The Best Neighborhoods to Spend a Weekend in Denver
Get to know Denver from a whole new perspective.
Denver is the gateway to the Rockies with mountain vistas to the west and easy access to skiing, hiking, and almost every other outdoor activity you can think of. But the Mile High itself is filled with plenty to explore, and each area’s got its own personality. Whether you’re coming to Denver from out of town for a visit or you’re a local looking to get to know a new part of the city, you need the right home-away-from-home base -- those areas of town where you’re steps from amazing dining, fun activities, and your new favorite bar that’s just waiting for you to discover it. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in these neighborhoods. Get to know Denver in these five neighborhoods that show off the best of the Mile High, from its museums to its dive bars.
Wash Park/Cherry Creek
Southeast of Downtown sits the posh shopping district of Cherry Creek and suburban paradise Washington Park. Uniquely different but sharing certain features—independent, boutique retailers, upscale dining, and an added air of leisure with every mile that stretches further from LoDo—both are equally good for spending a day, weekend, or lifetime. The areas look vastly different today from their initial establishments, but the common thread remains the sense of community and tight-knit neighborhood feel of each. You'll find everything from picturesque parks to mom-and-pop ice cream shops to locally loved haunts and all the day-to-day resources (like grocery stores, shopping malls, and fitness studios) you could need. It's easy to have fun here, so here's a list of places to stay and things to see, eat, and drink when you do.
Where to stay: Cherry Creek is essentially the Mecca of lavish hotels a la private rooftop pools, impressive restaurants, and stop-you-in-your-tracks design. Halcyon is your ticket to poolside paradise, though it helps that the rooms (and lobby, and hallways, and everywhere) are stunningly styled. Take advantage of its Gear Garage, where you can rent scooters, bikes, seasonal outdoor equipment, and even GoPros or a few vinyl records for your room, all included with your stay (and check out Local Jones for brunch or dinner). A block over is the Clayton Members Club and Hotel, which has its obvious perks for members only but is worth a stay even if you aren’t one (yet). And there are a ton of other fantastic hotels to choose from here, including the well-known Jacquard and Hotel Clio, making lodging one of the best parts of your trip.
Things to do: The obvious one here is a park day hang in Wash Park, whether that means picnicking, hammocking, rollerblading, or fishing. Take a leisurely stroll (pups welcome!) around the park’s two lakes, and be sure to check out the flower gardens when they’re in bloom. The already picturesque boathouse looks even lovelier on a summer evening with its lights glowing and is a good spot to finish off those cones from Bonnie Brae.
Known as a shopping district, Cherry Creek isn’t short on independent shops and boutiques sitting next to high-end, brand-name storefronts, with the Cherry Creek Shopping Center available for your spending pleasure, too. There are several galleries in the few-block radius, including one that features rotating works of famed photographer David Yarrow. This is also a great place to relax and rejuvenate at one of Cherry Creek’s many spas and salons, and it plays host to a number of fun events and pop-ups throughout the year.
Restaurants & bars: Fuel up at Wash Perk before a day of park foolery or endless shopping, then find exceptional handmade pasta, an intimate atmosphere, and stellar service at Restaurant Olivia for dinner, sure to be one of the more memorable meals you’ll have. The coastal Mexican fare (read: tacos) at Perdida—along with its citrusy, tropical happy hour cocktails—is always satisfying (and if you’re ever up in Arvada, visit its sister spot, Lady Nomada), as is the Italian food that many a Denverite raves about at Quality Italian. And if you’re craving seafood, just around the block is Blue Island Oyster Bar, where you can slurp oysters on the half shell or snag a signature lobster roll. However, if something more casual is your vibe for the evening, a slice from Homegrown Tap & Dough should do just the trick.
Oddly enough, there’s a wonderful blend of hidden speakeasies, exclusive cocktail lounges, and the occasional dive in this area of town. While we’re not 100% sure how all the concepts cohabitate, they sure do well enough for us not to question it. Forget Me Not is your Impress-Your-Date-or-Out-of-Town-Friends cocktail bar thanks to industry rockstar Nicole Lebedevitch, and newer to the scene (and right next door) is Clayton’s Five Nines sexy, sultry lounge that has live entertainment daily. But no Cherry Creek trip would be complete without at least one beer (and hopefully also a burger) from Cherry Cricket if a simple, no-frills good time is all you’re after.
Where to stay: Two hotel options offer a home away from home that’s only steps from the neighborhood fun. When The Source opened in 2013, RiNo was, to put it candidly, not exactly one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods. The food hall and marketplace were the first of their kind in Denver—kicking off a trend that’s showing no signs of slowing down today. Now, you can not only eat at The Source (don’t miss Smok, Safta, and its nearby sister food hall Zeppelin Station), you can stay there, too. The hotel has serious industrial vibes with plenty of concrete, a muted color palette, and minimalist decor. If you can score one of the rooms with a garage door window, do it. Further south off Larimer, the 50-room boutique Ramble Hotel looks like it’s been in the neighborhood forever even though it was newly built and opened in 2018. A stay here gives you easy access to Denver’s outpost of the NYC-based cocktail bar Death & Co (it’s literally in the lobby). The most recent addition to the neighborhood is the CatBird, with its hip, modern style that bridges the gap between home and hotel. Its function-forward design makes your stay (however long it may be) as comfortable a base camp as possible for all of your Mile High adventures. Be sure to head to the rooftop bar, The Red Barber, for refreshing cocktails, impressive city/mountain views, and the occasional DJ dance party.
Things to do: RiNo is an arts district, which means checking out said art should be high on your list. There are street art tours available, you can check out the gallery guide for a self-guided adventure, or you can just step outside and start walking. Mission Ballroom is not only one of the best music venues in the city but also is rolling out more frequent outdoor concerts and music fests, meaning something fun is always going on, rain or shine. Coors Field is also nearby: Look for day-of-the-game Rockpile tickets (read: cheap) during baseball season.
Restaurants & bars: In this neighborhood, it would be difficult to find a bad meal or drink. The section of Larimer Street that runs through Five Points has the highest concentration of bars and restaurants (and breweries and wineries…) in town. On a single block (at 35th and Larimer) you can hit up Colorado Sake Company for sake flights, the Embassy Tavern for cheap, strong drinks and fried tacos, and two of Denver's best restaurants: Hop Alley for a hip hop playlist and Chinese eats, as well as Fish ‘n Beer for $1 happy hour oysters.
A bit further down, you’ll find decadent handmade pasta at Dio Mio, another one of the city’s choice food halls at Denver Central Market, the best queso you’ll ever have at Mister Oso (order the short rib birria tacos with a spiked aguas fresca), and a duo of must visit breweries, including Ratio and Our Mutual Friend. Then there’s Finn’s Manor (for cocktails), Uchi (for sushi), Il Posto (Italian). You’ll be eating and drinking lavishly here.
These two neighborhoods span from Civic Center Park right in the middle of Downtown to Mississippi Avenue in the south, but they are joined by one of Denver’s busiest (and most fun) thoroughfares: Broadway. A stay here means you’ll get to experience an eclectic slice of the city that’s got both cultural destinations and a punk edge.
Where to stay:If you’re looking for a more luxurious experience, check out ART, a Hotel. It’s steps from -- you guessed it -- the Denver Art Museum, plus the hotel itself features original works throughout, including inside its restaurant, Fire, where you can post up with a cocktail on the terrace before venturing out for the evening. Further south, in Baker, hotels are pretty much nonexistent but the neighborhood’s got some of the more unique houses in Denver so it’s not too hard to find a Airbnb with a bit of personality or history; like this private carriage house that was designed by the architect that designed the Molly Brown House.
Things to do:The Golden Triangle is a downtown hub for culture. Along with the Denver Art Museum and the Molly Brown House, you can go on a free tour of the gold leaf-covered Colorado State Capitol building, see how money is literally made at the Denver Mint, and learn more about the state at History Colorado. Start heading south on Broadway, though, and you’ll find tons of unique shops. Stop into Hope Tank for unique gifts from a place whose mission is to give back, and Mutiny Information Cafe for used books, records, and comics. Need a break? Catch a movie at the historic art-deco Mayan Theatre.
Restaurants & bars:The move here is to splurge on a meal, because cheap drinks for your late night adventures are plentiful. For a taste of the islands, Cuba Cuba is a low-key classic where the rum flows freely and the lechon with mojo is a must have. If you want to go full tiki, head to Adrift and pair your Mai Tai with a pupu platter for two. At Dae Gee, you can feast Korean style with an array of meats for grilling, a table full of ban chan, and a bottle (or three) of soju.
The late-night scene is all about getting a little divey. At Dive Inn you’ll find part-retro, part-nautical, part-eclectic decor, cold, local beers on tap, and a full-sized speedboat you can sit in while you sip. Around the corner at Dougherty’s, take your chances at a game of hammerschlagen (aka stump) in which you basically swing a hammer at a nail in, well, a stump. If that’s not enough entertainment for you, head over to the Hi-Dive where you can grab more drinks and probably catch live music (which could be bluegrass, punk, or a full-on dance party).
Union Station itself was once a mostly empty relic of old Denver that sat quietly in LoDo (the Lower Downtown Historic District). Then, in 2014, a total makeover and grand re-opening of the train station invigorated the area. The name Union Station includes not just the building itself, but also the neighborhood surrounding it -- an area that borders Highland just on the other side of the Platte River where some might argue Denver’s restaurant revival began. With pedestrian-friendly paths connecting the two, it’s easy to explore both during a single stay.
Where to stay: Located inside Union Station is the Crawford Hotel. If you’re ready to treat yourself, this is the move. You can’t get more central than here, with the light rail just outside offering easy access all over the Metro area and a direct line to the airport—not to mention all of the bars and restaurants just an elevator ride away (more on those below). Just up the street is the Oxford Hotel, one of Denver’s most historic landmarks and also where you’ll find one of the oldest bars in the city, The Cruise Room. But for a more local feel, Highland Airbnbs are plentiful and will give a taste of the neighborhood's personality with options like this secret cottage or a more modern, industrial inspired flat.
Things to do: Museums can sometimes seem like a (very culturally valuable) time suck when you’re visiting a new area, but Denver’s lucky to have one that’s perfectly sized for easy consumption. The Museum of Contemporary Art has three floors of regularly rotating exhibits, which show off the best of modern art—plus, there’s a rooftop cafe and bar and the museum excels at putting on some of the city’s most unique events. Once you finish your museum tour, head to Confluence Park where you can stroll along the Platte River before heading out for a ghost tour in the neighborhood. Or, challenge the senses with tickets to what is now one of Denver’s most popular draws: Meow Wolf.
Restaurants & bars: When Union Station got revamped, it wasn’t just filled with cookie cutter chains. It became home to some seriously heavy-hitters in the food and drink arena, making it the ideal place to start. Two of Mile High’s best chefs (both James Beard award winners for Best Chef: Southwest) have restaurants in the building; Alex Seidel’s Mercantile is part market (get a haul of charcuterie, preserves, and bread for a picnic in the park) and part full-service restaurant where you can get a delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Just around the corner, Jennifer Jasinski’s Ultreia will transport you to Spain with tapas and a whole menu of gin & tonics.
Over in the Highlands (that’s what you’ll hear everyone calling it), even more culinary indulgences await. There’s Avanti (another food hall, this one with rooftop views of Downtown), El Five (Mediterranean-inspired eats with another epic rooftop view), and Señor Bear (where the queso may challenge every other queso you’ve had before). And because you deserve a sweet treat, stop by Little Man for ice cream—you’ll know you’re there when you spot the giant milk jug.
Northeast of Denver, this former home to the airport (before that moved east) is now a growing community that’s got its own stash of newer Mile High gems. Stroll through its paths and open spaces, play in the water features that are really meant for all those suburban kids, and enjoy the low-key vibes and the chance to check out some great spots that are easy to miss if you’re spending most of your time Downtown.
Where to stay: There are a slew of chain hotels in the area, but you don’t have to settle for those. Since this is a newer development, the Airbnb options are loaded with clean and comfy private options aplenty. Rent out an entire townhouse with your own gas fireplace for some cozy romantic vibes, or score a spot with access to an outdoor hot tub that you don’t have to share with a bunch of hotel guests.
Things to do: Since you’re already outside of the city, why not get outside for real? Just a short drive from Central Park is an area that even locals tend to overlook: the 17,000-acre Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. It’s free to visit and is open from sunrise to sunset daily. Explore it by car on an 11-mile wildlife drive or take a nature walk on the hiking trails and look for bison, bald eagles, deer, owls, and more along the way. If the weather’s keeping you indoors, you can still get active. Central Park is also home to Übergrippen, an indoor rock climbing gym where you can get a day pass to scale their walls with options for everyone from first timers to experts.
Restaurants & bars: Though it’s technically in Aurora, a stay in Central Park gives you super easy access to the Stanley Marketplace. This former airplane factory is a community hub filled with shopping, dining, special events, and more. It’s got food for anytime of the day, but the breakfast and brunch lineup is particularly impressive. Your options include NY-style bagels (and soon to be added, pizza and sandwiches) from Rosenberg’s, towering biscuit sandwiches at Denver Biscuit Company, and everything (seriously) off the menu at Annette.
The neighborhood isn’t where you wanna go if late-night drinking is a priority. But if you’re the “let’s have an epic dinner then go back to the Airbnb to soak in the hot tub” kind of person, you’re in the right spot. Two of the best options for dining happen to be next door to each other. After leading the kitchen at Downtown Italian staple, Panzano, Elise Wiggins moved to Central Park and opened her own place, Cattivella, in 2017. There, she serves up wood-fired dishes inspired by her own travels in Italy which include some regional specialities you can’t find anywhere else in town (do not miss the focaccia di recco). Just steps away, Lon Symensma has brought a second location of his modern Asian spot, Cholon, to the neighborhood along with its deservedly famous French onion soup dumplings and his own take on dim sum for brunch.
Things to do:City Park is more than just a park—it’s also home to the Denver Zoo. Take a quick stroll over and spend some time checking out the 3,000+ animals that call the zoo home. They also offer some close encounter experiences so you can get personal with rhinos, penguins, giraffes, and more. Just a short walk away is the Denver Museum of Nature & Science where you can see an IMAX movie, check out the Planetarium, and see exhibits that include real Egyptian mummies. There’s also a gem and mineral display that features some pretty impressive artifacts, like a huge Brazilian topaz that was once owned by Salvador Dali. On the other side of Colfax, catch a movie at the SIE Film Center, which is run by Denver Film and shows arthouse revivals and first-run exclusives year round, then scope out the record selections at Twist & Shout.At night, it’s all about live music. The centerpiece of this neighborhood is the Bluebird Theatre, which was originally built in 1913 and now plays host to a lineup of eclectic musical artists almost nightly. Just a few blocks down the street from the Bluebird is Lost Lake, a former neighborhood dive that’s become one of the most popular small venues in town for more intimate live music experiences.
Where to stay: Skip the hotels—this part of town isn’t quite that tourist friendly yet (and that’s why we love it). Instead, focus on finding the ideal Airbnb location for your needs. You can’t get much better than a park-side apartment—plus this gives you easy access to any events happening at City Park (which hosts a free jazz concert every Sunday during the summer). A sleek carriage house with exposed brick will give you those Colfax-ready urban vibes, or opt for a colorful garden level getaway with an 8 person hot tub in nearby Park Hill.
Bars/restaurants: It’s all about the high/low contrast on Colfax. The food options here include everything from 24 hour diners (Pete’s Kitchen is a hard to beat classic for both early morning breakfast or a late night patty melt fix) to Q House for some of the city’s best Chinese food. Bastien’s, famous for their sugar steak which is never served over medium rare, is a midcentury marvel that feel like it’s been suspended in time, while next door is Steve’s Snappin’ Dogs where you can order everything from a classic Chicago dog to a “chimi dog” wrapped in a tortilla and deep fried.
Colfax is probably best known for its old school dive bars. You could easily spend an evening hopping from one to the next, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to meet at least a few memorable characters along the way. Some standouts include PS Lounge (it’s cash only and if you’re lucky, you might score a free shot or a free rosé for the ladies), The Squire Lounge (which is conveniently under the same ownership as Pete’s Kitchen and sits right next door), and the Lion’s Lair (best for punk shows and super cheap beer).
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Erica Buehler is a Denver-based freelance writer who dog-ears instead of bookmarks and is not sorry about it one bit. Follow her @e_buehler on Instagram and @e_buehler_ on Twitter for more updates on Denver food and other Mile High shenanigans.