Last Updated on December 9, 2023

My recent visit to Columbia, Missouri, was a dynamic blend of college spirit, cultural richness, and community warmth. Columbia is a town of 120,000 people located in central Missouri, midway between Kansas City to the west and St. Louis to the east.

A vibrant college town which the prestigious University of Missouri calls home, Columbia offers visitors collegiate sporting events at the highest level, museums and art festivals, outstanding local shops, restaurants, and breweries, and outdoor activities.

Columbia proved to be a delightful destination with something for every traveler. Check out my recommendations for your visit below.

Explore Downtown Columbia

Arts, theater, festivals, sports, fun shops, great food, craft breweries and distilleries, friendly folks, and so much more greet you downtown. Visit The Yellow Dog Bookstore, Blue Stem hand-made arts and crafts, Shakespeare Pizza, and the Ragtag Theater.

Where to Stay

The Courtyard Marriott is the perfect place to stay when planning a visit to Columbia. Conveniently located on Highway 63 near the Columbia Regional Airport, the hotel offers a free airport shuttle service.

Downtown and the University of Missouri are just minutes away.

Eat at Glenn’s Café in Columbia

Glenn's Cafe - Columbia Missouri
©Scott Kendall

With an intriguing history, a restaurant bearing the name of Glenn’s Café has been serving hungry diners in several locations around Columbia since 1939. As stated on their website, “Our roots are firmly in New Orleans, but Glenn’s menu is a little piece of Southern Americana wrapped up in a Midwest comfort food tradition.”

This wonderful restaurant in the Tiger Hotel in downtown Columbia has quality food and ambiance that keep customers coming back.

Play a Round or Two of Golf

Oaks #1 Fairway
©The Oaks Golf Course

Whether you want to play a quick nine holes, 18, or more, Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail offers 13 great courses to choose from in mid-Missouri. Among the many excellent choices are The Oaks at Margaritaville Lake Resort, Old Kinderhook, Osage National Golf Resort, The Ridge at the Lodge of Four Seasons, and Bear Creek Valley Golf

Stay and Play at Margaritaville

Margaritaville Lake Resort in Lake of the Ozarks, inspired by the music, attitude, and lifestyle of Jimmy Buffet, covers 420 acres of fun.

Make full use of the water by going for a swim, running a Wave Runner, or cruising the lake in a powerboat. You may prefer to relax with your favorite beverage and just enjoy the scenery.

You can also explore local trails on foot or on horseback and a spa and salon to unwind after your busy day. You choose! Just remember, changes in latitude create changes in attitudes.

Enjoy a meal in Lake of the Ozarks

With more than 1,100 miles of shoreline, visitors have lots of choices for dining lakeside, or near the lake, in Lake of the Ozarks.

Try changing your attitude with the wonderful food, drinks, and festive atmosphere at Landshark Bar & Grill at Margaritaville Lake Resort.

Or try one of the other eight great bars and eateries at the resort.  For fine dining around the lake, Michael’s Steak Chalet, Jeffrey’s, JB Hooks, and The Trophy Room at Old Kinderhook are great choices.

Cross Over Rock Bridges

Rock Bridge State Park - Columbia Missouri
©Scott Kendall

This scenic park just minutes from Columbia is home to some of the most popular hiking trails in the state. In addition to beautiful landscapes, Rock Bridge State Park gives visitors a peek into the underworld. Caves, sinkholes, rock bridges, and underground streams are intriguing as guests of the park learn about how geological formations were created – and are still being created – in the park’s ecosystem.

Our guide, Roxie Campbell, was an encyclopedia of information and made our hike through the park educational and enjoyable. We especially enjoyed learning about how the caves and sinkholes – Rock Bridge State Park.

Visit the University

Columbia University
©Scott Kendall

Located in downtown Columbia, the University of Missouri Campus was founded in 1839. In fact, the entire campus is designated as a Botanical Garden.  A lively and active student population adds color, spark, and intellectual curiosity throughout the town.

Francis Quadrangle forms the center of the university grounds, with the beautiful Main Building with a large open lawn, six huge stone columns, and landmark buildings and gardens galore.

The Museum of Art and Archaeology is nationally known for its enticing exhibits of European painting along with an extensive collection of Greek and Roman art.

For sports fans, the University of Missouri proudly supports their Tigers in many major collegiate athletics.

True or False?

The annual True False Festival is one of the many fantastic events held in Columbia every year. One of the top documentary festivals in the nation, True False is usually held the first weekend in March.

In typical years, the True False Festival is a walkable festival, with the documentary films being shown at various theaters, churches, and other venues in downtown Columbia Thursday through Sunday.

Breakfast with Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy at Ernie's
©Scott Kendall

Ernie’s has been a Columbia icon for over 80 years. Chester Gould (from Chicago), creator of the Dick Tracy Comic Strip, used to frequent this diner when his daughter was a student at the University of Missouri.  He was known to sketch comic strip ideas while there – one of the walls has been preserved with his sketching’s that he made directly on the wall.

Ernie’s serves American/diner comfort food – think biscuits and gravy, big fluffy pancakes, awesome omelets. If Chloe is your server, she will surely brighten your day with her big smile and bubbly personality.

Take a Short Road Trip

Rocheport is a charming, tiny little town (population 254) on the Missouri River. Just 20 minutes from Columbia, Rocheport is a very popular getaway in mid-Missouri.

The river, the Katy Bike Trail, cute BnBs, fun Architecture, and an interesting history brings large numbers of visitors to this popular tiny town on the banks of the Missouri River.

Rent a Bike

The Katy Trail runs along the front of the café, where outdoor or indoor dining is available.  You can bike as little or as much as you like on this fascinating trail, which is the longest completed rails to trails project in the United States. In fact, the trail covers a 240-mile trail running east to west through Missouri and is Missouri’s skinniest state park!

Bike riders are rewarded with awesome views of the Missouri River on one side of the trail, and limestone bluffs are on the other side – Meriwether Cafe and Bike Shop.

Sip Wine

Just about two miles outside the Rocheport city limits, you can enjoy a wine tasting, buy a few bottles, or drive through the vineyards.  The third-largest winery in Missouri, this family-friendly winery with a view is great for a casual afternoon, a picturesque wedding, or other special event.

Les Bourgeois also operates the Bluff Top Bistro overlooking the Missouri River. There is an A-Frame “food” stop to pick up some cheese, crackers, meats, wine, and other tasty snacks.

Find Your Favorite Micro-Brewery

Have a cold one, or grab a bite at one of the local Micro-Breweries around Columbia.

Check out Logboat Brewery, the largest micro-brewery in Columbia.  If you are not beer drinkers, you could sample their wine.

Other great micro-breweries include Flatbranch Brewery, with a fantastic outdoor dining garden covered with patio umbrellas and white lights, and the popular Broadway Brewery downtown. 

Drive to Fulton

Churchill Statue Westminster College
©Scott Kendall

Less than 30 minutes from Columbia, this engaging town is home to Westminster University and the fabulous Winston Churchill Museum. At the invitation of President Harry Truman, in 1946, ex-Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech to an overflowing crowd in the gymnasium at Westminster University.

The museum is housed in the basement of the beautiful church designed by Christopher Wrenn, brought over piece by piece from war-torn London and reconstructed in Fulton.

Adjacent to the church is the fascinating “Breakthrough,” a monument designed by Churchill’s granddaughter, Edwina Sandys, from remnants of the infamous wall.

Have Dinner in Downtown Fulton

Drive to the unique Brick District, browse the shops, and have dinner at Beks. A Fulton institution, Beks offers an eclectic menu and friendly service.

Seared salmon, crab cakes, and Asiago Alfredo are just a few of the wonderful dishes served by the friendly staff. Beks also has a wide variety of sandwiches, salads, and appetizers on their menu and an outstanding wine and beer list.

Grab a Delicious Columbia Treat

If you are looking for a unique snack, check out the nearby GoPo Popcorn Bar in downtown Fulton. Just a few doors down from Beks, GoPo features flavors like Dark Chocolate Sea salt, Snapped Cheddar, Everything Tiger, and Cookies and Cream.

GoPo Popcorn Bar features a large area to gather with family and friends to play board games, hang out, and try the many delicious creations made by the popcorn pros at GoPo.

Author

  • Scott Kendall

    Scott Kendall is a freelance travel writer, photographer, and videographer based in The Woodlands, Texas. He has traveled extensively throughout the US and Europe. Scott has written for EuropeUpClose, Epicurean Traveler, International Living, Miles Geek, Touring Bird, Airguides, Travel and Talk, and other publications.