Summer. It’s the time of year you’ve been saving up to finally take that well-earned…visit to your hometown for your not-so-favorite cousin’s wedding. (Doh!) Or maybe you were lucky enough to avoid a few non-consensual wedding obligations, and have a good chunk of change saved up for someplace exotic like…LA. Well, that West Coast inflation isn’t going to stretch your vacation cash quite as far as you’d like, particularly with Lyft prices between Silverlake and Venice alone burning through 1/10th of it. All that said, while summer frugality might (have to) be in your future, Colorado is too beautiful to stay inside and watch Netflix. So, here’s a look at a few of our favorite affordable (or free) things to take advantage of all summer long.
Hot air balloons are nothing short of miracles, and they look totally alien when you see them in real life. If you haven’t already, carve out July 14th–July 15th and take a trip to Steamboat to witness the sheer majesty of these aerial wonders. This isn’t your typical hot air balloon festival; as the name would suggest, it’s a hot air balloon competition where you’ll get to witness balloon pilots pulling off some pretty cool tricks. (It seems like the stuff of post-wisdom-teeth-extraction fantasies, but yes—evidently freestyle hot air ballooning is a thing). Once you’ve gotten your fill, check out the accompanying fair for local art, performances, food, etc.
The Denver UMS
Denver has a notable local music scene, and it’s on display in its entirety every year at the UMS (Underground Music Showcase). It’s not technically free, but with access to over 200 bands for the single-day ticket price of $40, we’re basically rounding down here. Plus, while the festival is primarily a local band experience, this year it’s featuring some more recognizable names, including ALVVAYS, Classixx, Deerhunter, Digable Planets, BJ the Chicago Kid, and another 195 more. Are you one those people who doesn’t exactly “get” music? (yes, those people do exist) There’s plenty of beer and food as well.
Colorado Dragon Boat Festival & Ai Weiwei
Like the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo, the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival is really just a fun event celebrating an archaic form of transportation (with a healthy dose of competition thrown in for good measure). The event name in this case is really just a better way to articulate a festival celebrating a spectrum of Asian cultural elements (we’re talking a spicy ramen eating contest, a Japanese Obon dance, and lots of anime, just to name a few). As an added bonus, you can continue the appreciation by visiting the Ai Weiwei exhibit in Civic Center Park. Ai Weiwei is a force in the modern art world, and it’s honestly an honor that this traveling exhibit is spending some time in Denver. This public art piece is basically a series of bronze animal sculptures reinterpreting the famous Chinese calendar. There’s a bunch of symbology and context that we’re not going to even bother explaining, because you really should check it out for yourself.
Pedal Bar Hopping
Now let’s explore a slightly more renegade and “experimental” approach to enjoying your summer without spending much money (or any at all). You’ll want to stretch first, as a pulled hamstring is hardly conducive to that eventual cousin’s wedding. Then you’ll want to just casually exist on street corners around Downtown Denver. Don’t be weird about it, just you know, chat on the phone or scroll through Reddit as you wait for a slow moving pedal bar to approach from the distance. As it draws nearer, casually look up and investigate the situation. How’s the attendance? Is it a full bachelorette party of drunken meanderers? If so, nod or give an audible “yeahhh!” to show your approval. (Don’t worry, there will be another soon). The next one you may notice to be a few pedalers short of a baker’s dozen. Here’s your chance! Without darting through oncoming traffic, time your movements appropriately and literally hop into one of those empty chairs. Worst case scenario, they basically kick you off and you go about your merry way; they aren’t about to stop moving with all those pedalers at work. However, best (and likely) case scenario, they give you a “hello stranger,” and realize that your pedaling has just made the whole experience a lot easier for them. They’re thankful. You’re meeting friends. You’re already 1/10th to your daily steps. And this cunning memory-inducing moment is totally free! (Maybe a little sketchy, but free.)