Every dad should take his kids to the auto show at least once. I’m not just saying that because I’m a car-obsessed automotive journalist either. It’s because auto shows are a staple of Americana and have a lot of entertainment for the whole family and at very little cost. I recently took my kids to the Denver Auto Show in Colorado, one of the smaller regional shows I’d highly recommend as a daytime getaway. This year, the show happened during spring break when my 7, 8, and 9 year old were all out of school. Perfect.

Most auto shows have several things going for them. First, they’re destinations for those looking to see the newest and coolest vehicles entering the market. Second, they’re a great place for people looking to buy a new car to get a feel for all of the options available without the stress of pushy salespeople in constant hover mode. Third, they have fun things to do that kids will find highly entertaining, whether they’ll admit it or not.

The first reason is why I, personally, love auto shows. The second is why, this year, my girlfriend wanted to attend. The third is why we decided to make it a day for all of us.

Kids love race cars

The girls ogle a race car at the Denver Auto Show. Photo by Aaron Turpen

Car Show Veterans

To start with, my kids are car show veterans. We make a trip every year to Gering, Nebraska for the Father’s Day Classic car show: a gathering of 350 or more classic vehicles spread across a golf course in western Nebraska. Those types of car shows and an indoor, new car show (including the Denver Auto Show) are very similar in terms of the rules of engagement. With one big difference. At a classic car show, things are strictly hands off unless otherwise instructed by whomever is showing the car. At a new car show if the vehicle is unlocked, it’s fair game for getting in and fiddling around with things.

The kids weren’t terribly excited about going to the auto show at first, whining that they didn’t want to “go to my job” or “walk around looking at dumb cars all day.” This was a direct result of my enthusiasm for going to the show. Parents of kids this age understand that the automatic response to any parental enthusiasm is to complain and have no interest. Dinner is ready on time? I’ll push my food around with a fork, complain about it (even if it’s my favorite), and then whine an hour later that I’m hungry. That’s Kid 101 stuff right there.

Being the wise father that I am, however, I knew that once there, the kids would think the auto show was the greatest thing since Mario Kart 8 or Amazon FreeTime subscriptions. Those, of course, being things that I consider to be on a level of greatness that far exceeds the “sliced bread” cliche most people like to use. I’m hipster. I like slicing bread. Makes me feel old school.

At any rate, I happened to be right this time. Taking the kids to the auto show was a lot of entertainment. They were in awe of the shiny new cars on display. Though not all that impressed with my lengthy explanations about what they were. Car nerd. Remember?

David Muramoto shows a race car at the auto show

The kids get a good look at a friend’s race car at the Denver Auto Show. Photo by Aaron Turpen

Gonna Be a Race Car Driver

My youngest, Ade, was especially enamored with the race cars to be seen on the floor. Aidan (the oldest) is a big fan of certain types of race car–namely those which appear in Need for Speed–but is not otherwise ecstatic about them. Ade, on the other hand, has the makings of being a new-generation Danica Patrick. But given her penchant for “bouncing” (her term for going off-road), she’ll probably be more like Jutta Kleinshmidt or Michele Mouton. All three kids were dumbfounded that the particular race car we were looking at is owned and operated by my friend David Muramoto, president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press association. His name being stenciled right on the car was equally impressive to them.

Once in the groove, the kids were really excited about getting into, fiddling around with, and making observations about various vehicles on the show floor. We looked at minivans, crossovers, sport utilities, pickup trucks, sports cars, and all the rest. I showed them how to move the seats, open hatches, let them sit behind the wheel (huge hit there), and virtually kick the tires on everything that had them. We looked at engine cutaways, aftermarket parts (Aidan was especially impressed with the wide array of wheels available), hugely lifted SUVs, and so on.

The real hit, though, were the rides. Several booths had video game versions of car driving, including race simulations and dragster competitions. Live rides in real vehicles, such as the Jeep Experience, were also a hit. Nothing is cooler to an 8-year-old than going down stairs in a Jeep or tilting the car until it feels like it’s going to roll over and then nonchalantly plopping back to all four.

Sitting in a Corvette at the auto show

Ade drives a Corvette while Aidan looks nonchalant. Photo by Aaron Turpen

There’s Ice Cream In the Middle

The ice cream in the middle didn’t hurt either. Most car shows have some kind of food court or vendor area included. In Denver, there was gelato, hot dogs, beer, and more. They had gelato. I had coffee. Very black, caffeine-laden coffee.

Probably the best thing about the auto show is that it’s fun for the entire family. It’s relatively cheap to get into and no matter the age of (or age differences between) your kids. They’ll all see something they like and be happy to be there. Even teenagers, despite carefully hiding the fact. Plus indoor auto shows are weather neutral.

Now that you’re sold on the idea of taking the family to an auto show, find one near you. Edmunds keeps a good list of local and regional automotive shows nationally: https://www.edmunds.com/auto-shows/calendar.html.