Nothing can dampen the fun of holiday shopping in downtown Denver faster than traffic and parking hassles. One strategy: Forget the car and add a dash of big-city adventure to your outing by heading out on Denver's sleek light-rail system.
Park at the Littleton/Downtown Station, a historic 1875 train depot that looks like something out of an old-fashioned postcard. Take the C Light Rail Line north to the Denver Union Station, then begin your shopping by walking along the 16th Street Mall. A good first stop is Tattered Cover Book Store (1628 16th St.; 303/436-1070) for a warming coffee drink, gift books, and stocking stuffer–size calendars.
Another sure bet involves a detour northeast on Wazee Street, where you'll find Rockmount Ranch Wear (closed Sun; 1626 Wazee St.; 303/629-7777). In business since 1946, the Western-wear maker recently opened to the public. Some of the best buys include tooled-leather belts, cowboy hats, and snap-front shirts.
Head back to 16th Street and ride the free MallRide Shuttle to Glenarm Place. Hop off at Denver Pavilions (500 16th; www.denverpavilions.com or 303/260-6000) for free fun at Holidays in the City (Nov 26–Jan 2). Catch live daily music and dance performances in the West Side Courtyard, or shop at the adjacent tree lot, which includes wreaths and small (even some tabletop-size) Christmas trees, then head back to the light-rail station.
At Union Station, catch the southbound C line and jump off at the first stop: Pepsi Center. For the sports fans on your gift list, the vast Pepsi Center Trading Company (1000 Chopper Circle; www.pepsicenter.com or 303/405-1304) offers loads of team insignia gear, from a cool Denver Nuggets hoody to a Colorado Rapids soccer ball.
Back on the southbound train, return to Littleton and cross the last items off your list in the shops and galleries that dot Main Street from South Prince Street to South Curtice Street. The bare branches of streetside trees are decked out in white lights.
Before heading home, treat yourself to dinner by the stone fireplace at Opus Restaurant ($$$$; 2575 W. Main St.; 303/703-6787). The crème brûlée, which comes in a crisp cookie box, is a well-earned present to yourself.
Take the C train
The RTD Light Rail (www.rtd-denver.com or 303/299-6000) trip from Littleton ($5.50 for same-day round-trip; W. Alamo Ave. and S. Prince St.) to the Denver Union Station takes 25 minutes.