Urban perks with outdoor access in Denver, Lone Star bohemia in Austin, and a “big” city in Big Sky country
Urban Perks, Outdoor Access
EAST HIGHLAND / DENVER, CO
Denver has long struggled with a cow town inferiority complex. Upscale restaurants feel out of place alongside taquerias, and it’s tough to tell if neon beer signs signify dive-bar irony or square-state interior design. But in burgeoning East Highland, Colorado’s capital finally has its own Brooklyn. Overlooking the downtown skyline, E-Hi’s brick brownstones, row houses, and modern condominium complexes are bringing in single professionals who party like grown-ups, couples who aren’t quite ready to settle down, and young families who are looking for a little more color than they might find in the increasingly beige neighborhoods of Cherry Creek or Washington Park. Up the 15th Street hill is the neighborhood’s core, where unique restaurants and bars are multiplying at such a clip that the area has already established itself as the destination district for the rest of the city. While Mexican grocery stores and cheap, tasty taquerias flourish, Vita’s rooftop terrace is usually packed with the city’s smart set (but without the attitude), and high-end Mexican place Lola offers up a new twist on tacos, with an excellent view of the downtown skyline. Locals know oddly shaped Little Man Ice Cream as “the giant milk can,” and Root Down, the city’s most interesting new restaurant, is a rehabbed gas station with a mod-retro vibe. Some would argue that it has taken Denver this long to find its city sensibility because the Rockies are all about Eddie Bauer and not Hugo Boss; but even if you ask the city’s outdoor obsessives where they¹d most like to spend their downtime, they’ll say it doesn¹t get much more convenient than this neighborhood notched between I-25 and I-70. A-Basin is about 90 minutes away, door-to-door, and the South Platte River Greenway, a five-minute downhill spin from the center of East Highland, offers the best urban biking in town. For a midweek fix, check out the 45-foot-high climbing wall at REI’s massive flagship store, housed in an impressive century-old brick building. Or, for those who prefer escaping farther into the city, a new pedestrian footbridge handily links East Highland to LoDo (Lower Downtown) high-rises and nightclubs, along with Coors Field, the city’s beautiful retro ballpark.
- Luc Hatlestad
Median Home Price: $270,470
Cost of Living: 2% higher
Sunny Days: 245
12-hour Test Drive: Lone Star Bohemia
CHERRYWOOD / AUSTIN, TX
While there’s plenty of culture here, this is a tight-knit corner of Austin with a small-town Texas feel—instant APBs are issued when a neighbor’s dog or cat goes missing. 8 am: Start with coffee at Clementine; the lime-and-tangerine-colored building will wake you if the caffeine doesn’t. The post-WWII concrete and stucco houses in the area are painted colors that would worry any HOA. 9 am: For breakfast go to Cherrywood Coffeehouse for a taco: El Sol, piled high with eggs, cheese, and chorizo. 11 am: Head over to Mueller, a mixed-use urban development, and get lost in the vast expanse of parks (140 acres’ worth). 4 pm: Check out the Blanton Museum of Art on the nearby UT campus. 7 pm: Grab dinner at the Eastside Café, which grows its own veggies out back and offers fine dining in a beautiful old house.
- Spike Gillespie
Median Home Price: $165,200
Cost of Living: 5% lower
Sunny Days: 229
My ‘Hood: A Big City in Big Sky Country
SOUTH MISSOULA / MT
Until I moved to Missoula (pop. 64,000) from my home in the backwoods—to which I’ll return after our daughters finish up at their excellent Missoula high schools—I had heard the comparisons to Paris and assumed they were overblown. I don’t think so now. The food’s as good, the arts scene is about as vibrant as you can stand, and there’s even a kind of Left Bank/Right Bank thing happening on respective sides of the Clark Fork River. While you’ll even find arrondissements, each with a distinct personality, on either side, mine hasn’t picked up a cute name yet. It’s sort of a neighborhood between neighborhoods, near the university and Pattee Canyon in the south of the city. After half a year I’m learning my spots: the incredible bakery Great Harvest, where a free sample takes me through lunch, and Dan’s Barber Shop, where there’s never a wait and for $10 I get the number 2 razor to shear what little hair I have left. You couldn’t ask for a nicer place to wait out the responsibilities of parenthood. Music at the Badlander, a burger at the Missoula Club, a croissant at Le Petit Outre, a fundraiser to elect a local fishing guide to state office, and the week’s gone. With so many opportunities it’s hard to even establish a routine. I look forward to my return to the woods, but in the meantime, it¹s as great a place to suffer as any.
- Rick Bass
Median Home Price: $186,250
Cost of Living: 2% lower
Sunny Days: 158
Four More Neighborhoods
Santa Fe, NM
The railyard district in this mountain and arts paradise offers superquick access to the myriad hiking and biking trails that wind their way around Atalaya Mountain. Its new pedestrianized collection of shops, galleries, and restaurants is within walking distance of the city’s downtown plaza and is still a primary gathering place for locals.
America’s second-biggest bike-commuting city now has the country’s best new bike trail. The Midtown Greenway, a 5.7-mile path that follows a railroad corridor, connects Midtown¹s affordability with the best culture and recreation in the city. New condo developments—such as the stunning 364-unit art deco Midtown Exchange—have brought it all together.
With century-old homes, an old-school vibe, and proximity to the river, Pilsen stands out along a largely high-rise-developed South Loop. It’s a haven for young artists, with lofts springing up between colorful murals depicting scenes from Mexican history and houses that survived the 1877 fire. Check out new art at the galleries on Halsted near 18th Street, or for something a little more lowbrow, grab authentic Mexican and then football at nearby Soldier Field.
The city is surrounded by mountains, so sprawl is limited, which forces the rediscovery of old neighborhoods—and soaring rents. NOBO (North Boulder), however, is a great option for those looking for a way in. Coffee shops teem with road bikers before they tackle steep Highway 36, and residents enjoy sweeping views and a straight shot along Broadway to downtown.
*All statistics according to Bestplaces.net
This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Men’s Journal.