Denver Attractions, Memberships and Tips for Little Ones

Denver has so much to offer for little ones. Since summer is coming up, I thought I would put together a list of the more popular Denver attractions, membership options and tips for visiting with little kids.  Somehow we have managed to become members at just about every place in town šŸ™‚  This post is geared towards little ones 4 and under since that’s what I have experience with.

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

If you are going to get a membership somewhere, this would be my recommendation.  It opens at 9am every day except Christmas.  We go at least once a week.  I love the museum because I can get in and out really easy – sometimes we go for just an hour.  They have planned all their exhibits really well for little kids.

Membership:  We started with an individual membership when the kids were under 3 since they could get in for free. With the individual version, I was the only named member and I would take the kids with me.  We upgraded to a family membership after my oldest turned 3 and now I can take the kids solo or we can go as a family without having to pay for my husband separately.

Tips:

  • Get to the museum right around the time they open (9am) because parking will fill up.
  • The welcome booth near the front of the museum has tons of hand stamps.  Kids get to pick the stamp they want (t-rex, wooly mammoth, etc.) but you typically have to ask the volunteer about it.
  • The Planetarium has a show daily at 10am called “One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure” and it’s so cute.  My kids all sat through the entire thing and wanted to see it again afterward.  It’s $5 for adults and $4 for kids 3 and up.  Under 3 is free.
  • The animal halls (2nd and 3rd floors) are so awesome and are rarely busy even if the rest of the museum is packed.
    • Check out the “fish pond” on the 2nd floor – this is a great place to let your kids play while you regroup.
    • The 3rd floor has a giant (fake) snake and toy alpacas (?) to ride on.
  • There is a new coffee shop on the 2nd floor right next to the middle elevators that has surprisingly good coffee and tea.  I love grabbing one of their chai lattes and walking around the animal halls.  They also have nitro coffee and other goodies.
  • During the week there are a ton of volunteers in the Dinosaur, Health and Space exhibits (and sometimes the animal halls).  Talk to them!!!  They are so helpful and my kids have learned so much from them.  A few weeks ago my toddler learned all about trilobites and today we all learned about tree rings.
  • There is a fun little play area (Tykes Peak) in the Health exhibit geared for kids 5 and under.  It is small and completely enclosed so I just send the kids in and stand at the entrance with the baby.  It’s a good break.
  • The Space exhibit has a really cool play area for little kids (under 5) where they can dress up like astronauts.  This typically gets really busy so I would recommend going there early in the day.  This is also a place that is enclosed with good visibility to I just stand at the entrance with the stroller and watch the kids inside.
  • The Discovery Zone is an area completely geared towards children.  Honestly, we only go to this occasionally because the kids enjoy the other exhibits so much.  It is really fun, but with multiple kids, I find it really difficult to manage on my own because they can run in so many directions.  If I was just taking one kid, we would definitely spend a lot of time in this exhibit.
    • In the back room kids can pet a hissing cockroach (with a volunteer’s help) which is pretty cool.
    • There is a great family restroom in the back with a small toilet for little kids.
  • The elevators at the front and back of the museum tend to get really busy.  I use the ones in the middle of the main hall and in the Leprino Family Atrium.

Denver Zoo

We love the zoo!  It has so much to offer and we really get a lot out of our membership. When it’s nice outside, we go to the zoo once a week.

Membership:  We started with the individual and guest membership so I could go with the kids and whoever I wanted (husband, mom, etc.).  Once my oldest turned 3, we moved to the family membership where my husband is the other named member but we received several free passes so I can bring other guests occasionally.

Tips: 

  • If you have little kids, don’t try to see everything in a single visit.  My kids can’t make it more than 2 hours at the zoo, so we just focus on a few exhibits with each visit.
  • Definitely bring a stroller!  The zoo is huge and requires a ton of walking.  My kids usually start off walking and by the end of the trip they are riding in the stroller.
  • The Lorikeet Adventure is really fun even for little kids.  You walk around an enclosed area with Lorikeets flying around.  You can buy nectar to feed the birds for $2.  It’s pretty tough for little kids to actually do the feeding, but I usually feed the birds myself and the kids really love watching!  If you go right when they open at 10am, the birds are super hungry and will tend to flock over to people with food.
  • They currently have a DINOS! exhibit which features animatronic dinosaurs.  There is one near the new EDGE Tiger exhibit.  In July they are going to have some special nights where kids can visit with all 21 dinosaurs – see http://denverzoo.org/dinosexhibit for more information.
  • The Explore the Shore Play area is great for little ones.  There is a sand play area that is open all year.  In the summer, there is a water play area that’s pretty enclosed.  It’s a great spot to take a break, however, I would recommend bringing a change of clothes because my kids tend to get pretty wet!
  • On your birthday, kids can get into the zoo for free.  They also receive a souvenir button, small ice cream cone, spin on the carousel and discount at the gift shop.  Even though we are members and don’t need the free admission, we still went for my son’s birthday and he thought the other extras were SO cool.  He still walks around with his souvenir button šŸ™‚  They have a limited number of “birthday slots” each day so you need to signup online beforehand here: https://tickets.denverzoo.org/DateSelection.aspx?item=1148 
  • Check out the new baby giraffe (Dobby).  He is so cute and just in the main giraffe exhibit.
  • There is also a new baby gorilla in the gorilla exhibit that’s super cute!

Butterfly Pavillion

Membership:  We have a joint family membership between the Butterfly Pavillion and Children’s Museum.  It was cheaper than buying separate memberships to each one.  The Butterfly Pavillion isn’t huge, but my kids absolutely love it.  We can easily get in and out in 90 minutes so it’s a great option for a quick outing.

Tips:

  • Make sure you see Rosie the tarantula!  Kids over 3 can hold her and they receive a sticker afterward.  My kids think it’s the coolest thing!
  • In the aquatics section, kids have the opportunity to touch a horseshoe crab and a starfish.
  • In the butterfly exhibit, don’t miss the turtle!  Sometimes the turtle is walking around the exhibit and other times it is hanging out in a little house which you can see from the walkway.
  • There is a play structure in the last room that is pretty well contained.  We spend a lot of time in there.
  • In the last room, there is also an interactive digging activity.  It’s not always staffed, but you should take advantage of it when an employee is there.  Last time my kids dug for beetle larvae…and don’t worry there is a hand washing station close by!

Botanic Gardens

Membership:  We have a family membership and I can bring up to 6 people per visit with me.  This is super nice because I could go with the kids and my parents without having to pay for additional tickets.  We primarily go to the York Street location but have been to Chatfield a handful of times.  The tips below only apply to York Street.

Tips: 

  • Check out the Mordecai Children’s Garden at the top of the parking garage.  We typically just spend all our time in this part.  The entire exhibit is devoted to kids!  During the warm months, they have a water activity area so bring a change of clothes!  This is my favorite place to take the kids over the summer.
  • Try a Seedlings class! The classes are for 18 months – 6 years old.  You can sign up for an entire session or just drop in for a single class – they are so flexible!  The classes are $10/each for members and they are completely worthwhile!  Each class is different, but they typically read a book, do 1-2 crafts, have an outside activity and participate in some sort of sensory activity.  I’m amazed at how much they pack into a single class and how age-appropriate the classes are!  I honestly can’t believe they pack so much into each class! You can sign up for classes here: https://www.botanicgardens.org/program-series/seedlings

Children’s Museum

Membership:  We have a joint family membership between the Butterfly Pavillion and Children’s Museum.  It was cheaper than buying separate memberships to each one.  The Children’s Museum is awesome, but I would recommend more than one adult to watch the kids because it’s a sensory overload type of place.  I took the kids by myself over spring break and let’s just say I’m still recovering from our trip šŸ™‚

Tips:

  • Over the summer, they have a huge water play area outside.  They also have a giant sandbox and other play areas outside.  It’s awesome!  My kids want to spend most of their time in this section.  Definitely, bring a change of clothes for the water area in addition to water appropriate shoes.

Downsides:

  • The museum doesn’t open until 10am!  My kids go down for a nap right after lunch around 12pm so it’s really tough for us to squeeze in a trip.
  • The museum always seems really busy… like I feel as if I’m going to lose my children.

Aquarium

We do not have a membership to the Aquarium, but it is a great place for little kids.  I don’t have any tips, but just wanted to acknowledge it as a good destination.

Downside: Paid parking

History Colorado Center

This is another good option.  We don’t personally have a membership but my in-laws do and have passed along several guest passes.  Also, kids 5 and under are free so if you have little ones then a single visit won’t cost much.

Tips:

  • Check out History Colorado Story Time to learn about farms, cowboys, and animals and have playtime before the museum opens!
  • Try the sky jump simulation in the A-Z exhibit.  My kids keep talking about it!
  • They have a specific play area devoted to kids on the main level.  I’d suggest visiting this last… we had trouble getting our kids to leave!

Downside: Paid parking

If I had to rank our memberships, I’d put them in the following order:

  1. Denver Museum of Nature & Science
  2. Denver Zoo
  3. Botanic Gardens
  4. Butterfly Pavillion
  5. Children’s Museum

– Anna, Life with Little Ones

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