Mizzou madness reigns supreme in this central Missouri college town. Visit and you’ll find an engaged community that values its cultural offerings right along with its sports teams.
Columbia Regional Airport sits about halfway between the Class B airports of Kansas City International and St. Louis International. The wide, wandering Missouri River connects the two great cities, and skirts Columbia in its southwest suburbs. Each Memorial weekend, Columbia Regional hosts the Salute to Veterans Airshow. It’s a big airshow (and free!) with over 40 aircraft from World War I-era airplanes to classic warbirds, modern fighter jets, and military demonstration teams.
Mizzou’s north side borders a 50-block area of downtown known as The District, also bordered by two other colleges. With some 40,000 students plus 13,000 faculty and staff within walking distance, The District is jammed with diverse and predominantly local restaurants, coffee shops, bars, performing arts venues, galleries, and retailers. Among the more interesting are the Poppy gift shop, Bluestem Missouri Crafts, and Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream (love that banana Nutella and mandarin orange dark chocolate!). The Artlandish Gallery is in the North Village Art District, home to over 150 artists. The historic Missouri Theatre hosts ballet, symphony, and theater performances, while Ragtag Cinema shows art house films. Live music venues abound, and special events like the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival fill the calendar.
Favorite culinary delights include the pepperoni at Shakespeare’s Pizza, artichokes and cheese at Flat Branch Pub and Brewing, vegetarian and organic dishes at Main Squeeze, and “The Stretch” breakfast at Broadway Diner. Try the gourmet Paleo breakfast at the adults-only East Campus Bed and Breakfast; sleep soundly at the contemporary, LEED-certified The Broadway Columbia—A DoubleTree by Hilton; or choose the Tiger Hotel, a luxury boutique property constructed in 1928 and renovated in 2012 with attached café, bar, gourmet candy shop, and outdoor patio/live music venue.
A mile east of downtown, Stephens Lake Park offers an 11-acre stocked fishing lake, a 1.7-mile paved trail, three playgrounds, and a swimming beach with summertime “spraygrounds.” Five miles south of CoMo, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park has 20 miles of hiking and biking trails, including the half-mile Devils Icebox Trail to Rock Bridge.
Farther afield, you might head down south to the Missouri for a little riverside recreation and dining. You could drive, but why not bike? The 240-mile Katy Trail is the nation’s longest developed rail-trail, stretching across Missouri via the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas railbed. In downtown CoMo, rent bikes at Cycleextreme, near the trailhead of the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail at Flat Branch Park. The MKT Trail runs 8.9 miles through wetlands and wooded areas before connecting to Katy Trail at mile 169.9. At mile 163.5 you’ll come to the Cooper’s Landing Riverport Marina, south of Columbia. Choose smoked meats at the Cooper’s Landing Kitchen or try Chim’s Thai Kitchen. Check out Boathenge, a group of boats mysteriously sunk into the ground along the trail in an imitation of Stonehenge.
You could drive (or bike the Katy Trail) 15 miles west to Rocheport, where Les Bourgeois Vineyards perches on a cliff above the river. Hit the tasting room and giftshop, enjoy fine dining at the Blufftop Bistro, or picnic above the river at the rustic A-Frame, popular with students. Rent bikes in Rocheport (the bike shop is also a café) or choose guided fishing, kayaking, or bike trips. Twelve miles west of Rocheport is Boonville, and if you love Budweiser’s Clydesdale commercials even half as much as me, you’ll want to visit the Warm Springs Ranch, where most of Budweiser’s giant equines are born and raised. Tour the ranch and meet these magnificent big boys in person.
Drive 30 miles east (or fly 10 nm east) of CoMo to Fulton. If flying, schedule the day before with ServeTran for a $2.50 round trip ride to the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College, where Sir Winston Churchill gave his famous Iron Curtain speech in 1946. The museum and portions of the Berlin Wall are just the icing on the cake to all the great memories you’ll take home from your visit to Columbia.
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