What to do: 10 great Columbia finds

Thursday, July 28, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia is home to many unique and well-known places, events and restaurants. Here's a list of 10 Columbia "musts."

1. Booches hamburgers. Served on wax paper, Booches hamburgers have won widespread recognition, including a mention by USA Today as one of the top 10 burgers in America. The restaurant and pool hall on Ninth Street is a short walk from campus, so taste buds are never far from the quarter-pound patty.

2. True/False Film Festival. Each year in February or March, this film festival takes over The District. It features a wide variety of documentaries for movie enthusiasts. Students can volunteer for the festival to get a behind-the-scenes experience. In 2012, the festival will be March 1-4.

Most films come from Sundance, Toronto and other festivals. The festival also includes parties, discussions and field trips.

The main venues are the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts, The Blue Note, Ragtag Cinema, the Forrest Theater in the Tiger Ballroom and the Globe Theater at First Presbyterian Church, as well as Windsor Auditorium, the Hive (formerly Charters Auditorium) and the Eero Saarinen-designed Chapel, which are at Stephens College.

3. Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ. The smooth notes of blues and the sweet smell of barbecue come together for this annual fall festival in the downtown area. The festival also hosts a half marathon and 10K run along a scenic route through Columbia. A slab of barbecue awaits those who cross the finish line.

This year's festival will be Sept. 9 and 10. Performers include Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Taj Mahal and Robert Cray.

4. Lavender honey ice cream from Sparky’s. The sweet shop made headlines this summer when it offered cicada ice cream, but not every flavor is quite as adventurous. Take, for example, a scoop of palette-cleansing lavender honey. Customers can buy containers of the creamy goodness, along with other popular Sparky’s flavors, so a fridge in a residence hall room can be stocked for late-night cram sessions.

Sparky's is located at 21 S. Ninth St. 

 5. Sledding at Stephens Lake Park. If this past year’s 'snowpocalypse' was any indication, Columbia has its fair share of snowy weather. A great way to spend a day in fluffy powder is to grab a sled (a thick garbage bag will work, as well) and race your friends down the hill at Stephens Lake Park, about two miles from campus.

6. Grilled cheese deluxe from Main Squeeze. This sandwich is more than melted cheese on two slices of bread. Red onion, baby spinach and chipotle mayo satisfy taste buds, as well, offering a pleasant variation on the childhood classic.

7. Devil’s Icebox Trail. This half-mile trail at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park takes hikers on a tour of the most impressive views of this state park, located a few miles south of Columbia. Visitors can walk under the natural rock bridge and stop in numerous picturesque spots to absorb all the nature this 2,200-acre park has to offer.

8. Shryocks Corn Maze. On fall weekends that don’t include sitting in Faurot Field, a trip to this life-size maze is worth the drive. To complete the disorienting adventure, visitors find trivia checkpoints that challenge their knowledge of information relating to the year's theme, such as the presidential election in 2008. Hayrides are also available.

9. The 'Big Tree' in McBaine. Although it might be trite to say a big tree is a big deal in Missouri, this specific arbor is an exception (it even has its own Facebook page). It’s estimated to be more than 350 years old and stands 90 feet tall in a wide open field, providing the perfect spot to picnic, watch a sunset or navigate constellations.

10. Ernie’s Cafe and Steakhouse. Take a break from the dining hall and head to Ernie’s Cafe in The District. The eatery has been in Columbia for more than 75 years, and readers of Inside Columbia magazine voted its breakfast nosh the best in town.

Customers can count on a bustling atmosphere, along with biscuits and gravy, custom omelets and waffles. Diners are treated to an inspirational quote as they walk out the door. 

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