I knew when I first heard Nomadic Matt talking about Missoula, Montana during his book tour a year ago, it was a place I wanted to visit. I did a little research, started following the Visit Montana Instagram (warning: they post photos that will make you move to Montana), and was soon inspired for my own trip to Big Sky Country.
Less than an hour and a half flight from Portland, tickets were quickly booked and I put out my blog feelers to see if Destination Missoula would like to work together for my upcoming trip.
I knew I would be fond of Missoula before I arrived. It is exactly the type of place I love visiting. A vibrant arts culture, foodie cafes & restaurants, an up and coming craft beer scene, and known to have some of the friendliest people around. It’s also a place with rustic architecture and is incredibly photogenic no matter the season.
I’m hoping to make a visit back during my USA road trip this summer, but I wanted to specifically see Montana in the winter to experience it in off-season and to discover the true meaning of the season – Montana style. And…it actually wasn’t as cold as I was expecting. Although the fact that it felt like summer when I arrived back in Portland probably just means I acclimated to Montana weather quicker than expected.
I spent 4 days in Missoula in total and enjoyed every day I was in town. I spent my time walking around the snow, checking out new cafes, attending local events, and trying the many craft breweries around town. Missoula is one of the largest cities in Montana but it comes off as having very much of a hometown feel. There’s a slower pace in the air, welcoming faces as you walk down the street, and a communal feeling everywhere.
If what I’ve said still isn’t enough reason to see it for yourself, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite spots and things to do around town in the winter.
Get involved in the arts
Missoula is considered the arts capital of Montana, and even though I knew that before arrival, I was still impressed by the many art galleries, funky artwork, and overall appreciation for the finer things in life that I found. My first afternoon I went to the VIBE Gala, which was the Vienna International Ballet Experience competition, and I was blown away by the young international talent that came to the stage.
There also seemed to be a huge music scene in a few select venues around town, most notably, the historic Wilma, Top Hat, and even the breweries we stopped at that offered up live gigs most nights of the week. If you’re still hankering for some culture, Missoula also has a FREE art museum. There’s nothing I love more when I travel than finding free museums – seriously, it scores major points with me.
Craft beer hopping
Another aspect that surprised me about Missoula was the burgeoning craft beer scene. If you guys have been following me for awhile, you know I’m always on the lookout for the best craft beer and Missoula did not disappoint. We were told by one bartender that there are about 10 breweries within the city limits and I believe we made it to 4 in total, which is a pretty good effort for the 4 days we had in town.
I’ll be writing a separate post on the many craft breweries to enjoy in Missoula, but we stopped by the likes of KettleHouse, Tamarack, Imagine Nation, and Draught Works. If spirits are more your thing, there are quite a few distilleries around town too! We stopped in at Montgomery Distillery for their famous Moscow Mule – actually Moscow Mules in general are just HUGE in Missoula – it should really be called the Missoula Mule.
Go to a free local event
I loved how many events there were every single day around town – in winter! I can only imagine what it would be like in the summer, but I was spoiled for choice with the many options to get involved with the community through a variety of free and/or inexpensive outings.
Just in the few days I was in Missoula, there was a free screening of the movie Selma at Imagine Nation Brewing – in celebration of MLK Day, a symphony performance at Top Hat, a full-day of winter activities (even learning how to curl like a boss!) at a local country club, and a handful of community classes, among other events.
Missoula is definitely a community-centered town and it shows through in the abundance of activities you can join in on at any day of the week for little to no cost.
If you want a full list of what to do in Missoula while you’re visiting, take at look at the town events here – you’ll probably be able to find multiple events and activities for any day of the week.
Take a tour of the college campus
I went to school at UC San Diego, which was nice in its own way, modern, and slightly space-esque with Geisel Library. However, I never had the traditional brick buildings and old school atmosphere on my campus. I love touring schools back East with ivy-covered brick and the history felt throughout the corridors. The University of Montana campus gave off very much the same feeling. There were historic old buildings (made of brick, yes!) and the recent snow made everything seem so quiet and serene – a place that’s perfect to write or study.
I spent an afternoon just strolling around the buildings, searching for the famous “M” on the hill – sadly covered in snow – and taking out my camera every few minutes to capture the stately beauty of pretty much every building I came across. If you love the feeling of a college campus, I would recommend stopping in to take your own tour.
Eat your heart out
I ate A LOT when I was in Missoula and for good reason. The city is seen as one of the foodie capitals in Montana and there are a variety of cuisines to choose from around town. I loved how many locally owned boutique restaurants there were around every corner.
A few of our favorites included the Southeast Asian fusion of IZA, the hippie comforts of Butterfly Herbs, the classy Red Bird, the sandwich-making king, Market on Front, and the MacKenzie River Pizza Co. – which is actually a chain, but still delicious! I’ve heard Ciao Mambo is tasty as well if you’re looking for classic Italian food.
Walk along the river & watch the surfers
It seemed to be a favorite community activity to walk along the Clark Fork River at any time of the day. There are trails on both sides of the river and as long as you bundle up, it’s a great way to stay active in the winter and take in attractive scenery in the process.
There is also a man-made standing wave that you can see from the S. Higgins Avenue Bridge, and if you’re lucky you can catch the crazy locals that go out in their wetsuits in freezing water to try and surf it. We saw this happen our first night in town when it was SNOWING, and there were two locals just going for it anyway. I guess if you’re from Montana, you have a thicker skin for cold than us folks from other parts of the country.
Lastly, if you have enough time, you should take a day trip outside of Missoula as well. The scenery within the city is stunning enough, but once you get outside your jaw will drop from the epic mountain ranges and icy wonderlands you’ll come across. A great road trip idea would be to head out to America’s first official Bison Range to see if you can spot some of the local wildlife. Getting a clear view of the Mission Mountains on your way back to the city would be a well spent detour too.
Clearly, there are countless attractions around town to go see and do, but the aspect that drew me to Missoula and made me want to recommend it to you readers is truly its charm. Missoulians understand the true meaning of being friendly for no other reason than to be kind to other human beings. They recognize the importance of community and inclusivity. These were the attributes that stuck out most when I think back on my 4 days in Missoula, the attributes that make me want to come back again someday soon.
Note: Destination Missoula was kind enough to host me during my stay, but all opinions, as always, are my own.
Have you been to a place that you immediately connected with? What are some of your favorite cities in the USA?
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