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Summer festivals: Seven outdoor events in Colorado to check out (or avoid)

Memorial Day weekend is just around the corner, which kicks off the summer festival season. From sweaty outdoor concerts to snooty art crawls, here are the good, bad and ugly of the Metro-area's most popular festivals.

Summer festivals: Seven outdoor events in Colorado to check out (or avoid)
Boulder Creek Festival

1. Boulder Creek Festival

When: Memorial Day weekend

Where: Boulder Creek

The Boulder Creek Fest's biggest plus is its location. Nestled along the Boulder Creek in the center of town, it presents the best a Colorado summer has to offer: mountain views, a babbling brook, and (typically) great weather. The food's pretty good too, from the giveaways (like soy milk and energy bars) to the stands, which don't carry typical-festival fare but popular dishes from nearby cafes. Brave folks can also get their palms read. The downside? The crowd can't all fit alongside the Boulder Creek, especially the trail that leads from one end of the festival to the other. Also, mountain-climbing uber-jocks and women in tie-dyed skirts not be your cup of tea. Be sure to buy a duck in the Duck Race!

Summer festivals: Seven outdoor events in Colorado to check out (or avoid)
Guy Morissette

2. Capital Hill People's Fair

When: June 4 and 5

Where: Civic Center Park

The People's Fair boasts a more diverse crowd. Right in the heart of Downtown Denver, it is truly the fair of the people, and you will see all walks of life, from too-cool-for-school teens to young families to eccentric singletons parading in their Sunday best. This heterogeneity is both the best and the worst part of the People's Fair -- come ready for some sensory overload. Another plus, there is a lot to do. Not happy branding itself as a food or an art fair, it has something for everyone: Funnel Cakes and hot dogs, cover-bands, mini-Ferris wheels and more. Per festival insider Seth Haber, owner of Trek Light Gear, handmade and small business vendors far outweigh the usual schlock-sellers.

Summer festivals: Seven outdoor events in Colorado to check out (or avoid)
Chalk Art Festival

3. Denver Chalk Art Festival

When: June 4 and 5

Where: Larimer Square

Some people don't know about the Chalk Art Festival, but it's one worth checking out. There's not a lot to do except, well, look at sidewalk murals, but the oversize circus scenes, renaissance replicas and MC Escher lookalikes are really cool. There's not much about this festival that's annoying. It's a pretty laid-back event and a fun way to pass an hour or two on the early June weekend.

4. Cherry Creek Arts Festival

When: July 2, 3 and 4

Where: Cherry Creek North

Speaking of arts events, the Cherry Creek Art Festival comes next. If you are looking to buy a landscape for your house and you're not a serious collector, this fair could make for fun browsing. The best parts are the islands of paintings and sculptures that catch your eye and the subdued stockbrokers and well-mannered real estate agents (emphasis on the subdued and well-mannered). The worst part? The sea of boring art that surrounds the good stuff ... and yes, the crowd, if you're the type to avoid Cherry Creek North like the plague. The food is pretty good, though; like the Boulder Creek Festival, nearby cafes set up stands in Culinary Row.

Summer festivals: Seven outdoor events in Colorado to check out (or avoid)
Kit Williams / Colorado Dragon Boat Festival

5. Colorado Dragon Boat Festival

When: July 30 and 31

Where: Sloan's Lake Park, Denver

For another unique summer fair, try the Dragon Boat Festival, built around a competitive paddle-boat event. While Denver is host to any number of cultural festivals, from the Scottish and Irish to the Italian and German, the draw here are the races and performances. I always miss the races, so be sure to check the schedule before you go. Apparently, the best time to arrive is later in the day when the competition is more intense. And don't miss the Opening Ceremony on Saturday morning with a team parade, welcome greetings, the Buddhist Eye-Dotting Ceremony and the dynamic Dragon Dance.

Summer festivals: Seven outdoor events in Colorado to check out (or avoid)
Larry Laszlo

6. A Taste of Colorado

When: September 2 through September 5

Where: Civic Center Park

The Taste of Colorado occurs at the tail end of summer. The idea is great: Go to one festival, nibble on the best dishes from Colorado's eateries and watch chefs do their thing, while learning a thing or two about cooking. In reality, though, each "taste" seems to cost as much or more than a regular restaurant entree. Some of the stands do have smaller (aka cheaper) portions, but they are few and far between. You can also stop by the arts and crafts booths or check out the musical offerings -- they usually get some "interesting nostalgia acts" -- all free. As for the booths, by this point in the summer you've probably already seen these handkerchief hawkers and smelly lotion peddlers a bunch of times.

Summer festivals: Seven outdoor events in Colorado to check out (or avoid)
Colorado Renaissance Festival

7. Colorado Renaissance Festival

When: June and July weekends

Where: Larkspur, CO

Don't forget the Colorado Renaissance Festival! It makes for some deliciously cheesy fun. Either bring a wide-eyed child or be prepared to drown your cynicism in a goblet of ale. Local thespians play the parts of 16th-century jousters, jugglers, minstrels, and maidens. The jousting is pretty awesome, as are the turkey legs -- but don't try to eat the whole limb unless you have a stomach of steel. The Renaissance Fair also features glassblowers, pottery and jewelry makers, wood workers, blacksmiths, leather workers and more. The only festival featured here with admission fee, it costs $18.95 for adults and $8 for kids.

So whether you want to be high-brow or low-brow, gourmet or gourmand, there is a Denver festival that's just right for you.

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