Westminster, Sunset, April 2012

Westminster1Why go now: If there’s sun? Seventy-four miles of hiking trails await. Snow? A butterfly-dotted tropical conservatory in bloom. Either way, there’s a solid spring teaser. Alter ego: A surprising cache of authentic ethnic restaurants and art galleries hides among this suburb’s subdivisions and megaplexes. Who’s here: Commuters settling into new condos, recent immigrants, and artists showing their work at galleries cropping up along 72nd and 73rd Avenues. The deal with wheels: Only the arts district is strollable; you’ll want a car to reach the trails and top food spots. Play outdoors: Beyond the sprawl, Westminster is rich with open space--about 14 percent of its area is grasslands and lakes. Play inside: The historic Rodeo Market (3915 W. 73rd Ave.; southwestyartsgroup.com) now displays art by local potters and painters. 

1. Get lost in a rain forest
The Butterfly Pavilion’s 1,600 jewel-hued residents flutter freely among blooming hibiscus and other sun-loving flowers between bouts of aerial acrobatics. On the first Saturday of every month, photography workshops ($15) offer earlybird entry so shutterbugs can shoot butterflies in the morning light before the general public arrives. $8.50; 6252 W. 104th Ave., butterflies.org

2. Shop like you’re in Italy
Stacks of olive oils, cookies, and pastas fill the shelves at Valente’s, an Italian grocery, deli and bakery rich with treats to savor now—and later. The deli doles out sandwiches and canoli, plus fresh-made sausages, tomato sauce, and family-recipe meatballs that command a cultlike following. Stop by the espresso bar for your cappuccino and biscotti fix. Closed Sun; 7250 Meade St.; 303/429-0590.

3. Get out of your sandwich rut
Don’t know your golabki from your gulasz? Cracovia, an authentic Polish restaurant tucked into an unassuming strip mall, makes learning delicious. Try the housemade pierogi or the kielbasa that arrives on a sizzling iron platter, $, 8121 W. 94th Ave.; 303/484-9388.

4. Eat the hole thing
At Carol Lee Donut Shop, production begins at 4 a.m. and doors close at 2 p.m. (or sooner, if the goods run out). The simplest fritters are this shop’s true standouts: Go for a basic glazed or chocolate doughnut, and you’ll swear off supermarket versions forever. 7200 Meade St.; 303/428-2090.

5. Peek at eaglets
You can gaze for miles across the azure water of Standley Lake Regional Park. But this month, bring binocs and look for nesting raptors as well. Park in the lot at 100th Avenue and Simms Street and follow the easy trail south to the Nature Center. A pair of bald eagles can be seen tending their young until they leave the nest in late May. $7/vehicle; www.ci.westminster.co.us 

3 more spring flings

Climb the tower
There are 181 steps to the top of the bell tower at Westminster’s City Hall—a spectacular vista rewards anyone willing to come on a weekday and scale them. Huff up 14 stories to a perch 130 feet above, with 360Ëš views of the skyline and the snowcapped Front Range, including three Fourteeners. 7-6 Mon-Thu; 4800 W. 92nd Ave.

Raise the roof
Lodo’s Bar and Grill has rooftop patios at all three of its Denver-area restaurants, but the Westminster location has the best mountain views. Snack on sliders or salads while you kick back and enjoy spring sunshine. On Sundays starting in May, acoustic performers add a live soundtrack to the scenery. $; 3053 W. 104th Ave.; 303/635-8025.

Hike the plains

The moderate Westminster Hills Loop Trail, a 2.25-mile path bordering Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, ventures west across grassland where mustard flowers bloom in late spring and the Rockies are on display. Westminster Hills Open Space trailhead: on the west side of Simms St. at 105th Dr.; www.ci.westminster.co.us

Getting there
Westminster is located west of U.S. 36, about 12 miles north of Denver. INFO www.ci.westminster.co.us