Joined at the hip to the famed Mile-High City, Aurora (Colorado), forms one third of the colossal Metro Denver area; a sprawling metropolitan hub that totals more than two million locals in all.
However, unlike its near neighbors of Denver and Lakewood, Aurora has done well to retain something of its small town character, balancing that carefully with huge developments like the great Southlands Lifestyle Center and its countless 18-hole golf courses.
That makes for an interesting and welcoming town, where local breweries meet family-owned restaurants between the lively roadways around Havana Street; where residents barbecue and kick-back on the sands of nearby reservoirs and creeks, and where line-dances and country music are the order of the evening.
And then there’s Aurora’s historic connection to the Great Plains.
This fascinating touch of heritage pops up in small museums and nature reserves, offering a taste of the real prairie in the shadow of the mighty Rocky Mountain peaks! Let’s explore the best things to do in Aurora!
1. Kick back on the sands of Aurora Reservoir
Aurora Reservoir was once a distant recreational space on the south-eastern edges of the city, sat hidden between the rolling prairie on the dry and dusty windward side of the Rocky Mountains.
In recent years, however, speedy urban growth in neighborhoods like Southshore have brought communities right up to the banks of the water, imbuing the 800-acre manmade lake with some of the top outdoorsy attractions in town.
Today, locals and travelers flock here to rent canoes, participate in SCUBA diving excursions (try and spot that submerged airplane!), enjoy a spot of trout fishing, or simply kick back on the maintained beach – perfect for sunbathing in those sultry Coloradan summers.
2. Discover the natural wonders of Colorado at the Morrison Nature Center
This fully-fledged nature center is the go to place in Aurora for exhibitions and workshops related to the unique natural habitats of The Centennial State.
Showcasing everything from natural history books to field guides, traditional local costume collections to performances aimed at raising awareness for Colorado’s backcountry, the site is a great option for any travelers with kids in tow.
The institution also manages a number of wild bird feeding platforms and birdwatching stations in the nearby parkland, where visitors can come to spy out American kestrels and hawks, larks and rare species of owl. Naturalist walks are also organised from the base.
3. Hit the trails at the Cherry Creek State Park
Enfolded on all sides by the urban sprawl of southern Aurora, this dash of wilderness and greenery is a fine option for travelers eager to escape the city.
Accessible and well-maintained, the state park is a patchwork of pretty prairie grasslands and flower-packed meadows, blooming in bursts of green and colour during the spring and summer, and crisscrossed by winding bridal paths for the horse riders, or trekking trails for the walkers.
There’s also a campsite located amidst the backcountry of Cherry Creek, open all year and loaded with 135 renovated tent and RV spots.
Boating on the waters of Cherry Creek Reservoir is also possible, with docks and rentals at both of the reserve’s main entrances.
4. Hit the shops of the Southlands Lifestyle Center
Prep the wallets and retail appetite for this one folks, because the Southlands is Aurora’s premier shopping spot.
Loaded with everything from Walmart to American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret to Coldwater Creek, the sprawling mall is hailed as the largest non-contained shopping mall in all of America.
The central drag – appropriately named Main Street – is anchored on a large central plaza, home to Santa’s grottoes and ice rinks during the winter months and babbling fountains and street entertainers during the summer.
There are also oodles of eateries to enjoy between bouts of credit card-busting retail therapy, from the spice-packed Monsoon Indian Restaurant to the Oriental flavours of Mt Fuji Sushi & Hibachi.
5. Explore the development of the city at the Aurora History Museum
This small local museum on the bends of Alameda Parkway draws in visitors with one of the most eclectic ranges of artifacts and relics relating to Aurora’s history.
The rooms take just a couple of hours to tour entirely, offering a terse and fascinating glimpse at everything from Aurora’s recent modern developments (there are some curious models plucked from the now-demolished Buckingham Square Shopping Center) to its historic tramways (the restored Colfax Trolley Car is a truly immersive and beautiful piece to behold!).
The exhibitions change regularly, while the permanent displays offer folios of historic photographs, countless relics from the early 1900s, and plenty, plenty more.
6. See pronghorns on the prairie at the Plains Conservation Center
Sandwiched between the runways of Buckley Airforce Base and the suburbs of southern Aurora, the Plains Conservation Area offers just a glimpse at what the rolling grasslands of central-western Colorado used to be.
Built on land that was once the province of the American railroad companies – building their tracks out westwards to the promised land of California – the center balances human and natural history.
Guests can see the decorated wigwams of the Cheyenne Indians standing next to traditional frontier sod houses.
And then there are the wild prairie dogs and pronghorns; two of the most iconic creatures on the grasses of The Centennial State.
7. Have a Coloradan brew at Dry Dock Brewing Co.
The original and still the most acclaimed microbrewery in all of Aurora now boasts two separate locations across the city: the first in South Dock and the second in North Dock, between the streets of Smoky Hill.
Built from the bones of a brewing supply shop in 2005, this one’s grown and grown, churning out a whopping 12,000 barrels of beer each year for their Aurora tap rooms and craft bars right across the state.
Notable tipples include the yeasty German-style Hefeweizen, the rich and rust-coloured Amber Ale ESB, the hop-heavy juggernaut appropriately-named Hop Abomination, the potent Wee Heavy, infused with the flavors of the Scottish Highlands, and oodles of vanilla-packed, fruit-flavored and Belgian-style brews besides.
8. Play your way through the Aurora golf trail
Armed with the fine grasses of the American plains and the thin airs of the Mile-High City on its edge (meaning those drives will tumble just a tad further down the fairways), Aurora is arguably the prime place for a golfing holiday.
Courses abound around the city, going from the all-new public greens and parklands at Heather Ridge to the iconic links undulations of Saddle Rock, the erstwhile home of the Colorado Open.
Other spots worth a round or two include the verdant reaches of Fitzsimons – one of the oldest courses in all of Colorado – and the uber-accessible Aurora Hills, found just north of Highline Park, right in the center of town.
9. Meet the alpacas at Chimera Ranch
The go to place in Colorado for fine alpaca furs and fleece, Chimera Ranch makes its home between the plains of Bennet, just to the east of Aurora city center.
Here, owners Norm and Sandra Johnson are passionate about forging a close relationship with nature, pursuing a dream that will allow them to leave behind big business and enjoy a life spent tending to these curious creatures out of South America.
With a number of awards under its belt, the ranch now produces everything from raw alpaca fibres to knitting yarn to woven products ready to wear, all of which are available at the on-site shop.
10. Get a taste of Mexico at La Cueva
For more than 40 years, the family-owned joint La Cueva has been serving up some of the finest Mexican flavours to the folk of Aurora and the Mile-High City.
Nothing short of legendary right throughout The Centennial State, this earthy little eatery was started by a husband and wife team: Norma Martinez and Nabor Nuñez, all the way back in 1974.
The mouth-watering menu makes it easy to understand the success. Tostadas packed with refried beans rub shoulders with shredded beef and guacamole tacos, chili rellenos meet pork tamales, while breakfast means oodles of quesadillas, Mexican hamburgers and onion enchiladas.
Of course, there are plenty of Tecate cerveza to wash that down with too!
11. See a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre
For one of the finest line-ups of local events and shows in all of Colorado, be sure to make a beeline across the greater Aurora metro area, to where the rugged canyons and walls of the Rocky Mountains begin to rise against the districts of the Mile-High City.
This is where you’ll find the colossal outcrops of red sandstone known as the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
Developed into a multi-functional events space way back in the early 1900s, the site now hosts everything from international heavy metal bands to psychedelic alternative rock artists to large weddings and corporate events.
There’s also an on-site grill serving all-American BBQ cuts over sweeping vistas of the Coloradan hills!
12. Get into the community beer-drinking spirit at Mu Brewery
Nestled between the streets of north-eastern Aurora, Mu Brewery makes its home behind the façade of a classic western hardware store.
Focussed on community-driven beer making and events, the spot hosts everything from exhibitions of up-and-coming artists in the Denver area to beer festivals that showcase the creations of other breweries and brewers working in the industry.
Their own line-up of ales though? Top-notch! Going from the sweet and caramel-infused Colorado Bastard – an IPA with a real difference – to the Raspberry Red, packed with fruity American berries and distinctive Chinook hops.
13. Do some line dancing at Stampede
No trip to the old frontier state of Colorado and the far-flung edges of the sweeping American Plains could possibly be complete without at least a sampling of the West’s iconic country and western scene.
In Aurora, that means a trip to Stampede! Sat amidst the lively bars and eateries of Havana Street, this timber-built barn lookalike is the home of the city’s rowdiest hoedown, issuing the waltzes and off-beats of honkytonk tunes and country ballads into the Coloradan air since opening in 1992.
Head down for a medley of tequilas, US beers and classic line dancing!
15. Find your inner cowboy with help from the folk at 12 Miles Stables
Boasting a truly fine location between he rising hills and ridges of Cherry Creek State Park, the 12 Miles Stables are the prime spot for getting in the saddle and sampling the freedom of the wild western frontier while traveling though Aurora.
With access to countless miles of maintained bridle paths and some truly experienced riding instructors at hand, the stables offer everything from short one-hour excursions to longer sunset rides, to watch the fading glow over Cherry Creek and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the distance. Nice.