320 W. Colfax Ave., Denver
HOURS: Mon.–Fri. 8 a.m.–2 p.m. (tours)
COST: Free, reservations required
Perhaps inspired by the rebellious spirit of the West—or just naked entrepreneurial ambition—the United States Mint at Denver was originally founded as a private bank in the 1860s by an attorney who had the bright idea to mint coins from the gold and silver being mined in the mountains to the West. The mint was eventually sold to the government and laws were made to prohibit private money-making. Today there are only four mints in the country, and the United States Mint at Denver is the only one with guided tours.
In 1906, the government opened the mint in Denver  and the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. An example of elaborate Italian-inspired Gothic Renaissance architecture, the mint appears to be two stories but is actually five. Starting in 1935, seven additions have been made to the building to accommodate increased coin production. Making billions of coins of year, the mint now occupies an entire city block.
Tours begin at the entrance to one of the building’s more modern additions. Security at the mint is tighter than at any airport and visitors cannot bring in anything larger than a wallet.
Before the official tour begins, you can peruse “Money, Trade and Treasure,” a display of primitive money and the evolution of currency in the lobby. A tour guide (and an armed security guard) take groups into the coin production part of the plant, where you might see coins before they are pressed or as they are being sorted. It’s not until the very end of the tour that you get to see the original shiny marble hallways and unique Tiffany chandeliers of the 1906 building.
What’s fascinating about the tour are the facts—particularly the actual costs of making money and what materials are used to make coins. A visit here could be a last chance to see pennies being made; no one knows how much longer pennies will be produced given their low value and high cost to make.
The U.S. Mint at Denver can boast of never having been robbed, in part thanks to an original “machine-gun nest” or “sentry box” that was always manned until the 1960s. That relic is on display with a mannequin, and current security measures are top secret.
To get a few of your own state’s quarters, or other collectible coins, stop in at the gift shop located just outside of the mint. Even the change from each purchase is given in locally minted coins.