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The area surrounding Santa Fe Drive has long been home to many artistic pursuits, but it really took off in 2003 when a group of galleries, museums, and theaters banded together to form the Arts District on Santa Fe. Since then, the official District membership has grown to 60-plus businesses, and the neighborhood has become jam-packed with art (gallery-bound and otherwise) and a rich mix of cultures.
Boundaries: Santa Fe is not an official neighborhood, but a district that spans Baker and Lincoln Park. More or less, if you’re between Kalamath and Galapago streets, and Alameda and 13th avenues, you’re in Sante Fe territory.
The vibe: Brightly colored storefronts, fancifully painted alleyways, and street art give this micro-hood a vibe that’s as artsy as its main commercial tenants. A vibrant and diverse cultural scene is on display in the district, particularly in its abundance of hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants.
Main drag: The street that gives the neighborhood its name—Santa Fe Drive.
Gallery hop: Santa Fe boasts so many galleries that it seems almost impossible to see them all, but, with their close proximity to one another, a leisurely Saturday should give you enough time to pop in to most of the highlights. The recently opened Michael Warren Contemporary boasts accessibly edgy art from some of the country’s hottest rising stars and two of the friendliest owners around (they’ll happily tell you about any piece in the gallery and about their artists’ careers). On the same block, Artists on Santa Fe and the Denver Art Society sell the diverse wares of dozens of local artists—try the former for your grandparents and the latter for your favorite millennials—and play host to many artists’ studios, which visitors are welcome to wander through.
Check out John Fielder’s Colorado for stunning photography from the Centennial State and beyond, Abecedarian Gallery for a rotating selection of art centered around bookmaking and paper craft, and the spacious, warehouse-style Space Gallery for some of the city’s sleekest modern art exhibits.
Shop: Try Garage Vintage and Art District Antiques for a wide selection of clothing, records, furniture, and decor from various eras of yore and Creative Living for high-end outdoor furnishings that range from full dining sets to funky mini-planters. Tesoro Artisan Market offers art, jewelry, and home decor sourced from local artisans and the owners’ four trips to Mexico each year—just watch out for their friendly pup following you around while you browse.
Caffeinate: Tucked away down a hidden hallway near Santa Fe and 9th Avenue, mmm…Coffee! Paleo Bistro serves up organic, fair trade joe and a selection of salads, bakery items, and other paleo treats. Grab a refined sugar-free brownie, pull up a seat in their brightly colored courtyard, and relax with a book from their free library box while you rest your gallery-wearied feet. Near the north end of the district, make a stop at the cozy cafe Molecule Effect. Try a seasonal drink like their hot-spiced apple cider, or a light lunch from their sandwich and panini menu. (Our recommendation? The heavenly—and vegetarian-friendly—white cheddar and pear grilled cheese served on cranberry walnut bread.) For long-haul visitors, you can always order unlimited drip coffee for just $2.45, or enjoy a different kind of buzz from their extensive wine list.
Eat (and drink): Thirty-year Santa Fe resident El Noa Noa offers an enormous menu of grade-A Mexican food—order the nachos, a simple but irresistible plate of chips, cheese, refried beans, and jalapenos—and some of the best wallet-friendly margaritas you’ll ever drink, at only $5.50 apiece. Black Sky Brewery near the district’s south end offers beers and pizzas with a heavy-metal twist. Try craft brews like the Denver Heavy Metal Saison and the Persephone Pomegranate Wheat, and pies such as the classic Black Sky, a pepperoni-jalapeno-cream cheese concoction, or the mozzarella, tomato, and garlic-based white pizza known as the Corpse Paint. Renegade Brewery keeps the quirky beer names (Ha!Ha!Weizen or a Mayonnaise, anyone?) but trades the Black Sabbath vibe for a buzzy neighborhood joint packed with flannel-wearing twenty-somethings, a pet-friendly visitor policy, and a rotating selection of nightly food trucks. On Tuesdays and Thursday nights, Matt’s Snack Shack serves up over-the-top grilled cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, and spicy, meaty buffalo wings.
Spectate: Santa Fe’s cultural offerings hardly stop at art galleries. Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center shows live Chicano and Latino theater throughout the year and plays host to the Stories on Stage literary performance program, while Museo de las Americas pays homage to the arts and culture of all the Americas (their retrospective on Jerry De La Cruz opened last month). The Colorado Ballet also has its headquarters in the neighborhood, so you can catch a glimpse of ballerinas mid-rehearsal through their studio’s floor-to-ceiling windows or sign up for a recreational dance class.