It’s possible that no other town in Colorado has been as misunderstood or maligned as this 111,000-resident berg just two hours south of Denver. Yet Pueblo pulses with history, architecture, culture, and a rugged American swagger that make it worth a trip. Here, a quick itinerary for 12 hours spent in the Steel City of the West.

8 a.m.
Wake up and spike the blood pressure of your family members with a selfie from the (former) Pueblo jail and police station, renovated in 2017 into the city’s hippest downtown accommodation: Station on the Riverwalk. The boutique hotel offers seven cells (read: rooms) dressed in industrial chic touches but softened with plenty of fancy linens and cozy comforters. Later in the day, don’t miss out on visiting the cleverly named Clink Lounge, which serves a selection of elevated craft cocktails made with Colorado spirits. Rooms start at $170 a night

Black Box Coffee & Provisions. Photo by Samuel Shaw

9 a.m.
Opened in 2021 in Pueblo’s verdant Northside neighborhood, Blackbox Coffee & Provisions serves breakfast, lunch, and brunch inside a sleek shipping container complete with minimalist decor. For eight or nine dollars, the breakfast pies—essentially quiches—and the assorted toasts are the stars of the small menu. If you choose a piece of “pie,” seriously consider adding the  sriracha–sour cream garnish, made in-house with Pueblo-based Jojo’s Sriracha. A lowball of icy cold brew serves as a buzzy complement to Blackbox’s morning fuel, both of which will set you up well for a day of sightseeing.

The Vail hotel. Photo by Samuel Shaw

10 a.m.
It’s a 20-minute walk from Blackbox to the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo area, a 36-acre expanse crisscrossed with walking paths along a man-made stream that roughly traces the original route of the Arkansas River, which now flows on the south end of town. It’s here where you can begin to understand the history—and the present-day vibe—of this southeastern Colorado town. Back in the early 20th century, titans of the railroad and steel industry were bringing in thousands of workers from around the world and saw to the construction of a bustling commercial drag befitting of Pueblo’s emerging status as one of the nation’s leading hubs for heavy industry. Although a disastrous 1921 flood submerged downtown beneath 13 feet of water where the Riverwalk now resides, the area still retains many of the buildings from that time period, giving Pueblo the air of a Wild West territorial capital city, which it almost became in 1874.

You can see the crimson bricked Pueblo Union Depot station off South Union Avenue and West B Street, plus the stately Holmes Hardware building across the street, which is set to reopen as the Fuel & Iron food hall this fall. And don’t miss strolling down South Grand Avenue to catch sight of the Vail hotel. Built in 1910 and named after John E. Vail, a prominent local newspaperman from the early 20th century, the Vail was once one of the West’s most elegant and modern hotels. Today, its glistening white masonry and ornately marbled lobby no longer invite travelers, but the masterpiece of Renaissance Revival begs to be marveled at.

Just southwest of the Riverwalk area, Pueblo’s futuristic Rawlings Library is a can’t-miss, as is a stroll down East Abriendo Avenue, the main drag through Mesa Junction, Pueblo’s oldest neighborhood. You’ll also want to give yourself time to eyeball the famous Pueblo Levee Mural Project along the Arkansas River. Its miles of painted concrete were at one point the longest piece of public art on the planet.

Pueblo Railway Museum volunteers Tanner and Tyler Seeley. Photo by Samuel Shaw

11:30 a.m.
The Grumman Tracked Levitation Research Vehicle (TLRV), an air-levitated hovercraft, once careened along the U.S. Department of Transportation’s test track north of town in the early ’70s. Today, it sits behind a chain-link fence at the Pueblo Railway Museum, whose museum director, Ron Roach, explains that it was never intended to be a train at all. In fact, the TLRV was secretly used to test the aerodynamics of the Space Shuttle, which it clearly resembles. For $5, the museum is a worthy tour of yesterday’s tomorrow. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll run into friendly, mulleted, and highly knowledgeable museum volunteers, Tanner and Tyler Seeley, who just might invite you aboard the French-made Rohr Aerotrain, one of the TLRVs futuristic siblings. On the same track where these retro-modern wonders once whirred, Amtrak’s newest Acela high-speed trains are being put through their paces. If California’s high-speed train network ever fully materializes, those trains will be tested here in Pueblo before they whisk passengers along the West Coast.

Consider stopping at Gagliano’s for lunch. Photo by Samuel Shaw

12:30 p.m.
The Bessemer neighborhood—where smokestacks from the old Colorado Fuel and Iron Company steel mill still protrude above gabled roofs—once contributed to Pueblo’s status as one of the most diverse cities in the American West. Forty-two languages were spoken at the steel mill in its early days, as people of Czech, Russian, Slovenian, and Italian descent, among others, lived and worked in the area during the late 19th and early 20th century, forming enclaves of shared language and culture. Today, you can still learn about what it was like to work in the mill at the Steelworks Center of the West museum and see the influences of the immigrant communities in local businesses.

While you’re there, we suggest you find some sustenance. Your first option for lunch? Gagliano’s, a 101-year-old Italian delicatessen brimming with an array of pastas and time-worn memorabilia. At the back of the shop, Bonnie Gagliano-Glessner mans the deli counter; her father, Tony Gagliano, works the register; and her mother, Josephine, kneads dough in the back room. Bonnie’s brother, Vince, makes the deli’s famed Italian sausages. The family, which has roots in Lucca Sicula, Sicily, is fond of saying, “mangia che ti fa grande,” which loosely translates to “Eat so you grow up strong.” Even if you were only looking for a provolone and Genoa salami sandwich or some sausages for dinner, you will likely leave with arms full of Italian delicacies you didn’t even know existed.

Should you be in the mood for something with a little more kick, Liz’s Tamale House is a five-minute walk away at 1243 Eilers Ave. (719-583-1744). This family-run establishment has been delivering spiced pork cocooned in masa since the early 2000s. Chef Olivia Hernandez’s tamales are heavenly, but there’s no seating in the small stucco building, so grab your lunch to-go. You can eat it right out of the foil while you walk up Eilers Avenue, take a left on Mesa Avenue, and head to Gus’ Tavern (1201 Elm St., 719-225-8638), reportedly the oldest continuously operating beer hall in Pueblo, to grab a cold one to wash it down.

Lake Pueblo State Park. Getty Images/Faina Gurevich

2 p.m.
Only 13 minutes by car from downtown, Pueblo Reservoir—at Lake Pueblo State Park ($10 day pass required)—has miles of flowy singletrack braiding across its banks, not to mention ample opportunity to boat around the 4,500-acre expanse. The South Shore Marina has you covered with watercraft rentals, including a 20-foot pontoon boat that seats up to eight. If motoring isn’t your thing, you can rent stand-up paddleboards ($50 a day) from the Edge Ski, Paddle, and Pack on North Union Avenue before you head to the water. Want to spend the night? Bring your favorite outdoor sleeping arrangement—tent or Sprinter van—and enjoy one of the park’s three campgrounds ($28–$36 a night).

5 p.m.
A cold draft beer after a day in the saddle is about as close as you can come to an official Colorado past-time, and on that front, Pueblo has more than a few options. Stop at Reservoir Brewing on your way back to town, or belly up to the bar at the Walter Brewing Company’s downtown location for a true taste of history—and the sorts of craft beer you won’t find anywhere else in the country. The brewery’s light, strangely invigorating Pueblo Chile lager, named after the city’s famous pepper, can be enjoyed in one of the state’s oldest beer production establishments, founded in the late 1800s. If you prefer to drink your history, however, Walter also offers its Original Premium Pre-Prohibition American Pilsner made with the same recipe that steel workers would have imbibed after smelting, pouring, and smacking hunks of molten metal.

Pear and cheese ravioli with bacon and Parmesan sage butter sauce at La Forchetta da Massi. Photo by Samuel Shaw

7 p.m.
Just a block from the Riverwalk on South Union Avenue, La Forchetta da Massi comes highly recommended by Pueblo native and former Atomic Cowboy executive chef Eric Copeland. The back patio’s marble-topped tables—shaded by a gazebo—are the perfect al fresco spot for a warm summer evening. The menu leans heavily into fresh stuffed pasta, but the goat cheese bruschetta appetizer with sliced pear tastes like the first day of spring, and the pear and cheese ravioli entrée with bacon and Parmesan sage butter sauce screams for an extra portion of bread to scarpetta, the Italian art of sopping up all that leftover goodness for a final bite.

Neon Alley. Photo by Samuel Shaw

8 p.m.
Neon Alley is an oft-talked-about spectacle in Pueblo, but it’s totally worth the hype, with nearly 70 vintage and new neon signs twinkling from poles, brick walls, and metal hangers in an alleyway located between South Union and South Victoria avenues. The illuminated art is technically only allowed because of a fluke in the city’s zoning rules: Neon lamps can’t be displayed on buildings along main roads. But dozens strewn across a back alley? Well, nobody’s stopped local sign enthusiast Joseph Koncilja yet. He’s collected the strobing anachronisms from across the country and packed them into a small enough space to create a unique kind of sensory immersion, for free, every night of the week until 10 p.m.