Denver

Actually Cool Things You Can Do in Denver This Summer

Make the most of it.

Heads up everyone, this is not a test. Restaurants are back open at 100% capacity, bars are slinging drinks once again, and live music has returned to the Red Rocks stage. It’s time for a Mile High summer like we haven’t seen since, well, 2019. Whether you’re visiting Denver or just need to get reacquainted with the city after a year of living that socially distant life, we’ve got all the must do’s to make you remember why you used to enjoy leaving the house. Just remember to mask up while you’re out there shopping at farmers markets, going to concerts, sipping beers, and maybe even finally trying Rocky Mountain oysters.

Pick up some local produce at a farmers market

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Various locations
Like hiking and brewery hopping, farmers market-ing is one of the top summer pastimes in Colorado. Local growers show up in droves with all kinds of farm-fresh foods waiting to go home with you. We’re talking bags of Palisade peaches, strangely shaped squash with names you’d never heard of before that day, and big bouquets of sunflowers. And these markets are packed with more than just fruits and veggies. They’re also a prime spot to sample other delectable locally-made products—not to mention to grab a quick bite to eat on the spot. Check out the Boulder County Farmers Markets in Boulder, Lafayette, Longmont, and at Union Station in Denver, the South Pearl Street Farmers Market on Sundays, and the new City Park Farmers Market

Go to a show at Red Rocks already!

$ - $$$
Morrison
Yes, what you’ve heard is true: It’s the best place to see music in the known galaxy. And yes, it’s also finally got shows on the schedule again which means the Red Rocks summer tradition of climbing up and down the stairs for beers can finally continue! Bonus: If your trip to Denver is off-season or you can’t score tickets, you can still drive on up and walk around for a gorgeous (free) sojourn anytime.

Try Rocky Mountain oysters at Denver's oldest restaurant

$ - $$
Lincoln Park
The Buckhorn Exchange is a classic steakhouse that’s been serving up bovine in town since 1893. Inside, you’ll find 575 pieces of taxidermy along with a whole lot of stories to be told from a history filled with presidential visits and frontier legends. And yes, they do serve the infamous “oysters,” breaded, fried, and served with a horseradish dipping sauce that briefly makes you forget what you’re actually eating.

Take a trip back in time at Fifty-Two 80's

Free - $
Platt Park
There are a lot of thrift stores and antique shops to explore in this area of town (also worth a visit: Regal Vintage), but only this one can provide you with full-blown ‘80s nostalgia. Toys and memorabilia featuring My Little Pony, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, GI Joe, and so much more pack the space. If you have any connection to the decade at all, it’ll be tough to leave without taking home a piece of memories past with you.

See the latest exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art

$
Union Station
The Denver Art Museum and Clyfford Still Museum may be better known (and are definitely worth your time), but this small yet mighty option is a must. The exhibits change regularly and feature both local and national artists, and thanks to its small size, you only need an hour or two to explore the whole thing and enjoy a drink at the rooftop bar. Plus Colorado residents get in for just a penny on the first Saturday of every month.

Sip afternoon tea at the Brown Palace

$$ - $$$
Central Business District
This Downtown icon is over 125 years old and a traditional afternoon tea here is still one of the classiest experiences you can have in Denver. It’s the perfect excuse to get dressed up in a town where jeans are typically considered acceptable for almost any occasion, and options range from a $40/person tea, scones, and finger sandwich-filled experience to the $250 option for four that includes a bottle of Moët.

Hit up a historic hotel bar

$ - $$
Various locations
There’s no doubt that the pair of marine-themed bars inside Denver’s two most historic hotels are worth checking out. At The Oxford Hotel, the Cruise Room’s Prohibition-era red hue and handcrafted cocktails are a cornerstone of Denver’s drinking culture. So it goes at The Brown Palace with Ship Tavern and all of its model boats (and if you fancy a cigar, head down the hallway to the Churchill afterward). But, we’d like to add another must-stop to the list: Charlie Brown’s, a piano bar with solid food, a two-for-one happy hour, and a patio where you can still light up (tobacco, that is). Bonus: All three of these joints are open on most holidays, so you can get your fix while you hide from your family.

Hop on an e-scooter

$
Various locations
Ah, yes. Many lament the scourge of the Limes and Birds and many, many other brands of rechargeable, shared scooters that now fill Denver’s sidewalks. There’s a lot of griping and moaning, and chances are the gripers and moaners haven’t jumped on one yet. Because they’re really fucking fun. And so cheap, too. Now that the city has decided you can ride in the bike lanes, you have little excuse to not try one out—besides, ya know, the possibility of going back home with a broken arm. Just tell everybody it was a snowboarding injury.

Go play a round of disc golf

Free - $
Various locations
The disc golf fervor is heavy in Colorado, probably because it’s one more way to get outside. Course options are plentiful, and most are free. Beginners should head to Arvada to play at Johnny Roberts, and if you’re more experienced, check out Adams Hollow in Brighton. Or go for the ultimate Colorado combo and pair your round of disc golf with craft beer at Dry Dock Brewery’s course. Beaver Ranch will cost you $12 a person for a day pass but you’ll get to romp around the hills and enjoy the views in Conifer. For the ultimate experience, make a reservation at the privately owned BuckSnort. Set near Pine, Colorado, it offers a real Rocky Mountain challenge with steep terrain, rock outcroppings, and what the Professional Disc Golf Association  calls “what may be the first and only Double-Reverse-Mando in the world.” Oh, and the views are pretty rad too. 

Shoot a round of traditional golf for super cheap

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Various locations
If you prefer clubs over discs, you’re in the right place. The Front Range has some top notch courses if you’re ready to slim down your wallet, BUT you don’t have to. The City of Denver maintains seven courses where tee times start at just $10. Or, if you wanna practice your driving game, head to the old-school favorite Aqua Golf, where you can hit ball after ball into the water. Do you like your golf to be played with only one club and kitschy obstacles? Aqua Golf also has two 18 hole miniature golf courses for your putting pleasure

Watch a baseball game from the Rockpile

$
Coors Field
Take yourself out to the ballgame for cheap—that’s right, fans are back at Coors Field and Rockpile tickets have returned, too. Score bleacher-style seats in sections 401, 402, and 403 for just $4 - $8 and use your extra baseball day budget for a cold beer and a hot dog. 

Pack a picnic, grab some booze, and head to a park

Free - $
Various locations
With over 20,000 acres of urban and mountain greenscape, the parks offer the perfect spot for a relaxing getaway, peppered throughout town—Wash Park, Cheesman, and City Park are all popular spots for partying outdoors. All you need is a blanket, some snacks, and a few cans of beer (remember, no glass!) and you’ve got a classic Colorado experience covered.

Catch an unforgettable concert

Free - $$$
Various locations
There used to be multiple shows going on every night in Denver. And then, the music went quiet… But let’s not dwell on that because live music is back, baby. Smaller venues like Lost Lake, The Black Box, Cervantes, HQ, and Larimer Lounge have reopened and, sure, you’ve gotta mask up and tickets are limited, but it feels damn good to finally start getting our beloved Mile High music scene back. 

See the summer blooms at the Denver Botanic Gardens

$
Cheeseman Park
In the middle of Denver sits a 24 acre oasis of plant life from around the world, and summer is print time to visit this Mile High institution. You can even bring a picnic making this excellent day date material (hint, hint). Reserved ticket times are currently required and you can book up to two weeks out. 

Get the hell out of town for a day trip

$ - $$
Various locations
As much as there is to do in Denver itself, escaping to the Rockies is one of the best ways to spend your time and options for day trips are plentiful. Head up to nearby Boulder to check out some of the local shops on the Pearl Street Mall, spend a weekend in Steamboat Springs (and don’t skip a visit to Strawberry Park Hot Springs), or head south to Colorado Springs for a drive up to the summit of Pikes Peak

Explore our amazing street art scene

Free
RiNo and the Santa Fe Arts District
Over the past few years, Denver’s streets have become a whole lot more colorful thanks to a slew of new works by street artists, especially in these two neighborhoods. All you need is some free time to wander to find eye-catching examples painted everywhere from alleys and underpasses to the outsides of prominent businesses. If you’re looking for a socially distant friendly outdoor activity, these two districts are like open-air museums for modern art, just waiting to be explored. 

Take a dip at Indian Hot Springs

$
Idaho Springs
A quick 30-minute drive from town, this small mountain town is the closest spot to enjoy a nice long soak in the waters from a natural hot spring—which feels especially amazing on a cold day. Reservations for all day sessions (available Monday - Thursday for $18) or hour long passes (available Friday - Sunday for $20) must be booked online in advance. If you score one, you’ll enter the jungle-like dome where a pool with an average temperature of 90 to 100 awaits. And when you’re done, you can make a pit stop at Tommyknocker Brewery for beer and a bite on their outdoor patio before heading back to town.

Roxborough State Park
Roxborough State Park | Aly Morrison/Shutterstock

Hike a nearby state park

$
Various locations
With 41 State Parks in Colorado, including many close to the Denver area, it’s incredibly easy to get outside and spend some socially distant time in nature. Roxborough near Littleton has over 4,000 acres to explore that include forests, red rock formations, meadows where you can see the spring wildflowers blooming, and the historic Waterhouse Homestead—as well as birds, mule deer, and fox. Cherry Creek, Chatfield, and Castlewood Canyon are also great, nearby options for hiking and biking trails.

Sample local eats at a food hall

$ - $$
Various locations
Holy hell are there a lot of food halls in Denver now, and most are open and filled with culinary delights. Avanti, an OG of the movement, boasts an impressive lineup of rotating concepts. Denver Central Market not only has prepared foods from their vendors, but also great items to take home and cook including meats, cheeses, and other provisions. Milk Market currently has 10 venues open from restaurateur Frank Bonnano serving everything from pasta and pizza to burgers and salads. Stanley Marketplace is not only home to eateries like Annette and Rosenberg’s, but also has shopping. And there’s Zeppelin Station! And The Source! And Junction Food & Drink! And the new Golden Mill. And... you get the point.

Go brewery hopping

$$
Various locations
The sheer number of Denver breweries can be a bit daunting, but with extra time on your hands, this is the perfect chance to explore as many options as you can, especially since many of them have great patios for outdoor summer sipping. Scan our roundup of the best breweries to check out now for good options to start with, from newer additions to the classics.

Go distillery, winery, and cidery hopping

$$
Five Points
Sure, beer gets most of the attention when it comes to boozy beverages, but the Mile High is also packed with plenty of locally made non-beer options that are absolutely worthy of your attention... Some must-trys: Bigsby’s Folly and Infinite Monkey Theorem for a wine fix, Stem Ciders for bright, dry hard ciders, and The Block Distilling Company for vodka and gin made right in the neighborhood along with to-go cocktails.
 

Find your favorite bowl of Denver's most popular dish

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Various locations
Everyone who’s spent a significant amount of time in Denver has a favorite spot for green chile. Everyone. But even if you’re loyal to a certain bowl of this pork-studded regional go-to, there are countless options to try. Pretty much any restaurant with even a slightly Mexican or Latin slant will have a version so start sampling ASAP. Some must-visits on your green chile adventure? El Taco de Mexico, Uno Mas, and North County. Bonus: These spots are all offering to-go options, too.

Crush a breakfast burrito

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Various locations
If you’ve accomplished the task of eating green chile on its own, it’s time to take it up a notch. Perhaps no dish is more uniquely Denver than a breakfast burrito with green chile piled in or atop it. And there are a ton of options to satisfy your quarantine hungover urges—bonus, these babies are made for the to-go life. Santiago’s handhelds are ubiquitous, while at El Taco de Mexico (yeah, we mention the spot a couple of times, you need to go) when they ask if you want it smothered and with onions and salsa, your answers should be a resounding “yes” and “yes.” They’re also a brunch favorite at spots like Bacon Social House and Sam’s No. 3

Do Union Station... differently

$$ - $$$
Union Station
If you’ve done even a minimal amount of research on Denver, you’ve probably read that the capital’s historic train station has been renovated and stuffed to the gills with awesome stuff to do. And it’s true! Plus, indoor seating is back and their patios offer some of the best seats for spring dining. Tuck into the petite Iberian Ultreia for a gin & tonic as large as your head, head out the back of the station to Tavernetta for fresh pasta, or grab a pancake flight for brunch at Snooze

Go to My Brother’s Bar

$
Highland
Pretty simple instructions, right? Just go. They’ve got two winter-ready outdoor patios open for dine-in so you can  satisfy your craving for a Johnny Burger and a cocktail at Denver’s oldest bar where Kerouac used to imbibe. 

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Molly Martin is a freelance writer in Denver, Colorado who is always on the lookout for fun things to do. Follow her Mile High adventures @mollydbu on Twitter and Instagram.
Colin St. John is a Denver-based writer, editor and joke maker. He's written for Rolling Stone, Deadspin, Esquire, and Pitchfork.
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