With my next tour coming up in my hometown of Denver this May 14-21 (2019), I figured I do a little tourism blog post for anyone traveling in Denver and looking for things to do. Rather than focusing on the most popular Denver tourism experiences, though, I thought I would focus on some of my favorite places from my childhood that still exist. There’s a few of them and I want to celebrate them before gentrification eats them up, as well!
(Side note: I think many of these locations are not technically in Denver, but close enough. They are all Colorado favorites that any Denverite will tell you is essential to the experience of both the city and the state).
Casa Bonita is more than just a Mexican restaurant with pretty bad food. You might ask yourself, “why would I ever go to a restaurant with terrible food?” And I’m here to tell you why: cliff divers. Live shows. An arcade. A gift shop. Black Bart’s cave. And the sopapillas are not bad, free and unlimited, though I wouldn’t recommend eating too many unless you want to add layers to the the stomach ache you might already incur from your main meal. There’s also margaritas if that’s your thing!
The reason that the food is so bad here is because it’s served cafeteria style, and when you combine the fact that the meal is basically your entry admission and it’s buying you SO MUCH JOY then it’s also kind of cheap. The last time I went they were still using cheese whiz as enchilada filling. But if the fact that I went here for both my 4th birthday party and my high school graduation is any indication, Casa Bonita is a Denver landmark not to be missed! This is a perfect place to take kids, it’s for kids, but you know what? It’s a perfect place for the kid inside you too!
Lakeside Amusement Park
Lakeside is definitely one of my favorite places on this planet. The parking is free, the admission is cheap, unlimited rides are also cheap, and as far as I know no one has ever died there despite some of the rides seeming pretty old and maybe barely operating. Actually, there was once a speedway there and I think I heard a rumor that people may have died racing cars there? I don’t remember. The race track closed in 1988 but is still on site and super spooky looking.
Lakeside was built in 19-0-freaking-8, and was originally called White City as it was one of several amusement park inspired by the Chicago World’s Fair that were built across America around the turn of the century. During the 1930s several renovations were made and the park took on an art deco style. I am excited to report that the art deco style remains today and it is a really good vibe. Of course, since the place is so cheap the maintenance of all these very old art deco stuff has not be great. But I actually love that- it gives the place a horror movie sort of feel. Lakeside was in fact used as inspiration in the video games Silent Hill and Silent Hill 3 (though the park featured in those games looks different). Charming? If you’re me, yes! Definitely!
If you’re not into amusement and thrills it’s still a really lovely place to just hang out on a warm summer evening. But if you are into rides there are some really fucking good ones that are guaranteed to scare and delight you. The Cyclone, a large wooden roller coaster (and historic landmark coaster! Built in 1940) is probably my favorite, but I also love the train that goes around Lake Rhoda (great for making out with a sweetie), the Wild Chipmunk (great for shitting your pants), and the Crystal Palace, which is a hall of mirrors that has a very vintage feel. The carousel is still the original from 1908, and has many different types of animals you can ride on vs. just horses. This is also a real good place to take kids! There’s a kiddie park with lots of rides for little friends.
A popular time-wasting destination for nothern-Denver-area-suburnan teenagers, Adventure Golf & Raceway is the place to go if you need to have all of your vaguely Indiana Jones themed mini golf dreams made reality!
Hit a neon colored golf ball into the dude above, and he’ll either shoot water at you with a pithy insult ~or~ shoot fireballs into the sky!
Obviously, the full name tells us that there are also go-karts here, but I’ve never tried them because the mini golf is all consuming for me. Every other mini golf course I’ve been to is a huge disappointment in comparison to this one. I’m not saying it’s like REAL amazing either, but it’s got 3 solid courses with some sort of, uh, theme to each? I guess? And flowers and friendly bees and light competition amongst friend/ frenemies.
Crown Hill Cemetary (for goths) and Park (for non-goths)
I wasn’t exactly a typical goth in high school, more a pastel or thrift goth. But I was very into cemeteries and would sometimes just go to Crown Hill for no reason at all. I don’t have any relatives buried or otherwise kept there, I just like it! There are a ton of pretty massive and overwrought graves and memorials there, with the crown jewel (get it?!) of the cemetery being the Tower of Memories, a huge masoleum full of Italian Mob members.
The above view of the Tower of Memories is from the adjacent park, also called Crown Hill, but you can see this tower from lots of points all over Wheat Ridge, Arvada, Lakewood and Denver. The park is arguably a better place to go, especially if you don’t have an appreciation for the macabre and do have an appreciation for wildlife. There is a man-made lake that is about a mile to walk around, and a lovely place to go for a stroll, jog, or roller skate. The path around the lake branches off into a wildlife preserve as well, or at least it did at some point! I think they might occassionally close that preserve to humans because we are destroyers of everything beautiful and lovely in this world.
This was a fun blog post to write! Hope you enjoyed a brief tour of some of my favorite Denver area hang outs. Maybe I’ll do another tourism guide soon.