Tucked midway between Boulder and Longmont lies charming Niwot, an unincorporated town with a main street that looks straight out of a movie. In fact, its historic downtown served as a stand-in for 1960s Manteca, California, in the 2016 film “Dear Eleanor.”
Driving down the Diagonal, if you blink you might miss it, but keep your eyes peeled for the vintage CB&Q Caboose off Highway 119, because Niwot holds a wealth of rewards and surprises.
As every Coloradan knows, the Centennial State is for exploring. Despite the number of quaint mountain towns ripe for a half-day excursion, gas prices may scare you into staying put. Enter Niwot: all the charm of a storybook mountain town without the stress on your vehicle. Less than 10 miles from either Boulder or Longmont, Niwot is the perfect escape just a few minutes from either city, giving Boulder County residents an easy respite for dinner out or a peaceful afternoon of shopping. Here are our picks for a perfect day in Niwot.
A Brief History of Niwot’s Arapaho Namesake
With a population of 4,306 as of the 2020 census and an elevation of 5,167 feet, the town of Niwot was named for Chief Niwot, a prominent Arapaho leader, multi-linguist and diplomat. The land where Niwot now sits was Arapaho territory until the mid-1800s, when the Colorado Gold Rush attracted prospectors to the area. Despite Chief Niwot’s efforts to negotiate peace between Indigenous nations and white settlers, John Evans, the Colorado territory’s governor, ordered the southern Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes to relocate to southeast Colorado. Shortly thereafter, the Third Colorado Regiment and troops from Fort Lyon infiltrated the Indigenous camp and violently killed hundreds of Arapaho and Cheyenne people in the Sand Creek Massacre, including Chief Niwot. In English, Niwot translates to “left-handed,” inspiring the names for Left Hand Creek, Left Hand Canyon and Left Hand Brewing Co.
Kickstart Your Morning in Niwot
If you like to start your day with a hearty breakfast, head to The Garden Gate Cafe in Cottonwood Square. This locally owned and operated breakfast and lunch spot serves up benedicts, omelets, crepes and Southwest specialties every day from 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.
If you’re a get-up-and-go kind of person, hit the Niwot Loop Trail, an easy and mostly flat 3.4-mile trail that offers stunning views of the Front Range. The path is perfect for walking, running or biking, and leashed dogs are allowed. Access is available from the Monarch Trailhead at 7700 Monarch Rd. or at the Niwot Loop Trailhead off N 79th St. near State Highway 52.
After all that fresh air and exercise, grab a cup of joe at Niwot’s beloved downtown coffee shop, The Old Oak Coffee House, before a leisurely stroll down Second Avenue for some shopping and sightseeing.
Shopping Abounds in Niwot’s Historic Downtown
Spend the late morning or early afternoon perusing the sweet shops in Historic Old Town Niwot.
Little Bird Boutique carries a wonderful selection of original art and goods from local artisans, such as Wallaroo Hats, a Boulder-based, women-owned hat company inspired by Australian-style, sun-protective headgear. Stop in to get a close look at the beautifully woven handbags by Manos Zapotecas, a fair trade fashion brand that supports over 50 artisan weavers in the Zapotec village of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Stepping inside Few of a Kind Vintage and Mercantile is like stumbling into a pine forest – full of delightful sights and scents. Owner Angie Miltersen opened this delightful boutique inside a 100-year-old historic blacksmith shop with the hope of bringing “the magic of retail back,” she says. She has certainly accomplished her mission with her thoughtfully curated collection of small-batch and one-of-a-kind gifts for the home, from sophisticated bar accessories to artisanal paper goods.
Inside the old Niwot Tribune building on the corner of Second Avenue and Franklin Street, shoppers will find a colorful bookshop filled with delights for the young and young at heart. At The Wandering Jellyfish Bookshop, you’ll find children’s literature titles galore, as well as young adult novels and a small section of books for more advanced readers.
Explore Niwot’s Art Scene
Tucked inside a brick building that once housed a church, Osmosis Gallery occupies the studio space of Osmosis Architecture, an award-winning firm founded by owner and architect, Anne Postle. The gallery space showcases the work of over 40 Colorado artists, from paintings to jewelry to blown glass pieces that are sure to elevate your home. The gallery also participates in the annual “Why Not Niwot?” art show, which gives local and regional artists a chance to submit original works that capture the spirit of Niwot. Submissions are displayed in businesses throughout downtown Niwot, and a winner is chosen by a panel of judges. There’s also a People’s Choice round of voting by way of passports that can be picked up at the gallery.
At the end of Second Avenue, you’ll find a pair of tree sculptures by the late artist Eddie Running Wolf. A committee of Niwot residents raised money and commissioned Running Wolf to carve depictions of the Cheyenne and Arapaho people from dying willow trees, which would have otherwise been removed. The purpose of the project, which started in 2007, was to honor Chief Niwot and the tribes that formerly inhabited the land that is now the town of Niwot. Running Wolf died in 2020 and, in October 2021, the first of three sculptures, Bitoheinen, which translates in English to “Spear Lodge Man,” was removed for restoration, as weather and the elements had begun to deteriorate the wood. At press time, two sculptures remain: Nisiitenoot Nii’eihiiho, or “Eagle Catcher,” and Cheyenne Ma’heonehetane, or “Holy Man.” Word is the remaining two sculptures will also undergo the restoration process and be relocated, along with “Spear Lodge Man,” to a new weatherproof home. Do yourself a favor and see these gorgeous and poignant works in their original spot while you still can.
Continue down Niwot Road to the Niwot Sculpture Park and Outdoor Gallery, at the west corner of Niwot Road and N 79th Street. Launched in 2018, the Sculpture Park features community-sourced sculptures on loan from the artists for 12 months. Sculptures are available to purchase through Osmosis Gallery.
Grab Some Lunch in Niwot’s Cottonwood Square
Head to nearby Cottonwood Square for a plethora of lunch options. We suggest checking out Niwot Market, an independent, family-owned grocery with a deli counter, coffee roasted in-house and everything you need to build a memorable picnic. Outside the entrance to the market, you’ll find a spacious outdoor patio with plenty of tables for dining al fresco.
Craving sashimi? You’ll be delighted to find the Sachi Sushi counter at the back of Niwot Market. After garnering extensive experience at Boulder’s famous Sushi Tora, Osaka-born chef Tsukasa Hibino opened his own spot. Enjoy freshly-prepared sushi to enjoy in the market or take it to go at the sushi counter, which is open every day except Tuesday. Ramen lovers should plan to stop in on a Sunday – that’s the only day they serve up piping hot noodles.
Don’t worry if sushi or picnicking is not your bag: Cottonwood Square has something for everybody. Discover Fan’s Chinese Cuisine, Subway, Winot Coffee Company, Niwot Tavern, Raza Fresa Mexican Kitchen and Abo’s Pizza (currently under construction following a fire, but expected to reopen. Follow their Facebook page for updates), all conveniently located in this central shopping center.
Happy Hour in Niwot, CO
On the lookout for a libation? Niwot boasts several happy hour options.
Happy hour is an ideal time to try out the upscale Farow. Between 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, choose from discounted specialty cocktails and select wine and beer, along with reasonably priced pub snacks like marinated olives and fried pickles. Order a Buckner Ranch burger ($10) and steak fries ($5) if you’re feeling famished.
Not only does Raza Fresa Mexican Kitchen host a happy hour every weekday from 2:30-5:30 p.m., offering discounted margaritas, drafts and house wine by the glass, but they also have generous daily specials like Taco Tuesday, Enchilada Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday (all-day happy hour).
The venerated Niwot Tavern offers happy hour from 2-6 p.m. daily with $3.95 appetizers and discounted drinks. Choose from 12 beers on tap, many of which are rotating kegs from local craft breweries.
If the vibe is more important than drink discounts, be sure to check out the hidden gem, Fritz Family Brewers, tucked in the back of Cottonwood Square. New to Niwot as of July 2021, the brewery is a true mom-and-pop business. The modern and inviting space pays homage to traditional German style, and their menu of lagers and ales is perfect for an afternoon pint with friends.
Dinner in Niwot
There are many wonderful dinner options in Niwot, from upscale and sustainably sourced to casual and reliable. Here are a few of our favorites for a dinner out in Niwot.
Recipient of the Slow Foods Snail of Approval Award, Farow enjoys the unique claim of ethically sourcing 90 percent of its ingredients within 10 miles of the restaurant. That means they serve the highest quality food available and support local farmers. With a frequently rotating menu, the culinary team at Farow introduces two to three new dishes every week. Regulars often rave about the house focaccia of the day and steak tartare, but with fresh, seasonal produce and pasta made in-house with locally milled flour from Moxie in North Boulder, you won’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Owner and pastry chef Lisa Balcom strongly recommends leaving room for dessert, such as the triple chocolate mousse or molasses bread pudding.
Located in Old Town Niwot inside a two-story historic building, 1914 House proudly serves contemporary American cuisine and commits to locally and sustainably grown ingredients with a focus on culinary innovation. Start with the mussels in a fennel and saffron broth, served with crostini for dipping, then move on to 1914’s sophisticated take on classics such as eggplant parmesan, or dig into a grilled 14-ounce wasabi ribeye.
Casual and Delicious
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and, for Niwot residents, that’s Niwot Tavern, a neighborhood favorite since 2005. Enjoy elevated pub staples like shepherd’s pie or meatloaf, get a little adventurous with an udon noodle bowl, or build your own mac and cheese masterpiece. Everything on the menu is excellent, freshly prepared and served with a smile.
With an extensive menu of delicious Mexican specialties, Raza Fresa Mexican Kitchen may be one of the best restaurants of its kind along the Front Range. Whether you’re going for the relleno burrito, smothered in cheese, green chili and sour cream, or the lighter yet still hearty carne asada salad, you won’t go home hungry.
Night Out in Niwot
Believe it or not, there is nightlife in typically quiet Niwot. The Wheel House hosts live music, open mic and trivia nights multiple days each week. Check their calendar for the timing of their weekly events. This unique gathering space features a bar serving a robust menu of specialty cocktails, drafts and wines, as well as Niwot Wheel Works, an appointment-only bike shop. Be sure to try out their partner kitchen, La Musette, a farm-to-table food truck offering a rotating menu of eats like ramen, pizza and charcuterie boards.
Stay and Relax in Luxury at Niwot Inn and Spa
If you decide to stay the weekend, Niwot Inn and Spa has you covered. Treat yourself to a couple of nights of luxury at this upscale, rustic bed and breakfast. Each of the 13 guest rooms features a natural stone fireplace and custom furniture hand-crafted by local artisans. Depending on your preference, you can request a room with a steam shower, jetted Jacuzzi tub or heated toilet seat. A staycation at this stately lodge includes a continental breakfast in the mornings and wine and cheese hour every evening; you can also conveniently book a massage on-site.
Niwot Festivals and Seasonal Events
The heart and soul of Niwot is its community events. Summer, in particular, is an ideal time to witness the spirit of Niwot— this is when the town truly comes alive.
Feb. 11, 1-5 p.m.
This store-to-store tasting event features over 30 varieties of wines, beers and culinary surprises, hosted by merchants along Cottonwood and Second Avenue. Tickets: $30.
On Thursday nights from June through August, pack your lawn chair and head to Whistle Stop Park starting at 5 p.m. for happy hour and opening music, followed by a headlining performance at 6:30 p.m. This well-attended series was a 2007 recipient of a Governor’s Award for Downtown Excellence for Best Performance Event.
First Friday Art Walk
Every first Friday of the summer months, Osmosis Art & Architecture and the Niwot Cultural Arts Association host a town-wide celebration of the arts. Often serenaded by musical street performers and bands, local businesses stay open late and offer refreshments to art patrons, and the gallery features new exhibits each month featuring Colorado artists.
Every summer Friday, enjoy a free salsa or swing dancing class at Cottonwood Square (Niwot Road and 79th Street) at 7 p.m., followed by free social dancing with music by a live DJ. There’s plenty of free parking, and the surrounding restaurants are open to grab a bite when your feet get tired. Check the event calendar on niwot.com for details.
Niwot at a Glance
A directory of the best Niwot has to offer.
Art Galleries and Installations in Niwot
Animal Tree Sculptures
Put the kids on assignment to spot a squirrel, fox, owl, bear and eagle around Cottonwood Square.
West corner of Niwot Road and N 79th Street
Launched in 2018, the Sculpture Park features community-sourced sculptures on loan from the artists for 12 months. Sculptures are available to purchase through Osmosis Gallery.
290 Second Avenue
Gallery space showcasing the work of over 40 Colorado artists, from paintings to jewelry to blown glass pieces that are sure to elevate your home.
Tree Sculptures by Eddie Running Wolf
Second Avenue and Niwot Road
After Bitoheinen, “Spear Lodge Man,” was removed for restoration, two sculptures remain as of press time: Nisiitenoot Nii’eihiiho, or “Eagle Catcher,” and Cheyenne Ma’heonehetane, or “Holy Man.” The tree carvings, by the late artist Eddie Running Wolf, are depictions of the Arapaho and Cheyenne people who formerly inhabited the land that is now Niwot.
Outdoor Fun in Niwot
4400 Lake Valley Drive
Private golf club that’s fun, casual and affordable with easy-to-book tee times and brisk play. Non-members are welcome to dine at Persimmon Grill during their opening hours (Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and for beverage service Mondays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
101 First Avenue
Managed by the non-profit Niwot Cultural Arts Association, this beautiful, shaded playground features natural landscaping, safe play structures and a distinctive wooly mammoth.
Easy, 3.4-mile loop trail for walking, running and biking. Leashed dogs are allowed. The trail is mostly flat with great views of the Front Range. Bring plenty of water and keep a map on hand. Access is available from the Monarch Trailhead at 7700 Monarch Road or at the Niwot Loop Trailhead off N 79th Street near State Highway 52.
Whistle Stop Park
Murray Street & First Avenue
Best known for hosting the popular summer concert series, Rock & Rails, Whistle Stop Park is a small park off the Diagonal Highway featuring a vintage CB&Q Caboose and gazebo stage.
7960 Niwot Road, Suite A2-B
Floral design studio providing custom arrangements for weddings and events.
124 Second Avenue
Beautifully curated shop with high quality, artisanal goods and gifts, with an elegant, Colorado woodland flair.
7960 Niwot Road, Suite B-1
A home décor & gift boutique in Niwot’s Cottonwood Square.
7960 Niwot Road, Suite B-3
New, gently used and out-of-print books for readers of all ages located in Cottonwood Square.
7915 Niwot Road
Made-to-order gift baskets for any occasion. Choose from hundreds of gift packages or custom-design your own.
112 Second Avenue
Thoughtfully selected art, clothing and gifts from local and independent artists and artisans.
7960 Niwot Road, Suite D-15
Collaborative boutique offering clothing, gifts and accessories from over 20 small businesses.
300 Second Avenue #102
Family-owned, full-service jewelry store with a complete line of treasures from affordable to extravagant. They also offer jewelry repair.
7980 Niwot Road
Located just inside the entrance to Niwot Market, Pebble Art Jewelry showcases beautifully handmade jewelry by local artists, Kate Head, Jill Hadley and Pam Tennant, using natural stones, semiprecious gems and glass.
6924 N 79th Street
Opened in 2017, Star Buds remains the only dispensary serving Niwot. In this clean and inviting space, the Star Buds team prioritizes the customer experience as well as safety and compliance, also offering competitive pricing on their cannabis products. When you stop in, be sure to sign up for their rewards program.
198 Second Avenue, Suite 1A
Locally-owned, community-oriented independent bookshop offering books, toys and gifts.
190 Second Avenue
Offering 3,500 square feet of vintage antiques, restored furniture and retro collectibles such as glassware, antique posters and paintings, alongside the largest on-site selection of wood fireplace mantels in Colorado.
Eat & Drink
121 Second Avenue
American cuisine with a focus on locally grown, high-quality ingredients, plus seasonal produce.
7960 Niwot Road Suite B5
Niwot outpost of the famed original location in Boulder serves authentic New York-style pie. Currently closed for construction following a fire, Abo’s is expected to reopen. Follow their Facebook page for updates.
200 Second Avenue
Authentic Italian cuisine and comfort food, made from scratch.
7960 Niwot Road
Modern interpretations of classic Chinese dishes, using high-quality, fresh ingredients. Offering dine-in service as well as takeout and delivery to Niwot and Longmont.
7916 Niwot Road
Hyper-local, seasonal restaurant offering a rotating menu based on Colorado produce.
6778 N 79th Street
Modern and inviting space paying homage to traditional German style, with a menu of lagers and ales.
7960 Niwot Road, Suite B-4
Breakfast and lunch spot offering a large menu of hearty meals and espresso drinks.
364 Second Avenue
Locally owned and operated pizzeria, Italian restaurant and ice cream parlor serving Niwot for 28 years.
361 Second Avenue
Small but mighty local stop for beer and spirits with a robust wine selection.
7980 Niwot Road
Independent, family-owned grocery offering aisles of delights, full-service deli offering breakfast and lunch, in-house roasted coffee, bakery and freshly made grab-and-go meals.
7960 Niwot Road, Suite D-12
Neighborhood favorite since 2005, offering elevated pub staples, inventive comfort dishes and local brews on tap.
136 Second Avenue, Unit B
Cozy coffeehouse in Niwot’s historic downtown, featuring espresso drinks, drip coffee, teas, baked goods and paninis along with an array of other breakfast and lunch items. They also serve wine, beer and hard seltzer, and have a happy hour on Saturdays from 4-6 p.m. Check their website for live music and events.
4400 Lake Valley Drive
Located at Lake Valley Golf Club, Persimmon Grill is open to the public for dining on the deck and in the grill. They also offer curbside takeout.
300 Second Avenue
Newest addition to the Pinocchio’s franchise, serving staple Italian dishes for dine-in, take out and catering.
7960 Niwot Road, Suite D-11
Extensive menu of delicious Mexican specialties, with daily specials and happy hour on weekdays.
7980 Niwot Road
This fresh, affordable sushi counter inside Niwot Market also serves bowls of their celebrated hot ramen on Sundays.
101 Second Avenue
Unique gathering space featuring a full-service bar offering specialty cocktails, drafts and wines. Their in-house kitchen, La Musette, is a farm-to-table food truck offering a rotating menu of eats like ramen, pizza and charcuterie boards.
Winot Coffee Company
7960 Niwot Road, Suite D13
Coffee shop offering traditional and specialty espresso drinks, coffee, tea and baked goods.
Stay & Relax
342 Second Avenue
Upscale-rustic bed and breakfast with thirteen guest rooms featuring a natural stone fireplace and custom furniture hand-crafted by local artisans. Enjoy a healthy continental breakfast and nightly wine and cheese hour with your stay, and book on-site spa treatments.
361 Second Avenue, #204
Day spa offering therapeutic massage, custom facials, detox treatments, waxing and foot reflexology. Sante Day Spa uses the highest quality essential oils from Provence and all over the world.