Once upon a time, there was a little town southwest of Denver that served as the hub for a farming community. Founded by an entrepreneurial surveyor named Richard Little, he named it for himself: Littleton.
The town grew. Denver grew. Eventually they merged – physically, anyway. But Littleton has retained its own unique personality despite becoming what is basically a Denver suburb.
Littleton has its own downtown, very different from that of the Colorado capital. There are charming old buildings, but no concrete skyscrapers. There’s traffic, but it wends its way through the landscaped streets at a slower and more polite pace.
There are scads of great little restaurants, from Cafe Terracotta, which has excellent salads and sandwiches at reasonable prices, to Opus, an upscale restaurant equal to anything you’d find in adjacent Denver. And Littleton has a plethora of pretty parks for strolling, picnicking and for kids to play.
But the city’s two star attractions are Hudson Gardens and the Littleton Museum. Both of these places will make you feel as if you’re far from any city.
Hudson Gardens was the dream of Col. King C. and Mrs. Evelyn Hudson, who in 1941 purchased 5 acres on the banks of the South Platte River, along a dirt road now called Santa Fe Drive. For 20 years, they operated the Country Kitchen (now The Inn at Hudson Gardens), which became nationally famous for its fine food. The couple devoted themselves to making Littleton the prettiest city around, planting numerous trees and flower beds. As the property eventually grew to 30 acres, it was turned over to a foundation to perpetuate their vision.
Today, Hudson Gardens offers lavish floral displays, from a stellar rose garden (with a fountain) to a pond with water lilies. Birds and butterflies flock there. Visitors meander paths among the daylilies and hollyhocks, stop to admire an outdoor miniature train, or just meditate on a bench under a shade tree. It makes you want to pack a picnic lunch. Outdoor concerts are held here in the summer.
Another urban oasis can be found at the Littleton Museum. Here, you’ll find a living history site, with an authentic 1860s homestead farm and an 1890s urban farm. Both include period buildings, as well as livestock and living history characters to show you how cooking was done or horseshoes were made.
Inside the museum building, there is a permanent exhibit on Littleton’s history (with such artifacts as farm implements and fashions of the day), as well as a second gallery with changing exhibits. Concerts and other public events also are held here.
At the museum, pick up a self-guided walking tour of downtown to learn more about the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Depot, the Carnegie Library, the 1907 courthouse, churches, noteworthy businesses and the homes of early influential residents.
And be sure to visit the town cemetery, where its most famous occupant is Alferd Packer, the Colorado cannibal.
Littleton is no longer a little town, but it doesn’t feel like big city, either.
If You Go
Hudson Gardens and Event Center
6115 S. Santa Fe Drive
Littleton, Colorado 80120
6028 S. Gallup St.
Littleton, Colorado 80120
City of Littleton
2255 W. Berry Ave.
Littleton, Colorado 80165
Linda DuVal is a freelance writer who lives in Colorado Springs.