It’s the biggest community party of the year, and you can do it big without breaking the bank.
Technically, you can experience the annual Boulder Creek Festival without spending a dollar. The event is free to attend and open to the public. But if you can scrounge up a $20 bill, this is one occasion where that cash will stretch far.
The creek festival “has always been focused on a value-driven experience for residents and visitors that includes free admission, free entertainment and many fun-filled activities,” says Meg Denbow, director of communications for Boulder Creek Events, which organizes the event.
First, the basics.
What: The 31st annual Boulder Creek Fest
When: May 26-28
Saturday, May 26: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (exhibitor booths close at 7 p.m.)
Sunday, May 27: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (exhibitor booths close at 7 p.m.)
Monday, May 28: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (exhibitor booths close at 5 p.m.)
Where: Along Boulder Creek, from 11th Street to 14th Street (west to east), and between Canyon Boulevard and Arapahoe Avenue (north and south).
Highlights: 400-plus vendors (including 50 food options), nine event areas, three performance stages, live music, dancing, carnival rides, entertainment, a kids area, a beer garden and more.
Here’s how to have an amazing time at the Boulder Creek Fest on $20 or less.
Arrive on bike, where parking is free and easy. Use the fest’s VIP bike parking provided by Wish For Wheels, a local nonprofit that provides bicycles to underprivileged children. The bike valet will be located on the Sister City Plaza on the corner of Broadway and Canyon. Note: The creek fest doesn’t open until 11 a.m. on Monday, so you might need to be creative with your bike parking if you arrive earlier.
Waves start at 6:55-9:22 a.m.: If you’re out on Memorial Day, start your day on the sidelines of the BolderBoulder, the city’s most famous footrace that follows a 10K route from downtown to the University of Colorado campus. People often run in crazy costumes, and there’s always a ton of live music and performers on the sidelines of the track. While there is a fee to run, it’s free to watch. Wander along the sidelines, people-watching and enjoying the funky performers.
After you’re BolderBoulder-ed out, head to the nearby banks of Boulder Creek for the Creek Fest. Download or screenshot the map of the area here. There’s no charge to get into the creek fest.
Try your luck and spin the wheel at the BCF souvenir booth for lots of great prizes, such as tickets to the Rocky Mountain Beer Festival, a free zucchini at the Great Zucchini Race at Hometown Fest and coupons for free ice skating at WinterSkate.
Then, visit the popular Rocky Mountain Raptor Program booth, located next to the creek in the Spirit of Boulder event area. This program rescues, rehabilitates and releases injured birds of prey, including eagles, owls, hawks and falcons. At the booth, you can see these awe-inspiring birds and learn about them.
Another highlight for animal-lovers is the Puppy Kissing Booth, hosted by the Rocky Mountain Puppy Rescue. This booth features puppies to smooch — and adopt. Other animal-focused booths at the festival: the Colorado Greyhound Adoption, Defenders of Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Wolf Project, Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary, Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center and Rocky Mountain Great Dane Rescue.
11:15-11:45 a.m.: Make your way to the Community Stage, where you can watch a free 30-minute performance by the Keaka O Kalani Hula and Polynesian Dance School — the perfect way to welcome summer. Every concert at each of the three festival stages is free. Other performance highlights include Hamsa Arts Classical Persian Dance, the Mokomba African Drum and Dance Ensemble and the McTeggart Irish Dancers.
Around lunchtime: Meander around the vendor booths and try free samples. In the past, you could enjoy free gluten-free bread, granola bars, wine, jams, jellies, salsas, yogurt, chocolate, peanut butter, energy drinks, veggie burgers, granola, rice, juice, energy drinks and rice chips. This year, look for samples of Zevia Natural Sodas, Knorr One Skillet Meals, HiBall Energy Drink and No Cow Protein Bars. There’s definitely enough to act as a light lunch for free. Plus, you might discover your new favorite snack.
1-2:30 p.m.: Head to the Bandshell to see Face, a famous acapella group based out of Boulder with a cult following. Face is wildly entertaining. This is a band that is busy performing all around the state, even has a musical cruise planned for next year and utterly slayed the Red Rocks Amphitheater last year, and you can watch them jam for zero dollars. Unbelievable.
Also in the afternoon: After Face’s show, you’re going to be inspired. Head to the Artists’ Marketplace, where you can peruse local art and meet local artists for free. Who knows? You might find a good deal on a locally made piece of work. Or “peruse the dozens of different booths selling Peruvian, Kenyan, Tibetan, Pakistani, Ugandan and Indonesian imports,” Denbow suggests.
Don’t have money to shop but want some free, personalized art to take home? Visit one of the four different booths dispersed throughout the festival where you can get traditional henna body art.
Looking for a little more action? Try your hand at karate, kung fu or jiu-jitsu at the many different martial arts exhibits at the event. “And don’t miss Boulder Karate’s demo at the Community Stage at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon,” Denbow says.
Exhibitor booths close at 5 p.m. But that’s OK, because at this point, you’re going to be hungry.
4-ish p.m.: It’s time to grab an early dinner. “In the two food courts, sample everything from Chinese dumplings to Greek gyros, Mexican food, Indian cuisine and everything in between,” Denbow says. Pick your favorite and spend your first few dollars on your dinner. Food ranges from $2 to about $15.
After food, or along with it, you might want a beer. Head over to the beer garden, near the food court, and splurge your final few bucks on a local beer from Upslope Brewing Co., Oskar Blues Brewery or Wild Cider. There will also be wine and margaritas, if that’s your taste. All alcoholic beverages are $6, making it easy to budget.
On a serious budget? There are three booths offering samples: wine (Decadent Saint Winery), vodka (Vapor Distillery) and hard cider (Wild Cider), all within the Central Park Commons event area. Don’t forget to bring your valid IDs.
5-7 p.m.: Return to the Bandshell to watch the Hazel Miller Band, one of Boulder’s most beloved blues groups. Miller has performed with the likes of Big Head Todd and the Monsters, James Taylor, Julian Lennon and Herbie Hancock, and she was named the Best Independent Blues-R&B Recording Artist in 2002. It’s an honor to watch her perform for free.
7 p.m.: The Creek Fest ends, but downtown Boulder is nearby and stays open. The best deal on Mondays: Happy hour at Jax, where oysters are just $1.50 all day. Across the street, Tahona Tequila Bistro has happy hour on Mondays open to close, including $4.50 well margs, all made with hand-squeezed lime juice.
Other Boulder Creek Fest Freebies for Families
- On Saturday from 7-10 a.m., kids 12 years old and younger can enjoy a morning of fishing at the Kids’ Fishing Derby, free of charge, hosted by the Boulder Fish & Game Club.
- Don’t miss the “Kids’ Place,” with vendors and activities geared toward kids, featuring face painters, arts and crafts, balloon animals and a caricature artist. There are also interactive activities, such as a bubble pool, quad trampoline, foam-sword fencing and a LEGO exhibit. Within the carnival area, there are rides for small children, such as a mini “roller coaster,” although some activities cost extra. (But they’re still inexpensive.)