Walking Tour of Denver
In 1917, local author Dabney Otis Collins wrote: "When I walk down a Denver street, I always feel as if I were listening to a brass band."
The city has that same feeling today. Whether you are catching a glimpse of a snow capped peak at the end of 17th Street, watching a horse drawn carriage clatter down Larimer Square, or admiring the reflection of an elegant Victorian building in the mirrored glass of a skyscraper, there is a sense of excitement and energy to downtown Denver.
The clean streets, the open plazas with views of the architecture and the hundreds of flower planters, fountains and statues that decorate the area all combine so that even a short stroll is fun and filled with many memorable images.
A natural starting point for a walking tour is the 15th step on the west side of the State Capitol Building. Standing here, you are exactly 5,280 feet above sea level one mile high.
The Capitol, modeled after the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., is best known for its brilliant dome, which is covered with 200 ounces of 24K gold. However, the really priceless material is the Colorado onyx that was used inside as wainscoting. The entire world's supply of this unusual rose colored stone was used in the building and no more of it has ever been found.
Free tours of the Capitol are offered on weekdays and offer visits to the Senate and House of Representatives chambers. Or, you can climb a winding 93 step stairway to the top of the Rotunda for a sweeping view of the city and the Rockies, taking in everything from the Wyoming border all the way south to Pikes Peak. Markers indicate the names of all the peaks visible on this 150 mile long mountain panorama. It is against state law to construct any building that would block the view of the mountains from the Capitol.
Directly in front of the Capitol is a two square block oasis in the heart of the city Civic Center Park. Here, statues of Indians and bucking broncos are mixed with flower gardens, fountains, a Greek Amphitheater and 30 different types of trees, including two that were originally planted by Abraham Lincoln at his home in Illinois. The park is about to undergo a $25 million refurbishing that will add a restaurant, outdoor cafes and fountains.
One block south of the park is the unusual staircase like building that houses the Colorado History Museum, a wonderful facility honoring the various people who have called Colorado home. Here one will find some of the finest examples of pottery taken from the mysterious Anasazi cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde as well as intricate dioramas depicting old forts, Indian buffalo hunts and early gold mining techniques.
One fascinating exhibit is a huge model of Denver as it appeared in 1860 before it was destroyed twice by fire and flood. The history museum uses modern graphic techniques and some very fine audiovisual work to make the state's colorful history come to life.
Across the street is the new $64 million Denver Public Library. Designed by architect Michael Graves, the colorful building features towers, turrets and rotundas. Inside are 47 miles of bookshelves and a $20 million art collection including originals by Remington and Russell.
Returning to Civic Center Park, it is just one block west to the dramatic Denver Art Museum, a 28 sided, 10 story structure that is itself a piece of sculpture. Over a million special Corning gray glass tiles are wrapped as a "skin" on the building, each of them reflecting light in different ways.
Designed by Gio Ponti of Milan, Italy, the building resembles a medieval fortress. Inside, it offers 35,000 art objects in seven curatorial departments, including the famed American Indian Hall, considered by many experts to contain the world's finest examples of Native American art works. The hall contains works from all North American tribes, and a special two-story atrium was built to house the totem pole collection. The museum is currently undergoing a $92 million expansion with a new wing designed by Daniel Libeskind, winner of the World Trade Center redesign project.
One block west of the museum is the nation's second largest storehouse of gold bullion the United States Mint. Modeled in the Italian Renaissance style, the 1904 structure strongly resembles the Palazzo Riccardi in Florence. Over a million bricks, 60,000 cubic feet of granite and 1,000 tons of steel were used in its four and half foot thick walls. Free 20-minute tours are offered weekdays, allowing visitors the opportunity to watch dull metal blanks be stamped into familiar shiny quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. Six weeks notice is required for the tour; for information visit www.usmint.gov. Over ten billion coins are made here each year, and it looks like all of them are on the floor at one time since the building is filled with trays, sacks and conveyor belts overflowing with brilliant, flashing coins. The Mint also has an excellent museum on the history of money and a unique gift shop with many medals and coins unavailable anywhere else.
From the Mint, it is just two blocks to the 16th Street Mall, the true heart of downtown Denver. Built at a cost of $76 million, this mile long pedestrian path is lined with over 200 trees and filled with hundreds of benches and chairs. Fountains, plazas, chess tables, flower baskets and outdoor cafes make it the best "people watching" spot in the city. Free shuttle buses leave either end of the Mall as often as every 90 seconds, making it simple to get to any part of the downtown core. Located on the south end of the 16th Street Mall is the Denver Pavilions. Opened in November 1998, the Denver Pavilions is a two square block entertainment and shopping complex featuring a Wolfgang Puck Cafe, Maggianos Little Italy, a Virgin Records Megastore, a Barnes & Noble Superstore, Nike Town and a 15-screen movie theatre, as well as 40 other shops.
One block off of the Mall at 17th and Tremont is the famous triangular Brown Palace Hotel. Built in 1892, the grand dame hotel features a nine story atrium topped by a stained glass window and throughout the lobby there are wonderful Victorian and Art Deco touches.
Back on the Mall, the next attraction is the D&F Tower at the corner of 16th and Arapahoe. This 325 foot tower was the highest building west of the Mississippi when it was built in 1910. Patterned after the famed campanile of St. Mark's in Venice, the tower is particularly beautiful when seen from either of the fountains at Skyline Park, which runs for three blocks along Arapahoe. Nearby, 16th Street and California, is the Denver Visitor Information Center, where there are over 400 free brochures and maps. The center is open all year with local experts who will help you plan your Denver and Colorado vacation itineraries.
The tower is also the anchor for the glittering Shops at Tabor Center, a 550 foot long, three story glass atrium filled with 70 shops and restaurants. Huge fountains, colorful banners and sweeping views of Denver and the mountains, make this a festive place to shop.
Directly across the street from the Tabor Center is Writer Square, an open air shopping and dining complex with quaint gas lamps and brick walkways. An off street path winds past outdoor cafes and shops through this center to Larimer Square, a restored section of Denver's oldest street.
Here, scattered among 18 elegant Victorian buildings, are more than 30 shops and a dozen restaurants and clubs. Colorful awnings, hanging flower baskets, outdoor cafes and quiet open courtyards accent the historical buildings that were once home to Bat Masterson and Buffalo Bill Cody.
Horse drawn carriage rides originate here for trips up the Mall or throughout Lower Downtown, the old section of Denver where Victorian and turn of the century warehouses have been turned into art galleries, discos, brew pubs, restaurants and condominium lofts. Lower Downtown (or LoDo as locals call it) is one of the largest historic areas in the West covering 26 square blocks, and there are numerous historic markers in the area.
It's a pleasant place to stroll aimlessly, but be sure to visit the hundred year old Oxford Hotel at 17th and Wazee and the grand Union Station across the street. Union Station is still used three times a day for arriving and departing AMTRAK trains, and is the departure point for the Ski Train that travels on weekends in the winter through 28 tunnels on an exciting journey to Winter Park Ski Area.
Lodo is also home to the Coors Field, the baseball stadium that opened in 1995 for the Colorado Rockies. The 50,000-seat brick stadium was designed to look like an inner-city ballpark from the 1940s and 1950s. There are daily tours of the facility that show off various features, including a row of purple seats that are exactly one mile above sea level. There are wonderful views of Denver and the mountains from the high rows.
There are also over 80 brewpubs, saloons, sports bars, cafes, discos, wine bars and restaurants in LoDo, most of them housed in old brick warehouses. The Wynkoop Brewing Company at 18th and Wynkoop is one of the largest brewpubs in America and includes a pool hall with 22 tables. Nearby, there is a branch of the famous Tattered Cover Bookstore, called by the New York Times as the "best bookstore in America," at 16th and Wynkoop.
Back at Larimer Square, it's just a two-block walk to the Denver Performing Arts Complex (PLEX), the largest performing arts center in the world under one roof. The complex is entered under a 80 foot high, block long glass arch that leads to ten performance venues offering over 10,000-seats, the second highest seating capacity in America after New York's Lincoln Center.
Highlights of the PLEX include the 2,800 seat Buell Theatre, home to top Broadway road shows; Boettcher Concert Hall, the first symphony hall in the round in the nation; and the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex which has four theatres and the West's largest resident acting company. The Denver Center Theatre Company won a Tony Award in 1998 for best regional theater. A new $92 million Ellie Caulkins Opera House will open in September 2005 creating the most elaborate and beautiful concert hall in Denver.
The complex also includes the world's first voice research laboratory where they are studying methods to help actors and singers prolong the use of their voice.
Directly across Speer Blvd. from the PLEX is the Auraria Higher Education Center, a unique campus that houses three schools: Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State College and the University of Colorado at Denver. Over 34,000 students attend classes on the 171-acre site, which is laced with tall trees and pleasant walks. The Tivoli is the large white building and tower that dominates the campus on the north. Built in 1866, it was one of Denver's first breweries. Today, it is the Student Union building with a pleasant mix of shops, bookstores, restaurants, coffee shops and movie theatres.
In the southeast corner of the campus at 9th and Curtis is Ninth Street Historic Park, a full block of charming Victorian cottages that were originally built between 1872 and 1906. Descriptive signage provides architectural and historic detail about each of the 14 houses that now serve as campus offices.
At the north end of the block (9th and Lawrence) is the Golda Meir House. This duplex was moved here from is original location at 1606 Julian Street. From 1913-14, Golda Meir lived in this house before immigrating to Israel where she eventually became Prime Minister. In her autobiography, she described her life in Denver as crucial to her political development. The house is open by appointment as a museum with photos from her life.
From here, it is a one-block walk to the Light Rail station at 8th and Colfax. Frequent trains will take you two stops east back to the 16th Street Mall.
For more touring, ride the D-train all the way east (about 10 minutes) to the final stop at Downing Street. Across the street from the station at 3091 California St. is the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center. Housed in the former home of Dr. Justina Ford (Denver's first Black woman doctor), this fascinating museum tells the forgotten story of African American cowboys. Almost a third of the working cowboys on the big cattle drives in the West were African Americans, many of them freed slaves who migrated west after the Civil War. Through exhibits, historic photographs and paintings, the museum tells the many contributions that Blacks made in settling the West.
From the museum, catch the Light Rail back to 16th Street and California in the heart of downtown.
Reservations are required for all tours. Tour reservations can be scheduled through this web site, or by visiting the Reservations Booth at the United States Mint Visitor Center located on Cherokee Street between 14 Avenue and Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado. If space is available, walk-up tour reservations will be scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. As such, there may be days when walk-up tours are not available.
The U.S Mint Gift Shop is open Mon-Fri from 9:00am to 3:30pm. The store is located at 333 West Colfax in the Tremont Center across the street from the mint. The gift shops offers exciting souvenirs and coin and money-related gifts for the entire family, from traditional Mint numismatic coin collectibles to clothing, toys, games and accessories. For more information on the U.S. Mint, visit www.usmint.gov
Source: Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau