Aurora is a city primarily located in Arapahoe County, Colorado, that serves as a haven for outdoor recreation, historical landmarks, and multiple learning and entertainment hubs.
Formerly known as the town of Fletcher during the 1880s, Aurora has long stood in the shadows of Denver.
It was named after Denver businessman Donald Fletcher who led the borough's progress during these times.
Since the 1900s, Aurora slowly veered away from its neighboring city and made its own name.
Today, Aurora is the third largest population in the state, a remarkable place to live and travel, thanks to its unique destinations and impressive local lifestyle.
These free things to do in Aurora, Colorado, will make your visit worthwhile.
Stroll around Southlands
Southlands is Aurora's premiere outdoor lifestyle center, famous for its shopping, food, and entertainment hubs.
Adopting a "Main Street" style, this 1.7 million-square-foot lifestyle spot at Smoky Hill Road and the E-470 tollway opened in 2005.
It has since been a favorite hangout place for Aurora residents and tourists.
Despite its seemingly luxurious vibe, you can adore the Southlands' beauty without spending.
By just simply relaxing on its outdoor benches or walking around its parks, you will know what it feels like to be a local.
If you are lucky, you can witness admission-free concert events at the Southlands grounds and enjoy a music-filled day with your entire family.
Learn about Nature and Science at Senac Creek Nature Center
The Senac Creek Nature Center, located at Aurora Reservoir on Powhatan Road, is an excellent place to study and have fun.
The learning hub features everything about Aurora's ecosystem, natural resources, and how its neighboring communities benefit from it.
Built in 1989, the reservoir is an 800-acre city park for fishing and boating.
It opened the center for guests, specifically families and students, who want to learn about Aurora's natural resources.
With an expansive display of images, interactive educational games, and hand-made puzzles, you can immerse yourself in a fun learning experience.
You can also try different animal costumes for a fantastic photo opportunity or interact with the rotating exhibits at the Senac Creek Nature Center.
Discover History at Aurora History Museum
Aurora values its rich history and has placed hundreds of photos and memorabilia in the Aurora History Museum at East Almeda Parkway.
This community-based center opened in 1979.
The Aurora History Museum features Aurora's culture, heritage, and art and welcomes all guests for free.
Children and adults can enjoy a day of film shows, educational programs, and a hands-on gallery that offers a brilliant opportunity to learn about the city's roots.
Besides checking out historical photos, you should also not miss checking out the fully restored 1913 trolley car named Trolley Trailer 610.
This notable street car built in 1913 by Denver-based Woeber Car Company takes you back to the time it was once the leading transportation for Aurora locals.
Drop by Toll Gate Creek Archaeological Site
The Toll Gate Creek Archaeological Site, erected along the West Toll Gate Creek at South Kittredge Way, is another destination you don't need money to visit.
This place features a marker identifying the site as a Native American grave from 670 CE.
In 1982, two boys found the gravesite that contains the remains of an adult male and a young child.
With the remains are associated materials that were reinterred and transferred to a different location.
The West Toll Gate Creek is known as a water source for ancient people and a trail during migration.
You can visit the Toll Gate Creek Archaeological Site and explore the surroundings, taking you back to the time when ancient people lived.
Bring Your Kids to Red-Tailed Hawk Park
A unique way to celebrate the beauty of Aurora is by spending a day at Red-Tailed Hawk Park at East Hinsdale Way, which opened in 2019.
As an inclusive park, the 8,000-square-foot playground is made for kids of all physical capabilities.
Filled with sensory-filled elements, this destination features installations of a sensory wall with multiple textures and colors.
It is also embossed with glass beads which appeal to different senses.
Additionally, Red-Tailed Hawk Park has a wavy walk, a roller coaster-like installation with a unique design for children using mobility devices such as wheelchairs.
The park piques visitors' interests, especially those with kids in tow.
Honor the Veterans at Colorado Freedom Memorial
Thousands of visitors come to Colorado Freedom Memorial to pay their respects and honor the late veterans who died in service.
Located at Telluride Street at Springhill Community Park, the memorial features 12-foot-tall glass panels bearing over 6,000 names of veterans, killed or missing, across all service branches.
The Colorado Freedom Memorial opened in 2013 as a physical space for families of Colorado veterans who don't have a place of dedication for their loved ones.
The dedication's panels stand at different angles and reflect a magnificent view of Colorado's mountains from afar.
You will love strolling around the landmark at sunset or night as the panels are lighted.
This is the perfect moment to pray, honor, and reflect on the ultimate sacrifice of our modern-day heroes.
In some instances, you may see F-16 planes pass by, as it is nearby Buckley Air Force Base, making your visit truly memorable.
Try Craft Beer Samples at Dry Dock Brewing Company North Dock
Aurora is home to one of the most loved breweries in Colorado, the Dry Dock Brewing Company.
Founded in 2005, the then-small brewery was the first in the borough and has become a local favorite.
It later became one of the best breweries in the state after winning multiple awards for its one-of-a-kind Amber Ale.
The company now brews over a whopping 20,000 barrels of craft beer annually and distributes them across the state.
If you want to know more about how they brew their beers, you can visit their twelve-tap tasting room at Tower Road.
You can join free tours around the Dry Dock Brewing Company every Saturday and end your time by trying out their free samples.
See Aurora's Art in Public Places
As a city that takes pride in its art culture, you will find many admirable art installations in Aurora.
Under the Art in Public Places program, over 300 individual art pieces are situated across different parts of the city.
The works encompass murals, sculptures, and functional pieces placed in public spaces such as parks, train stations, and shared walls.
One of the most beautiful artwork displays is along R-Line, where riders can view the city between Lincoln and Peoria stations.
Make the most of your wanderings in Aurora by following its Art in Public Places.
Pay Respects at the 7/20 Memorial
On July 20, 2012, a tragic shooting happened in a movie theater in Aurora, resulting in 13 deaths and over 70 people wounded.
The unfortunate event paved the way for building the 7/20 Memorial in 2018.
It is a permanent memorial for the survivors and heroes of the heartbreaking incident in the Aurora Municipal Center's Water-Wise Garden.
An art installation called Ascentiate, built by artist Douwe Blumberg, features 83 white cranes symbolizing the lives of the survivors and victims.
It sends a message of love, peace, and hope to everyone who visits the serene 7/20 Memorial.
See How the Pioneers Lived at Plains Conservation Center
One of the educational and recreational open spaces in Aurora that is free to explore is the Plains Conservation Center at East Hampden Avenue.
The 1,100-acre state-designated natural area showcases mid-century homestead village living since it was established in 1948.
The Plains Conservation Center has several sod homes, a schoolhouse, and a tipi camp, which reflects the prairie life of Native Americans in the later 1800s.
You can come to the area and hike through its well-maintained and shaded rolling trails with majestic views of the Rocky Mountains.
Trekking also provides a fun experience as you will encounter rare sightings of bald eagles, coyotes, pronghorns, prairie dogs, and red-tailed hawks.
Take Photos of the Historic Building 500
Building 500 in Aurora is a prominent location that symbolizes one of the city's significant historical events.
Situated at one of the top universities in the state, the building was built in 1939 with an art deco motif inside the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center Campus.
It served as the primary medical care center for the Fitzsimons Army Medical Base, treating casualties and tuberculosis patients from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and the Gulf War.
Today, Building 500 serves as the university's primary administrative building and is one of the free things you can visit to take photos and admire from the exterior.
Splash around at Great Plains Park
Great Plains Park at East Jewel Avenue is an excellent place to try outdoor leisure, with its spectacular water playground opened in 2007.
As a perfect destination during the summer, this park features a splash pad, slides, and swings for every visitor to enjoy and release their inner child.
After enjoying the spray ground, you can rest and eat in its picnic shelters equipped with tables.
Other pleasurable activities are sports such as softball and basketball.
If you are into nature hiking, Great Plains Park is a top choice for walking paths leading to Powerline Trail and the Conservatory West Trail.
Hang Out at Stanley Marketplace
Explore Stanley Marketplace, one of Aurora's premiere indoor bazaars, for a day and enjoy everything it offers.
Located at Dallas Street, Stanley Marketplace is a 100,000-square-foot space where the Stanley Aviation building formerly stood since 1954.
The indoor market houses over 50 businesses, including shops, restaurants, and bars.
It is a massive events area and lifestyle hub with gyms, salons, and a playground.
Reflective of Aurora's bustling commercial industry, Stanley Marketplace is a favorite spot for locals and visitors.
Even if you do not intend to spend, you can experience this place by checking out free kid-friendly activities you can try on a weekend.
Check Out the Centennial House
If you want to know what the houses in Aurora looked like during the 1880s, you need to visit the Centennial House at Galena Street.
Centennial House is one of the oldest houses built in Aurora that has a Queen Anne Victorian style architecture.
Built in 1891, the house features indoor plumbing and an upstairs bath, a typical style among original homes in the town.
Numerous owners occupied the Centennial House as a private residence before the city of Aurora bought it in 1990.
After the purchase, the city decided to restore it as part of its centennial year celebration.
When you enter the house, you will see exciting household items that take you back centuries ago.
Some of its interior furnishings came from other old homes, including a fireplace mantle.
Other Things to Do Nearby
See the Animals at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
A great way to escape the bustling Aurora metropolis is to visit the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado.
Since it opened in 2004, the refuge has offered a solitary escape with calming nature wonders sprawled across its 15,000 acres of open space.
You can hike along its different trails, with perfect viewing opportunities of wildlife and scenic landscapes.
As you explore the area, carry your binoculars or cameras as you'll see pronghorn deer, bison, raptors, and birds soaring above the vast space.
The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is 19 minutes from Aurora.
Aurora is filled with history, nature, arts, and lifestyle.
Each destination has its unique story, from memorials for veterans and fascinating archaeological sites to magnificent open spaces, and even hip craft beer spots.
It is truly an excellent place that shows love for people, both its residents and its guests.
These free things to do in Aurora, Colorado, are just some reasons locals and visitors love returning to this place.