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Going Our Way: A family trip to Denver with an eye toward setting down roots

By Carol Sottili
Tuesday, January 26, 2010;

Who: Beth and Brian Whiteman, both age 35, and their two children, Ben, 4, and Sarah, 2, of Silver Spring

Where: Denver

Why: Family vacation; exploring for possible relocation

When: July for one week

Budget: $5,000 to $6,000

"We want to go to Denver because we love the mountains and are considering moving there. We are looking for a fun family vacation that will give us a taste of Denver and life out West. Our interests include hiking, museums, train rides, baseball and visiting Invesco Field."

A vacation is a good way to dip your toes into a place you're considering as a new home, especially one nearly 1,700 miles to the west. That's the case with Beth and Brian Whiteman, who are thinking about relocating from the Washington area to Denver. The Mile-High City offers a sporty, outdoorsy vibe with a nice dose of urban niceties. I admit that I haven't spent much time there, as it's usually a quick stop on the way to the resort areas of Breckinridge, Vail, Keystone, etc. But from what I've seen, the city appears to be manageable, inviting and family-friendly.

Getting there is easy. Frontier offers nonstop flights from Reagan National, and United has nonstops from Washington Dulles and BWI. Fares vary considerably depending on whether a sale is on. Keep checking the airline sites, and sign up for fare notifications on sites such as Kayak and Bing (http://www.bing.com/travel); buy at about $300 per person. (I've seen fares as low as $220, but these are typically for spring and fall travel.) Avoid the first week of July, when the holiday will probably cause a spike in fares, and consider flying midweek, when flights are often cheaper.

Denver has a light rail system, but renting a car will give you more freedom to explore. I've had good luck with Hotwire (http://www.hotwire.com), which uses major car rental companies but doesn't divulge which one until after you've booked and paid. I checked July 10-17 for a full-size car, such as a Chevy Impala or a Hyundai Sonata; Hotwire was offering a price of $282 for the week, including taxes. Compare that with Hertz, where a full-size car for the week was $482, or Alamo, which was offering a full-size rental for $560. (Tip: I have been stuck with the "Hotwire lemon" -- a car with dents, high mileage and quirks -- a couple of times. Now I jokingly request at the rental desk that I not be given "a Hotwire car," and it's worked.)

Stay either in or close to downtown Denver, so you'll be central to many attractions. Although the city has plenty of high-end boutique hotels and conference-oriented properties, I'd stay at a place that offers free breakfasts, a pool and at least a refrigerator and a microwave. This will make for happier mornings with the little ones, give them a place to let off steam and allow you to keep snacks and cold drinks at the ready. Residence Inn Denver Downtown (888-526-7135, http://www.residenceinn.com), with an outdoor seasonal pool, offers a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit with a full kitchen for $1,359, including taxes, for a week in July. Hampton Inn & Suites Denver-Downtown (800-426-7866, http://www.hamptoninn.com), with an indoor pool, has a one-bedroom suite with microwave and refrigerator for $1,750 for seven nights.

Now for the fun. Here are sites and attractions to hit:

-- Take a ride on the Platte Valley Trolley (303-458-6255, http://www.denvertrolley.org), a replica of a turn-of-the-20th-century open-air trolley car that runs along the Platte River. It's a fun ride, and it also stops at some key sites, including the Children's Museum of Denver (303-433-7444, http://www.mychildsmuseum.org), which has 11 interactive play areas (an area devoted to bubbles is scheduled to open in the spring); the Downtown Aquarium (303-561-4450, http://www.aquariumrestaurants.com/downtownaquariumdenver), which has more than 500 species of aquatic creatures; and REI's flagship store, where you can get local hiking info from the Outdoor Recreation Information Center (http://www.oriconline.org). Tickets/admission add up to $95 per adult and about $19 per child.

-- The Colorado Rockies (303-762-5437, http://colorado.rockies.mlb.com), who play at Coors Field, are in town for three home stands during July. Day games, which will be played July 4, 11 and 29, are best for young children. Decent seats start at about $30, but the kids probably won't last for more than half the game; cheap seats start at about $16. Also, stadium tours are available Monday through Saturday, except on afternoon game days; the price is $7 for adults and $5 for kids.

-- Invesco Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos, offers tours that begin every hour between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday in the summer. The tour includes the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Museum, the visitors locker room, the field, the press box and a party suite. Adults are $9, kids 5-12 are $7 and children younger than age 5 are free. Info: 720-258-3888, http://www.coloradosports.org/invescofieldtours.cfm.

-- Denver Museum of Nature and Science (303-322-7009, http://www.dmns.org) offers an interactive educational center for kids called Discovery Zone. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for kids.

-- Denver Zoo (303-376-4800, http://www.denverzoo.org) is a 75-acre area with more than 4,000 animals. Admission is $12 for adults and $7 for kids.

The city also offers the usual amusement and water parks. And several family-friendly attractions are within an easy drive of the city, including Dinosaur Ridge (303-697-3466, http://www.dinoridge.org), the Colorado Railroad Museum (800-365-6263, http://www.coloradorailroadmuseum.org), Georgetown Loop Railroad (888-456-6777, http://www.georgetownlooprr.com), Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre (303-697-4939, http://www.redrocksonline.com), and Tiny Town (303-697-6829, http://www.tinytownrailroad.com). For a complete list of attractions, contact Visit Denver at 800-233-6837 or visit http://www.denver.org.

If your only goal was a family vacation, I might advise you take a two-night side trip to Breckenridge, an old mining town turned resort community about two hours west of the city. But because you're thinking of relocating, you should instead use any spare time to explore Denver's neighborhoods and visit some nearby communities, including Littleton, Centennial, Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock. Denver's Convention & Visitors Bureau offers relocation info at http://www.denver.org/metro/moving.

Finally, Denver is nicknamed the Mile-High City because of its 5,281-foot altitude. Although most people don't get altitude sickness unless they go above 8,000 feet, drink plenty of water, don't overdo the physical activity for the first couple of days, and pay attention to the children's complaints. (I once told my then-11-year-old son to "stop whining and keep hiking" during a trip to a Montana resort situated at 7,000 feet before realizing that the poor kid was suffering from altitude sickness.)

Total cost: About $4,000 for airfare, lodging, food (budgeting about $100 a day for restaurant meals), car and admission tickets. You can spend considerably more by staying at a fancier hotel and eating at fine-dining restaurants.

Interested in having us help plan your trip? Go to www.washingontpost.com/goingourway.

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