@Miss Grape: As long as 30 minutes isn’t a problem (I’m just really impatient, haha) then you’re in good shape! I am not a huge fan of Arvada, but that’s because it truly IS far and it’s not really “developing” the way that other neighborhoods are. I’m not sure what your price range is, but from what you’re describing, you’d like the Ken Caryl Valley. It’s mailing address is technically “Littleton” but it’s really in unincorporated Jefferson County. Jefferson County is a great school district and it’s a GORGEOUS area.
This link is an image of the KC Valley in winter: http://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/7875810.jpg
Other areas to check out:
Highlands – up and coming, close to Denver, lots of great food and things to do, more modern
Highlands Ranch – a little older, but lots of families, good schools, def more “classy”
Stapleton – this is the new “hot” suburban area for families. TONS of great food and things to do, access to good schools, more modern housing. If I were raising a family, I’d love to live here. It’s a little further from other areas, but you’re still only 30 minutes from Denver and it’s got access to so much that you don’t NEED to leave.
As far as my favorite things to do:
Restaurants: Linger, Osteria Marco, Rack and Rye Gastropub, Bones, The Corner Office, Freshcraft – these are all in Denver area and pretty hot new places. They are accesible. I live in a suburb about 20 minutes from Denver and I still eat there all the time 🙂
I can’t offer you much info on nightlife as it’s not really my scene. But Larimer Square in downtown Denver has tons and tons of cool, fun bars including a piano bar.
Other stuff – Water World, Farmer’s Markets, Tubing in the creeks, Children’s Museum, lots of outdoorsy stuff 🙂 We do a lot of biking, pub crawls, live music, etc. There’s always something going on in the big parks near Denver.
There are def a lot of health food grocers, especially the closer you get to the Denver area. Some of the older areas have less (like Littleton and Highlands Ranch) but in the Highlands and Stapleton you’ll find a lot.
You’ll like it here 🙂 I have never found a city that quite compares!