Have you even ever heard of Columbia, Missouri? Probably not, but it’s where I went to school and spent four reckless years of my life. I’m over here writing blogs and guides to cities that I spend five days in, so I figured why not focus on something that I actually know inside and out?
I’m going to be honest, this quaint, little college town in central Missouri is not the most exciting place to be. If you’re seeking the bustling urban jungle of a New York City, or the glorious natural beauty of Yosemite, you’re coming to the wrong town. Our tallest building is a big white dome. Our most iconic landmark is six columns that didn’t burn down in a fire. The only reason you would have even heard of Columbia was because we were in the news quite a bit in fall 2015 for some controversial stuff that I’m not going to go into detail on. Yeah, some sh** went down, and the entire country got a completely wrong idea about us.
This place has the great balance of small-town charm while also having everything you need within the confines of the city.
Best Food and Restaurants in Columbia, Missouri
There’s no better way to start off a guide than with food and restaurants. Columbia is a college town, so there is an abundance of sports bars and within those are an abundance of drunk sports fans. We have a reason to drink year-round. Kansas City has their Chiefs and Royals. St. Louis has the Cardinals, the Blues and the Rams… oh wait. The vocal minority Chicagoans have their Blackhawks, Bulls, and Cubs. And of course, the Mizzou Tigers. Win or lose, we booze, and we always booze correctly.
There’s no going wrong with Harpo’s, Campus Bar and Grill, or Shiloh. Go there for game days because they are poppin’. If you’re trying to avoid big crowds and rowdy college kids, you’ve got options as well. Flat Branch, Addison’s, and Teller’s are Columbia essentials. If you’re into wings, and want to feast on the wings of angels, head to CJ’s Wings and bask in the glory.
If you want dinner and a show, head to El Rancho after midnight. They made it on the list of 43 best drunk eats in America. Seriously, and they have a screenshot of it hanging up in their restaurant. I am not ashamed to say that I have eaten at El Rancho more than any other restaurant in Columbia combined.
Need some food for the morning after? Nothing washes away regret and hangovers like Broadway Diner, Ernie’s Cafe, or Cafe Berlin. All are great options, and you can get fat, greasy meals at the first two for around $5.
Nightlife in Columbia, Missouri
Lol at the fact that I am about to write a guide to Columbia nightlife. It isn’t that it’s nonexistent, it is just very limited. For most cities I’ve been to, I’ve written about five or six clubs that I highly recommend going to. Does Columbia even have five or six clubs? Somehow, college students make do.
If you’re above the age of thirty, just skip over this part. I have nothing to offer you. While there are somewhat classy options for nightlife, most of my expertise lies in wherever would let my underaged ass in. I didn’t turn 21 until my senior year at Mizzou, but thankfully most places were quite lax with fake IDs until after I had graduated. Not saying that I had one or anything.
If you are reading this and are under the age of thirty, I’m assuming you don’t know anything about Columbia and somehow just got dragged here or ended up here by some happy accident. Roxy’s is the place to be if you are into loud music, flashing lights, and being covered in everyone else’s sweat. Be prepared if you are trying to enjoy a night here. By prepared I mean be very hammered. Penguin, the piano bar next door is a slightly less ratchet option if you are into live music and listening to hundreds of drunk white people singing “Sweet Caroline.”
The Blue Note is our beloved concert venue that has some rowdy concerts throughout the year. It is a pretty small and crowded venue, but hey, they sell beer that you can actually afford. Wear old, disgusting shoes that you wouldn’t mind destroying and go wild for the night. Or like square dance if you’re going to one of the country concerts.
If you are looking for somewhere more chill and laid back, stay home. ITAP is probably your best option, but even that’s pushing it. For as limited as our options are, we take goddamn advantage of every single one. Every. single. one. We’re talking thousands of college students with ten or so viable options to get hammered at. With college students comes college pricing, which brings me to the best part.
Columbia is where you can get hammered for dirt cheap. I spent $74 in Sweden for four tequila shots, and the first thing I did when I got back to Columbia was go to $5 bottomless drinks at Roxys. I made sure to tell everyone at that Swedish club about the mythical land of $5 bottomless drinks and nonexistent class. There is a go-to place for every night based on deals, and any Mizzou student reminisces on the times when Wednesday’s Penny Pitchers at Fieldhouse was the thing they looked most forward to every week.
If you are above the age of thirty with actual money to spend… first off, I’m surprised you’re still reading. Second, I guess I’ll try to put something together. Columbia actually has some pretty decent options to get “classy” drunk. I love The Roof. It is one of my favorite places to spend summer nights. Bleu, Flat Branch, and Room 38 are where most Mizzou students take their parents to eat or drink when they know they don’t have to pay. Take that as you will.
Nature and Outdoors in Columbia, Missouri
Columbia is as an outdoorsy town as Missouri can get. We have got some pretty decent parks, like Stephens Lake and Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. Stephens Lake is a nice place to run, bike, or stalk other people’s dogs. I love dogs.
We have a lot of running trails, including the MKT trail which is pretty neat. It goes for a while, and you can enter through one part of Columbia and end up in some other.
If you head out about thirty minutes north of town, you will stumble upon The Pinnacles. Aside from by the Columns, the Pinnacles is probably where most Mizzou females have taken Instagram pictures at.
If you want an almost complete list of hikes that I’ve done in Columbia, check out my other post dedicated strictly to our outdoors options. Complete with as beautiful as pictures as you could expect from mid-Missouri.
As a Mizzou student, I lived in a bubble that kind of paid no heed to the rest of the actual city of Columbia. Once I left that bubble, I found out how cool of a place CoMO actually is. We have a lot of festivals that attract international attention. The True/False Film Festival is probably one of the most well-known. We also have Art in the Park, and an Earth Day Festival.
Over the summer, we have concerts along 9th Street and Summerfest. Roots and Blues n BBQ in the fall also brings in some big names in the Blues genre and some good food. Basically, we are not all about getting drunk and getting hyped for football games.
Even just walking around downtown, you will stumble upon some stuff that you might have never known existed. You’ll find some great coffee shops like Coffee Zone, Fretboard, Kaldi’s, Lakota, and Main Squeeze. North of downtown is our small but vibrant arts district. There are a surprising amount of art galleries here, and I recommend checking them out. You can even make your own art at the Mud Room.
There’s a lot more to Columbia and I really do encourage everyone to try to find something new in Columbia, or try to find Columbia in general. I remember reading somewhere that it was one of the best places to retire, so we’ve also got that going for us!
If you’re planning on going to Columbia sometime soon, it’s pretty easy to get to. They have their own airport, but if you’d like to save some money, you can fly into either St. Louis or Kansas City International Airport. It’s also only about 5-6 hours from Indianapolis or Chicago, which will run you about $30 if you choose to take a bus or $60 if you want to take a train.