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Denver with Kids ~ Crazy Fun for Families in the Mile High City

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Want to have a crazy good time in Denver with kids? Here’s what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Colorado’s Mile High City for a vacation your family will always remember.

Elitch Gardens Big Wheel in Denver, Colorado

The Elitch Gardens Big Wheel is a ride the whole family can enjoy together (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park

Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park, the only downtown amusement/water park in America, serves up plenty of rides and water fun to vacationers and locals. Thrill seekers, like my 18-year-old nephew, appreciate a dozen scream-inducing options with names like Brain Drain, Boomerang and Mind Eraser. My kids (ages 6 and 9) are in that in-between stage, too young for the big thrills and too old for preschooler rides like the mini train called the Elitch Express. They preferred the kid-sized Blazin’ Buckaroo kids’ roller coaster and the Mouse House bumper cars.

With just a few age appropriate rides to choose from, Carnival games were a big hit with my kids. The games at Elitch aren’t cheap, but the prizes are (stuffed toys are filled with styrofoam beads instead of cotton). Still, my kids didn’t mind a bit and the vendors were generous, letting them choose the large prize at each win.

"Industrial Movement" performance at Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado

“Industrial Movement” performance at Elitch Gardens

The highlight for me was “Industrial Movement” a high energy live performance a la “Stomp” with dancing and much drum beating on trash can lids and the like. Live performances like this are almost hidden in the Trocadero theater off the park’s main drag. Stop in for a fun show and a chance to get out of the heat or the cold, as the case may be.

The Elitch Water Park is open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day each year and boasts water rides, splash areas, a river and waterslides aplenty. The theme park remains open on weekends through the beginning of November.

Casa Bonita

Casa Bonita wins the title of the craziest place I have ever eaten in my life. It’s like Disneyland plus Las Vegas minus any hint of subtlety. And that’s the point. Paths meander through hidden caves to reveal a gift shop jammed with tchotchkes aplenty and an arcade where kids can win plastic doo-dads. Mariachis wander the grounds serenading customers. The primary draw? Divers plunge into a small grotto-like pool in the center of the restaurant. A gorilla even chases a blond-wigged performer through the throngs of diners before the ape himself also dives into the narrow waterfall-bedecked basin. Click the video above to see one diver performing a crazy dive at Casa Bonita.

You don’t come here for the food. You come here for the kitsch. Still, everyone over the age of 2 must purchase a meal. I advise you stick to the chicken fajitas and avoid the adult gringo meals. The kids’ fried chicken strips were fine too. Save room for the complimentary and delicious sopapillas served with honey for desert.

A Chihuly glass sculpture at the Denver Botanic Gardens (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

A Chihuly glass sculpture at the Denver Botanic Gardens (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Denver Botanic Gardens

After all of the over stimulation of Elitch Gardens and Casa Bonita, your family may need some downtime in nature. Just 10 minutes east of downtown, the Denver Botanic Gardens is one of the most beautiful gardens this nature lover has ever visited. While here, you must visit the 3-acre Mordecai Children’s Garden, where kids are encouraged to dig, explore and play.

We were lucky enough to visit during the temporary Chihuly exhibit, which displays gorgeous installations by the famous glass artist Dale Chihuly. The temporary exhibit runs through November 30, 2014. Not to worry if you miss the Chihuly beauty, however, the gardens rotate a variety of temporary art exhibits both inside and out.

Pastiche at Panzano Restaurant in Denver

Crazy delicious Pastiche at Panzano (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)


Panzano, an upscale Italian restaurant in downtown Denver, is home to one of the most intriguing dishes my taste buds have experienced. It’s called Pastiche and it contains layers of spicy meatballs and cheese tortellini baked with ragu and cinnamon custard, topped with a savory thyme crust. Sound crazy? It is a little bit crazy, but delightfully so! Seriously, its been a few months since my visit and I can’t shake my craving for another serving. With Panzano’s white table cloths and swanky decor, this place might be better for a date night sans kids but the restaurant will happily prepare a half portion of any pasta dish for child diners.

Westin Westminster near Denver, Colorado

Crazy pretty view at Westin Westminster (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Westin Westminster

Located between Boulder and downtown Denver, the Westin Westminster makes a good choice for families looking to explore both cities. Book a Mountain View room to take in the hotel’s lovely pond with fountain and the stunning Rocky Mountains in the distance. An indoor pool is sure to please the kiddies, no matter what time of year you visit. At Westin Westminster you will find Kachina, a southwestern restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s also a Starbucks on-site, as well as numerous dining and shopping options a short drive away.

What is the craziest attraction you have experienced when traveling? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Thank you to Visit Denver for hosting our hotel stay and to Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park for providing complimentary tickets to my family of four. I always let you know when I receive a media discount or comp. All opinions are mine, as usual.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. You had me at a mixture of Las Vegas and Disneyland! This sounds a great place for a family stay. I think my kids would love it.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Sarah – My kids had a blast. A few months later, they still ask about going back to Casa Bonita!

  2. I didn’t know much about Denver to be honest except that is was close to the Rocky Mountains … good to know that it is a great place to take the kids!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Glad you found my Denver tips helpful, David! My family had a blast and can’t wait to go back sometime to explore more of the Mile Hight City.

  3. We visited Denver with our kids a few years ago, and it was a lot of fun! I didn’t realize how much there was to do there until we planned our trip.

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