In Aspen, the locals have a saying that reveals the true appeal of a town that's typically associated with snow-covered cliffs and stylish après-ski: you come for the winter and stay for the summer. They've certainly got a point: from June through August, Aspen's got pretty much perfect weather—with daytime temperatures topping out around 80, and no humidity—and spectacular landscapes that, during the summertime, you can comprehensively explore instead of just whishing across on skis. Plus, the town's the ideal size to stroll through over the course of a weekend or bike around on a warm afternoon, fueled by one of Paradise Bakery's giant cookies or a leisurely lunch on the patio of the Hotel Jerome's Garden Terrace.
During the summer, Aspen offers all the rugged outdoor activities you'd expect—white water rafting, mountain biking, horseback riding, fly fishing—and some you might not, like mountain boarding, a warm-weather hybrid of snowboarding and skateboarding that's become a standout attraction in Snowmass, Aspen's adjacent sister town. For some pursuits, you'll want to go with a guide—they're highly regulated in Colorado, incidentally, and can be booked by your hotel or easily at centers near the base of Aspen Mountain. (One hike that's particularly popular and spectacularly scenic: the 13-mile trek down from Maroon Bells, organized by Blazing Adventures, a local tour operator that also coordinates fabulous lantern-lit log cabin sunset dinners, complete with campfire s'mores and a nearby ghost town, on Snowmass Mountain during the summer.) There's also plenty to explore on your own, like the picturesque bike ride along the Rio Grande Trail to the Woody Creek Tavern, a funky favorite of Hunter S. Thompson's (and, these days, both locals and tourists alike.)
Aspen tends to be somehow relaxed and refined at the same time, and some of its best summer activities reflect that mix. On weekends around lunchtime, there's free live music on top of Aspen Mountain all summer long—classical on Saturdays, bluegrass on Sundays: the ideal soundtrack for a picnic or simply a few pleasant hours outdoors. At the end of July, the 10th annual Aspen Arts Festival—in a new location this year, on Monarch Street—is filled with artists exhibiting their paintings, sculpture, artisanal jewelry and ceramics. Earlier in the month, there's the somewhat more formal Aspen Antiques and Fine Arts Fair, held in a massive tent in the center of town. For foodies, there's a bustling farmers market in the center of town on Saturdays from mid-June through mid-October, with local produce like extra-sweet cherries and peaches plus vendors selling pottery and crafts. And, although it's not exactly highbrow, families love the wild west vibe of the Snowmass Rodeo, held on Wednesday evenings all summer long. (Be sure to come early, when kids are invited to pet the horses and have a quick lesson in cowboy-style roping.)
Although it's truly a mountain town, Aspen is a magnet for world-class culture and those who appreciate it. Case in point: The Aspen Art Museum, which focuses on contemporary art, with exhibitions by Lorna Simpson and Rob Pruitt lined up for this summer. Next year, the museum will be moving from its current home in a former hydroelectric factory into a much larger custom-built space designed by Shigeru Ban, the Japanese architect responsible for the Musee d'art Modern George Pompidou in Metz, France. For music fans, JazzAspen Snowmass brings in well-known artists, like Jackson Browne and Ben Harper (both playing in Aspen in June) and Keith Urban and Jason Mraz (who are coming to Snowmass over Labor Day Weekend.) Aspen's also got a thriving opera house which presents all types of music and film screenings, a summer theater series and a ballet company it shares with Santa Fe. The annual Aspen Ideas Festival—a TED-like gathering of thinkers—is already sold out, but throughout the summer its parent organization, The Aspen Institute, offers lectures and panel discussions that are open to the public, like a series of talks this July focusing on national security.
A lot has been made about the glitzy retail that's available in Aspen's otherwise quaint and laid back town center, and, yes, there are boutiques there from international luxury brands like Prada, Louis Vuitton, and—this summer, in a pop-up store—Van Cleef & Arpels. But there are also friendly, locally-owned boutiques that are worth stopping by, like Pitkin County Dry Goods (which stocks sportswear for men and women from brands like Rag & Bone and Vince), Kali's Denim and the original location of the cosmetics store Cos Bar. Many of the town's stores—including, actually, some of those designer outposts—are in ornate historic buildings from the 19th century, which gives even simple window shopping a cozy charm.
As is the case with many resort communities, each season there's one event that epitomizes the area's unique personality. In Aspen that's the annual Fourth of July celebration, which includes fireworks, a festive concert and an Americana-laden parade through town, complete with horsedrawn carriages and kids on specially decorated bicycles. With majestic mountain peaks in the background, designer-clad spectators and a seamless mix of locals and visitors from around the country, it's an event that, really, could only be in this unique—and truly year-round—destination.
© 2015 JPMorgan Chase & Co. All rights reserved.