DENVER — While millions of people visit Denver each year for fun, those here on business trips might feel they have to settle for gazing longingly at the Rockies.
If you're among the latter, consider yourself lucky. Even with only a few hours of spare time, there's plenty to do once obligations are out of the way.
Thanks to the free 16th Street Shuttle along the pedestrian mall downtown, visitors can get to sights from the State Capitol to venerable Union Station from just about any hotel your company might have put you up in.
If you have a car, all the better to zip to the mountains for a quick hike or, if the timing is right, some ski runs.
Some day visitors mistakenly think they can squeeze in a one-hour tour of the U.S. Mint (320 W. Colfax Ave.) on a whim. Free tours are available, but you are encouraged to make a reservation early — http:www.usmint.gov/mint—tours/.
More accessible are free tours of the gold-domed State Capitol (Colfax Avenue and Lincoln Street), built exactly one mile above sea level. Or for a fee, try the Denver Art Museum (100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway) and its new Frederic C. Hamilton Building. The dizzying, titanium-paneled structure jutting over 13th Avenue was designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind and is as visually stimulating to walk through as is viewing the art on the walls. The museum is open until 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is closed Mondays.
The Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau offers other ideas for walking tours on its Web site — http:www.denver.org. One suggests stops at the historic, triangular Brown Palace Hotel (321 17th St.), built in 1892, and the Denver Public Library, designed by Michael Graves. The library is right next to the art museum.
For the sports-minded, Denver has 14.5 miles of river water and miles of pedestrian and bike trails. You can rent cruiser bikes, kayaks and head-to-toe gear from Confluence Kayaks (1615 Platte St.), just 100 yards from Confluence Park on the South Platte River and the park's manmade drops and chutes.
For the trendy and well-monied, visit Larimer Square (a short walk west of 16th Street) for boutique shopping, night spots and restaurants. People-watch at The Market (1445 Larimer St.) over coffee, dessert or a quick meal.
The independent bookstore the Tattered Cover (16th and Wynkoop) has a sprawling newsstand, floors of books and its own cafe, making it ideal for passing time. Authors frequently pass through. Sen. John Kerry and Deepak Chopra both were recent visitors.
Cherry Creek North (roughly First to Third avenues, from University Boulevard to Steele Street) has blocks of high-end and quirky boutiques mixed in with big-name stores, snack spots and restaurants whose offerings run from sushi to gelato.
Keystone Resort, about a 75-mile drive west, off Interstate 70, has golf and mountain biking in the summer. In winter, when night skiing is available, you can run the trails as late as 9 p.m., so even if you can't leave Denver until noon, you can still get in a decent amount of runs. (Other ski areas such as Loveland are closer, but Loveland is not open in summer.)
Red Rocks Park, also off I-70, is about 30 minutes away if you want a taste of the mountains with a shorter drive. The park features its famous amphitheater, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, red slabs of rock jutting into the sky and a dazzling view of the plains. Check out the schedule for concerts ranging from Norah Jones to Incubus — http:www.redrocksonline.com.
Unless the Cubs or Yankees are in town — or it's July 4 or Opening Day — tickets to see the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field (20th and Blake streets) are pretty easy to come by. Rockpile tickets, in the center field bleachers, are just $4 apiece. Coors Field is four blocks from the 16th Street mall shuttle.
About the same distance west of 16th Street is the Pepsi Center, home to the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, the Colorado Crush of the Arena Football League and, for lacrosse fans, the professional Colorado Mammoth. Thanks to middle-of-the pack results, last-minute tickets could be had even for the Aves last season.
Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids play in their own brand-new stadium in suburban Commerce City, about a 15-minute drive from downtown.
El Chapultepec (1962 Market St.) near Coors Field is a Denver institution to hear jazz with a side of character. It's part of the busy Lower Downtown, or LoDo, neighborhood and has a crowded dive bar feel. Cover is cheap and so are the snacks.
The rest of LoDo has dance clubs, pubs, restaurants, a raucous piano bar and a cowboy lounge, with people jumping from spot to spot like it's fraternity row.
More highbrow fare is available at the Denver Center for Performing Arts — http:www.denvercenter.org/ — which is another architectural delight.
Spring for a short cab ride and discover a wealth of small music rooms hosting indie acts, with tickets to many shows available on short notice. Try the Hi-Dive (7 S. Broadway) and the Larimer Lounge (the room at 2721 Larimer St. once hosted the Killers in a show that wasn't sold out before people knew any better).