Some Denver experiences are iconic, things you must do if you’re a newcomer to this city. But natives appreciate them, too. In fact, the quintessential Colorado events are things you can do over and over again. This is the inside-scoop stuff, the cherry on the top of the living-here sundae. These activities may not be secrets, or even unique to the Queen City of the Plains, but make no mistake: They’re Denver through and through. If you’re a local, consider this a friendly reminder of ten ways to count your blessings.
Film on the Rocks
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison
If you’ve lived in Denver for almost any time at all, chances are good you’ve been to Red Rocks. (And if you haven’t? Go now: Red Rocks Amphitheatre is not just a Denver treasure, but one of the best venues in the world.) But even if you were there when U2 was under the blood-red sky and have been to more Red Rocks concerts than you can count by the wrinkles on your skin, Film on the Rocks never gets old. This year’s edition boasts a killer lineup, from Rogue One and Dirty Dancing to Bridesmaids and Twister. On many Monday nights during the summer, you can catch some live music and standup while the sun goes down, then sit back under the stars as the show begins. It’s another great way to enjoy Colorado’s most legendary venue, and it never gets old.
Tour de Fat
National Western Complex
4655 Humboldt Street
An intoxicating mix (possibly literally!) of alcohol and amusements, bikes and beers, the Tour de Fat has been around for seventeen years in various iterations. Sponsored by New Belgium Brewing and spurred by philanthropic purpose, the festival is ever-growing, always entertaining, and pure Colorado — even if we share the wealth with cities nationwide these days, from Asheville, North Carolina, to Tempe, Arizona. New Belgium’s goal for 2017 is to crest the $5 million mark for money raised for nonprofit partners — and to have a blast (and a few beers) while doing it. Watch for it to roll into town on August 26.
Fireworks Games at Coors Field
20th and Blake streets
Baseball at Coors Field is a must on any Denver summer to-do list. But locals know that there are a handful of special times every season — no matter the league standings — to celebrate MLB, and the Rockies in particular. One is over and done with in April; that’s the citywide party that is Opening Day. But there are a few other days — or nights, to be exact — when you want to be at Coors Field. Around the holidays (July 3 and 4 in 2017), the sky lights up immediately following a Rockies game. If you’re in the right section, you’ll be allowed to go down to the field with a blanket, lie on the grass under the sky and ooh and aah — no matter what the final score was.
Friday Pig Roast at Charlie Brown’s
980 Grant Street
You might go to Charlie Browns solely for the ambience — the wood paneling, the piano bar, the strong pours, the old-world charm. But if you’re there on a Friday night in the summer (that’s June through August), you can enjoy all of the above, as well as a long-time Denver tradition: the pig roast. The food at Charlie Brown’s is always good (as at many places in the heart of the city, Greek is a specialty here), but on these nights, the patio turns into pig-meat heaven. Jump in with both feet — but not literally, because that would be gross and just ruin it for everyone.
Just off the Peak-to-Peak Highway
Brainard Lake (Forest Service)
Nestled between Nederland and Lyons, right by the road to the tiny town of Ward, is the turnoff to Brainard Lake, a gorgeous body of water in a glacier-carved valley at just over 10,000 feet. Take the trails and see all the sights the area has to offer; it’s so high that it’s really only accessible in the summer months, when it can still be chilly in the evenings —or even the daytime. If you hike around, you might see snow lingering in the shade here and there, depending on the month. This is one of those Colorado places that only natives or longtime residents know about. So when the rest of the rabble is heading to Rocky Mountain National Park, true Denverites hit the road for Brainard, where they can see the same natural wonder — and far fewer people.
1700 York Street
From 5Ks to the Denver Zoo to the Museum of Nature & Science to weekend volleyball to Frisbee to picnics to paddleboats to jazz concerts on Sunday nights — there’s just so much to do that you’ll want to return to City Park over and over, year after year, probably toting a cooler and a blanket and an appropriate amount of love for this city-central green-space institution.
Civic Center Park
It’s not like a newcomer to Denver or even a casual visitor could miss PrideFest, especially the parade, which starts at 9:30 on the morning of Father’s Day each year. But there’s more to PrideFest than just the spectacular parade. Denver throws one of the top Pride parties in the nation, a two-day event (June 17-18 this year) filled with entertainment, music, vendors and even a family-fun area sponsored by Walmart. (Yes, you read that correctly.) This is a true Denver tradition — both PrideFest itself, and the celebration of community and choice. We might like to display our rugged individualism in these parts — but we like to do it together, arm in arm. And probably with a beer.
Central City Opera
124 Eureka Street, Central City
Just 45 minutes from Denver sits Central City, an old mining town turned charming mountain hamlet that boasts one of Colorado’s historic gems: the Central City Opera. An opera house was built in the town in 1878 by Welsh and Cornish miners who thought the riches from the mines would never end — but the grand structure fell into disrepair when the mines failed. It was revitalized in 1932 and has been going strong ever since. Now in its 85th year of continuous operation, the Central City Opera is a national treasure; this summer’s season includes Carmen and Così fan tutte. The productions offer quite a contrast to the ka-ching of the casinos in Central City and Black Hawk, but Old West meets New West in the most harmonious way.
Denver Comic Con
Colorado Convention Center
Now in its sixth year, Denver Comic Con — which runs from June 30 through July 2, 2017 — has become the go-to event of the year for self-proclaimed nerds who want to let their geek flags fly. It’s grown from a modest debut attendance of just over 25,000 to more than quadruple that in only its fifth year — and this year attendance is projected to increase again. Part of the reason for that growth is that the DCC isn’t just about comics; the three-day festival features the best in pop culture, gaming, film and literature, on screens both big and small. And, of course, there’s cosplay, because you can never have too many Princess Leias walking around.
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Skiing A-Basin Until That Last, Desperate Hour
The vast majority of ski tourism ends in April — not necessarily because the snow is gone, but because the rest of the world is turning its attention away from winter sports and toward gardening, walks in sunny parks, and soaking in the sun. (Suckers!) That’s when native Coloradans just keep skiing, sometimes in even greater numbers, since crowds on the slopes are smaller (no Texans) and the experience, on balance, is just better. At A-Basin, you can count on the ski season stretching into June, and sometimes beyond. Is it the best snow of the year? Probably not. But it’s still there, baby.
Don't miss our list of what newcomers to Denver should do this summer...