Sitting on the hills above Downtown Denver are the Highland neighborhoods. Known as Highland and West Highland, the two are commonly divided into three districts: Highlands Square, Lower Highland (LoHi), and Platte Street. Mostly residential, development in the Highlands has been steadily growing for the last few decades.
Amongst the charm of historic architecture, new construction, and investments have made it one of the most popular “up-and-coming” neighborhoods in Denver. With an array of trendy restaurants, local bars, cool cafes, and boutique shops, the Highlands are all-encompassing destinations that has plenty of attractions and activities to keep tourists entertained day or night.
One of Denver’s most historic areas, the Highlands has attracted a wave of young singles and families. Although a few long-time residents can still be found, the median age of the Highland neighborhoods is 32.9 years old. The vast majority of residents in the Highlands identify as White (76%), however, there is a strong Hispanic and Latino community (19%).
Diversity is growing in the Highlands as the area becomes more and more popular. Frequently identified as one of the “hippest” areas in Denver, the Highlands neighborhood has proven to be a fun and exciting place for both residents and tourists.
Pinpointing the location of the Highlands neighborhood is a little tricky. Officially, the neighborhood is bounded by West 38th Avenue on the northern border, Speer Boulevard and the South Platte River to the south, Federal Boulevard to the west, and the Union Pacific Railroad line to the east.
The Highlands sits immediately to the northwest of Downtown Denver and to distinguish the neighborhood from West Highland, the area is sometimes called Lower Highland (LoHi). West Highland is to the immediate west of Highland and it is bordered by 38th Ave to the north, 29th Ave to the south, Federal Blvd on the east, and Sheridan Blvd on the western boundary.
Together, Highland and West Highland are called the Highlands. Further muddling boundaries, many people consider the neighborhoods of Jefferson Park, Berkeley, and Sunnyside to also be a part of it. However, these Northwest Denver neighborhoods are their own separate entities.
No matter where you find yourself in the Highlands area, navigation is easy as the area is extremely walkable. In just a few minutes, tourists can get from residential spots and green parks to rows of restaurants, bars, and retail spaces.
Alternative transportation options throughout the Highlands include bicycle rentals through the Denver B-Cycle program, ride shares with Lyft or Uber, taxis, public buses, and the Light Rail. The Highlands’ close proximity to Downtown Denver makes it easy for tourists to hop between the two areas using the Highland Bridge, which is a pedestrian walkway that goes over Interstate-25.
First laid out by William Larimer, Jr. in 1858, the Highlands neighborhood was formed as a town outside of Denver. At the time, most of the area had been largely undeveloped with the Town of Highland being accessible by trolley or the Platte River Bridge. Businesses were developed along the trolley stops and homes began to spring up throughout.
In order to entice new residents to settle in the Highlands, the neighborhood was promoted to be a “quieter, cleaner, and safer setting”. Still close to Denver, residents could enjoy living near the big city while benefiting from what many considered to be a higher quality of life. By 1885, Highland was declared a city.
In 1887, John and Mary Elitch purchased the Chilcott Farm, which was 16 acres of wilderness. Now located at 38th Avenue and Tennyson Street, the farm was used as a garden to grow produce for Elitch’s Palace Dining Room. By 1890, the Elitches had expanded to open their Zoological Gardens and Grand Pavilion Theatre.
Mary Elitch was the first woman to own and operate a zoo and she also managed the theater. Becoming popular attractions in Denver, the Gardens and theater were relocated to Downtown Denver and rebranded with the name, Elitch Gardens. However, the original Elitch Theater still sits in the Highlands and it is one of the oldest buildings in Denver.
In the decades that followed, the Highlands attracted many immigrants. Reminiscent of the Scots with the name “Highlands”, the area also became a home for the English, Germans, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Italians, Hispanics, and Latinos.
There are many ways to spend the day in the Highlands. The area is well-known for its urban eateries and bars as well as a few neighborhood attractions. Many tourists will be interested in simply walking up and down the streets to view the stunning architecture from the Victorian era.
Displayed on homes and businesses throughout the Highlands, taking an architecture tour is a great way to learn more about the neighborhoods. Visitors should check out specific attractions like Highlands Square, the Highland Bridge, Highland Park, brewery tours, shopping, and the Highland Street Fair.
Showcasing the best of local businesses and artists, the Highlands is one of the most charming destinations on the outskirts of Downtown Denver.
One distinct district in the Highlands is called Highlands Square. Located at 32nd and Lowell, Highlands Square is a popular destination for residents and tourists. Flocking to enjoy the restaurants, bars, and shops, visitors can spend the day exploring the heart of the Highlands.
Amongst the permanent businesses in Highlands Square, there are also a few special events held throughout the year including the Highlands Street Fair and Highlands Farmers Market.
Held for one day, typically at the end of June, the Highlands Street Fair has been running for nearly 40 years. Promoted as the Highlands “very own block party”, the street fair is a time for local businesses and restaurants to showcase their best products. Free for everyone and family-friendly, the Highlands Street Fair includes live music performances and fun activities.
Beginning in late May and lasting until mid-October, the Highlands Farmers Market is held every week on Sunday. Featuring produce that was “grown in Colorado”, vendors have an array of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. Other tasty goods include pastries and bread.
Set up in the street, many of the local businesses will open their doors for the Farmers Market and there are setups for live music too. Suitable for the whole family and all ages, the Highlands Farmers Market is a great way to enjoy summer and fall Sundays.
Providing a direct connection between the Highlands and Downtown Denver, the Highland Bridge is a pedestrian-only walkway that spans 323 ft (98.5 m) and goes over Interstate 25. The bridge was first opened in 2006 and has become a popular attraction in both LoHi and Downtown Denver. Located between Platte and Central St, the bridge is also an extension of the 16th Street Mall.
Breaking up the rows of houses is Highland Park, which is bordered by a residential area and Federal Boulevard. Consisting of mostly grass, it’s a great place to take a walk or have a picnic while viewing some of the area’s historic architecture. For easier access, there’s a wide walking path that wraps around the entire park.
A great place to take kids, Highland Park also has a playground and public library branch called Woodbury. Visitors in Denver can spend time reading books in the library or register for a temporary Computer User Card.
Highlands Brewery Tours
There are many breweries in the Highlands and most offer public tours. A fun activity where visitors can learn more and support local Denver businesses, brewery tours are popular daytime activities in the neighborhoods. Although alcoholic beverages are at the forefront, many brewing companies offer non-alcoholic beverages too which ensures that their tours are friendly to all visitors.
Some of the best breweries in the Highlands are the Zuni Street Brewing Company, Prost Brewing Co. & Biergarten, Oasis Brewing Co., and the Denver Beer Co Platte Street.
Still in operation, the Elitch Theatre is a famous landmark in Denver and the Highlands. Restored 15 times throughout the years, visitors will marvel at the 130-year-old structure and its architecture.
Events that are still held at the theater include special historic tours, movie nights, and community programs. A schedule of current and upcoming events, as well as tickets, can be found on the theater’s main website.
Visitors who are looking to make unique purchases will love shopping in the Highlands. Throughout the neighborhoods, there are many boutique stores that specialize in clothing, jewelry, books, toys, gifts, and more. Most of the shops in the Highland neighborhoods are quite small and locally owned.
Visitors spending the day perusing the neighborhood can hop from store to store as they walk along the main avenues. A few of the best shops in the Highlands include the Ruby Jane Boutique, Rustic Thread Boutique, Kate Maller Jewelry, Wordshop, 32nd Avenue Books, and Common Era.
Vibrant and full of life, the Highlands is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations outside of Downtown Denver. People have been charmed by the neighborhood’s unique architecture, as well as its multitude of restaurants and shops. Attractive to all ages, the Highlands is guaranteed to shine in the spotlight for years to come.