Free things to do in Denver (or nearby)

A Colorado sunset over East Colfax Avenue, June 28, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

By Kyle Harris, Denverite


Looking for things to do this weekend specifically? Here are things to do in Denver this weekend!


Denver has been smeared as the “Mile High Income” city, a spendy place only the rich can afford.

No free fun? Hooey!

Tourists and locals alike have many options when it comes to fun, fascinating and otherwise worthwhile things to do without spending a buck. We’ve put together a list of more than a hundred: galleries, bike rides, hikes, weird sports, museum free days, festivals, legally questionable activities, and a few things that would make your social studies teacher proud (a trip to City Council, anyone?).

One note: Some items involve wheels. If you don’t have any, there are rideshare bikes and scooters sitting around town, waiting for you to rent them.

We’re eager to add to this list and try new things out ourselves, so let us know what we’re missing, at tips@denverite.com.

The best free things to do in Denver

16th Street Mall, 1001 16th Street Mall.

You can spend big at the movie theater, shops and restaurants on the 16th Street Mall, but getting on board the Free Mall Ride is a perfect way to see this Denver tourist strip. Get a taste of downtown’s ups and downs. Enjoy mighty-fine people watching and rotating activities like ice skating, rollerskating, piano playing and chess. Better yet, walk or roll (in a wheelchair, not a scooter or bike, which are banned) one way, and ride the other, making stops as you go.

40 West Arts District, West Colfax Ave., Lakewood.

One of the Denver area’s fastest-rising arts destinations is in the nearby western suburb of Lakewood. Just catch a bus up Colfax Avenue and check out many of Denver’s greatest galleries, which were priced out of the Mile High City and relocated up the street. Those include Next and Edge galleries, Pirate: Contemporary Art and the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council. Along the way, enjoy free audio tours that include artist interviews.

A mural before Casa Bonita’s unmistakable steeple. The 40 West Arts District. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

40 West ArtLine, Lakewood.

While you’re at 40 West, walk the 40 West Artline. Journey through four miles of culture and three separate parks, taking in over 100 pieces of public art along the way.

Antique Row, 1200 to 1800 S. Broadway, Denver.

Antique lovers will be happy to know the city’s best antique stores are located along one stretch of formerly industrial buildings on South Broadway. Peruse garden supplies, oddities, antiques, and more. Some stuff might make you nostalgic for a bygone age; other artifacts might creep you out — in a good way?

Art District on Santa Fe, Santa Fe Dr. between Kalamath and Galapago streets, and Alameda and 13th avenues.

Stroll through the Art District on Santa Fe to check out a few of Denver’s favorite art galleries, co-ops and small shops. If you’re looking for a crowd, head over on First Fridays. Otherwise, for a quieter art browsing experience, go pretty much any other time. And if you’re in the neighborhood when it’s open, visit Swift’s or El Taco de Mexico for some delicious Old Denver grub.

Art by Shepard Fairey, Sandra Fettingis and Jaime Molina on Metro State University’s Center for Visual Art on Santa Fe Drive. Aug. 12, 2020.

Auraria Campus, intersection of Colfax Ave. and Speer Blvd.

Home to the University of Colorado Denver, Metro State University and the Community College of Denver, the Auraria Campus was built on top of a historic community. Once its own city, Auraria has roots that go back to the founding of the Denver Metro Area and once vied, with Denver, to be the dominant city in the region. Wander the campus, check out events at the three schools that share the 150 acres, and head to the Tivoli Student Union for a bite or a cup of coffee.

Aurora History Museum, 15051 E. Alameda Pkwy., Aurora.

Dive into the history of Denver’s massive neighbor to the east. The Aurora History Museum offers exhibits, educational activities and regular events. Study the growth of Aurora (which, incidentally is bigger than Denver in acreage), the history of road tripping in the United States, transportation and more.

Bison Herd, Take exit 254 off I-70 and follow the signs for Buffalo Herd Overlook, near Genesee Park.

Are you under the impression that bison are extinct in the region? Not so. In fact, the City of Denver has its very own herd. You may have seen them, out of the corner of your eye, as you were driving up I-70. The city has been caring for them since 1914. Go to the overlook for a good look. If you can’t see them from there, hike through Genesee Park.

Bike, around town.

Saddle up and pedal the town. Denver is a great city for cycling for fun or commuting. If you’re looking to understand how Denver works, how neighborhoods connect and how each place feels, two-wheels is the way to go. Sure, you can’t ride on interstates, and there are major routes like Colfax Ave., Colorado Blvd., and Federal Blvd. you should probably avoid. But side streets and bike lanes are often safe and calm.

Tuesday was not a bad day for a ride around Washington Park. June 29, 2021.

Birdy

Pour a cup of coffee and crack open Birdy, a magazine that can be found at various businesses in Capitol Hill. It’s filled with killer art, fiction and essays, and it’s one of those little literary publications that makes this place so special. If you’re looking to tap into underground culture, Birdy is a must-read mag.

Black Cube Nomadic, various spots around the city and beyond.

Denver has abundant art galleries and a glut of public art, but Black Cube’s nomadic events and installations offer an ever-changing series of place-based experimentation, from building a dual-purpose water-drainage system/skate park near TAXI to throwing performances at city buildings. We can’t tell you exactly what Black Cube is up to, but whatever it is will likely be free and mind-blowing.

Bluff Lake Nature Center, 11255 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

If you’re looking for a little nature in Central Park, hike over to Bluff Lake Nature Center. We’ve seen frogs, wild turkeys and deer there. Read wildlife placards, and soak in the beauty. Whether you’re looking for a little education or relaxation, this is a great place to spend a couple of hours.

Bouldering, Central Park, 8801 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. or Carla Madison Recreation Center 2401 E. Colfax Ave.

While both Central Park and Carla Madison Recreation Center offer plenty of fun, rock climbers will be happy to know that they can take a quick trip to either spot and practice their skills on artificial rock walls with hand holds. Scared of falling? Fear not. Wood chips will catch you if you tumble. If homemade structures aren’t your bag, drive to the mountains. We hear they’re pretty…rocky.

Broomfield Veterans Museum, 12 Garden Center, Broomfield.

When the Broomfield Veterans Museum was founded, it was focused on those who served in World War II. Now the museum has broadened its scope to include veterans from the Civil War through current conflicts and all branches of the military. There are nine rooms of exhibits and 2,500 books to peruse.

Buffalo Bill’s Grave, 987 1/2 Lookout Mountain Road, Golden.

William Cody, nicknamed Buffalo Bill, made his name in the 1800s as one of the adventurers and showmen of the Old West. History buffs will enjoy a trip to the (not free) museum atop Lookout Mountain and a free visit to his grave, which offers stunning views of the Great Plains and the Rockies.

Central Library, 10 W. Fourteenth Ave. Pkwy.

Whether you’re looking to bring a kid to the recently remodeled children’s library, explore the Western History Collection, browse the stacks, surf the internet, peruse art exhibits or check out the room — and massive table — where the Summit of the Eight met in 1997, or the public art surrounding the building, the downtown library has a load to explore. Did we mention books?

Inside the Denver Central Library’s new area for children. April 27, 2022.

Central Park, 8801 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

If you’re on the east side of town, stroll through the 80-acre Central Park, one of Denver’s largest. Picnic, walk the nearby grasslands, sled on snowy days, enjoy the ponds, or cool off in a water play area.

Chicano Humanities and Arts Council, 1560 Teller St., Lakewood.

Denver’s long history of Chicano art is on full display at CHAC, a nonprofit gallery that has been championing the community’s artists for decades. CHAC was recently priced out of Denver and has found a nearby home in Lakewood’s 40 West Art District.

Cheesman Park, between 8th and 13th avenues and Humbolt and Race streets.

Wander the historic grounds of Cheesman Park, picnic under one of many aging trees, toss a frisbee, catch shade (and sometimes an impromptu yoga or dance class) under the neoclassical pavilion, look out at the mountains and check out a placard that identifies the peaks. Cheesman Park was once a burial ground, and when it was dug up, to make way for the park, bodies were moved — but not all of them. Ghost lovers, delight!

Cherry Creek Regional Trail, at Confluence Park at 15th St.

This 40-mile trail offers bikers, joggers and walkers a glorious, and mostly shaded and paved path through Denver, Arapahoe and Douglas counties. Take a brief jaunt or a full day trek. Do the whole thing, and you’ll head through the Cherry Creek Shopping District, past Four Mile House and Historic Park to Cherry Creek State Park and the Cherry Creek Reservoir (bring a tent, and you can camp there for a fee). After that, the trail cuts through Parker Jordan Centennial Open Space and ends near Castlewood Canyon State Park. Fair warning: That’s just half way. Now you have to get back.

City Council, Cathy Reynolds City Council Chamber at 1437 Bannock St., fourth floor.

Admittedly, City Council meetings are largely haunted by policy wonks. That said, there are few better ways to understand what’s going on in a city than attending one — or more. Plus Council meetings have more drama than a soap opera and can stretch late into the night. Heck, if there’s something you think the city’s elected leaders need to hear, you can even comment. Council meets most Mondays, starting at 3:30 p.m. and wraps up who knows when.

City Park, 1600 City Park Esplanade

City Park boasts gorgeous trails, lakes and sculptures, offering among the best views in Denver. You’ll see people fishing (you need a license to do so), picnicking and playing at playgrounds, including a recently remodeled one. The nearby Denver Zoo, City Park Golf Course and Denver Museum of Nature and Science all are ticketed, but the Zoo and DMNS offer free days throughout the year. Occasionally the park hosts festivals including City Park Jazz, 5K races, the Black Arts Festival and other events.

Civic Center Park, between 14th and Colfax avenues and Bannock St. and N. Broadway

Located between Denver’s City and County Building and the Statehouse, Civic Center Park is home to dozens of events each year, splendid paths, an amphitheater, sculptures and more. While the park has been shut down on and off, if it’s accessible, it is a perfect place to enjoy a little green when you’re downtown (we mean grass, though there are probably people enjoying the other sort of green, too). Over 100 years old, the park is one of the crowning achievements of former Denver Mayor Robert Speer and his City Beautiful movement.

Colfax Avenue

Once upon a time, Playboy magazine nicknamed Colfax Avenue “the wickedest street in America.” While new developments and businesses that aren’t sex shops, dive bars and porn stores have undermined its seedier side in recent decades, this 26.5 strip still has a lot of its Old Denver grit along with New Denver panache. The characters you’ll meet along the way will make it clear why it was a destination for the Beat Generation — and should be a destination for you.

Colorado Capitol Tours, Lincoln and Colfax Ave.

The gold domed Statehouse, at the corner of Lincoln and Colfax Avenue, is the site of protests on the outside and political sausagemaking on the inside. From all angles, it’s a glorious building, well worth a visit (stop by your lawmakers’ offices and give them a piece of your mind, while you’re there). Free tours, which take place Monday through Friday, at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2 p.m., include a 99-step step climb up to the dome observation area. Tours are limited to 20 people and available on a first-come-first-served basis.

A view of the Colorado Capitol from Denver Public Library’s central library. Dec. 23, 2021.

Colorado Music Hall of Fame, 17900 Trading Post Rd., Morrison.

Music fans will get a kick out of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame’s museum at the Trading Post at the base of Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Learn about musicians with Colorado ties like John Denver, Dianne Reeves, Dan Fogelberg, Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind and Fire, and Judy Collins, along with the promoters who made this state’s live music scene as grand as it is.

Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, Empower Field at Mile High, 1701 Mile High Stadium Cir., Suite 500.

Head to the home of the Denver Broncos and learn about the history of sports in Colorado. The museum’s exhibits include looks at women in sports, play areas for children, dives into Broncos history and disability in sports, and a spotlight on the latest inductees into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.

Commons Park, 2101 15th St.

If you’re looking to picnic or lounge near downtown, find a spot in the green oasis in the city that is Commons Park, 22-acres of grassy hills and wetlands stretching between Little Raven St. and the South Platte River. While you’re there, explore the public art installations, toss a disc, wander downtown, cross the river and explore nearby neighborhoods. Or just chill. There’s a reason the big hill there is colloquially called Stoner Hill to the dismay of some neighborhood groups, and it’s not the geology.

Confluence Park, 15th and Little Raven streets.

The South Platte River and Cherry Creek meet at Confluence Park, where people have been gathering for centuries, long before colonization. Why not get in on this essential Denver (and pre-Denver) tradition? These days, Confluence Park is a great place to (not so safely) wet your feet, ride a kayak, picnic or simply sit back and enjoy the water.

Denverites dip their toes in the South Platte River at Confluence Park, June 11, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Court, 520 W. Colfax Ave. and 1437 Bannock St.

You know how some people love daytime TV court dramas and true crime? Breaking news: Court is happening nearly every weekday in Denver, and it’s open to the public. You can watch attorneys debate whether people committed crimes, check out the latest in traffic court or witness how evictions take place. Look, visiting a court can be downright depressing. But so can those true-crime podcasts, and we know many of you listen to them.

Colorado Photographic Arts Center, 1070 Bannock St.

Photography lovers will be captivated by the ever-rotating exhibits at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center, in the Golden Triangle. The 800-plus photos in CPAC’s collection can be perused online. The group’s Month of Photography, which happens every other year in March, is a citywide takeover with free photo shows, spotlighting both local and international artists.

Cool off in a fountain.

Denver’s park system has ample splash pads to enjoy. And it’s not just kids who cool off at them. You have until early October to get wet at the following spots: Central Park, City Park: H2O Odyssey, Cuatro Vientos Park, Bear Creek Park, Parkfield Park and Westwood Park

D.C. Burns Park, 4150 E. Shangri La Dr.

This 13-acre park was built to preserve the views of several wealthy Hilltop Residents. While it’s a bit of a trick to get to, bordered between Colorado Blvd., Alameda Ave. and Leetsdale Dr., art lovers should journey to this underused park and admire sculptures from the 1968 Denver Sculpture Symposium and other abstract works that have been installed since.

Denver Public Library, locations vary.

Denver Public Library boasts 27 locations. Each has its own unique offerings, from maker spaces, exhibits and public events to a limited number of computers, museum and culture passes and of course books. If you ever feel like staying at home, the library has you covered there too, with e-books, movies and even a phone-a-story program. If you’re wanting to start a business, librarians will offer you a free consultation for that, too. That’s not just a free thing to do. Maybe you can make some money!

Denver International Airport, 8500 Peña Blvd.

Sorry to say, there are no free flights from DIA — at least, not that we know about. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good, free time at the airport. The DIA Plaza offers various events throughout the year, from mini golf and ice skating to concerts and exhibits by local artists. Public art — including the menacing Blucifer — abounds.

Denver International Airport’s iconic demonic horse, known as Blucifer.

Dikeou Collection, 1615 California St. # 515.

Since the late ’90s, siblings Devon and Pany Dikeou have been running an impressive — and free — modern art collection, showcasing works by over 30 international artists. The space often hosts free events. If you’re interested in seeing what private collectors can do, when they make their works available to the public, look no further.

Disc golf

Denver is rich with disc golf courses. Parks and Rec offers two disc golf courses at 42nd & Libson Park and Paco Sanchez Park. Head up to Arvada to the Johnny Roberts Disc Golf Course, named after one of the game’s greats, and putt your day away. UDisc offers a sizeable list of courses in the area, if you tire of the ones mentioned above. (Not-so-pro tip: If you’re as bad at the sport as we are, make sure to yell “four” before you accidently beam someone.)

Downtown Skate Park, 2205 19th St.

If you have access to a skateboard, roller blades or a BMX, head over to the Downtown Denver Skate Park, where 60,000 square feet of concrete bowls, pools and obstacles await you. Even if you don’t, you can hang out at the park and watch Denver’s best skaters do their thing. It’s gnarley!

Dumpster dive

We hear there’s no better way to understand a city than through its dumpsters. Now, we can’t recommend that you hop into trash cans. It’s kinda gross, smelly and occasionally you bump into a dead rodent. But we promise you, people of all ages have been scoring incredible furniture, art and food by digging around alleys and industrial dumpsters. And we’ve been told that once a month, every neighborhood has a large-item pickup day, where people get rid of furniture, art and all sorts of things. Figure out when that’s happening, and the world is yours for the taking.

Fairmount Cemetery, 430 S. Quebec St.

Understanding life in a city sometimes involves appreciating death. Denver’s second oldest cemetery, Fairmount Cemetery, was founded in 1890 and continues to operate today. There you can explore history at the gravesides of notable Denverites like famed madame Mattie Silks, former Mayor Robert Speer, Denver’s first African American woman doctor Justina Ford and architect Temple Hoyne Buell.

Inside the Fairmount Mausoleum at the Fairmount Cemetery. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Farmer’s markets

If you’re sick of doing your shopping at the grocery store or want to see handmade goods and produce local farmers are growing, head to a farmer’s market. City Park,  Union Station and Cherry Creek offer popular markets, but other neighborhoods boast them as well. And even if you don’t want to buy food, you can sometimes try free samples and connect with others in the neighborhood.

Federal Boulevard cruising

Federal Boulevard is one of Denver’s busiest streets and a treasure trove of Mexican and Vietnamese restaurants, hole-in-the-wall burger joints and shops. When so much of the city has been overrun with the new, Federal keeps tradition alive. On Sunday afternoons and evenings, there’s a good chance you’ll catch lowriders cruising up and down the Boulevard — a longstanding tradition in the Chicano community. Just be careful walking on Federal. The city hasn’t exactly made it pedestrian friendly.

Free festivals all year long

Denver has too many free festivals to name, but Visit Denver keeps a handy list of events around the metro area — many of which are free or relatively inexpensive. Check it out to see what’s coming up.

Five Points, at the intersection of Welton St., 23rd St., and E. 26th Ave., and Washington Ave. (and the surrounding neighborhood).

Denver’s African American community called Five Points home for decades — and some of that history has survived the rapid redevelopment of the neighborhood. Welton Street, in particular, housed a string of clubs, hotels and restaurants that earned the area the nickname “Harlem of the West.” While the neighborhood has lived several lives since those days, it still demands a visit to peruse murals, historic signs and photographs. While you’re there, walk to the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. Throughout the year, Welton Street, the main strip, is converted into festival grounds for events like the Five Points Jazz Festival and Juneteenth.

Foothills Art Center, 809 15th St. Golden

Fans of community-based art will enjoy perusing the gallery at the Foothills Arts Center, where a mix of gallery members, students, local university faculty and featured artists show off their work.

Golden Hill Cemetery, 12000 W. Colfax Ave.

For over 100 years old, the Golden Hill Cemetery, off West Colfax, has offered a window into the Orthodox Jewish community that once thrived on the westside, from the gold rush era to the tuberculosis crisis and into the ’60s.

Golden Triangle Creative District

Construction is booming in the Golden Triangle Creative District. There, galleries, shops and restaurants line the streets and massive buildings are taking over ground-level parking lots. William Havu Gallery, Abend Gallery, Walker Fine Art and Gallery 1261 are all worth a visit.

Governor’s Residence at Boettcher Mansion, 400 E. 8th Ave.

Throughout the year, History Colorado docents offer tours of Boettcher Mansion, the official home of the governor. Check out the splendor where Colorado’s first families live, at least, when they choose to do so.

Governor’s Residence at the Boettcher Mansion near the southeast corner of Eighth Avenue and Logan Street, 1968.

GPSMyCity

Download the App GPSMyCity for a variety of walking-tour itineraries. While there is a paid version of the app, take advantage of a free three-day trial and check out this guide to a variety of neighborhoods, historic homes, restaurants and breweries.

Greenway Off-Leash Dog Park, 2002 Spruce St.

If you’ve got a pooch and are looking for some fun, head to the Greenway Off-Leash Dog Park, which is not just a terrific place for dogs to socialize but for humans too.

Hammond’s Candy Factory, 5735 Washington St.

The sweetest things in life are free. Nowhere is that truer than at Hammond’s Candy Factory, which offers free tours of its facilities. For over 100 years, Hammonds has been making everything from candy canes to toffee, and you can see how it all comes together. Just remember: Filling cavities isn’t free, so brush, brush, brush after you nosh, nosh, nosh.

High Line Canal Trail

The High Line Canal is a mostly paved  71 mile trail through neighborhoods, cemeteries, industrial areas, wide-open country and more. While some people use it for a quick stroll, the High Line Canal Trail can make for an epic day trip, too.

H Mart, 2751 S. Parker Rd., Aurora

Even if you don’t have money to spend on food, H Mart, in Aurora, is a feast for the eyes.  Peruse a variety of Asian food and housewares. The H in H Mart stands for “Han Ah Reum,” which translates, in Korean, to “One Arm Full of Groceries,” but the reality is, unless you keep money in your wallet, there’s a good chance you could leave with a few arms full.

International Folk Dancing

Head to the Washington Park boathouse, every Thursday, from 7 to 10 p.m., to try out various forms of international folk dancing. You can go alone or with a partner. This event was founded 52 summers ago by Sukar Basanov, and is a tried and true way to have a great time.

La Raza Park, 1501 W. 38th Ave.

Journey to La Raza Park in the Sunnyside neighborhood for a round of hoops or to check out the mural, “El Viaje/The Journey,” by David Ocelotl Garcia. This has been a significant park for Denver’s Chicano community for decades and a frequent spot for community events.

Larimer Square, 1430 Larimer St.

Downtown Denver has seen a lot of redevelopment in recent years, and one of the places where this shines is Larimer Square. While shoppers and diners will find much to enjoy, this part of town also hosts frequent public events, including concerts featuring local bands through October.

A warm evening in Larimer Square.

Leaf peeping on Guanella Pass, Guanella Gateway Visitor’s Center, 1491 Argentine St., Georgetown

Fall is the perfect time to check out Colorado’s magnificent foliage. Drive up I-70 to Georgetown and climb Guanella Pass for stunning views of the aspen. While you’re there, hike on the Mount Bierstadt or Square Top Lakes trails, of course, depending on the snow situation.

Levitt Pavilion, 1380 W. Florida Ave.

Music fans should look no further than Ruby Hill Park for one of the best free music series in the state. Levitt Pavilion offers over 50 free concerts a year, showcasing local musicians and artists spanning genres from around the world. Whether you’re looking for a mariachi troupe, an indie-rock act, or a bluegrass band, there will be something for you.

Lookout Mountain Preserve and Nature Center, 910 Colorow Rd. Golden

Learn about foothills flora and fauna at the Lookout Mountain Nature Center, where naturalists lead free tours throughout the year. Hikers can walk the trails.

Marjorie Park, 6331 S. Fiddler’s Green Circle, Greenwood Village

The Museum of Outdoor Arts has opened Marjorie Park, an impressive collection of sculptures and installations (including impressive Alice in Wonderland-themed works), next to Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre. For now, it’s open for special events and by appointment only.

McGregor Square, 1901 Wazee St.

Rockies’ owner Dick Monfort has made more than a few enemies among the hometown baseball team’s diehard fans, who question whether he’s really invested in backing a winning franchise. But one homerun Monfort can take credit for is McGregor Square, a massive development that took over a parking lot near Coors Field. There are shopping and dining options, but there is also a central plaza with a stadium-sized LED screen for watching the game — and occasionally movies — free of charge.

McGregor Square. June 8, 2021.

Morrison Road

Not too long ago, Denverite took a deep dive, er, drive down Morrison Road, learning about the culture, restaurants, activists and others who make this diagonal westside strip so captivating. There’s public art to admire along with frequent community events. So read up and head over to learn more about the Westword neighborhood and this all too often forgotten part of town.

Mural Tours

Denver’s street art scene has earned headlines in recent years. But long before RiNo became a muralist hub, the city’s Chicano arts scene made waves in the ’60s and ’70s, memorializing indigenous and Mexican culture and ensuring their community was not erased in public space. Denverite put this handy guide of mural tours together to enjoy.

Mutiny Information Cafe, 2 S. Broadway

Browse used and new books, comics and records, play a game of pinball, snap a photo in the booth, or attend one of the many free or low-cost concerts or events that take place at Mutiny Information Cafe, a taste of the counterculture that once dominated — and still thrives — on South Broadway.

Night Lights Denver, 16th Street Mall

The Denver Theatre District has turned the Daniels and Fisher Tower, an old 16th Street Mall clocktower, into a massive vertical screen to project experimental art, photography and media works for free. Any given night you might find pieces by big-named international artists, prominent locals or even school kids.

One-off adventures

If you’ve done everything on this list or can’t find what you’re looking for here, Visit Denver maintains a calendar of free events to peruse. Get busy!

Paco Sanchez Park, 1290 Knox Court.

Hit the small skate park, cool off in the splash pads, zip down a slide or check out the nearby views of the mountains and downtown, while admiring one of Denver’s most thoughtfully designed playgrounds and parks, a tribute to the city’s first Spanish-language DJ, Paco Sanchez.

Inside Paco Sanchez Park’s play structure. July 7, 2022.

Park Hill Golf Course, 4141 E. 35th Ave.

The embattled Park Hill Golf Course has been shut down for a few years, as Westside, voters, the city and open space advocates wrangle over its future. Will it be one of Denver’s largest parks? A mixed-use development? Or some combination of the two? One thing’s certain: Nobody’s playing golf there, and people are allowed to walk, jog and bike through the space, which offers fine views of the mountains and occasional community events.

Pickleball

Denver Parks and Recreation has built pickleball courts throughout town. Unfortunately, our city’s Central Park Recreation Center made headlines after arresting our own Mayor of Pickleball, who graffitied a gym floor, thinking he was doing the city a favor. Generally, pickleball players don’t get arrested; in fact, they have fun. While rec center pickleball courts cost money, there are outdoor courts at the following locations: Congress Park, Martin Luther King Park and Skyland Park.

Prevent an overdose

With so many free (and spendy) music and cultural events and endless parties, the city has a big drug scene. Part of that means people are sharing drugs and don’t know the source. The Denver Department of Public Health recommends you test your drugs with their free fentanyl strips, to ensure you’re not unwittingly consuming an opiate that’s 50-times stronger than heroin. And whether you use drugs or not, get free doses of the opioid overdose drug Naloxone and learn to use them, in case you come across anyone overdosing in all your free adventures. For zero bucks, you can save a life.

Redline Contemporary Art Center, 2350 Arapahoe St.

The rotating exhibits at nonprofit Redline Contemporary Art Center offer Denverites a window into innovative art from around the city and world. The organization also sponsors free events around Five Points and beyond and showcases work by its many resident artists.

Red Rocks, 18300 W. Alameda Pkwy., Morrison.

Unfortunately, the days of free concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheatre are almost entirely over, but the venue is open to the public during daytime hours. Tour the museum, explore the Trading Post, and if you’re fit (or bold), try running up and down the stairs. The views are incredible, the rocks are mysterious, and the surrounding trails are worth the hike. If you’re up early, don’t miss the sunrise.

Planter boxes at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, July 26, 2018.

RiNo Art District

Once upon a time, young punks biked up Brighton Boulevard to underground shows in industrial warehouses on the outskirts of Five Points. Over the past two decades, the area has radically transformed into a millennial paradise with trendy restaurants and shops that some New York transplants describe as “like Bushwick.” The signature of this new neighborhood is the street art, which was painted, for years, during the now defunct Crush Walls Festival — a tradition that has been continued by the RiNo Art District’s mural fest.

RiNo ArtPark, 1900 35th St.

The RiNo Art District is best known for its restaurants, shopping and murals, murals, murals. But the ArtPark is a relatively new addition to the community, replete with affordable artist space (and often artists to meet), the Bob Ragland Library, massive swings, frequent free events and access to the South Platte River.

Riverside Cemetery, 5201 Brighton Blvd.

Over 67,000 late Denverites rest at Riverside Cemetery, the city’s oldest operating cemetery founded in 1876. Those include: Augusta Tabor, John Evans, and many of the city’s politicians, entrepreneurs and more.  There is an official military cemetery with 1,000 veterans buried. The gravestones and mausoleums are haunting — some art unto themselves — all a stark contrast to the nearby industrial area.

Rockmount Ranch Wear, 1626 Wazee St.

Just ask touring musicians: No trip to Denver is complete without a stop at Rockmount Ranch Wear, one of the area’s most distinctive clothiers, which produces throw-back western shirts. While many old timers bemoan that Denver is becoming an outpost of New York or San Francisco, a trip to Rockmount will remind you this city still has a strong Old West streak.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, 6550 Gateway Rd., Commerce City.

Deer spotted at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Jan. 14, 2020.

The Denver area is often most renowned for its mountains, but the eastern plains are magnificent as well. Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, a 15,000-acre former superfund site that housed a chemical-weapons manufacturer after the attack on Pearl Harbor, is home to bison, deer, ferret, birds and fish. Enjoy the hiking trails, bike through the refuge, and try your hand at fishing and archery.

Ruby Hill Bike Park, W. Jewell Ave.

BMX and mountain bikers will have a blast on the pump tracks, jumps and dirt trails at Ruby Hill Bike Park. And even if you’re scared to ride the dirt, it’s worth a trip to see skilled riders catching air all day long.

Ruby Hill slopes, 1200 W. Florida Ave.

For years, the hills at Ruby Hill Park have served as a hot spot for sledders. But in recent years, Denver Parks and Recreation and Winter Park have teamed up to open a ski and snowboarding railyard that Denverites can descend for free. It’s only open for a few months a year, but it’s worth a trip for the scene and snow alike.

Sand Creek Regional Greenway

The 14-mile-long Sand Creek Trail cuts through Commerce City, Denver and Aurora, past industrial areas, through parks and past homes, fields and murals. It’s a great spot for bikers, joggers and walkers to find a little respite from the city without going all the way to the mountains.

SCFD Free Days

The metro area’s Scientific Cultural Facilities District penny-on-the-$10 tax has helped grow Denver’s cultural scene. Best of all, all the organizations funded by the tax have to offer some free programming. SCFD keeps a calendar of when all the free days are at museums and other cultural institutions. Checking out free days is one of the best ways to sample the breadth of the city’s cultural scene without breaking the bank.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is one of many SCFD free days you might take advantage of. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sculpture Park, 1736 Speer Blvd. #1848.

On the outskirts of downtown, Sculpture Park offers residents and visitors a little bit of green space with some weird, iconic art: Namely those two massive alien-like dancers seen from Speer Boulevard. The park, outside the Denver Performing Arts Complex, also serves as a 7,000-capacity venue with mostly ticketed events.

South Broadway Stroll, South of 1st Ave. on Broadway.

Put on your sneakers and walk from 1st Avenue and East Alameda Avenue, down South Broadway, one of the last neighborhoods in Denver where counterculture still thrives and small businesses remain open. While there is plenty to spend money on — cute shops, a ticket to the Mayan Theatre or a show at the hi-dive, there are many people willing to strike up a conversation on the street. Act fast: The neighborhood is changing.

Slackline at Harvard Gulch Park, 550 E. Iliff Ave.

Looking for a little balance in your life? Make your way to the slackline course at Harvard Gulch Park, which has ropes for daredevils of all skill levels. Diehard slackliners promise it’s a place you can jam on the ropes for hours.

Sloan’s Lake Park, 17th Ave. and Sheridan Blvd.

Visit Denver’s second-largest park for a short bike ride or a long stroll around the lake. It’s a perfect spot to catch a sunrise or sunset…and maybe even a fish, if you have a license. While you’re there, take in glorious views of downtown and the mountains.

South Platte River Trail, Confluence Park to Chatfield Reservoir.

Bike from Confluence Park to Chatfield Reservoir on the South Platte River Trail. You’ll pass golf courses, Elitch Garden’s amusement park, breweries, picnic areas, parks and industrial spots. Along the way, you’ll have a chance to check out river surfers. Best of all, you’ll be able to pedal into Chatfield Reservoir for free.

Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St. Aurora.

On the border of Aurora and Denver’s Central Park neighborhood, the Stanley Marketplace is a hot spot for families. It offers all the delights of a high-end mall, with an upscale feel. Browse books at Tattered Cover’s children-oriented shop, toys, gifts, knives and more. In the evenings there are often concerts and other free cultural events. Check out the website for a full calendar.

Rosenberg’s Bagels at Stanley Marketplace.

STILLness: Meditation in the Galleries, 1250 Bannock St.

The Clyfford Still Museum, which is often ticketed, offers a free meditation series, STILLness: Meditation in the Galleries, where participants take time sitting and also meditating on one of the artist’s massive paintings. The museum also offers occasional free concerts and screenings, so keep an eye on the calendar.

Surfing the South Platte, River Run Park, 2101 W Oxford Ave., Sheridan.

As far as we recall, the Beach Boys never mentioned surfing in Colorado. Well, guess what? It’s happening! River surfing has taken off, and there are waves on the South Platte ready to ride for surfers of all different levels. But even mere mortals, who don’t have wetsuits and boards, will still find watching people catch waves in a landlocked state weirdly mesmerizing.

Tattered Cover, locations vary

Denver’s beloved Tattered Cover bookstore has been around — and moved around — for decades. With signature green carpeting, the smell of coffee and frequent author signings and readings, this community institution has continued to live up to its reputation as a hub for bibliophiles, whether they buy a book or not.

Denver Theater District

Explore through the 16-block Denver Theater District for a variety of arts experiences, from experimental media on digital billboards to sound installations and other surprises.

Test an e-bike

Denver recently invested in an e-bike rebate program, and the city has a list of various local bike shops. Even if you’re not buying one, they’re a blast to ride. Head to SloHi Bikes, Fatte Bikes or one of the other stores in town, to give it a try.

Twist and Shout Records, 2508 E. Colfax Ave.

Music lovers must stop by Twist and Shout Records, which offers a huge selection of CDs, records, books, geeky tchotchkes and more, but also, occasionally hosts concerts. And we’re not talking small local acts. Touring bands like Mumford and Sons have also been known to play this Colfax mainstay.

Understudy, 890 C 14th St.

It’s not every day that one of a city’s most experimental underground art spaces are located in a city’s convention center and funded by ads. But that’s the case with Understudy, an arts space that has programmed some of the weirdest and wildest arts shows in town with creative people who don’t quite fit the mold of the city’s largest arts institutions but guarantee to offer something that will transform your mind.

Union Hall, at the Coloradan, 1750 Wewatta St., Ste 144

Contemporary art fans will appreciate a trip to Union Hall, a gallery space on the ground floor of one of Denver’s hottest condos. This nonprofit gallery offers smart curation, and you’re often guaranteed to find a fascinating — if not, often obscure — show.

Union Station, 1701 Wynkoop St.

Known as Denver’s Living Room, Union Station, which has been redeveloped over the past few years, has turned into something of a high-end mall, with the Crawford Hotel, several restaurants and shops, but also cozy space where you can take a load off. Outside, enjoy the splash pad and a walk around the grounds. Behind the historic station, you’ll find a plaza and the recently developed Union Station neighborhood.

A woman spins through Union Station’s great hall shortly after it opened at 5:30 a.m. Dec. 8, 2021.

United States Mint, 320 W. Colfax Ave.

Denver’s U.S. Mint makes billions of coins each year. Despite all that money flying around, tours of this impressive facility are free but often require a reservation. Find out how money is produced.

Washington Park, S. Downing St. & E. Louisiana Ave.

This 155-acre park boasts two gorgeous lakes, two gardens, including one that resembles George Washington’s at Mount Vernon, and glorious trails for bikers and walkers. It’s a popular spot for a picnic, and there are gorgeous neighborhoods to stroll.

Wax Trax, 638 E. 13th Ave.

Denver has some terrific record stores, but Wax Trax on 13th Avenue is one of our favorites. Not only does this shop have an impressive collection of discs to peruse, but they also offer delightfully scrappy sidewalk shows, where you can check out some of the best rising talent in town.

Westword

Denver’s one of the few cities in the country that still boasts an alt-weekly. Grab a Westword — full disclosure, the paper produced by my old employer — at one of the many boxes around town or read online. You’re bound to find free and festive things to do, fascinating stories and occasionally blistering takes.

William F. Hayden Park, 1000 S. Rooney Rd., Lakewood

Mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners seeking spectacular views of Denver would do well to head out to Lakewood for a lug up Green Mountain. Pro tip (though we can’t assure you this is entirely allowed…): If you go up after dark on the night of a Red Rocks concert, you can watch the light show from a distance, and it’s pretty wild. If you’re feeling like waking up early, check out the sunrise.

Wizard’s Chest, 451 Broadway.

Immersive arts innovator Lonnie Hanzon designed the entryway to Wizard’s Chest, which left its Cherry Creek location a few years back and moved down to Broadway. Whether you want to play tabletop games, peruse costumes or simply enter a toy lover’s temple, you’re sure to find some magic browsing Wizard’s Chest.