The Mayor’s Top Tips for Visiting Denver

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock shares what he loves most about the Mile High City.

By Katie Hearsum, ContributorJan. 23, 2017
By Katie Hearsum, ContributorJan. 23, 2017, at 10:29 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

The Mayor’s Top Tips for Visiting Denver

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is offers a wide variety of exhibits for the family.(Courtesy of Visit Denver)

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.

DENVER, CO - MARCH 2: RTD's Free MallRide bus run on Denver's 16th Street Mall on Wednesday, March 2, 2016. There are plans in the summer to move the shuttle buses to 15th Street and 17th Street on the weekends to encourage visitors to spend more time on the mall with interactive events. (Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon/ The Denver Post)(Cyrus McCrimmon/ The Denver Post)

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.

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 4: Visitors head to Red Rocks to get in a workout and to visit the rocks, Creation, Ship Rock and Stage Rock August 4, 2015. Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that Red Rocks Park and Mount Morrison Civilian Conservation Corps Camp has been named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service and Department of the Interior. (Photo By John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)(John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

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.

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.

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.

(Debbie Wolvos Photography)

To experience more of what Denver has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.

Corrected on Feb. 9, 2017: A previous version of this story misstated the name of the Children's Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus.

Katie Hearsum, Contributor

Katie Hearsum is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado, and uses local knowledge to ...  Read more


12 Top Texas Wineries to Visit

From the Texas Hill Country to the Texas High Plains, the Lone Star State offers top-notch wineries for oenophiles.

May 23, 2019

The 7 Best San Francisco Bus Tours

Visit the top attractions in this hilly city without breaking a sweat.

Lyn MettlerMay 22, 2019

The 15 Best Washington, D.C., Tours

The nation's capital has more to offer than free museums and tons of history.

Kim Foley MacKinnonMay 22, 2019

10 Amazing Montana Vacations

Breathtaking landscapes and year-round outdoor adventures will inspire you to visit Big Sky Country.

May 20, 2019

The 13 Best Savannah Tours

Experience real southern hospitality when visiting Savannah with these top tours.

John RodwanMay 16, 2019

The 15 Best Boston Tours

Get to know one of America's most historic cities with these tours.

Kim Foley MacKinnonMay 14, 2019

The 18 Best New Orleans Tours

With so much to see and do in New Orleans, these tours will help you maximize your time in the Big Easy.

Claire LawtonMay 10, 2019

The 7 Best Chicago Boat Tours

These low-key tours offer unique views of a city famed for its skyline.

Holly JohnsonMay 9, 2019

30 Cheap Weekend Getaways in the USA

From beach destinations to amusement parks, these vacations are perfect for an affordable and quick trip.

May 9, 2019

The 15 Best Chicago Tours

Foodies, boat enthusiasts and historians alike will appreciate any one of these tours of the Windy City.

John RodwanMay 8, 2019