Ten Things Newcomers Should Do Their First Summer in Denver

Westword Music Showcase.
Westword Music Showcase. Brittany Marcum
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.

click to enlarge Red Rocks Amphitheater - RJONES0856 AT FLICKR
Red Rocks Amphitheater
rjones0856 at Flickr
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.

click to enlarge Cherry Creek Arts Festival - INSAPPHOWETRUST AT FLICKR
Cherry Creek Arts Festival
InSapphoWeTrust at Flickr
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.

click to enlarge Chatfield Reservoir - BEN MASON AT FLICKR
Chatfield Reservoir
Ben Mason at Flickr
Chatfield Reservoir
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.

click to enlarge Lakeside Amusement Park - JEFFREY BEALL AT FLICKR
Lakeside Amusement Park
Jeffrey Beall at Flickr
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.

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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen