Year Of The Staycation: Enjoying Denver On A Budget

With the cost of fuel skyrocketing, many families are foregoing normal summer vacation plans because it’s just too expensive. But, if you live in Denver, that’s no reason to sit at home this summer – there’s ton of things to do and see that don’t require pricey airline tickets, expensive hotel stays, or many tanks of gas!

As part of the Year of the Staycation series, we’re partnering with dozens of bloggers to show off our city’s best things to do – things that will make you feel like you’re on a vacation even if you never really “leave”!  Today, we’ll be showing you things to do in Denver, and tomorrow, we’ll be linking up to other bloggers’ posts about things to do in their cities.

Ready to become a tourist in your own town?  Let’s get started with vacation + staycation ideas in Denver, Colorado!

Many of these suggestions are free or very inexpensive – and for the ones that aren’t, we’ve figured out how to get a discount so that you’re not paying full price.

We’ve asked lifelong Denver resident Elissa to share her expertise on things to do in the Denver and Boulder areas, and also dish out some advice some of Denver’s best locally owned restaurants that also offer a great value.  Here goes!

Image Credit: Matthew Saunders

Frugal Tip: save money at Elitch by bringing your own water and lunch. Though you can’t bring your own food in, they will let you bring your own water in clear containers, and you can leave the park to eat a picnic lunch in the car.

Elitch Gardens

If you plan on visiting Elitch Gardens, Denver’s big theme/water park more than 2 or 3 times this summer, it may be worth it to buy a season pass. This pass will give you unlimited access to the theme park and the water park, and offers several additional benefits, such as tickets for friends.

If you just want to visit for the day, discounts are available through other outlets, such as for AAA members or Facebook fans, and Pepsi cans usually have a discount printed on them (usually it’s something like $8 off on Monday-Thursday, $5 off Friday-Sunday).

Image Credit: ssgb

Denver Botanic Gardens

Located in Cherry Creek North, the Denver Botanic Gardens can be a fun place to visit on a warm summer day!  Tickets are $12.50 for adults and $9 for children (children under 2 are free).  They offer a military discount of $3 off, and a AAA member discount of $1 off.

The Botanic Gardens are offering a summer concert series – get more info and buy tickets here.  Don’t delay; they sell out early!

Hudson Gardens

Looking to visit a beautiful garden, but can’t stomach the price tag of the Denver Botanic Gardens? Visit Hudson Gardens in Littleton for just $1.50 per ticket (a special price for summer 2011 to celebrate their 15th birthday)!

Hudson Gardens offers over 30 acres of gardens arranged along a mile-and-a-quarter walking path. Self-guided walking tours are available year round and are included in the price of admission.

The Gardens also offers a summer concert series and many events (including classes on bee keeping, photography, and gardening).

Elissa’s restaurant recommendation: stop for a $2 breakfast burrito at Santiago’s on Broadway on your way to the gardens!

Image Credit: mmarshall on Flickr

Denver Zoo

Located next to City Park and The Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Zoo is a great place to visit on a sunny day!

Visit a Denver area Wendy’s location through May 26th to pick up a $4 off coupon for the zoo, or show your military ID for a discount.

Though tickets will run you $13 for adults and $8 for kids (kids under 2 are free), you can save a few bucks by packing your own picnic lunch which you can bring in and enjoy in the Giraffe Meadows or the Sycamore Grove picnic areas.  For the safety of the animals, make sure to leave your glass containers and straws at home!

If you’ve got a summer birthday, you can get free admission on your birthday by joining the Denver Zoo’s birthday club!


Image Credit: Traveling Librarian

Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The Museum of Nature and Science is a perfect destination for a rainy day!  Buy tickets to the museum alone, or add on a viewing at the IMAX or Planetarium.  They have free days coming up near the end of August.

Though you can’t bring food or drink into the museum, you can save a few bucks by packing a picnic lunch to enjoy in City Park (right outside).  Make sure to buy your tickets at the door or they’ll charge a $2 processing fee.  If you or your spouse are in the military, admission for all military personnel, spouses, and dependent children is completely free!

Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum perfect destination on a rainy day!  General admission is free on the first Saturday of every month.

Don’t want to fight the crowds on a free day?  Colorado residents can expect to receive an everyday discount of $3 per adult ticket, and $2 per child ticket.  You can also hop across the street to visit the Denver Public Library.

Water World

Though it’s a pricey destination, Water World offers a number of different discounts on tickets:

  • Visit a Denver area Dairy Queen location (definitely call to make sure they have these before heading over) for a 2 for 1 coupon for admission on opening weekend, and $7 off one admission in June.
  • Bring your empty Diet Pepsi or Mountain Dew can with the Water World promotion printed on the side and receive $8 off admission May-June or $6 off admission for the rest of the season.
  • Donate non-perishable food items to 9 Cares Colorado Shares and receive $6 off for each item you bring (limit 1 per ticket).
  • Hyland Hills and Westminster residents get a deeply discounted ticket price on tickets (nearly 60% off!)
  • Visit for the afternoon (1:45 pm-6 pm) and tickets are ~40% off the full day admission price.

Parking is free and you can bring your own picnic lunch.

Image Credit: The Brit

Denver Mint

Ever wondered how pennies are made?  Wonder no more, you can see it in action at the Denver Mint!

Be sure to make reservations in advance as the tours fill up fast!

Tours are offered Monday-Friday 8 AM to 2 PM and are completely free of charge. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early, and be prepared to walk through a metal detector and to put all bags through an x-ray machine at the entrance.

Leave your strollers, large bags, and all food and drink in the car as they won’t be allowed in.  Make a day of it, and visit the Colorado State Capitol after, or walk a few blocks and hop on the 16th St. Mall Shuttle for an exciting day downtown!


Image Credit: Quality Frog

Colorado State Capitol

Visit the Colorado State Capitol for a dome tour and climb the 99 steps to the interior observation area, or take the Capitol Historical Tour for something that requires less exercise.

All tours are free of charge and are offered every hour on Monday through Friday from 10 AM-3 PM.  Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy at Civic Center Park (across the street) after your tour, or head to happy hour at Steubens in Uptown for a tasty afternoon snack (or early dinner)!

Colorado Rockies Game at Coors Field

There’s nothing better than enjoying a warm summer night at Coors Field!  Rockpile tickets are available at a deeply discounted price – $4 per adult ticket and $1 per child ticket and can be purchased online in advance (be prepared to pay transaction fees), or at the box office before the game.

Feeling lucky?  A limited number of $1 tickets are on sale at the box office 2.5 hours before every game.  There are also 3 games each season that offer $1 tickets for the whole Rockpile!

They allow you to bring your own food and drink into the stadium, so, pack your own peanuts and sandwiches, or (my personal favorite) pick up canolis at Lechugas to enjoy at the game!

Celestial Seasonings Factory Tours

See how Celestial Seasonings teas are blended, packaged, and shipped, and enjoy free samples of every tea they make!  Located in Boulder, Celestial Seasonings offers free tours Monday-Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM and Sunday from 11 AM to 3 PM.

Red Rocks Park & Ampitheatre

Pack a picnic and head up to Red Rocks in Morrison for a day of hiking and/or biking with the family.  You will enjoy the unique beauty of the red rocks, as well as spectacular views of the Denver metro area.

Visit the Red Rocks website to see a list of all hiking and biking trails and print a map.  Make sure to take a quick stop when you pull off of I-70 at the Morrison exit and visit the geological point of interest where they blasted through thousands of years of rock layers in order to build the highway!

Image Credit: Rockin Robin

Or, you can see your favorite musicians perform at the Red Rocks summer concert schedule and enjoy a live show at this beautiful, natural venue.  If you can’t stomach the price tag of a concert, but still want to see where your favorite music legends love to perform, you can take a guided tour of Red Rocks Amphitheater on Monday through Sunday at 10 AM.

Tickets for the ampitheatre tour are $6 for adults and $3 for children. Or, check out the schedule for Red Rocks Film on the Rocks (12 different movies are being shown this summer).  Show up at 6, and a local band will play from 6:45 until dusk.  Relax while your favorite movie is projected on to the giant red rocks!  Tickets start at $12 and many VIP options (including dinner and drinks) are offered.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Located in Golden, the visitor center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory offers interactive programs and displays to teach you and your family about solar and wind power!

The visitor center is open Monday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM, and all programs are free!

Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum

Located in Golden, the School of Mines offers free admission to their Geology Museum.  This museum displays rocks, minerals, and fossils and is the home of one of the state’s two Goodwill moon rocks (collected during the Apollo 17 moon mission).

The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9 AM to 4 PM and Sunday from 1 PM to 4 PM.

Image Credit: Andrew Parnell

National Center for Atmospheric Research

While you’re in Boulder, make sure to check out NCAR’s Mesa Laboratory and Visitor Center.  The visitor center is open Monday through Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM, and Saturday and Sunday from 9 AM to 4 PM.  Free tours are offered every day at noon.

Learn all about weather, climate and current research being done at this world-class facility!  You can even catch a glimpse of some of the fastest supercomputers in existence when you visit their 3D Visualization Laboratory where you’ll see projections of natural Earth systems like hurricanes and climate change projects.

Make sure to save time to take a stroll along the third of a mile Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail where you’ll be introduced to the weather, climate, animal, and plant life at the Mesa Laboratory.

:: Staycation Ideas In Boulder ::

Image Credit: Andrew Hyde

Chautauqua Park

Located at the base of the Flatirons in Boulder, Chautauqua Park offers many beautiful hiking/biking trails, as well as free festivals, lectures, and art shows all through the summer.   A full calendar of events can be found on their website.

Chautauqua Park Auditorium offers a summer concert series and is the site of many of the performances during the Colorado Music Festival.  Make sure to buy tickets in advance as these sell out quickly.  There are also several cottages located in the park that are available to rent year-round.

Pearl Street Walking Mall/University of Colorado Campus/University Hill

Get a true taste of Boulder and visit to the Pearl Street Walking Mall for some fun, free entertainment!  Full of street performers, beautiful flowers, and places for the kids to play, you can enjoy live music, see a man fit himself into a tiny box, and get some shopping done at the same time!

There are lots of great boutiques and galleries to peak in, and entertainment that won’t be found anywhere else!

Elissa’s restaurant recommendation: Enjoy happy hour on the patio at Hapa Sushi for a midafternoon snack!

Still haven’t gotten enough of Boulder?   Hop in the car and head to the University of Colorado Campus.  Feed the fish in Varsity Pond and play in the Norlin Quadrangle.  Head across the street from campus to “The Hill” (a street packed with restaurants, shops, and fun!) and pick up lunch at Kim’s to go, or Santiago’s (in the same parking lot).

:: And That’s Just The Beginning ::

Whew!  That’s an awful lot of things to do in and around Denver – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!  What are your favorite vaction-like things to do in Denver, and how do you save money on them?

Please share your tips in the comments!

Don’t miss Part Two of this post: Places To Eat On Your Denver Staycation!


  1. If you haven’t been and have kids, the Littleton Musuem is a great place to go and it is free.
    Also, if you don’t want to spend a lot on concerts at the Botanic Gardens. many parks offer live music for free throughout the summer. For example, there is a jazz concerts every Sunday night in City Park and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra is putting on a free concert in Civic Center Park on July 3.

  2. I’ve known of credit unions here in Denver that sponsor free ‘movie in the park’ nights in the summer, too! Pack a picnic and lawn chairs, and get there early!

  3. Courtney Lutkus says:

    A great place down in Colorado Springs is the Western Museum of Mining & Industry it is over by the Airforce Academy and is a great place for the whole family. They teach you how to pan for gold, run steam engines and have hands-on exhibits for kids of all ages. Great way to spend a day.

  4. We went to the National Renewable Energy Lab last week and it was NOT worth the trip. It was only one room and not very interactive.

  5. We plan on going to Jellystone in Estes Park for a little Colorado Staycation this year :)

  6. Looks like the Denver Zoo discontinued their free birthday admission. I’d love to know if anybody can prove me wrong, though!

    • Oh, stink! I was just thinking about that the other day and was going to re-post it. :(

  7. Usually on the weekends, Mike Boyle does a radio show at a restaurant in Denver +/or Castle Rock. The meals are usually $7.10 for 2 (same as his radio station call numbers) ($3.55 for 1) Go to his website to see his calendar

  8. I’m sorry, but these are all really boring and basic ideas I could have gotten from any brochure about Denver. Did the author even go to these places? OR do any original research — you know, on foot, around town, digging into interesting and new things to do? You should try it. I think I will, and will post about it on my own site next week.