Whether you’ve lived here all your life or just moved to the metro area, there’s nothing people in Denver love more than claiming to be a bona fide “local.” Here are a few summertime activities that’ll get you started.
See the Silver Screen Under the Night Sky
88 Drive-In Theatre
8780 Rosemary Street, Commerce City
While pop-up drive-in theaters had a bit of a moment during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s nothing like the real thing — complete with a historic snack bar. With fifty years in business and 46 seasons under the same family’s ownership, the 88 Drive-In is the real deal, and it’s the last drive-in theater serving the Denver area. Amid rising prices on just about everything right now, it’s still cheap to catch a flick at the 88 Drive-In — just ten bucks per person for two movies apiece (children under twelve get in free). Longtime locals know not to pack their own popcorn, though: Snack bar prices are reasonable, especially given what you saved on tickets, so make sure to grab a churro, pizza, popcorn or cotton candy — since those sales are what keep the theater in business.
Cool Off in a Public Pool
Denver Parks and Recreation
Now that every hulking, gleaming, generic new apartment building in Denver comes standard with a luxury rooftop pool, is it any wonder that rents are on the rise? But aquatic fun isn’t just for the moneyed few, because Denver Parks and Recreation boasts sixteen outdoor swimming pools across the city, each offering admission for adults for $3.50, $2 pricing for seniors, and a buck for kids. Swim lessons are available for folks of all ages at $26 a pop. While the La Alma pool will be closed for maintenance this year, the newly renovated pool at Congress Park is coming back to life — giving Denverites fifteen facilities where they can connect with neighbors they might never run into otherwise. Forget your cloistered condo pool; community is what being a local is all about.
Live Out Third-Date Clichés
History-minded locals will tell you that the lake at City Park has a proper name: Ferril Lake. It’s named after Colorado Poet Laureate Thomas Hornsby Ferril, whose verses ring the rotunda murals at the Colorado Capitol. Ferril wasn’t much for love poems, but his 57-year marriage to Helen, might serve as an inspiration as you and date pedal a swan boat around the lake on a sunny summer afternoon. If you’re feeling especially romantic, consider taking out a light-up one at nightfall: Through July 31, you can rent one as late as 9 p.m. Just friends? Rent everything from paddleboards to kayaks to tented surrey bikes. Going stag? Write some lines on a solo stroll, as Ferril often did around the lake that would come to bear his name.
8801 Pecos Street, Federal Heights
If you grew up anywhere in Colorado in the past 43 years, Adams County’s Water World probably possessed some sort of mythic status in your head. There’s a good reason for that: The water park has been repeatedly named one of the best in the country, and it calls itself America’s largest (as do some of its competitors, frankly). But you won’t be quibbling about square feet as you’re plummeting down water slides named for Colorado’s Longs, Blanca and Pikes peaks, or dodging dinosaurs on a Voyage to the Center of the Earth. And if all that sounds like a bit much, there’s always the Lazy River.
Go Totally Tubular
Clear Creek White Water Park
One reason that tubing Clear Creek has been a rite of passage for high-schoolers from Idaho Springs to Arapahoe County is the price: It’s free, as long as you’ve got your own tube. Still, you’ll want to invest in a durable one: This is whitewater tubing, not lazy river drifting, so odds are decent that you’ll get dumped once or twice. Wear cheap sneaks or water shoes, and strongly consider a life jacket and helmet. If you bring your own tube, you can put in all the way to Highway 6’s Tunnel One, and some tube rental companies will shuttle you up that far if you don’t like the hike. Either way, be sure to use the takeout at Vanover Park, lest you be sucked into the Coors Brewery and turned into a Banquet Beer.
Pick Up Some Picnic Cold Cuts
Oliver’s Meat Market
1718 East Sixth Avenue
If you’ve wondered about the glowing red-and-green neon for Oliver’s Meat Market while driving along Sixth Avenue, there’s never been a better time to stop: The venerable family-owned butcher shop celebrated its 99th birthday over Memorial Day weekend, just as summer started to heat up. From rib eyes to spareribs to Oliver’s famous homemade sausages, whatever you throw on the grill will taste that much better when you brag that you bought it local.
Put Some Snap in Your Summer
Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs
3525 East Colfax Avenue
Summertime is the humble hot dog’s busy season. No doubt you’ll grill a few dozen yourself between now and Labor Day — so why not see how the professionals do it at Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs? Steve’s has won acclaim for its namesake dogs with a smoky casing that “snaps” with every bite, though its smashburger and chili cheese fries never disappoint, either. For a real taste of local technicolor, order the “Blinky” the Clown Reuben Dog, named after Denver’s own Russell Scott, the longest-running television clown anywhere, ever...and the father of co-owner Linda Ballas.
Indulge in Old-School Ice Cream
Magill’s World of Ice Cream
8016 West Jewell Avenue, Lakewood
Sure, LoHi’s Little Man gets a lot of well-deserved love — but there are some decidedly less trendy creameries that locals have adored for generations. Capitol Hill’s Liks Ice Cream has been family owned since 1976; get a scoop of Cheesman, its take on strawberry cheesecake, and add a scoop of Graham Cracker Station for good measure. Or head a few miles south for a stop at Bonnie Brae Ice Cream, in business since 1986; the shop recently reopened its indoor “dining” for the first time since the start of the pandemic. There’s a reason that lines commonly snake around the block: Everything is delicious, especially when you add Bonnie Brae’s signature chocolate sprinkles. But for the real deal, whether you’re celebrating summer in the city or heading back to Denver after a day in the high country, detour to Magill’s World of Ice Cream in Lakewood, which is celebrating its 41st year. There’s no bad order here, either, but do try a banana split — and make sure that Fido shares in the fun with a doggie yogurt cup.
Ride the Cyclone
Lakeside Amusement Park
4601 Sheridan Boulevard
Lakeside Amusement Park, which opened its doors in 1908 and was initially known, in a nod to the Chicago World’s Fair, as “White City,” has been owned by the same family since 1935, when Ben Krasner took over. He made several notable improvements in his day, perhaps most famously the addition of the Cyclone, a wooden roller coaster that was rolled out in 1940 and is one of only a few of its era still running today. Sure, thrill rides have come a long way since then, but there’s an earnest charm to screaming at the top of your lungs atop the Cyclone knowing that you’re joining in a Colorado tradition. Better still for this economy, Lakeside sells a spectator ticket for just five bucks, so you can see its Victorian charms without breaking the bank — then buy coupons to ride whichever attractions catch your eye (most likely the Cyclone).
Cemeteries enjoy a little more cultural cachet the closer we get to Halloween, but they’re a lot more pleasant in the summer months — when many just feel like lush parks festooned with a few too many statues featuring some boldface names. At Fairmount Cemetery in southeast Denver, you’ll find Denver Post co-founder Frederick Bonfils, Mayor Robert Speer, and John and Mary Elitch of Elitch Gardens fame, among dozens of others. At Riverside Cemetery, Denver’s oldest, tumbleweeds roll around the graves of John Evans, John Long Routt, Augusta Tabor, Richard Sopris and Silas Soule — the hero army captain who blew the whistle on the Sand Creek Massacre. Or head west to Wheat Ridge, where you’ll see the headstone of Apollo 13 astronaut and congressman-elect Jack Swigert at Mount Olivet Cemetery or brewing magnate Adolph Coors’s grave at Crown Hill Cemetery. Pay your respects to the folks whose names continue to shape the Denver of today and you may find yourself feeling a lot more like a local tomorrow.