By Angie Grenz
Admittedly, a solid exploration of downtown Fort Collins would take much longer than a day. You could arguably spend three to four days in our largest Northern Colorado city and not get bored. You probably wouldn’t even be able to make it to all my favorite restaurants. But, man oh man, the fun you could have trying. Before moving to Loveland, my husband and I lived right on the outskirts of downtown Fort Collins, and we would frequently bike down in the evenings for dinner or a patio happy hour. In fact, I would try to do most everything downtown so that I rarely had to tackle cross town traffic. But when I ran into people who would say the same about south Fort Collins or midtown, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe there were residents who rarely came downtown to explore. Well, this guide is for you!
If Old Town Square is the heart of downtown, then College Avenue is the femoral artery that supports it, and surrounding streets like Pine Street, Walnut Street and Linden Street are all important arteries that connect it and make the area vibrant. We started our tour in the Square, where children were running through the splash pad and adults were sitting in the shade drinking their coffees and gossiping. We hopped into Little Bird Bakeshop to fuel up on caffeine and strategize our adventure. There were four of us: Sales Representative Sydney Edwards, Marketing Coordinator Jordan Secher, and our intern Emma Schmitke, in addition to me. It was another 95-degree Colorado day, so iced coffees and lattes were the drink of choice on this day in late July.
Little Bird is one of those great coffee shops that instantly feels friendly and comfortable. Their doors open onto the square, large windows make it bright and sunny, and their pastry and bread cases are swoon worthy. We indulged in a small PB&J tart and a zucchini walnut lemon glazed muffin. If you are a peanut butter lover, the tart was spot on. Just enough sweet from the jam and the philo-type dough to balance all that rich peanut butter. Of course, we ended up watching the action in the square more than perfecting our plan of attack, but that is OK—downtown Fort Collins is made all the more charming when you let your feet take you in a direction and just let your mind enjoy the people watching and shopping.
Check out our latest NOCO Explore video in Downtown Fort Collins!
Our first stop after Little Bird was a relatively new offering downtown, Domistyle Home, located on Linden Street. The furniture and décor store opened just a couple years ago, surviving the pandemic shutdown and a lot of public economic uncertainty.
The store inhabits the old Wright Life shop, which has moved to the back of the building. Domistyle features modern designs with a lot of texture. Sofas to accent tables, there are plenty of vignettes that are great for design inspo and their smaller items, from candles to jewelry, are distinctive. Sadly, I didn’t leave with a new coffee table, but I did score a hand-painted journal and a pair of earrings.
After Domistyle, we continued down Linden to the end of the blockand turned around to come back down the other side. We stopped briefly at Ciao Vino, a wine bar that was opening back up the following week after a seven-year hiatus. The new space is quaint and bright, with an emphasis on small bites and paired wines in a social space. We made a plan to return once they are fully open.
We popped into Nature’s Own next, a gift shop and rock lover’s paradise. Adults and children alike ooh and ahh over the array of stones, geodes, fossils and more. It is the sort of place that an hour can slip by unnoticed while you take in its many wonders. It certainly brought out the children in us.
Next, we turned the corner to Walnut Street to check out Wright Life’s new location. Though the shop is smaller, it still carries a variety of disk golf paraphernalia, skateboards and sportswear. A pair of disk-golf-themed socks went home with me for the husband.
Walking back through the square to College Avenue, we shopped through clothing boutique Cira, window shopped the Trimble Court Artisans gallery and reminisced about past visits to NOCO’s tiniest bar, the Town Pump.
Once on College, we stopped to shop at the Bean Cycle and their Half Crown Creative Space and Makerfolk shop. Featuring handmade, local goods, the shop is a great place for gifts, cards, pottery and more.
Next door, we ran into Kansas City Kitty and perused their women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories before heading down the street to Next Door American Eatery for a late lunch. In my opinion, Next Door has the best lunch patio in all downtown Fort Collins, but the day’s oppressive heat pushed us inside at a large, comfy table. With fresh, modern décor and just a hint of glamour, Next Door is a gorgeous dining spot with an eclectic, global menu.
We happened to hit their Wednesday all day happy hour and scored a few drinks and sliders off the menu. The table ordered lamb and meatballs, a Greek salad and their green curry. Each dish was well seasoned and a welcome change of pace from the typical lunch sandwich. Of course, cocktails like their classic margarita, Sangria Rosada and Cheeky Bastard made our lunch a festive event.
After lunch, the crew had to call it a day, so I came back down with my husband and a couple of friends for dinner the following Tuesday. We made reservations at a favorite spot of mine, The Regional. Unbeknownst to me, we happened upon another all-day happy hour and took full advantage. While The Regional offers some great weekend specials, their regular menu is no slouch and we enjoyed raw oysters, mussels, a $10 burger, beer and shot special, and (my personal stand out) the fried oyster mushroom, wonderfully fried crispy with a great dill sour cream. The food is fresh, seasonal and never disappoints. And Taylor, at the bar, makes a mean cocktail, often featuring his homemade bitters
Shopping: The Cupboard is an iconic kitchen and home store; a true local institution. Sunday Supply Co. specializes in comfy-trendy women’s clothing. All Sales Vinyl is a used record store. Clothes Pony & Dandelion Toys is an epic toy store with a live-in lop-eared bunny and a huge selection of the coolest toys.
Happy Hour: Jax Fish House has the best happy hour anywhere, but the dinner menu is generally fantastic as well. The Crown Pub is another go-to. Their small patio is also perfectly positioned to be the first to get the good sun in early spring, and their live jazz is fantastic for after-dinner entertainment.
Dinner: Rare Italian’s handmade pasta and the 32 oz. sharable Fiorentina steak are definitely worth checking out. The Still Whiskey Steaks is a more casual option, but the food is top-notch.
Art: Museum of Art Mountain Avenue
Breakfast: Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, is dynamite for breakfast and I strongly recommend adding a side of pancakes to any order. Worth all the calories!
Hit up Walrus Ice Cream if you have the kids along, or even if you have Fido—they offer a scoop for the pups! Rio Grande Mexican restaurant is famous, or infamous, for their margaritas with a three-margarita limit. However, my true favorite is the Margarita Martini with Herradura, lime and a splash of olive juice. And, if you are a lightweight, they do offer mini-size margaritas.
Silver Grill Cafe, one of my all-time favorite breakfast joints. They have been around longer than most locals and they continue to put out great food at a decent price in a great setting. Walnut Street is a great little street to wander; it features Old Firehouse Books, antique and artisan store Walnut Creek (checkout their upstairs, a mix of art, antiques and more), screen print T-shirt shop Akinz, and more.
From Walnut, head over to Pine Street. This incredibly short and totally cool street has the retail side of Welsh Rabbit cheese shop (their restaurant sits on Walnut), Nuance Chocolate, Little Horse Vintage (full of antiques, books, vinyl and more). There is also an entrance to The Exchange from Pine, where you can find restaurants, CopperMuse Distillery, Churn Ice Cream and more. This open-air plaza space also features a go-cup arrangement,
where you can walk the social area with your alcoholic beverage in hand—great for parents who want to relax while the kids play or enjoy an ice cream.
Other highlights: Choice City Butcher & Deli on Olive Street: great sandwiches and an extensive beer list. Restaurant 415 on Mason Street features great farm-to-table grub and Change Everything a couple doors down has great home décor and furniture from around the world. Nearby Meldrum Street features Lucile’s, a Creole-inspired breakfast and lunch spot. And the corner of Oak and Howes Streets is the location of the Saturday morning farmers’ market that is one of the largest in Northern Colorado.
Where to spend the night: Fort Collins is fortunate to have two downtown, boutique hotels. The Armstrong, on College Avenue, sits in a historic building with quaint rooms and a speak-easy style restaurant in the basement and patio dining on the street. The Elizabeth Hotel, located on Chestnut Street, is a music-themed boutique hotel with a fine dining restaurant, rooftop bar and music venue. Both hotels make for a luxury stay in downtown FOCO and offer the convenience of a walk-to-everything location. In fact, my husband and I are planning a little staycation soon to reacquaint ourselves with all of downtown’s nooks and crannies.
No doubt most communities are enjoying a resurgence of neighborhood camaraderie, but downtown Johnstown is a small, tight-knit community that likes it that way.
If you love good food and shopping, a vibrant art scene and a craft cocktail, Downtown Loveland should not be overlooked on your next free afternoon.
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