Denver has had something of an identity crisis for some time now. It ranks as one of the country’s fastest-growing cities (never the fastest, but always an honorable mention of sorts), and its growth forces visitors to ask what exactly is Denver all about? Walk down any street and you’re as likely to see an Into The Wild-style mountaineer as you are a corporate type en route to a tech conference.

In recent years, however, one neighborhood has proven that Denver’s creative undercurrents are starting to take hold. The River North Arts District (charmingly dubbed “RiNo,” pronounced “rhino”) has become a hub for art galleries, shops, and the city’s coolest haunts and hangouts. Just a few years ago, RiNo was better known for its rundown industrial buildings and desolate streets. But today, the neighborhood is a happening epicenter of the city’s food, art, and shopping scenes. Not one but two boutique hotels have opened in the last few months alone, suggesting that when it comes to the Mile High City, RiNo is the place to be. Here, a few of our favorite things to do there.

Where To Stay

Death & Co Denver

Death & Co Denver

The Ramble Hotel
The design here will make you feel right at home, with comfy beds, factory paned windows, wide-plank hickory flooring, antique Persian rugs, and perfectly-curated mini-bars outfitted with local Colorado snacks and libations. Not that you’ll be spending too much time in your room—mixology icon Death & Co. opened up their first location outside of Manhattan in the Ramble’s lobby, offering not only their brilliant cocktails, but also a full-fledged restaurant serving equally inventive seasonal, local cuisine.

The Source Hotel
This brand new hotel is a breath of fresh air. The hotel’s design evokes both Scandinavian and Japanese vibes, with lots of Baltic birch casework, high ceilings, and polished concrete floors. Two on-site market halls totaling 45,000 square feet bring together an exciting offering of the city’s best artisans and makers—there’s a barber, a florist, a brewery, an art gallery, and even a taqueria all within steps of your room.

Where To Eat

Il Posto
After nine years at a different location in town, this icon of Italian cuisine reopened in 2017 right in the heart of RiNo, acting as a vote of confidence for the neighborhood’s culinary potential. Chef/owner Andrea Frizzi made sure to keep with the area’s artistic roots—the impressive marble bar is from the same quarry as Michaelangelo’s David, and the largest Bocci chandelier in the world illuminates the space.

The Populist

The Populist

The Populist
The menu here is globally-influenced and locally-sourced—it consistently tops local critics’ hit lists. Mouthwatering snacks including salt and vinegar popcorn, burrata with gooseberries, and a potato rosti with sweet corn, peach, and chamomile pistou. It’s hard to go wrong here, especially if you opt for the seven-course testing menu, which at just $50 per person comes at a steal.

Work & Class
James Beard Award semifinalist Dana Rodriguez has generated national buzz for her unique blend of American and Latin flavors. Make sure to try the “peppers five ways”—bacon-wrapped jalapeños with candied almonds, Fresno peppers, grilled shishitos, mixed pickled peppers, and pepper jam.

Julep
This local favorite offers up “sophisticated southern” favorites like fried oysters, pimento pecan cheese balls, deviled snails, and killer buttermilk biscuits served with raw local honey. Dinner here is foolproof, but things really heat up around brunch—order the crab Benedict and a Pimm’s Cup, and you’re in for a proper RiNo experience.

Where To Drink

Nocturne
Midnight is the best time to check out this lively jazz bar nestled in a beautifully-resorted warehouse. There’s live music every single night, in addition to one of the area’s more creative cocktail lists—with such newfangled offerings as the “Dreaming Dangerously,” a potent blend of rum, Manzanilla sherry, walnut liqueur, maple syrup, oat milk, and fig.

Greenlight LAB
Reservations are highly recommended at this exclusive speakeasy. Tucked in an unassuming alley off 27th Street, the drinks are as sexy as the dimly-lit space itself. There’s a gorgeous and indulgent mixology menu, but the charming bartenders are also happy to mix up something unique just for you.

Breweries
It wouldn’t be a trip to Colorado without a brewery crawl through some of the city’s exceptional craft brew hotspots, and luckily RiNo has them in spades. Some of the best include Black Shirt Brewing, Ratio Beerworks, and Great Divide Brewing Company.

What To Do

RiNo Made
This concept shop is a perfect first stop to pick up a neighborhood map and ply the staff for local tips. Their curated selection from the neighborhood’s best artists and makers is also a great launching point to discover which shops and studios you’d like to explore more in-depth.

Art Galleries
You could fill a whole day just walking through the galleries in RiNo: Plinth Gallery for contemporary ceramics, which make perfect gifts to bring home; RedLine, a unique live-work space with exhibitions on the first floor, and resident artists living upstairs; and Ironton Studios, a metalworks factory-turned-distillery now home to the Colorado Photographic Arts Center.

Denver Central Market

Denver Central Market

Photo: James Florio / Courtesy of The Colorado Tourism Office

Denver Central Market
While it’s been on our radar for some time now, this food hall is an essential stop at any time of day. Pick up a coffee and quick breakfast in the morning, stop in for a cocktail before dinner, or grab some snacks and souvenirs to bring home. The gooey, warm cinnamon rolls at Izzio Artisan Bakery are a must, as is the cold brew at Crema Bodega. And don’t leave without perusing the drinks list at Curio.

First Fridays
It’s never a bad time to walk through RiNo, but the neighborhood really comes alive on the first Friday evening of every month, when numerous shops and galleries stay open just a little bit later than usual and offer everything from new exhibitions to live music.