Golden: The Ultimate Family Staycation Right in Your Backyard

Golden is where every eccentric person who doesn’t reside in Boulder chooses to live.

-Jane, the Clear Creek History Park’s “Chicken Mom”

I am all about impromptu living and Golden is chock full of it. Visit the Golden Kayak Park on a Wednesday evening in the summer and you will be delighted to witness an unofficial freestyle kayak competition with free schwag and spontaneous tailgate parties.

Drop by Woody’s Wood Fired Pizza at 7 p.m. on the last Tuesday of every month and you’ll see an onslaught of bicyclists congregated for the “Golden Cruise” (all ages are invited).

I have spent a lot of time in Golden but truly fell in love during my family’s recent 24-hour-long staycation. With the gorgeously-appointed Golden Hotel as our basecamp, we delved into many family-friendly activities in this charming enclave that is nestled between two volcanic mesas and against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Our whirlwind trip included:

First Friday Street Fair

Golden’s First Friday has been around for a while and consisted of merchants offering extended hours and special deals the first Friday of each month. But now through October 1st, First Fridays include a lively Street Fair from 5-8 p.m. on Washington Avenue.

My family toured downtown Golden in a free horse-drawn carriage ride pulled by Burt (allegedly the largest horse in Colorado). We bought juicy buffalo burgers from a vendor, danced in the streets to the live band, giggled at the entertaining magician, valued our life too much to attempt the free climbing wall and checked out Golden’s charming stores.

Hands down, the Windy Saddle Café’s cupcake walk was our favorite activity. I love to stumble upon family-friendly places and with their little “Buckaroo” lunches and toy-filled back room, this restaurant epitomizes kid-friendly. At 6:30 p.m., 26 kids participated in their cupcake walk where everyone was eventually a winner.

Unless you were the second-to-last kid like my daughter and casualties almost ensued (see last week’s post for the sordid details).

Clear Creek History Park

If you have elementary-school-aged children, you’ve probably heard of this park dedicated to showcasing how early settlers worked and played in the late 1800s. We were first-timers and my kids loved this recreated mountain ranch complete with gardens, a working blacksmith shop, schoolhouse and chicken coop.

Stroll around for free and peek through the windows of these beautiful old buildings located directly off Clear Creek Trail. Want a fantastic summer diversion for the kids? Take part in scheduled activities such as bee keeping, making old-fashioned toys, woodstove cooking and more. A $5 donation is requested. Check the Web site for the full schedule.

Hands down, visiting the chicken coop was the highlight for my daughter Hadley. The “Chicken Mom” Jane (a.k.a. the chicken’s caretaker) gave her a freshly-minted egg and told her if she kept it warm for 21 days, a little chick would hatch. Hadley had a new mission in life: to become a “Chick Mom.”

Luckily for us, her maternal instinct lasted only two hours when she accidentally cracked the egg.

Heritage Square

Storybook Victorian theme park Heritage Square may be getting old (over 30 years) but playing there never does. We zoomed down the Alpine Slide for the first time, drifted in our swan paddle boats, played miniature golf, browsed in the artisan shops, and rode the rides to our heart’s content.

Or rather our heart’s discontent, which was frequently the case.

Not to be forgotten is the Music Hall and Children’s Theater. The swashbuckling tale of Robin Hood will be playing Saturdays through July 10 and The Frog Prince will make its debut July 17 and run through November 13. Children and adults are $6.

Colorado Railroad Museum

Unlike 99 percent of little boys, I do not consider myself a train aficionado but even I was sufficiently entertained by the 12 acres of narrow and standard gauge locomotives, cars, and 50 thousand rare old photographs, papers and artifacts. The museum itself is a replica of an 1880-style masonry railroad depot and has become a popular venue for birthday parties. The gift shop has over a thousand railroad books, videotapes, posters, prints, jewelry, and other memorabilia. Adults are $8, kids ages 2-16 are $5 and children under 2 are free.

Tip: Plan extra time in the gift shop to play with the Thomas the Trainset or meltdowns may ensue.

Saturday Farmer’s Market

On Saturday morning, we leisurely rolled out of our cushy beds at the Golden Hotel to attend the farmer’s market at 1019 10th Street from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. We gorged on hearty crepes for breakfast, bought fresh focaccia bread for lunch, and strolled around shopping for farm fresh fruit, veggies, flowers, mini-doughnuts, gourmet pastas, salmon and unique hand-crafted gifts.

Burt the Biggest Horse in Colorado was back for free horse-drawn carriage rides. There was also a puppet show, master garden presentations and that climbing wall we still refused to attempt.

But possibly my favorite moments of the entire whirlwind trip were exploring the Clear Creek Trail. My children biked along the verdant greenbelt, often stopping to read interpretive signs and pose with the statues. They slid down the “secret slide” randomly located next to the Washington Avenue Bridge, threw rocks in the river and cheered on the kayakers at the Whitewater Park.

It was a magical morning as we relished each other’s company and ingested the scents and sounds wafting from the market. I marveled as my newbie bikes wove in and out of the heavily-congested bike path, like Frogger hyped up on caffeine. They were often successful.

Sometimes not.

But isn’t that what family vacations to eccentric destinations are all about?

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