Columbia, Missouri, home to the University of Missouri, is a vibrant college town filled with urban amenities. 

Concerts, music festivals, film festivals, food and art festivals take place in Columbia throughout the year. The lively downtown, coupled with nearby outdoor attractions and a robust food and drink scene, make Columbia an exciting destination.

“Columbia is an outstanding place to get outside,” said Megan McConachie, strategic communications manager for the Columbia Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike or a place to just relax and sip on a local beer or wine, you will never have a shortage of choices.”

Columbia’s outdoors

Great green spaces, city parks, numerous conservation areas, the award-winning MKT Nature & Fitness Trail, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, Finger Lakes State Park and the 240-mile Katy Trail attract outdoor enthusiasts year-round.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
Credit: Missouri State Parks

Just 5 miles south of Columbia’s downtown is Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, which offers visitors the chance to get out on some of the most popular hiking trails in Missouri. The 2,272-acre park holds impressive karst geological formations, a namesake rock bridge, sinkholes, a natural spring and an underground stream in the imposing 7-mile long cave system known as the “Devil’s Icebox.”

Interpretive programs and group tours are offered at Rock Bridge throughout the year. Programs can cover caves and karst systems, bats, watersheds and streams, ecosystems and the history of the area. More information on group tours can be found here.

Columbia provides visitors with perhaps two of the most enjoyable ways to experience Missouri’s beautiful countryside — by bicycle or by foot. The Katy Trail State Park, the longest developed rails-to-trails conversion program in the U.S., runs along the western border of the city and connects to Columbia via the 9-mile MKT Nature and Fitness Trail. The MKT runs through the heart of downtown Columbia.

The MKT winds along a crushed limestone pathway through shaded forest groves and over former steel-and-wood railroad bridges. Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department offers guided group tours along portions of the MKT Trail. Operators must call the department at 573-874-7460 to set up tours.

The Katy Trail State Park, which is about a 60-minute bike ride from downtown, covers 240 miles of scenic Missouri landscape from Clinton on the west side of the state to Machens on the east. Much of the Katy Trail follows the Missouri River, flanked by impressive limestone bluffs and meanders through former railroad towns along fertile fields of corn and soybeans. The trail has stops along the way where home-cooked food is served in cafes and bed and breakfast inns. Rocheport, on the Missouri River west of Columbia, is the original Katy Trail town, with bed and breakfasts, restaurants, unique shops, the award-winning Les Bourgeois Vineyards and the only railroad tunnel on the trail.

Missouri State Parks-organized group tour activities include the annual Katy Trail Ride (a multi-day/night ride along the entire trail), “Tuesdays on the Trail” tram rides and fall colors tram tours.

Columbia’s public gardens

Shelter Gardens
Credit: Hao Bai

Tucked away behind the Shelter Insurance corporate headquarters on West Broadway, Shelter Gardens is an award-winning 5-acre garden that includes a sensory garden designed for the visually impaired, a Vietnam veterans memorial, a replica one-room schoolhouse, a waterfall and reflecting pool, a rock garden and a giant sundial. Shelter Gardens has more than 300 varieties of trees and shrubs and 15,000 annuals and perennials are planted throughout the garden. Group tours are available and should be scheduled ahead of time. Tours typically last one hour. Contact Katrina Monning, groundskeeper, at 573-214-4715.

The entire area encompassing the University of Missouri near downtown Columbia is a designated botanic garden. The Mizzou Botanic Garden currently has 11 thematic and seven special collection gardens around the campus. Maps for self-guided tours are available in the Reynolds Alumni Center. Group tours (groups of at least six people and up) are available by appointment; call 573-884-6307.

Mizzou Botanic Garden
Credit: Mizzou Botanic Garden

‘Eating out’ around Columbia

Dining al fresco in “The District,” Columbia’s historic downtown, is about as popular of a warm-weather pastime as one will find in this college town.

Some of the more spacious and popular downtown patios can be found at Barred Owl Butcher and Table, Cafe Berlin, Cherry Street Cellar, Coley’s American Bistro, Flat Branch Pub and Brewing, Günter Hans European Pub and Cafe, Las Margaritas Mexican Restaurant, Logboat Brewing Company, Rose Music Hall (featuring South Florida-style chicken and ribs) and Uprise Bakery.

Elsewhere around Columbia, enjoy the spacious patios and outdoor dining at 44 Stone Public House, Addison’s American Grill – South, D. Rowe’s Restaurant & Bar, Shakespeare’s Pizza – South and Sofia’s Restaurant.

With over 10 food trucks operating around the city, delicious choices abound. From Jamaican jerk chicken to classic barbecue, or tacos to chicken and waffles, the selection is as diverse as the clientele.

The ‘spirit’ of Columbia

The Columbia area is home to four craft breweries and one of the best —and largest — wineries in Missouri, Les Bourgeois.

Flat Branch Pub and Brewery is Columbia’s oldest brewery and offers a wide variety of beers and menu items as well. Patrons can enjoy their beverages and meals on Flat Branch’s expansive patio with a view of Flat Branch Park below. Broadway Brewery features a rotating list of craft brews and a seasonal menu from locally sourced produce and meats. And, Bur Oak Brewing Company, named after the oldest bur oak tree in the U.S. just outside of Columbia’s city limits, is part of the city’s new guard of craft beer producers.

Logboat Brewing Company is one of Columbia’s newest alcoholic alchemists and has wasted no time in establishing itself as one of the best breweries in the country with the awards and medals to back it up.

Logboat Brewing Company
Credit: Columbia CVB

This award-winning craft brewery recently expanded by opening Waves Cider Company, located 1 mile from the brewery near downtown Columbia. Being a brand-new venture, Waves currently offers two types of hard ciders (dry and semi-dry), with plans to expand their offerings.

Les Bourgeois Vineyards is located 15 minutes west of Columbia in the tiny town of Rocheport, Missouri. Les Bourgeois offers a stunning panoramic view of the countryside along the Missouri River from the large picture windows of the Blufftop Bistro and sprawling decks of the A-frame. Patrons also can celebrate the seasons with a glass or flight of some of the state’s best wines, which are produced on location. Groups can take a peek behind the scenes with a tour of the winery’s processing plant located behind the Tasting Room. To book a tour (no more than 10 people at a time), call the tasting room at 573-698-2716.

Two Columbia-based distilleries have been carving out a name for themselves. DogMaster Distillery, located in the North Village Arts District near downtown Columbia, turns out five spirits (bourbon, whiskey, white whiskey, rum and vodka), all carefully crafted from locally sourced ingredients.

Rocheport Distilling Company, located in the river town just 15 minutes west of Columbia, specializes in creating small-batch tropical-inspired rums. Rocheport Distilling features a flight of brandies produced from Les Bourgeois Vineyards’ crop of grapes as well as six-packs of canned, fruit-inspired mixed drinks.