Top 10 Steampunk Vacations: #1!

And the winner is…

Colorado!

“Now, Kronda,” I hear you saying, “why are you showing special favoritism for your home state? How could it possibly be the top Steampunk destination in the world?”

I’m glad you asked. Aside from being home to one of the largest Steampunk events in the U.S. (AnomalyCon, 1200+ attendees, established 2011) and one of the largest enthusiast groups in the U.S. (the Colorado Steampunks, 1200 members, established 2009), Colorado’s major modern development began with a gold rush in 1848, and it wasn’t established as a state until 1876. That means that the bulk of our development occurred during the Colonial Victorian Era, and with the added incentive of the gold rush we experienced a lot of Victorian envy. Colorado is also ripe with “Wild West” history. Finally, because of the protective nature of the mountains, most of the history in the Denver metro area has been unimpacted by the rage of storms, fires, tornados, earthquakes, and especially hurricanes. That means we have hundreds of still-intact historical sites to explore.

Still not convinced? Read more about Colorado’s history here.

The number of points of interest are off the charts, so we’ll start with just a few to whet the appetite.

First, we have two railroad museums, the Colorado Railroad Museum (which boasts lots of trains for climbing on and plenty of preserved or almost-preserved steam trains). They are old friends of the Colorado Steampunks and love to see new faces. If you’re up for a drive, stop by the Greeley Freight Station Museum, which features life-size model trains and a whole town built as a backdrop for their exhibits! Add to these the Forney Museum of Transportation, which basically features anything and everything on wheels. Finally, Wings Over the Rockies is an air and space museum with dozens of planes and reproductions. Wrap up your transportation fascination by catching a ride on either the Royal Gorge Railroad (who offers dinner and murder mystery train rides) or the Leadville Train. Leadville is an old mining town, and the highest-elevation city in Colorado. Try to plan your trip during a time when you can see the Colorado Balloon Classic–a long hot air balloon festival. If you can’t make it to that, the Kite Festival in Arvada is usually in mid-to-late April. Both are free to attend.

Now for a historical walking tour of Denver. Denver hosts an awesome event every year called Doors Open Denver in mid-ish-April, wherein many historical buildings (even businesses) offer an open house to visit the cool architecture. The Colorado Steampunks usually make an appearance, and much history is available on these free tours. Unfortunately, their website only updates close to event time–but you can see past tours.

Now, as far as walking tours go this will be a long one! Try to take this tour on the First Friday of the month, if you can. Start your journey at what is now the Tivoli Student Union. This building started as a brewery and still retains much of the old equipment. AnomalyCon occurred in the Tivoli for its first two years. Wandering its halls is free, and some of the best photography comes from the old boiler rooms and the giant geared equipment. Park in the lot nearby for all day parking for only $6, which is a real steal downtown.

Next you will walk (or catch the Lightrail Line C) to Union Station, which was originally a railroad depot and still retains the old benches and charm. In the basement old vaults still line the halls and two model railroad clubs often have demonstrations down there. The outside is still a glorious image of the time, and the bold logo face of Union Station is as synonymous with Denver as the Eiffel Tower is of Paris.

Move on from there to the Byron White Courthouse–a beautiful building with old columns and white marble architecture. Don’t get caught taking too many photos, though! Cut over to 16th Street Mall to see the original Daniels and Fisher clock tower, now renovated to be an events venue with a view–it also makes for a glorious photo backdrop. Catch the free mall ride to the other end of the mall. Stop by the beautiful Cathedral Basilica and then cut over to the Denver Mint and the Capitol Building–both have tours available.

Now, finish up your tour by taking a jaunt over to the Santa Fe Arts District on First Friday, to enjoy modern and industrial art–but also to see the open houses of several robotics companies!

For places you should probably drive to see, stop by the Molly Brown House–a museum to the Titanic, since Molly Brown was a survivor. They also offer afternoon tea–as does the Brown Palace, which is a landmark hotel that opened in 1892. It’s a little more expensive to stay ($160/night on the least expensive days of the year), but a beautiful experience that also offers historical tours. Also stop by the Museum of Outdoor Arts, which is free to visit and has a gorgeous brass exhibit of Alice in Wonderland–brilliant for photo sessions.

The Lumber Baron Inn is also a gorgeously restored Victorianesque mansion and bed-and-breakfast, and they feature a murder mystery dinner as well. Also check out Castle Marne, which was completed in 1889 and is another beautiful bed-and-breakfast. We also have our very own Steampunk-aesthetic bar, called the Rackhouse Pub–it’s in partnership with the whiskey brewery next door. If you’re interested in having a scientific cup of coffee, try Happy Coffee. The Colorado obsession with coffee and bookstores is legendary, and many of those places reside on Broadway, especially near Broadway Book Mall.

Now if you’re up for a long jaunt, Colorado features one of the most eccentric and Steampunk castles in the world–Bishop Castle. Located down near Pueblo, this castle was built (almost) singlehandedly by one very passionate man. He used primarily handheld tools and ironworking, so the methods are pretty Steampunk. The aesthetic is one if you crossed Dr. Seuss, Tim Burton and the Victorian Era–so it’s certainly a must-see. Admission and exploration are free, but bring a picnic! There are no amenities anywhere near this place.

We haven’t even scratched the surface here, like talking about all the ghost towns or the western museums or Wild Bill’s grave…but I can guarantee you’ll be wandering the area for ages. History–and the great food–are why Colorado is the #1 Steampunk Vacation Destination!

Looking for the rest of the top 10?
#2 – England!
#3 – Tokyo!
#4 – Michigan!
#5 – San Francisco!
#6 – New England Region!
#7 – New Orleans!
#8 – Vienna, Austria!
#9 – Carribbean!
#10 – Berlin!

Honorable Mentions:
New Zealand’s Steampunk Town

4 thoughts on “Top 10 Steampunk Vacations: #1!

  1. BtA says:

    I would add that we have a number of small towns which were built largely in the Victorian era, such as Manitou Springs which makes for an interesting architectural tour, and that even touring Denver proper leads to a lot of painted-lady eye candy as the fantastically varied building design can switch between 1890’s and 1960’s from block to block of the city. Our mild climate has allowed quite a few of the brick homes to be laid without being covered in paint, which once you begin to look leads to a startlingly rich subtext of building design in the hundreds of different patterns laid by masonry artisans as the city was built. Downtown you’ll find evidence of the era even in the street names, as you progress from the Brown Palace through downtown to a series of names of historical note up to the hills where streets have names like Little Raven, laid down as they were in a time of extreme cultural interchange. There are some lovely evocative bars in town too for a sip and a little atmosphere, whether My Brothers’ Bar with its thick wood or the Rackhouse mentioned above.

    • kseibert says:

      Great points! It doesn’t hurt that the architects turn of the century were obsessed with an interesting Gothic Revival flare.

  2. Allie says:

    Don’t forget about the Greeley History Museum! We have Victorian houses for tour and live demonstrations and classes on blacksmithing, pottery, firearms, leather working, and fancy Edwardian technology such as gas stoves and electric light bulbs!

  3. Don’t forget that the new History Colorado Museum on Broadway in Denver has a steampunk time machine on the first floor. Yep: a steampunk time machine. Not to miss.

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