Denver’s kid-friendly, sophisticated activities for the whole family
posted by: Guest Blogger
Grumpy, bored children rank right up there with obnoxious in-laws and ex-lovers as the worst companions with whom to grab a drink or slice of pizza.
And in the case of kids, they don’t even have to be yours to ruin a potentially fun evening on the town.
We take our kids with us everywhere in Colorado, but engineering kids’ activities is about more than just giving them something to grab onto and pummel into submission. The best casual family outings are the ones you want to repeat, and the secret lies in keeping parents just as happy as the little ones.
It’s why few parents will jump at the chance to revisit Chuck E. Cheese or the Children’s Museum, “Disney on Ice” or the latest Pixar cash cow, a few weeks after their last visit.
So, in the spirit of “The Muppet Show” — which famously catered to children while dropping more than a few bread crumbs for adults — we present a sampling of kid-friendly spots along the Front Range that won’t leave the parents counting the minutes until they leave.
1. The Bubble Garden, MCA Denver
Family memberships at quality art, science or history museums quickly pay for themselves. But some museums can also be stuffy, embalmed environments that do little to promote interaction for the kids. That’s why the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver has a secret weapon on its third floor in the Fox Family Idea Box.
There are comfy chairs and art-making opportunities for the kids, but there’s also the ridiculously hands-on, visually impressive Bubble Garden, designed by architect Paul Andersen. The play-sculpture consists of large plastic spheres and synthetic green turf that kids can attack with abandon, while the rest of the museum features some of the region’s most daring (and adult-friendly) visual art.
“We wanted to have a piece of interactive art that kids could be kids around, without feeling like they were going to break anything,” said program manager Ama Mills-Robertson, who looked at other museums and even the play area at the Cherry Creek Mall while developing the Idea Box. (1485 Delgany St.)
2. Anythink Libraries, Adams County
For more than five decades, the Adams County library district, which serves areas of Brighton, Thornton, Commerce City and even Denver, was the worst-funded in all of Colorado. So in 2004 it divorced itself from the county and two years later had convinced voters to triple its annual budget from $4 million to $12 million. But it still needed a fresh concept to draw new visitors.
“People traditionally build libraries around the material,” said communications director Stacie Ledden. “But we said, ‘What kinds of things do people like to do?’ ”
That birthed the quirky Anythink Libraries concept, headed by Denver Public Library veteran Pam Sandlian Smith. From the layout of the buildings to their customer service and programming, Anythink is an uncommonly down-to-earth and friendly experience. For example, they don’t charge overdue book fines or use the often-confusing Dewey Decimal System. They offer sushi- and pie-crust-making classes, and their mySummer program for kids is as likely to emulate a video game like Angry Birds (literally, and in life-sized form) as it is literary traditions.
“We want kids to play because that’s how they learn,” said Ledden, who pointed to the whimsical, treehouse-themed indoor and outdoor sculptures at a couple of Anythink’s locations. “And plus, everything is free and open to the public.” (Various locations, including the Anythink Perl Mack, 7611 Hilltop Circle in Denver.)
3. The D Note
In addition to blues jams, open-mic nights and pub quizzes, Arvada’s D Note is a bar, restaurant and music venue that offers yoga sessions, kid’s concerts and salsa dancing lessons as part of its eclectic schedule.
“What’s strange about it is that it shouldn’t be unique,” said Adam DeGraff, who co-founded and co-owns the space with his brothers. “It seems like every town should have a place with live bands and drinks that kids can also go to.”
The D Note, which turns 10 next month, offers monthly Music Train family concerts but also the free, weekly Baby Boogie, which takes place 2-6 p.m. each Sunday. It’s become a particularly hot spot for parents to grab a drink and mingle while their kids dance and play.
“Strangely you’d think there would be more head-on collisions at these things,” said DeGraff, who has two kids of his own. “But somehow you don’t hear very much screaming or crying.” (7519 Grandview Ave. in Arvada)
4. Winter festivals
Some winter festivals, like Friday’s boozy Winter Brew Fest in Denver, are most assuredly for adults. But getting outdoors during the coldest time of the year also extends to the youngest members of the family, and we’re not just talking about skiing and snowboarding trips.
Several activities at the winter festivals hitting the high country over the next couple months are specifically geared toward kids, but the wacky races, contests and stage shows offer something for everyone.
Notables include Durango’s geek-themed Snowdown from Jan. 30-Feb. 3 (think skiing-softball tournaments, beard-growing contests and fireworks), the Steamboat Springs 100th annual Winter Carnival on Feb. 6-10, with parades, food, music and races, Pagosa Springs’ Winterfest Weekend (Feb. 7-10) and Leadville’s singular Ski Joring & Crystal Carnival (March 1-3). Check colorado.com for more events and festivals.
Any restaurant that courts family business needs a respectable kid’s menu, but some go out of their way to make kids feel welcome, like the Highland Square’s Mead Street Station or 17th Avenue’s Vine Street Pub & Brewery. Exemplary among them are the four Pasquini’s locations in Denver, Lone Tree and Highlands.
“We went to the Pasquini Prime last Valentine’s day with four kids,” said Denver writer Ted Campbell. “Not only did they not turn us away, not only did they seat us at the bar, but we got no dirty looks for it, and the manager came and juggled balls of pizza dough to keep the kids entertained.”
The newest location of Pasquini’s at 777 17th Ave., in the former J.R.’s Bar and Grill space, is its most kid-friendly yet with two levels of funky decor and big, comfy booths. The walls are splashed with color and the table-tops are decorated with an assortment of antique bottlecaps. Kids can make their own pizzas and eat free on Tuesdays, while adults can enjoy the $1 one-topping slices and cheap drinks during their daily “happier hour.” (Various locations, including 1310 S. Broadway.)