Melinda Schnyder is a former Columbia resident who currently lives in Wichita, Kan. She tapped 23 years of living in Columbia and the past 18 years as a frequent visitor to compile a guide to first-time visitors. She wrote this post, which was originally published on her blog, for those who already love Columbia to share with those who don’t know they love it yet.
If you can't view the slideshow above, try viewing it directly on Flickr.
When my Mizzou Tigers left the Big 12 Conference to move to the Southeastern Conference in 2012, one of the few benefits I could see was that this could be my excuse for visiting areas of the country where I haven’t traveled much.
Yet one of the obvious downsides for me is that same geography. I’m no longer in the heart of my team’s conference – my home base of Wichita, Kansas, allowed me to get to nearly all of the Big 12 towns easily.
Lee and I made one road trip during the Tigers’ inaugural SEC football season, going to Columbia, South Carolina, in September 2012. As we struggled to find good logistical information on where to stay, what to do while there and the best way to get to the game, I realized that I am an expert at both living and visiting Columbia, Missouri.
So why not share 41 years of expertise with others, including some SEC fans who might be visiting our beautiful college town for the first time.
A common question people ask is whether you prefer living in the city or the country … I prefer a college town, like my hometown of CoMo. I was born there, went to college at the University of Missouri and left when I was 23 to take a job in Wichita. Since leaving, I’ve returned to CoMo up to 12 times some years; now I would say I average four visits a year.
I may do more than one post on this topic because there are several angles I could take. For this post, I’m going to make a list of places you shouldn’t miss on your first trip to CoMo. This isn’t a comprehensive list, just enough for someone who will be in town for 2-3 days.
Note: I’m putting this together with specific friends in mind so it’s skewed to what I think they would enjoy based on what I know about them and the fact that they are staying near downtown/campus and attending Mizzou baseball games. However, this list is applicable to many first-time visitors.
Where to eat/drink:
Have the pepperoni because it’s thick cut and the taste is unique. They also offer a pepperjack cheese option I occasionally get.
The pizza here is legendary. Alumni from around the world voted in November 2010 to help make Shakespeare’s the winner of Best Bites Challenge: College Edition on ABC’s "Good Morning America."
There are now three locations: downtown, south and west. Go to the original in downtown CoMo unless it’s a football Saturday. On a game day last fall at the west location, the wait to get to the counter to order was more than an hour and you couldn’t even get through on the phone to place a to-go order a to-go. You have to call hours ahead (like before the game) and place your order for pick-up later.
Compared to the other restaurants on this list, Flat Branch is a newcomer – they opened in late 1994, as I was heading west. The pub is just a couple blocks off campus, in a cool 1927 brick warehouse that was once a Hudson car dealership.
The entire menu is good but you MUST order the chokes & cheese appetizer. I’ve even had it as a meal. And if you really want to indulge, go for the freshly-baked, gooey cookie topped with locally made Tiger Stripe ice cream. I’m not a hand-craft beer drinker, but if you are you will want to check out their offerings.
I would call this place upscale casual. It’s got a fun menu. I usually eat from the appetizers. My favorites are: fried green peppers with powered sugar, the onion rings, and Bob’s Bobs. I’ve never been there for the live jazz, but I’ve heard it’s a good time.
I’m sure you’ve noticed breakfast is missing from my list. I don’t have a go-to spot for breakfast in Columbia. I tend to eat some fruit or eat something light, but if you want a full breakfast go to Yelp (which will likely lead you to Ernie’s or Broadway Diner for a greasy breakfast, Uppercrust for pastries).
A wall full of slushie machines mixing fruity goodness with hooch. That’s all I need to say.
Where to get outside
You can’t come to Columbia for the first time and not see the University of Missouri. I can (and may) write an entire post about the campus of the first public university west of the Mississippi River.
What you do on campus can be customized to your interests (museums, architecture, history) and by what events are taking place (sports, concerts, arts). Check out the campus event calendar because there’s always something going on.
The columns are iconic, but so are many other spots on this beautiful campus. You can arrange for a 1.5-hour campus tour on weekdays or take a self-guided audio tour or follow this historic walking tour guide. At the bare minimum, visit the columns and other historic sites around the Francis Quad, see Memorial Union and go inside the Student Center.
One more link, to a campus visitor guide.
We called this downtown when I lived there! It’s a great collection of mostly independent shops, restaurants and bars. It’s fun to sidewalk shop with a group of friends, and it’s adjacent to the campus so you can hit the whole area at once. My favorite shop is Poppy.
Stephens Lake Park
This is a sentimental place for my family and it is a nice spot to get outside and run or walk.
If you want a longer distance to walk, run or ride a bike than Stephens Lake Park or Mizzou’s campus, go to the MKT Trail, aka the Katy Trail. It’s now the nation’s longest rails-to-trails project – Missouri-Kansas-Texas railway – and offers a very level path.
There are several points of entry around town, including one that is walking distance from campus or downtown. You can walk for 15 minutes or if you wanted, you can journey to either end of the state from here.
This could fall into the where to eat or the where to get outside category. Technically it isn’t in CoMo. It’s just 15 minutes to the west of Columbia along I-70 and it’s on the way into the tiny antique town of Rocheport.
The views from this blufftop winery overlooking the Missouri River make it a good spot, especially if you like wine. They have a Blufftop Bistro that’s a full, upscale restaurant and they have the A-frame, a seasonal spot that attracts students and tourists wanting to see the view while having a nice spot for a bottle of wine and picnic.
This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.