You’re new in town, and you need a handy guide on how to have the quintessential Denver summer. The question isn’t what you could do — because that list is just too damn long to finish off in ten summers, much less one. The real questions are these: What can’t you miss? And where do you start?
To help out, we’ve compiled a list of the ten things you must experience if you’re a Denver newbie. Some of them are single events, some of them are activities always available to you — but all of them are can’t-miss experiences once you live in Colorado. (Bonus: Longtime Denverites can simply hand this list to visitors and they’ll be out of your hair — and home — for days.) But before you head out on your first Colorado summer, a tip: Stay hydrated. Because it’s not the effort that will wear you down, it’s the elevation.
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison
One of Denver’s most special places isn’t even in Denver proper, though it’s technically a Denver mountain park: Red Rocks Amphitheatre is officially in Morrison, south and west of the city. But on a clear night, the city skyline is magical from one of the seats at Red Rocks (thanks, WPA!), and the natural stone amphitheater is the perfect complement to some of the best musical acts that the industry has to offer. Red Rocks is a favorite venue with fans and bands from around the globe. Find out why at a concert this summer, then go back the next day to appreciate the park’s scenery and trails.
Cherry Creek Arts Festival
Cherry Creek North
One of Denver’s oldest arts festivals returns every July 4 weekend. The motto of the Cherry Creek Arts Festival is “Bringing Art to Life,” which it definitely does. But the festival also brings the Cherry Creek North shopping area to life, filling the streets around this upscale retail area with vendors and food trucks and voyeurs and arts of every type. From amateur crafts to high-end works, this festival has it all. The CCAF returns from July 1 through July 3 this year — and you’d be smart to pay attention to the “July” in those dates. Bring a good sun hat and some cash for an icy lemonade, then spend the afternoon perusing the endeavors of more than 250 local and national visual artists.
11500 Roxborough Park Road, Littleton
Yes, Denver is a mile high, but there are still places to swim, fish and jet-ski. And boat. Or hike, or bike, or camp, or whatever your little nature-loving heart desires. Sure, you could head up to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park — but we have a great marshmallow-roasting opportunity right on the south side of town. Created in 1975 in response to (and to prevent a repeat of) a massive flood ten years earlier, Chatfield Reservoir is both a safety valve and a recreational hot spot for the city of Denver.
Lakeside Amusement Park
4601 Sheridan Boulevard, Lakeside
Welcome to the little kingdom of Lakeside. No offense to Elitch’s, but if you’re looking for aesthetics as well as entertainment, Lakeside is the destination park for the true Denver experience. It opened in 1908 (when it was dubbed “White City”), and the signage and overall look still evoke those days of yesteryear. And if the park is a little worse for wear? That’s just part of its charm. From the still-stunning Tower of Jewels to the deservedly famous Cyclone roller coaster, this is an amusement park to remember. Here’s hoping it’s still around in another hundred-plus years.
City Park Jazz
City Park Band Shell
Colorado Boulevard and 23rd Avenue
One of the best ways to wrap up a beautiful Colorado weekend is to head to City Park — right in the heart of town, on Sunday evenings from June through early August — and watch the sun set while you listen to live music. And even though this long-running series is called City Park Jazz, it’s not just jazz: There’s bluegrass, ska, reggae and, yes, some of the best jazz that the Mile High City has to offer. City Park is also a beautiful space — and a concert here is the perfect way to end your Sunday.
Keep reading for five more things every newcomer should do this summer.
RiNo and Santa Fe arts districts
Throughout the year, Denver’s official arts districts offer open houses on the first Friday of the month. But during the summer, two of these — RiNo Art District and the Art District on Santa Fe — throw major bashes in two of the town’s hottest neighborhoods. From subdued watercolors to avant-garde sculpture to a mixed-media installation worthy of the wall of Phoebe from Friends, First Fridays are a great way to get a feel for the city’s art scene. They’re an even better place for people-watching, especially after you’ve downed a few plastic cups of wine.
Coors Brewery Tour
13th and Ford streets, Golden
Once someone hears that you now live in Denver, or have simply visited Denver, they’re going to ask if you’ve gone on the Coors Brewery Tour — so you might as well get it out of the way. Fortunately, the Coors tour is a good time, full of interesting facts, with the bonus of free samples to wet your whistle along the way. Golden can seem a long way to go for the Banquet of beers, but it’s Colorado history, right? And also: beer. Which is really all the reason you need here in Denver. Tours are offered Thursday through Monday all year; for more information, call 800-642-6116.
8801 Pecos Street, Federal Heights
With nearly fifty attractions spread over 67 acres, Water World has been a summer tradition (open Memorial Day to Labor Day) since 1979. The water park offers everything from the traditional wave pools, lazy rivers and water slides to more adventurous rides — notably, the all-indoor Voyage to the Center of the Earth, which is more akin to an amusement-park attraction. This is true fun in the sun, Denver-summer style.
Westword Music Showcase
Not to toot our own horn, but over the past two decades, the Westword Music Showcase has become something truly special, a real celebration of music in this city. This year, the headliner is none other than Shakey Graves —winner of the 2015 Americana Award for Emerging Artist of the Year — but the day’s stage list is long, accomplished and a whole lot of fun. There may be nothing more true to the spirit of Denver than grabbing a beer (or three) and dancing to local music in the street, on the sidewalk and at venues throughout the Golden Triangle. The beer will cost you, but the secondhand pot high is free, man, free. The 2017 Westword Music Showcase is on Saturday, June 24; watch westword.com for details.
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Coors Field, 20th and Blake streets
Whether the Colorado Rockies win or lose, it’s always — and we mean always — worthwhile to take yourself out to the ballgame and root, root, root for the home team. But when the Rockies are winning, as they are this season, it’s even sweeter.