The Best Things to Do in Columbia, Missouri

The mid-Missouri city of Columbia is best known for being home to the state's flagship university, but you don't have to be a Mizzou Tiger to enjoy all the culture, food and fun the city has to offer.

Halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, Columbia—affectionately nicknamed CoMo—makes a perfect weekend destination, with its walkable downtown, a solid restaurant scene and the historic University of Missouri campus. Here's our guide for what to do, where to eat and where to stay.

Columbia College Columbia Missouri
University of Missouri. Ashley Kluver/Getty Images

What to Do

Wander the Campus

One of your first stops in Columbia should be the University of Missouri. The heart of campus sits near the city's bustling downtown, and the historic red-brick Francis Quadrangle is a must-see. The university's administration center Jesse Hall is here, as are six towering Ionic columns, remnants of a devastating 1892 fire that destroyed the first campus building. Today, the columns serve as a perfect backdrop for selfies or graduation pictures.

As you stroll the quad, look for Thomas Jefferson's original tombstone, donated to the university by the founding father's descendants. (Mizzou is the first public university founded on land procured by Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase.) Also notable: two stone lions guarding the entrance to MU's world-famous journalism school. A gift from the Chinese government, this Ming Dynasty pair once stood sentry at a Confucian temple in Nanjing. It's said if you rub their noses, you'll have good luck!

The entire Mizzou campus is a botanic garden—take a self-guided Tree Trail walk or request a guided tour. And watch for the reopening of the free Museum of Art and Archaeology, scheduled to wrap up a move (to the lower level of Ellis Library) and renovation in the second half of 2023.

Columbia Farmers Market
Courtesy of Columbia Farmers Market

Explore the Farmers' Market

Every Saturday for 40 years, regional farmers, producers and artisans have gathered at the Columbia Farmers Market. Nearly 100 vendors offer goods like apple butter, honey, zucchini bread, veggies, gooey butter cake (a Missouri tradition), homemade soap and lavender products. Buy coffee and snacks onsite, perfect for a Saturday morning breakfast. This market is such a standout that in 2021, the American Farmland Trust named Columbia's Farmers Market the best in the nation, the Midwest and Missouri.

Biking Columbia Missouri
Courtesy of Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get to a Green Space

No matter where you are in Columbia, you're never far from green spaces where you can hike, bike, or simply do some nature-bathing. Bicyclists can catch the MKT Trail downtown, cruise 9 miles, and connect with Missouri's iconic Katy Trail State Park, a flat-as-a-pancake crushed limestone path stretching more than halfway across the state. Hikers will love Rock Bridge Memorial State Park with trails that wind by geological formations including the park's namesake bridge, caves, and even sinkholes. And if you'd just like to take a picturesque breather, Shelter Gardens is your place. Located on the grounds of Shelter Insurance's corporate headquarters, this spot features five acres planted with hundreds of species of trees and shrubs as well as thousands of lovely annuals and perennials.

University of Missouri football at Faurot Field Columbia Missouri
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Have a Game-Day Experience

Missouri Tiger teams compete in the NCAA's Southeastern Conference, which means plenty of high-stakes athletic matchups. Football weekends in Columbia make for a special kind of spectacle, with students, parents, alumni, and fans cheering on the black and gold at Faurot Field. The men and women's basketball teams routinely sell out Mizzou Arena when they play. Word to the wise: if you'd like to incorporate a game into a weekend visit, it's a good idea to purchase tickets in advance.

Listen to Music

Columbia's lively music scene takes its beat from hip venues and fun festivals. The Treeline Music Festival, held at Stephens Lake Park each fall, is the only American music festival run by women. Treeline features a mix of top artists: hip-hop, pop, bluegrass, folk. Columbia's beloved The Blue Note has welcomed upcoming bands and artists since 1980, and the Missouri Theater, an ornate 1928 former vaudeville stage and movie house, hosts concerts throughout the year.

The district downtown Columbia Missouri
The District.

Shop The District

Make time for retail therapy at The District in downtown Columbia. Bookstores, boutiques, galleries, and more line its main north-south artery, 9th Street. The area exudes a welcoming feel, with a dash of college-town funk. Make sure to drop by Bluestem Crafts, which specializes in gorgeous homeware, accessories and jewelry made by nationally recognized Midwestern artists.

Booche's Columbia Missouri
Booche's. Courtesy of Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau

Where to Eat and Drink

You're probably going to want to eat like a college kid at least once or twice. Grab a slice at legendary Shakespeare's Pizza, and perhaps wash it down with a craft beer. If you'd prefer a slider and chips, head to Booche's, a Columbia institution since 1884. When you've satisfied your fast-food cravings, keep Columbia's elevated culinary options in mind. The Barred Owl Butcher & Table serves hearty seasonal favorites made with ingredients from more than two dozen local farms; its retail shop offers all sorts of artisan goodies to take home. Grab a nightcap at DogMaster Distillery, a cozy spot that leans into small-batch spirits for its signature cocktails.

Save room for dessert, specifically ice cream. Mizzou's food science program has a long tradition of creating delicious flavors, handmade by students. You can find Tiger Stripe (French vanilla with fudge stripes) and other varieties at Buck's Ice Cream shop on campus. Plan to grab scoops or pints to go.

Where to Stay

The Broadway Columbia puts you in the heart of downtown, close to The District, the University of Missouri, Stephens College and Columbia College. Pair small plates and signature cocktails while enjoying the view from The Broadway's rooftop lounge.

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