Denver is known for a lot of things: its beer scene, arts and culture, dining, nightlife... and of course, it's got some offbeat gems. But did you know that Denver is home to the world's wickedest street? Or that it has Jazz-Age speakeasies? And great bookshops to disappear from the world into? When a city has so much awesome stuff to see and do, figuring out where to start during a visit can be tough. Let this guide inspire you to explore the unexpected hidden gems tucked away in Denver's coolest, most personality-packed neighborhoods.
Playboy once described Colfax Avenue as the “longest, wickedest street in the country"... so you know a visit here will be a guaranteed good time. If you're looking for nightlife with character, this is the place to be. Live music in historic venues like the Bluebird Theater, the Fillmore, and the Ogden, indie films at Sie FilmCenter, ethnic eateries, casual pubs where you can grab a bite to eat and a drink, and record stores like Twist & Shout all color this area with shades of authenticity. One of the coolest spots on Colfax Avenue has to be the renowned Tattered Cover Bookstore. It's a local institution and the place to go for all things literary, whether it's an author event or just spending quiet time browsing for that one book you never knew you had to have. Exploring the rest of Colfax Avenue will honestly feel just like opening the pages of a well-worn used book; there's so much to learn and experience here.
Downtown Denver is the heart of it all, where an Old West vibe meshes with modern-day fun. Get geared up in the perfect outfit to experience downtown's atmosphere at Rockmount Ranchwear. These are the guys who invented the iconic snap-button Western shirt beloved by musicians and cowboys alike. Founder Jack A. Weil was inspired to create flattering clothes that spoke to the strong independent identity and desire to be different that marked Western cowboys. The clothes were popularized nation-wide throughout the 1950s, as Jack A.'s son, Jack B., believed in the motto, "The West is not a place, it is a state of mind."
You'll get further into that state of mind as you continue to explore the rest of what downtown has to offer. There's the famous Larimer Square, a historic block bursting with renowned chef-owned eateries; Denver Union Station, which brings the West's railroad history into the present with bars, hotels and restaurants that have popped up around the transportation hub; Wynkoop Brewing Company, which serves up crazy drinkable beers and pub fare in a converted 1800s-era warehouse; and Ophelia's, a multilevel "gastrobrothel" that serves up wild cocktails, live music, and globally-inspired bites in a funky setting that makes the most of its reputation as (you guessed it!) a former Old West bordello.
Art District on Santa Fe
For a total change of pace, immerse yourself in the culture and history of the Art District on Santa Fe. This traditionally Hispanic neighborhood celebrates its rich heritage at the Museo de las Americas. This institute "collects, preserves, and exhibits the arts and cultures of Latinidad in the Americas," combining ancient and contemporary works to tell the story. Whether you're learning about the Day of the Dead, watching a luchador wrestling match, browsing the galleries, or checking out the stellar gift shop, you'll definitely be surprised by how fascinating this hidden gem is. Once you're done exploring the museum, check out the arts scene in the rest of the neighborhood at the Center of Visual Art or at one of the many independent galleries. Try and plan your visit to coincide with one of the neighborhood's First Friday Art Walks, when the area really comes to life. If you find yourself getting hungry, stop by the Buckhorn Exchange, Denver's original, old-school steakhouse!
Capitol Hill & Golden Triangle Creative District
Keep the creative juices flowing as you explore another facet of Denver's personality in the Capitol Hill & Golden Triangle Creative District. This neighborhood is uniquely Denver, highlighting the city's gold-domed State Capitol Building and some awesome Victorian architecture. After you visit the marker designating the one-mile high step at the Capitol, head to the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. It's an institution for both international decorative art and works by regional Colorado artists. You don't have to be an art historian to appreciate either; browse the extensive decorative arts collection to admire the designs of various everyday-seeming objects. Elements of movements like Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, De Stijl, Art Deco, Pop Art and Postmodern can be seen in the artifacts. Chairs by Frank Lloyd Wright and Eames, candlesticks by Dali, glasswork from Tiffany, and even a dress from Warhol are on display here, among countless other objects. The museum does a great job of curating and interpreting a collection that highlights a sometimes-overlooked facet of art and design.
It's not the only museum in the area. There's the more traditional Denver Art Museum, and the Clyfford Still Museum is another unique experience; the estate of famed abstract expressionist Clyfford Still has been turned into a museum dedicated to his life's works. Or, if you're more of a history buff than an art-lover, there's the Molly Brown House Museum, which provides a fascinating look at Denver's Victorian past and details the life of one of the most famous survivors of the Titanic!
Looking to treat yo' self? Cherry Creek is an upscale neighborhood that happens to be the perfect place to spoil yourself. Whether your idea of a relaxing day involves hitting up the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, poking around boutiques and galleries in Cherry Creek North, enjoying a cocktail at a rooftop bar like Elevated at the Halcyon, or soaking up the fresh air with a spin on the Cherry Creek Bike Path that connects the area to downtown, you'll probably want to grab a bite to eat at some point. The Cherry Cricket is the perfect place to chow down. It has been serving up burgers and drinks since 1945, and revels in a reputation as the black sheep of the neighborhood. It's the kind of local joint where you'll feel right at home, no matter where you come from. Plus, once you taste the Cricket Burger, you'll understand why it is known as one of the best burgers in Denver. And, of course, wash it all down with a milkshake (boozy or regular), or your drink of choice!
River North (RiNo)
Looking for something a little grittier? The urban charm and industrial renewal of River North (RiNo) are sure to have you excited to explore. Live music, breweries, inventive eateries and loads of street art make checking out the nooks and crannies of this area pretty unforgettable. Colorado’s largest independent graffiti/street art project and event, CRUSH, calls RiNo home, making the air of renewal and contemporary creativity totally visceral. If you stop into only one place in RiNo, make it a brewery like Ratio Beerworks. The brainchild of ’90s-era punk musicians and DIYers, Ratio perfectly captures the atmosphere of RiNo. They boast a state-of-the-art brewing system, and use their rebellious background to craft inventive brews. Out-there beers like French saisons and lime sours are on tap next to standards like the American Standard Ale and the West Coast IPA, which hold their own. There's pretty much always a food truck posted outside the brewery as well, which adds to the experience. If you've got more time to spend in RiNo, sample the wares at the various stalls in Denver Central Market, Zeppelin Station, or The Source.
Denver's Highlands neighborhood is made up of a few different areas, and if you're looking to get weird in Denver, this is where you'll want to head. The Tennyson Street Cultural District in Berkeley has a historic, effortlessly bohemian atmosphere. There's also Little Man Ice Cream; you can't miss it, as it's located in a giant ice cream can. Though the storefront is a throwback to roadside kitsch, Little Man’s menu is modern and inventive. Think flavors like creme fraiche, Earl Grey tea and cookies, or salted Oreo, and lots of vegan options. If you're looking to stay awhile, the beer garden at Denver Beer Co. is perfection. Grab a pretzel and one of the brews (the Pretzel Assassin Lager and Big Gulp IPA are great classics, but Denver Beer can also get wild with a Princess Yum Yum raspberry kolsch and peat-smoked scotch IPA) and enjoy the people-watching and atmosphere.
But perhaps the coolest spot in the area is Linger, a restaurant housed in an old mortuary. If you visit, you'll be in good company; Buffalo Bill Cody spent 6 months in the Olinger Mortuary...well, technically his body did. The restaurant wound up with its distinctive name simply by adjusting a few letters on the old "Olinger Mortuaries" neon sign. The decor is tastefully funereal: A hostess stand made from an old church pew, funeral fans hanging up next to a picture from the movie... subtle touches of the macabre. And if the idea of eating anything with a creepy name skeeves you out, don't worry-- the menu from owner/chef Justin Cucci highlights the delicious food, not the building's gruesome past. Still a little creeped out by the fact that you're gonna be eating in a space where dead bodies used to chill? Grab a drink (Linger offer tons of local beers and some rad cocktails) on the rooftop deck-- the view is to-die-for!
Five Points was once known as the "Harlem of the West," so it should come as no surprise that Jack Kerouac wrote about it in On the Road. It's an old and historically- diverse area that's also known for an illustrious jazz scene. In Five Points, you can learn about the past at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library and the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center. Or, you can tap into those Jazz-Age vibes for an unforgettable experience at the most Jazz Age-y place possible: a speakeasy. Millers and Rossi is housed in the back of an art gallery, through a picture frame-esque door. Once inside, you can enjoy tasty small plates and lovingly-crafted old-school cocktails in the cozy little bar. If you're looking for something more low-key, there's Spangalang Brewery. The name and philosophy of this joint are an homage to Five Points and its storied past; as with jazz music, the brews can best be described as inspired riffs on tradition.
South Broadway is a neighborhood that's as eclectic as they come. It's well-known for being home to Antique Row, jam-packed with vintage stores, consignment shops, and, of course, world-class antiquing for any style. The shopping isn't the only thing that's eclectic here; the live music scene is beyond diverse (especially with the annual Underground Music Showcase), and the restaurants and bars are wonderfully varied as well. Denver has a famously booming brewing scene, but if you need a break from all the beer, wander into Laws Whiskey House. This distillery thinks of itself as a temple to all things whiskey, and offers tours of the operation, along with tastings. You'll feel like an Old West Denver cowboy as you sample Laws’ wares and learn all about the distillery’s obsessive whiskey-making process. For more whiskey wonder, tour Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. And for a total change of pace, there's always the Colorado Cider Company (which will change the way you think about cider entirely, with offerings that range from dry to fruity and everywhere in between). And if you need a bite to eat after all of that exploring and touring, you won't find a more memorable dining experience than Beatrice & Woodsley. Everything on the menu, from the cocktails to the brunch to the dessert, is centered around taking the experience of "eating" and elevating it to "dining," with seasonal, rustic-American offerings.
Head over to 17th Avenue and enjoy the plethora of patio dining (seriously, it's not hard to see why people sometimes refer to Uptown as "Restaurant Row"). Of course, you can't go wrong with any dining here, but Ace Eat Serve is a totally unique experience that offers ramen and Asian-inspired dishes, along with a massive menu of cocktails, sakes, wines, beer, and more in a ping-pong hall. There's also Steuben's, an eatery inspired by those retro, Rat Pack-era lounge clubs. The menu boasts vintage cocktails and dishes with a modern spin. Once you’re done sampling the stellar foodie scene, walk it off with a trip to Denver's City Park. This lovely gem is home to the Denver Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, lakes (with a boathouse!), a golf course, and, naturally, tons of beautifully-landscaped gardens to explore. It's spacious, and as you wander through, you'll stumble upon statues, fountains, playgrounds, and some awesome views of the Denver skyline.
Once you start feeling at home in Denver's diverse neighborhoods, you'll start to know exactly where to go to suit all of your moods, no matter how strange. Whether you're jonesing for a boozy milkshake, to watch a luchador wrestling match, to buy some awesome Western-wear, or even if you're in that rare mood to eat dinner alongside the ghost of Buffalo Bill, Denver and its hidden gems promise to deliver.
Denver, Colorado is an outdoor city offering urban adventures for all ages. Experience live music at Red Rocks, explore diverse neighborhoods and discover The Mile High City’s creative side in arts & culture, cuisine and craft beer. Or take a Rocky Mountain day trip within easy reach of the city.