Downtown Denver is famous for its 16th Street Mall, a mile-long, pedestrian-only boulevard lined with pavement cafes, bars and stores. Think of it as a hub for a series of vibrant, historic neighborhoods that surround the city center.
At the end of the Mall, Lower Downtown – LoDo for short – is Denver’s best-known neighborhood. Over 100 of its red-brick warehouses and commercial buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries have been transformed into restaurants, bars, art galleries and loft apartments.
This is Denver’s nightlife capital, packed with its trendiest restaurants, hottest bars and liveliest brewpubs. But it’s laid-back too, Denver style, and on weekends it’s like a big street party, with people strolling from one bar or club to the next. Visit during the day to admire its historic architecture.
Quaint Victorian homes and tree-lined streets give this residential area great charm. Northwest of Downtown across the South Platte River, Highlands has always been an area of ethnic diversity, and it’s now an up-and-coming neighborhood for young professionals and families.
This revival has brought boutiques, galleries and outdoor cafes to the Highlands Square shopping district. Explore its surrounding streets with distinctive lampposts and historic architecture. Three pedestrian bridges connect Downtown to the strip along the South Platte River, where you’ll find the mammoth REI sporting good store and funky hang-outs like My Brother’s Bar.
North of Downtown on the light rail line, Five Points is Denver’s traditional African-American community. It once boasted some of the best jazz clubs in the West, noted by Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac in On the Road.
The Black American West Museum tells a fascinating story of Denver’s pioneer history. The Stiles African American Heritage Center and Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library are also located here.
Colfax Avenue, a main east-west thoroughfare, divides downtown Denver from the State Capitol. The neighborhood behind it is known as Capitol Hill. Those who struck it rich in the gold and silver mines built handsome mansions here, such as the Molly Brown House, home of the legendary Titanic survivor.
Later the area was home to Beat poets Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. It is still full of neighborhood bars, restaurants and bookshops, as it was in their day.
Along Colfax is the French Gothic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, completed in 1912. Further along are two hip music venues, the Fillmore Auditorium, where musicians from Bob Dylan to Phish have performed, and the Ogden Theatre.
The Art District on Santa Fe
South of Downtown, the stretch of Santa Fe Drive between 5th and 11th avenues has blossomed into an exciting cultural district of over 40 art galleries, shops and restaurants. Featuring contemporary and traditional art in a variety of media, the ArtDistrict is especially lively during events such as the First Friday Art Walk, held the first Friday of every month.
Changing exhibits of Latino art from throughout Central and South America are displayed in the Museo de las Americas. The ArtDistrict on Santa Fe is surrounded by an historic Hispanic neighborhood, with some of Denver’s best Mexican and Latin fusion restaurants.