With its championship football team, burgeoning restaurant and arts scene, and proximity to some of the world's best ski resorts, Denver offers a lot of fun things to see and do for travelers. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has been a key force behind efforts to ramp up tourism in the Mile High City since being elected in 2011, working to expand direct flights to Denver International Airport and improve the airport's facilities. A longtime Denver resident now in his second term, Hancock has seen firsthand how much the city has grown and changed over the years. He says Denver has a special quality that makes the city unique."There’s a certain spirit in this city you don’t find everywhere," he tells U.S. News. "It’s a very optimistic, forward-thinking, positive spirit that permeates every sector and every individual."For those visiting Denver, Hancock shares some of his favorite things to experience in the city. (The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)What are three things every first-time visitor must see or do in Denver? I always encourage people to visit our museums, like the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum. The 16th Street Mall and LoDo [short for Lower Downtown] areas are also great attractions with a variety of restaurants, shopping and nightlife options. I also like to be outdoors enjoying our local parks. We really cherish our open spaces in Denver. You’ll see people out in parks or out in the mountains year-round.[Read: The 6 Best Denver Brewery Tours.]What's your favorite museum and why?I love the Museum of Nature & Science for its variety. The Denver Art Museum will give you the experience of a lifetime in Denver. I’m amazed at some of the exhibits they’ve been able to attract. What’s something Denver visitors should know about the city that they might not already? If you are a foodie, Denver has more than 80 new restaurant openings in the city each year, with many places being chef-owned and operated. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts houses our opera and gets shows right off Broadway like "The Book of Mormon" and "Frozen."Are there any new initiatives underway to attract visitors in 2017? The people of Denver are actually heir to 14,000 acres of mountain parks, and we’re continuing to work to enhance these open spaces, including the world-famous Red Rocks. We put a lot of effort into fine-tuning our investment in Red Rocks with improvements to the facilities and trails. You mentioned that Denver has a vibrant restaurant scene. What are some of your favorites? I’m a big fan of Sushi Den, a great Asian fusion spot in Wash Park. For a nice cocktail, I love The Cooper Lounge at Union Station – it’s a great social environment. My wife loves brunch, and we like Snooze a lot. It has several locations now, but it started here in Denver and has some of the best gourmet pancakes that you’ll ever experience in your life. They are worth the wait.[Read: 7 Breweries to Visit on Your First Trip to Denver.]What is a way for visitors to save money when traveling in Denver? Denver is a very walkable city and our mobility offerings are expanding so you can save money on transport. [As a city councilman in 2008,] I told everyone during the Democratic National Convention that once you get downtown, it’s very easy to get around without a car. I recommend people stay somewhere where they can access the transit system conveniently. With the RTD light rail system, you can now get downtown from [the Denver International Airport] for only $9. Once you’re downtown, the 16th Street MallRide is free and helps you access the amenities on the cross streets.What is a popular thing for families to do in Denver? Denver has one of most well-respected children’s museums [the Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus] right in heart of downtown. Over the years, they’ve grown it and invested in it, and it’s a tremendous experience. Kids of all ages can truly enjoy the Museum of Nature & Science. Also, Denver has almost 6,000 acres of wonderful urban parks, parkways and natural areas in all its neighborhoods. We do a good job of maintaining the playgrounds and equipment in the parks for young people and entire families to enjoy. Denver is a city of neighborhoods. What are some neighborhoods you'd recommend a first-time visitor experience? A city is only as great as its neighborhoods. If you want to see some culture and some history of Denver’s multicultural community, take a five-minute drive to Five Points. You can go to the North Denver neighborhoods like Highlands and Sunnyside to get a sense of the old original Denver. If you want to see how people spend their weekends, go to Washington Park. In the park itself you’ll see thousands of young people playing volleyball and enjoying themselves outdoors. [Read: The Best Things to Do in Denver.]Describe your perfect day in Denver. My family and I would go have brunch at Snooze or one of the great diners in Denver, like the Denver Diner downtown. Then we would go walk the dogs in City Park. Then maybe we’d go to the Denver Zoo, which is well-respected around the country. The primates and the elephants are my favorite animal exhibits. At night, we’d have dinner, then we would go find somewhere to enjoy live music because Denver has more live music venues than Austin, Texas. I love listening to jazz at El Chapultepec and Jazz at Jacks. The Soiled Dove Underground in [the neighborhood of] Lowry has great sound and gets some national acts. To experience more of what Denver has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.