Popularly known as a “college town” and for its BBQ, Columbia, Missouri, is also one of the best places to live in America—whether you’re a student or not. As three colleges call Columbia home, its college town appeal and vibe are certainly the driving forces behind this town’s energy.
According to Forbes, Columbia is also considered one of the top places to retire in America. So if Columbia is one of America’s best places to live in, isn’t it one of the best destinations to visit? Absolutely!
Ever been to Columbia, MO? If not, fear not. We’ve done some digging into stuff to do in Columbia, MO—home to several breweries, 200 restaurants, over 70 city parks, and 10 annual festivals. Here are 14 of the best things to do while you’re in Columbia, MO—even if you don’t live there.
Dine at Flat Branch
Ribs, catfish, sandwiches, burgers, and brick oven pizzas are some of the dishes you’ll find at Flat Branch Restaurant. Flat Branch is found on south 5th Street and first opened its doors in 1994 in downtown Columbia. Since then, it’s grown into one of the best restaurants in Columbia. Enjoy sitting on the patio while sipping homemade beers that include the unique green chili beer and classic pale ale.
Take a Tour of the Mizzou Campus
You’ve got to tour the Mizzou Campus even if it’s just once. Plenty of lovely trees and open grass areas surround the campus, making it an ideal spot for students to relax. A quick tour through the campus will get you acquainted with some of the best campus sights and activities for students.
In addition, the University of Missouri uses Mizzou Campus as its own botanical garden. Mizzou Campus boasts more than 15 different areas of botanical garden. Some of the best attractions include the Wildlife Pond, Mel Carnahan Quadrangle, and Garden on Francis Quadrangle.
Both the institution’s staff and student body are committed to preserving the area’s environment and educating people about the significance of wildlife at Mizzou Campus. This also helps showcase plants that have always been part of University of Missouri’s history.
Blue Note Tour
The Blue Note definitely holds a tune when it comes to renowned music halls. Musical acts such as Chuck Berry, Arctic Monkeys, Young the Giant, and Johnny Cash have all played at this music venue, located on 9th Street. What’s more, the club hosts a free 5-part series every summer known as 9th Street Summerfest.
Do Some Shopping in Downtown Columbia
Spend a few hours at the biggest mall in downtown Columbia, the Columbia Mall. In addition to its 140 stores, other amenities in this mall include a car wash, cafe court, children’s play area, soft seating area, and free Wi-Fi. On the location, you’ll also find Boone’s County Farmers Market, which opens every Wednesday and Saturday from April to October.
Watch Movies at Ragtag Cinema
Hang out at Ragtag Cinema, a local, independent, and non-profit movie theater that houses the not-for-profit Ragtag Film Society. The society promotes media arts and film by supporting local film festivals, works, etc. It reviews movies from all over America and the world to decide on what to show every month.
The theater shows around 12 movies per month, and each one represents a wide spectrum of backgrounds, cultures, and standpoints. The same building houses Uprise Bakery, which offers sandwiches, homemade baked products, and soups. You’re welcome to enjoy dishes from Uprise or drink something stiff while you’re watching your movie.
Visit Shelter Gardens
This award-winning garden sits on 5 acres behind the main headquarters of Shelter Insurance Company. It includes various unique aspects, including a sensory garden that’s built for visually impaired and blind guests. Also, the garden boasts a reflecting pool and waterfall, Vietnam War Veterans monument, a replica single-room school, a large sundial, and lots more.
Shelter Gardens has many types of flowers, shrubs, and trees and is a popular spot for weddings, picnics, strolls, and photography sessions. In the summer, it hosts free shows for the community.
Shelter Gardens offers free admission and opens its doors to the public all year round, making it a pocket-friendly destination in Columbia.
Cheer the Tigers On
Put on black and gold attire and join 71,000 delirious fans who attend football games at University of Missouri on Saturdays every fall. Mizzou fans throng restaurants and bars before and after each home match, and the football games provide a $50 million boost to the area’s economy every year.
Not many Columbia experiences can compare to a football game at University of Missouri’s Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium. Go Tigers!
Tour Stephen’s Lake Park
Stephen’s Lake Park is located east of downtown Columbia, and is a great place to enjoy Columbia’s fresh air. The pride and joy of Stephen’s Lake Park, Stephen’s Lake is an 11-acre waterbody with fishing opportunities, non-motorized boating access, and seasonal swimming beach.
Other great things to do in this park include enjoying the landscaped waterfalls along the pathway and using the paved path that surrounds the water. Complete with an indoor pavilion, outdoor amphitheater, and picnic table shelters, Stephen’s Lake Park is also a hit during the winter with ice skating opportunities and a dream sledding hill.
Finger Lakes State Park
Finger Lakes State Park is home to a slew of outdoor activities not found in many other areas of Missouri. Finger Lakes used to be a strip mine before it was turned into a recreation venue. Visitors to the park can enjoy lake sports, all-terrain vehicle trails, and an escape into nature.
As it’s one of two Missouri state parks that host off-road riders, this park has over 70 miles of pathways to explore via a four-wheeler, all-terrain vehicle, and motorcycle. Apart from the motocross track and abundant off-road trails, Finger Lakes Park offers many namesake water areas to enjoy fishing, swimming, scuba diving, and non-motorized boating.
Canoe and kayak rentals are also available, and lots of fishing holes are found all over the vast area. For an extended stay in Finger Lakes, the park also offers electric and basic campsites complete with up to date restroom facilities.
Columbia Cosmopolitan Park
You can also enjoy Columbia’s outdoors at the city’s largest park, Columbia Cosmopolitan Park. Locals simply call it Cosmo, and it hosts various sporting events such as soccer, football, baseball, and lacrosse. This urban park is also home to a playground, skate parks, and biking trails, making it a family-friendly destination.
Grindstone Nature Area
Located just a few minutes from downtown Columbia and the Mizzou Campus, Grindstone Nature Area is the ideal natural escape from the city for you and your dog.
As one of Columbia’s two leash-free areas, all of Grindstone Nature Area is open for dog owners to explore. Dogs are only required to be on leashes on the Hinkson Creek, the paved trail that’s a hit with bikers. Apart from that, everyone is free to run wild.
Whether you have a dog or not, Grindstone Nature Area offers a scenic setting to kick back and enjoy Columbia’s seasons.
Visit Columbia Art League
Also known simply as CAL, Columbia Art League is a thriving hub of Columbia art scene and culture. Offering kids’ summer camps, adult workshops, and community exhibit plan that puts local art in local businesses, Columbia Art League endeavors to provide more art to everyone.
The Columbia Art League is free to enter, and interested visitors and schools are urged to call in advance for guided tours. The displays at Columbia Art League vary with seasons and may be connected with regional artists, providing something fresh for each visit.
Museum of Anthropology Tour
Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology boasts exhibits associated with ages of Missouri history, including information about Native Americans that used to live in Columbia as well as early and rural Missouri right through the modern era.
Museum of Anthropology also displays artifacts from many different cultures around the planet and its store boasts a collection of fair-trade products from South America, Native America, Africa, China, Poland, and many other regions. Items include yerba mate tea and organic, fair-trade coffee.
Tour Shrylock Callaway Farms
Owned by the Shrylock brothers, Shrylock Callaway Farms is a great country farm where visitors can learn quite a bit about farming. The farm grows numerous cash crops and offers lots of activities throughout the year for anyone who’d like to take part.
Of course, everyone’s favorite season at this farm is the fall. The farm offers an exciting life-size corn maze, pumpkin patches, group hayrides, and other fun family-friendly activities. Don’t miss out on a ride in the 3-story gumball rollercoaster! Moreover, you can buy some of the amazing products on sale or book the venue for private events.
Visit Columbia, MO Today!
Columbia is an enchanting Missouri town that boasts University of Missouri, a lively downtown district, as well as plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities. During your visit to this town, you can take a hike, view local art, or enjoy live music. You’ll have a whale of a time enjoying these attractions in Columbia, Missouri.
Haron Omaita is a freelance writer from Nakuru, Kenya, who specializes in ghostwriting, guest blogging, copywriting, proofreading, and editing. As a keen traveler and whole foods aficionado, he also contributes insightful travel and tourism articles to Better Wander. He’s mad about road trips, soccer, and reading.