Denver is popularly known as an outdoor adventure destination, but the Mile High City has been dusting up on history and science too. Some of us prefer learning and art to snowboarding and rafting, and that’s why we’ve put together this list of Denver’s top ten museums. Use our list to find everything from southwestern art to new-age sculpture.
The Museum of Nature and Science is perfect for both adults and children. The Museum houses exhibits on wildlife, biology, the human body, history, art, and much more. You can venture to Expedition Health to learn how your body works, observe gems and minerals from around the world, or look at animals of the past and present across the dozens of dioramas. Your children can venture to the Discovery Zone for hands-on science, or you can grab some popcorn and watch an exciting and informative film on the Museum’s IMAX. You can spend an entire day catching the fascinating exhibits and displays this expansive museum has to offer.
The Mile High City’s premier art museum, the Denver Art Museum (DAM) has been wowing patrons in one form or another since 1893 and has been in its current location since 1949. The DAM houses over 70,000 pieces from across the globe and has one of the top collections of American Indian art in the world. You can spot various forms of artwork at DAM including architecture, design, and graphics, a full gallery of Asian art, a contemporary wing, the New World Collection, the collection of Western American Art, photography, sculpture, and more. The newer Frederic C Hamilton Building’s twisting architecture and jagged angles allow DAM to display art at unique angles and settings.
If you’d rather spend more time exploring contemporary art than a large array than Denver’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) will be your best option. The MCA is one of the newer attractions in our list, opening in 1996 as the only dedicated space for contemporary and modern art in the Mile High City. The MCA resided in Lower Downtown Denver before opening in its new 27,000 square foot space in the Platte Valley in 2007. Unlike many of the venues on our list there are no permanent exhibits at MCA but instead a rotation of exhibits and pieces for two to four months at a time.
Located in Denver’s Lowry neighborhood on the former Lowry Air Force Base, Wings over the Rockies Air & Space Museum is Denver’s premier aviation and space museum. Because the collection started on Lowry Air Force Base, the museum specializes in the Air Force-designated planes and equipment that populated the area until the base’s closure in 1994. The museum has since expanded to include equipment and aircraft from other military branches all packed into a repurposed airplane hangar. The hangar is surrounded by secondary exhibits on the radar, uniforms, space navigation, and everything else dealing with aviation and space exploration. Visit at the right time, and you may run into Wings Board Member Harrison Ford.
The Kirkland is located in Denver’s Golden Triangle in the heart of the city. The modern Kirkland Museum was opened in 2003, but its preserved studio and art school building founded by Vance Kirkland has been operating in Denver since 1910, making it the oldest commercial art building in Denver and the second oldest in the state. The Kirkland Museum houses three distinct collections – the International Decorative Arts Collection, the Colorado/Regional Collection, and the Kirkland Retrospective. The Kirkland’s unique layout plays with different groups of pieces and their layout to make for a refreshing museum visit.
If you have little ones in tow, you’d probably rather pull teeth than force them through a dry, traditional museum. Luckily the Children’s Museum of Denver can make your kids smile and teach them something at the same time. Located in downtown Denver, the Children’s Museum is packed with interactive and hands-on exhibits that can teach your children about music, their natural environment, how to use their imagination — and much more. If you have older children in need of thrills you can send them to Adventure Forest, a 500-foot long aerial adventure course. The whole family will be exhausted with a good visit to the Children’s Museum.
History buffs in the Mile High City can set their sights on the History Colorado Center, located in downtown Denver. The History Colorado Center has been hosting visitors for multiple decades but recently re-opened in its new state-of-the-art building in 2012. The Museum houses several Colorado-oriented exhibits including Living West, Destination Colorado, the Dust Bowl, Mesa Verde, the quirky Denver A-Z exhibit, and the Time Machine where visitors can stand on a giant map of the state and push around a steam-punk stylized ‘time machine’ to get stories and history of different locations. It’s a history museum, but the History Colorado Center is full of technology.
We couldn’t pick one museum to visit near Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District — we recommend stopping by them all. The nationally renowned neighborhood located along Denver’s Santa Fe Drive is home to several southwestern and Hispanic style galleries, exhibits, and museums. Popular galleries and museums include the Bitfactory Gallery, the Denver Art Society, Museo de las Americas, and over a dozen more. Book your visit to the Santa Fe Arts District during the first Friday of the month to participate in Santa Fe’s First Friday Art Walks where galleries swing open their doors to display both local and international artists along with food, drink, and live music.
Before Denver established itself, it was known as a classic western town. Though Denver now has all the modern arts, culture, and amenities you would ever need the American Museum of Western Art (AMWA) reflects Denver and the country’s wild west past. Founded in 2010, the AMWA is home to the Anschutz Collection — a collection of American West paintings from the early 1800s to today. You can find examples of Expressionism, Cubism, 19th-century American-narrative, American Regionalism and many other western-influenced styles along the walls on the AMWA. The AMWA is located within the historic Navarre Building built in 1880 in downtown Denver.
Motorheads across the country flock to the Forney Museum of Transportation, located a few miles north of downtown Denver. The 70,000 square foot museum houses a variety of transportation exhibits spanning decades of history including locomotives, aviation, motorcycles, automobiles, and the infamous amphibious Amphicar. Notable locomotives include Big Boy locomotive #4005 and the Forney locomotive. You can tour the floor space yourself or take a guided tour. The museum is named for J.D. Forney, founder of Forney Industries in Fort Collins, Colorado whose private collection served as the museum’s beginning. The Forney is currently working on 70,000 square-foot expansion.
Whether you like planes, trains, expressionism, or native art Denver has the perfect museum for you. Check out the websites of the museums for more exhibit information and to punch your tickets. Many come to Denver for extreme sports, but you can also visit for extreme art.