denver Museum of Nature and Science – a fun outing, but one I’m not sure we did as well as we could.  We arrived late-morning after the tour, and we did get to see some cool exhibits: dinosaurs and a physical/natural history of Colorado, gems and minerals (so cool!), but the big mistake was in devoting too much time to this “Mindbender Mansion” exhibit.  It’s a large space that’s devoted to logic puzzles and brain-teasers, and there’s a game element where you can try to figure out a certain set of puzzle answers in order to get some kind of prize.  Unfortunately, it was super-crowded the day we were there, and you could hardly get access to any of the puzzle games.  And trying to do any of the team games (which required 2-4 participants total) was a total cluster.  We tried to do one involving a balloon which you pull from four different ropes, and while three of us got to our ropes when another group left, a small boy who was behind us in line ran in and took the fourth.  His grandfather encouraged this, and then let him stay and just pull on the rope willy-nilly during another groups turn [this felt like a cautionary tale about how to parent].  Baby B also was napping when we got in there, but woke up soon afterwards because of all the yelling and shrieking.  I wish we had been smarter and instead chosen to visit either the Mummies exhibit or the Space Odyssey.  Lesson learned. [Open daily 9am-5pm; 2001 Colorado Blvd, Denver, CO 80205; $16.95 for adults, $11.95 ages 3-18]

Dinosaur Ridge – Did you know that there’s a place where you can go and touch actual dinosaur footprints?  See dinosaur bones and learn about how the earth has changed?  Do all this for free by yourself, or for cheap if you want someone to drive you?  Dinosaur Ridge is near Red Rocks, and is gorgeous.  We chose the DIY version and did the easy road hike, which is very well marked and has good signage along the way.  We managed to be at a few of the big stops when a guide came by with a group, and so we got to listen in on some of their knowledge and information, but it was amazing to be that close to fossils, and to think about the geologic history of that space.  If we had more time we probably would also have gone over to Red Rocks to hike and look at the ampitheater, but it has limited hours on days when there are shows, which is nearly every day in the summer. [Seasonal Hours, though generally around 9am-5pm; 16831 W Alameda Pkwy, Morrison, CO 80465; Bus tour is $9 for ages 12+, $7 for ages 3-11]

Denver Botanic Gardens – This was probably the favorite sight-seeing thing that we did while we were in Denver.  The space is beautiful, and there are so many different kinds of gardens that it was almost overwhelming.  We got there soon after it opened, which was a smart move, especially because by the time lunch rolled around, all the paths were packed.  It probably didn’t help that we were there on a holiday weekend when the weather was ideal and when a corpse flower was recently in bloom (drawing crowds and flies.  I’ll be here all week!), but it didn’t matter.  The whole places was beautiful and we could have honestly spent the entire day there if we had been able to get a spot for lunch at one of the restaurants.  If you’ve got little kids, make sure to visit the Children’s garden, which is located on top of the parking garage. [Open daily at least 9am-5pm; 1007 York St, Denver, CO 80206; $12.50 for ages 16+, $9 for ages 3-15]

Food/Restaurants

In addition to having a baby change the way we sight-see, it has also changed the type of restaurants we will take her to.  When she was very small, it was not that difficult to wrap her up and take her to a slightly nicer restaurant.  But now that she’s bigger and wiggly, it needs to not be too fancy, it helps a lot if they have high chairs, and someplace that you can get in and out of quickly if things get too hectic with baby is a good idea.  This put us firmly in the category of “fast casual” – places like Noodles and Company or Chipotle, where you order your meal and then either take it to a table with you (if it’s a made-to-order place), or else have it delivered soon after if it needs to be cooked.  Luckily for us, there were lots of these near our hotel in Denver, and we didn’t end up eating lunch or dinner at one national chain, which felt nice.

Tokyo Joe’s – E loves sushi, so the goal when I was doing trip planning and saw this on the map, I knew it was a winner.  They’ve got plenty of sushi options, but there are also made-to-order rice, noodle and poke bowls, along with a make-your-own Bento box option.  I did the Bento since it gave me a variety of foods and was very filling.  Having tofu with sauce, noodles, 4 pieces of sushi and edamame was quite filling and I think everyone else at the table was jealous when they figured out how nice having a little variety in your meal could be.  This was fairly empty at our (admittedly early) dinner time, but I imagine it is packed midday for lunch, and understandably.  [Lots of locations in the greater Denver area]

Ice Cream Nation – After dinner at Tokyo Joe’s everyone else was still a little peckish since they hadn’t thought about how much food you actually get with a modest order of sushi.  So the Boy decided to splurge and treat us all to ice cream.  We wandered around for a while, trying to find a place he had found on Google Maps, but wasn’t in the location.  We later figured out it was a food truck.  Whoops.  Doing a little more searching on the map led us to Ice Cream Nation, a rolled ice cream stand, which ended up being super yummy.  The only problem with this little stand is that there were two people working it, and they weren’t super fast.  We were lucky to have gotten there with no one else in line, and so our four orders took a while, but then we were done.  A line formed behind us, and there were definitely people who arrived later, got in line, saw how long it was taking and bailed.  It is also apparently seasonal, and will reopen in it’s little stand next May. [601-649 16th St Mall, Denver, CO 80202]

Five on Black – There was one of the nights in Denver when the Boy left us early in order to make sure he got to the parking lot at a decent hour for Phish.  So all four of us girls were on our own, and we walked a few blocks up to a place I had noticed on our drive back to the hotel earlier that day.  Five on Black could be described as the Chipotle of Brazilian food – “The Chipotle of…” being a concept I am familiar with as a DC-area resident – but Brazilian food had never been a cuisine I had considered before.  It turned out to be quite tasty, and again, fairly empty in the early evening.  No high chairs, but super-friendly staff, and yummy bowls.  Getting a cheese bun is highly recommended.  [Locations in Denver, Boulder and Montana]

The Egg Shell – There is no shortage of breakfast joints in the 16th Street Mall area of Denver, so the goal in choosing one of these for our morning meal was finding one that had good reviews and would be baby friendly.  The Egg Shell was delightful – small, but bright and open.  We even were able to eat outdoors on the day we were there, and it was lovely!  The food was super yummy, and there were a lot of options, so I didn’t feel like I was choosing between 2 items I might like on the menu.  It didn’t hurt that it was 2 blocks from our hotel and had terrific reviews online. [950 17th St Denver, CO 80202]

Larkburger – The original plan had been to visit the nearby noodle bar when the Boy was able to join us for dinner, but it was packed with convention-goers, so we needed another option.  We ended up going back towards Five on Black to its next door neighbor which did burgers.  The idea behind Larkburger is that they have simple recipes for gourmet burgers and sides that aren’t too expensive, and are all family friendly.  They were conspicuous on our visit because they were conscientious about not producing too much waste that would end up in a landfill.  All the wrapping/containers for food was biodegradable, and the the waste area was divided up neatly into sections so that you could figure out what goes where.  The area for what we think of as general trash was the smallest container on the waste bin.  It was amazing, and made me excited for what may be possible in the future.  It didn’t hurt that the burgers were quite tasty, and the fries weren’t half bad either. [Locations across Colorado, and beyond]

Port Side – On the day of our Botanic Garden visit, we had planned to eat lunch at the gardens, but as I noted, it was super crowded.  So we decided instead of drive up and visit Crema, the hipster cafe on Larimer Street with the hopes of spotting one Mike Gordon while we ate avocado toast.  Instead, we spotted him sitting outside Port Side, the restaurant where he had posted about visiting the day before.  I told the Boy that I was going to talk to Mike (he didn’t want to – too shy/hands-off?), and brought the baby with me.  Mike was very gracious, and was very sweet with Baby B – making music for her with his hands, and snapping a picture for a friend (“So he can see it’s not just adults coming up to say hi”), and generally being very kind for my doofus-y self who doesn’t really know what she’s talking about when it comes to jam bands.  We could have continued walking the 4 blocks down to Crema, but instead decided to partake of Port Side’s fare, and everyone in our adult group ended up getting avocado toast and iced tea.  This wasn’t a very creative order, but considering it was topped with radish and togarashi, I would say it was worth it.  [2500 Larimer St #103, Denver, CO 80205]

Menya Noodle Bar – on our last night in Denver, we finally made it to the noodle bar across the street from our hotel.  It was a bit of a cluster trying to get a table – the restaurant was obviously slammed by tourists and convention-goers – but once we sat down, service was fast, and the ramen was absolutely delicious.  My Tantan ramen with spicy pork was hot (both in temperature and flavor) and delicious, and very filling.  I would have loved to get some mochi too, but both girls said they were full at the end, and being “full, but hungry enough to eat dessert” isn’t something I really believe in with children, so I didn’t even bring it up.  Oh well – next time?  Because I would definitely go back.  [Locations across Denver area]

Final Note: I think it’s fair to say that as long as Phish decides to play at Dick’s Sporting Goods Arena over Labor Day weekend, we will be spending at the very least a long weekend in Denver each year.  If you know about someplace in the Denver or Boulder area that we should visit or eat at next time, let me know in the comments.  We’re always looking for new and fun places!

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