I live in Littleton, a SW suburb of Denver. Depending on traffic, downtown is 20-30 minutes away. I’ve lived in several of the burbs and like this one the best. I’m right at the base of the foothills so there’s terrific mountain views anywhere you look, and this area also has rolling hills and a lot of mature/natural landscaping. From any of the hillocks you can see downtown lights (very pretty at night) but you are far enough away that you can also see the stars.
There are two major highways up into the mountains within 10 minutes of my house so any hiking, mountain biking, camping, fishing, etc type of activity is right at hand. There is also an extensive network of open space parks and paved bike/running trails (several go straight downtown or to Cherry Creek).
I think I’m a little biased on my particular part of town…
My opinions of other 'burbs
Lakewood (just north of Littleton) is also called LakeHood. Same pretty scenery, though.
Arvada (north of Lakewood) is rather flatter and ‘drier’ looking with fewer trees and parks. Home to some mega size trailer parks, has a bit of redneck/white trash going on.
Broomfield (north and east of Arvada) and Thornton/Northglenn (north of Denver) are flat, ugly and barren. You can’t even really see the mountains (odd but true).
Heading around to the east corridor you have Englewood (east of Littleton, south of Denver). This is a toughy. About half of Englewood is very, very nice (Bronco, Avalanche players and prosperous business people’s homes) and the other half is ghetto. Scenerey varies also, half is rolling hills/green/lots of trees, half is flat and barren.
Aurora (east of Englewood) is predominantly ghetto.
Smoky Hill (east and north of Aurora, near the airport) is a newer 'burb and has all the proper markings. Barren landscape, can’t see the mountians, new cookie-cutter housing communities, immature trees (what trees there are), strip malls every 15 feet. Housing prices are indeed lower out there though.
To the south, Castle Pines (south of Denver along I25) is a rather wealthy community. Horse property, country clubs, world class golf course. Scenery is very nice, rolling partially forrested hills, some interesting rock formations, pasture areas, great mountain views.
Further south along I25 is Castle Rock, a very nice community without the blueblood feel. On the newer side, but rather small scale and quite nice. The golf course and outlet mall are both big draws.
Sedalia is everything Castle Rock is minus development. There’s a lot of horse property and strives for that ‘small farming town’ feel. It’s the very west of the southwest areas and probably wouldn’t be considered a 'burb.
Each of the Denver 'burbs would have a similar commute depending on just where you lived with in it and where you worked downtown. I’d figure 20-40 minutes average. The southern areas would be more along the lines of 30-60 minutes.
And of course, there are nice areas and not-so-nice ares in each of the 'burbs, but the above is the general impression you get driving the main streets.
I also can’t really comment on secondary education as my kiddo is only in 4th grade but I’ve heard many good things about the Cherry Creek school district.
I second most of what karma said. I grew up in a small town, so the move to Denver took some adjustment. I live in Arvada, which does have a minor red-neck feel, but housing is cheaper than most other burbs, and we don’t really have a ghetto. Another plus side, I catch the bus in Westminster (5 minutes from my house) & I am downtown in 15-20 min. Jefferson county schools are some of the best in the state, so we have that going for us also.