Denver Visiting a city for the first time can be confusing. Must-see attractions may be in far-flung neighborhoods, and it's not always easy to figure out local mass transit, arrange for taxis or navigate unfamiliar streets in a rental car.
But if you're visiting Denver and you can find 16th Street, you'll be bopping around town like a local in no time.
This mile-long boulevard is an outdoor mall lined with shops, eateries, park benches and an interesting mix of landmark buildings and modern architecture. It runs through the heart of the downtown historic district, Lower Denver or LoDo, and it's closed to traffic except for free shuttle buses that run in both directions, from 6 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Hop on and off as much as you like.
Many downtown hotels are located on or near 16th Street, including the Westin, Courtyard by Marriott, Grand Hyatt, Holiday Inn, Adam's Mark, Comfort Inn and the landmark Brown Palace. Pick up a map from your concierge or the Denver Visitors Information Center, on 16th and California streets, and start exploring.
From the southeastern end of 16th Street, near the Civic Center, you'll find the State Capitol, the U.S. Mint (which resumed tours in April after a four-year, post-9/11 hiatus), the Denver History Museum (located in the Byers-Evans House), the Colorado History Museum, the Central Library and Denver Art Museum, all within two blocks.
An addition to the art museum designed by famed architect Daniel Libeskind is under construction, and some of the museum's collections, including Western and contemporary art, are off-limits until the new building opens in 2006.
But the small but interesting European and American collection (sixth floor) on display now is worth visiting. Rather than segregating works chronologically or by style, curators have grouped them according to thought-provoking themes.
Renaissance art shares a room with Wes Hempel's 1997 "Fatherhood," which shows a godlike, clean-shaven man surrounded by five babies and a soccer ball, done in a classical style with a modern subject. An abstract Picasso called "Still Life" hangs near a Dutch painting of flowers from the 1670s.
American Indian art (third floor) includes cultural artifacts - from clothing to weapons - along with Edwin Curtis photos, blown up to life-size proportions.
Nearby, admire the round library building, a spectacular postmodern structure amid the downtown towers by renowned architect Michael Graves. Duck inside to check your e-mail using a free 20-minute visitors pass. Then grab the shuttle and head back to 16th Street's shopping area.
Retail and restaurants
You'll find familiar retailers like Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and T.J. Maxx, along with an ESPN Zone, Virgin Megastore, fast-food chains and local souvenir stores like Simply Colorado and Only in Colorado.
Take your pick of outdoor cafes, ethnic restaurants and coffee shops. Brew pubs include the Wynkoop Brewing Co., owned by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, and the Rock Bottom Brewery. All are popular spots for the sports crowd headed to Coors Field, home of baseball's Rockies. The stadium - walking distance from LoDo - has helped anchor LoDo's growth in everything from restaurants to trendy lofts. The NBA's Denver Nuggets and the NHL's Colorado Avalanche play at the Pepsi Center, also walkable from downtown.
Book-lovers will find nirvana at the Tattered Cover, which has an outlet on 16th Street in addition to its flagship book store in Denver's Cherry Creek Mall. The doors open at 7 a.m. weekdays and don't close until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Make yourself at home amid the comfy chairs, manual typewriters and woven baskets, and dive into the thousands of books subdivided into intriguing categories like "Robotics" and "Celtic Mythology." Before you know it, you'll be upping your baggage limit to carry home all the books you couldn't resist buying.
The 16th Street shuttle's last stop is across from Amtrak's Union Station. Walk across the Millennium Bridge to Commons Park and the scenic South Platte River. Take a left and stroll to Confluence Park, where the South Platte meets Cherry Creek.
Get some gear for your next outdoor expedition at the enormous REI store here. Grab a latte from the Starbucks on the first floor and enjoy the view of the water from one of the outdoor tables. Stroll a bit farther along the riverside and you'll see the curved tracks rising from the rides at Six Flags Elitch Gardens.
Beyond the mall
Some of Denver's top attractions are too far to walk to from LoDo, but you can reach them via buses or light rail trains that stop near 16th Street. The Denver Visitors Information Center can help plan your route.
At 17th Street and Stout, catch the No. 32 bus to the Denver Zoo or the No. 10 bus to the Denver Botanic Gardens, where you'll find colorful flowers, shady trees and interesting themed gardens. They include a "Scripture" garden featuring plants mentioned in the Bible and other religious texts, along with a plains garden with dry grasses and cacti. Stone paths, pottery and pavilions add to the atmosphere.
For a museum experience found nowhere else, take the light rail from 16th and California streets to 30th Street and Downing. Here, at the Black American West Museum, you'll learn the untold story of freed slaves who settled in the West after the Civil War. As many as one-third of the cattle-driving cowboys were black, and the museum's unforgettable photos and artifacts also document black miners, Pony Express carriers and cavalrymen (the Indians called them "Buffalo Soldiers").
The museum is located in the 19th century home of Dr. Justina Ford, who delivered 6,000 babies and is reputed to have been the first black woman to practice medicine west of the Mississippi.
End your day with afternoon tea at the legendary Brown Palace Hotel, built in 1892. The meal is elegant and scrumptious, served in the lobby beneath a soaring stained-glass ceiling, surrounded by marble pillars and six tiers of cast-iron balconies. Tea here is a throwback to the formalities of an earlier era, complete with bone china, tinkling piano music, ladies in fancy hats and little girls in flowered dresses.
The $24 "Chocolate Sensation" tea has the requisite finger sandwiches, scones and clotted cream, but the sweets include a chocolate mocha cake, with each layer representing a floor of the hotel.
Things to do in Denver
Black American West Museum: 3091 California St.; www.blackamericanwest.org or (303) 292-2566. Open through Aug. 31, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; Sept. 1 to May 31, Wednesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and weekends, noon to 5 p.m. Adults, $6; children, $4.
Brown Palace Hotel: 321 17th St.; www.brownpalace.com or (303) 297-3111. Rates begin at $235 a night. Afternoon tea, served daily noon to 4 p.m., $22 or for the "Chocolate Sensation," $24.
Denver Art Museum: 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway; www.denverartmuseum.org or (720) 865-5000. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday until 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5; closed Monday. Adults $8, students 13 and up and seniors, $6.
Denver Botanic Gardens: 1005 York St.; www.botanicgardens.org or (720) 865-3500. Open through Sept. 15, Saturday to Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Wednesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From Sept. 16 to April 30, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Adults, $8.50, children $5.
Six Flags Elitch Gardens: 2000 Elitch Circle; www.sixflags.com or (303) 595-4386.
U.S. Mint: 320 W. Colfax Ave.; www.usmint.gov. Free tours, Monday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.