Blake Walsh

25 Best Things to Do in Columbia, MO

  • Published 2023/04/18

Founded in 1821, Columbia is a trendy college town in Missouri.

Located in the state’s center, the city offers sweeping views of its breathtaking landscapes.

Columbia is the perfect place to explore and discover, with all the amenities of a big city and the charm of a small town.

The city has everything from nature spaces worthy of admiration and beautifully curated museums to local theaters that hold live performances, professional ballet companies, and much more.

With a young crowd and many places to discover, the city has unmatched energy.

Columbia is also famous for its finger-licking barbecue and palatable local wines, which are produced in more than 130 wineries in the city.

The city also hosts several events to entertain visitors and locals all year round.

Here are the best things to do in Columbia, Missouri:

Explore the City’s Charming Streets on Foot

Aerial view of Columbia Missouri

Sean Pavone /

Columbia is a picturesque city in Missouri with tons to see and explore.

This college town has a vibrant culture and fantastic architecture.

It is an ideal place to explore on foot.

Stroll around the beautiful city to appreciate its scenic glory.

You can also discover the less famous and more superior shops, restaurants, cafes, and more attractions that are known to only the locals.

Long and peaceful walks on Columbia’s delightful streets will relax your mind and body.

Hang Out Like a Local at David R. Francis Quadrangle

Daytime view of David R. Francis Quadrangle

Sean Pavone /

Located on the University of Missouri campus, the David R. Francis Quadrangle is Columbia’s essential centerpiece.

It is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The quadrangle is the oldest part of the university and is a popular spot for people to hang out.

It consists of six erected towers that stand tall and are surrounded by glorious red buildings.

Visit the David R. Francis Quadrangle to admire its architecture and hang out like the locals.

Enjoy a Range of Outdoor Activities at Stephens Lake Park

Rollerblading at Stephens Lake Park

LanaG /

One of Columbia’s crown jewels, Stephens Lake Park is home to multi-use trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, and a vast 11-acre lake.

The picturesque park also features non-motorized boats, a seasonal swimming pool, and access to fishing.

A festival at Stephens Lake Park

LanaG /

Its beautifully maintained green grounds are the perfect venue for having a picnic, fishing, or going for a leisurely walk.

Enjoy the sweeping views of the landscape and the waterfall.

Visit Stephens Lake Park to enjoy a tranquil environment with spectacular views.

Browse through the Fascinating Artifacts at the Museum of Art and Archaeology

Operated by the University of Missouri, the Museum of Art and Archaeology is located on the university’s campus and features several permanent and temporary exhibitions.

The permanent collection features more than 14,000 archaeological objects, curated carefully in the five-gallery space.

You will find excellent selections of antiques and artifacts from ancient civilizations, including Greek and Roman cultures.

Entry into the museum is free; however, a donation toward its maintenance is very much appreciated.

See the Devil’s Icebox at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

Waters at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

K. Bradley Washburn /

Located only a few minutes from the city center, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is a 2,273-acre geological preserve open to the public.

This natural gateway is known for its karst landforms, along with the Devil’s Icebox, an underground stream at the cave.

The park also provides various recreational opportunities to visitors.

Wooden stairs at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

K. Bradley Washburn /

You can go hiking on one or several of the park’s 10 available trails.

There are well-paved bicycle paths, along with lush green trails specifically designed for visitors to walk their pets.

Don’t forget to check out the caves and sinkholes at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park.

People under the rock bridge at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

Zack Frank /

Bask in the Tranquil Surroundings at Shelter Gardens

Located in the heart of the city, Shelter Gardens is an award-winning botanical garden covering an area of about five acres, with thousands of flowers and over 300 types of trees.

The botanical garden caters to everyone and features a sensory garden for visually impaired visitors.

It also has a stream, a waterfall, and a reflecting pool.

On top of that, you will also find a Vietnam Veterans memorial, along with a replica one-room schoolhouse.

There are plenty of areas in the garden’s serene environment where you can rest and read in the middle of all the flowers and trees.

The best way to enjoy the beauty of Shelter Gardens is by taking a stroll amid its tranquil surroundings and sweeping views.

Book a Stay at The Tiger Hotel

Aerial view of the Tiger Hotel

Mike Gattorna /

The Tiger Hotel is a 62-room boutique hotel that provides comfortable amenities to make your stay worthwhile.

The hotel was built in 1928 and has a rich history.

It is located at a very convenient location in the downtown area, from where you can easily access some of the city’s most significant attractions on foot.

Signage of Tiger Hotel

VoyagerMU, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The hotel also has its own restaurant and bar where you can wine and dine at the end of the day.

Stay at The Tiger Hotel, and treat yourself to a luxurious experience and numerous amenities.

Witness Amazing Exhibitions and Displays at Columbia Art League

Columbia Art League is an art gallery that showcases the work of both local and national artists.

It was founded in 1959 and has become essential to the city’s arts and culture scene.

The displays and exhibits comprise ceramics, wooden pieces, glass pieces, jewelry, oil paintings, watercolor paintings, photography, fiber art, and more.

You can even buy most of the articles on display.

Visitors are also welcome to attend the gallery’s art classes, which are held in the evening.

Every June, the gallery hosts a fine arts festival called Art in the Park at Stephens Lake Park.

Visit the Columbia Art League to see the work of talented artists in all mediums.

Go for a Hike at the Grindstone Nature Area

Located only a few minutes from the University of Missouri in Downtown Columbia, the Grindstone Nature Area is a 190-acre park with lush greenery and scenic landscapes.

It is a trendy spot for dog parents as this nature area does not require your pets to be kept on their leashes.

They can run free on the beautiful grounds and explore the whole park, except for the Hinkson Creek Trail, as it is popular among bikers.

The park also has a designed picnic area with beautiful landscapes to admire, along with various trails where you can hike, bike, run, or walk amid Columbia’s scenic glory.

View Amazing Wildlife at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area

Scenic view of Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area

LanaG /

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area is located only about 10 miles away from Columbia’s central area, adjacent to the Missouri River.

Encompassing more than 4,000 acres of unique wetland complex, it is popular among locals and tourists for hiking, cycling, birdwatching, and hunting.

There is plenty of plant life and wildlife for visitors to see here.

A heron on top of a birdhouse at Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area

LanaG /

The park also has a 300-year-old tree that has become a landmark.

You can visit Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area all year round; however, it is most stunning and at its peak glory during the fall.

Don’t forget to carry binoculars for better viewing and spotting the animals from far away.

A person on Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area's overlook

LaughingOutLoudICON, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ride ATVs and Dirtbikes at Finger Lakes State Park

Finger Lakes State Park is an 11,000-acre park in Boone County, located only 10 miles from downtown Columbia.

The park hosts different outdoor recreational activities, including ATVs and off-road motorcycle tracks, so visitors can enjoy riding amid the tranquillity of the rolling hills surrounding the park.

It is one of the only two ATV parks in Missouri.

Finger Lakes State Park is not only ideal for riding ATVs and dirtbikes, as visitors can also enjoy its campgrounds and hiking and biking trails.

There is also a pond where you can try activities like fishing or canoeing.

Visit Finger Lakes State Park to experience a thrilling ATV ride or have a picnic amid scenic beauty.

Try Columbia’s Finest Wines and Beers

It may not seem like it, but Missouri is very popular for its wineries and breweries.

It was once the second-largest wine-producing state in the United States of America.

Missouri has more than 130 wineries, and Columbia has its fair share of them.

Serenity Valley Winery, Dale Hollow Winery, and Les Bourgeois Vineyards are among the city’s most famous wineries.

Columbia also has plenty of breweries where you can try fantastic craft beers made by local breweries.

Logboat Brewing Co., Bur Oak Brewing Company, and Broadway Brewery are some of the best breweries in the city.

Visit these wineries and breweries and sample some of the best wines and beers Columbia offers.

Spend a Day in the Great Outdoors at Cosmo Park

Cosmo Park is Columbia’s largest municipal park.

It covers an area of 533 acres and comprises several sports fields, including a skateboard park, football fields, tennis courts, a baseball field, a golf course, and more.

There are various trails perfect for hiking, walking, and cycling.

The park hosts the annual Show-Me State Games, a yearly competition for amateur athletes in the city.

Cosmo Park is clean and well-taken care of, and you will surely enjoy having a picnic amid its scenic environment.

Participate in Columbia’s Exciting Festivals

Columbia hosts many fun and impressive festivals throughout the year.

The city’s most famous and elaborate festivals include the following: the Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Weekend Celebration in May; Art in the Park in June; Show-Me State Games in June and July; Heritage Festival & Craft Show in September; Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival in September; and Mizzou Homecoming in October.

Make sure to attend at least one of these festivals to enjoy Columbia’s culture and have a good time.

Take Photos with the Quirky BoatHenge

BoatHenge is Columbia’s version of the world-famous Stonehenge, only it’s made with painted boats.

It is located along the Katy Trail and consists of six boats standing erect to mimic England’s Stonehenge.

Each boat averages 13 feet in height, six feet in width, and three feet in depth, just like the prehistoric monument.

BoatHenge is easily the city’s quirkiest attraction.

Check Out the Well-Curated Displays at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery

The George Caleb Bingham Gallery is a contemporary art gallery in the University of Missouri’s Fine Arts Building.

It displays various exhibits and art pieces by local artists.

Entry to the gallery is free.

Visit the Bingham Gallery to see well-curated displays by Columbia’s local artists.

Dig into Scrumptious Pizza at Shakespeare’s Pizza

Delivery vehicle of Shakespeare's Pizza

APN Photography /

Founded in 1973, Shakespeare’s Pizza is an institution in Columbia known for its fresh, delicious pizza and quirky decor.

The restaurant also offers vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options to cater to a diverse customer base.

You can order a custom pizza with your choice of crust, cheese, toppings, sauce, and more.

Make sure to try the meat lover’s, pepperoni, and vegetarian flavors when you dine at Shakespeare’s Pizza.

Delicious Pies at Peggy Jean’s Pies

After devouring a delicious meal, you’ll probably be looking for something sweet.

The perfect place to go for dessert, Peggy Jean’s Pies is a staple among locals, who enjoy their delicious pies.

They have a massive selection of amazing pies for you to choose from.

Try the peach praline, rhubarb, cherry, dutch apple, or pumpkin pies when you visit Peggy Jean’s Pies.

Shop for Sweet Treats at The Candy Factory

A locally owned and operated dessert shop, The Candy Factory produces a broad range of candies, with chocolate as its area of expertise.

The store offers a variety of delightful treats, from various candies to chocolate-covered fruits.

Visitors can see the candies being prepared and spend hours browsing the countless confections available.

The staff is incredibly knowledgeable about chocolate and candies in general.

It is an excellent spot to visit during holidays since they have lovely decorations and carefully made sweets for every season.

Stroll around and See Animals at the Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary

In addition to functioning as an urban wildlife sanctuary for local flora and animals, the Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary is a special park devoted to conserving Columbia’s historical significance and natural beauty.

The nature preserve allows visitors to spot animals, especially birds, in their natural habitat.

Three well-liked walking and hiking routes are among the park’s facilities, along with a picnic shelter and bathrooms.

The concrete Scott’s Branch route, which connects Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary and Dublin Park, welcomes skateboard use.

Strollers are welcome on this year-round, open-access route.

Watch a Film at Ragtag Cinema

The non-profit Ragtag Film Society is based out of the nearby, independent, non-profit Ragtag Cinema.

They support regional productions, film festivals, and other events to promote cinema and media arts.

The film organization evaluates movies from all across the nation and the world to decide the ones to screen each month.

The theater typically screens 12 films or events every month, and the films cover a diverse spectrum of ideologies, ethnicities, and cultures.

While viewing their movie, visitors are welcome to eat anything from Uprise or drink something from the bar.

See Unique Gardens at the Mizzou Botanic Garden

Students, faculty members, and staff frequently go to the Mizzou Botanical Garden on the University of Missouri campus to unwind or find a peaceful space to read or study.

Its purpose is to assist the University of Missouri in its economic growth, research, extension, and teaching endeavors.

Every year, new plants are introduced to the garden, which varies periodically.

The Siberian Iris, Butterfly, Asiatic & Oriental Lily Gardens, and the Native Missouri Tree Collection are some of the unique gardens that can be seen in the botanic garden.

The Columbia Recreation Trail is accessible from the gardens, which are dispersed throughout a wide campus area.

Walk around the Three Creeks Conservation Area

Boone County’s Three Creeks Conservation Area is accessible to the general public daily.

A stunning wooded region will greet visitors with several fascinating geological aspects and majestic red cedar trees.

Turkey Creek, Bonne Femme Creek, and Bass Creek, which flow through the conservatory, are within the 1,500-acre area.

Back-country camping is permitted, and the region is home to a network of paths ideal for walking, hiking, equestrian riding, and bicycling.

Several come and try their luck at fishing and/or seasonal hunting, whereas many folks come to appreciate birdwatching.

Play Leisure Golf at the A.L. Gustin, Jr. Golf Course

Enjoy hours of golf game at the 18-holeA.L. Gustin, Jr. Golf Course.

Named after a Kansas City native, the course was donated to the university to be used specifically as a golf course; it was officially opened to the public in 1959.

Located inside the University of Missouri campus on East Stadium Boulevard, the country’s first college golf course was recognized as a Cooperative Sanctuary by Audubon International in 1997.

To maintain its wildlife management efforts, the course currently has several nesting stations for bluebirds, beehives, and large pollinator plots dotted around the area.

The golf course also hosts numerous events and tournaments throughout the year such as the Missouri State Open, Gateway PGA Mid-Missouri Championship, and Show Me State Games among others.

You’ll also get to play like a pro on these well-maintained fairways and practice your swings at the putting green and driving range.

Level up your game and sign up for individual or group golf lessons designed for any level of golfing expertise.

Book a tee time at A.L. Gustin, Jr. Golf Course and avail of their Daily Green Fees or opt for Season Passes.

Peruse Collectible Items at Veranda Antique Mall

If you’re fond of vintage and classic pieces, be sure to stop by Veranda Antique Mall.

The shop is accessible via I-70 Drive South East and you can visit any day of the week.

The store also has been around since 2010 with over a hundred active dealers selling various antique goods.

Browse through the items and you’ll find everything from home and office furniture, decor, and artwork, to ornaments, knick-knacks, novelty items and so much more.

Are you a comic book or postcard collector? Check out their stocks on display and you might find something to add to your collections.

If you plan to remodel or fix an old furniture piece, the store exclusively carries the Dixie Belle Paint brand and sells products like chalk paint, waxes, glazes, and finishes.

Shop for good finds and catch sales and promos at Veranda Antique Mall.

Enjoy Good Food and Coffee at Lakota Coffee Company

A cup of fresh coffee, good food, and a relaxing, cozy ambiance all sum up whatLakota Coffee Company offers.

You can visit any of their locations along South 9th Street, Green Meadows Way, or quickly drop by their coffee kiosk at the University of Missouri Hospital Drive.

Started by Skip DuCharme in 1992, the name was derived from a Teton Sioux word meaning “friendly people.”

Coffee lovers will enjoy a variety of brews created from beans sourced from Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and others.

Experienced baristas will be happy to prepare your drinks on the menu from classic brewed coffee to a variety of Espresso Drinks you can order in single, double, or triple shots.

Try House Favorites like shakes, frappes, and lattes, or sip any of their Blend Bar items like frozen frappes, Coffee Shake or Chai Shake; likewise, they offer assorted teas and chocolate beverages in case you prefer some non-coffee drinks.

For breakfast and lunch menu items, try sandwich varieties like Mesquite Turkey, Pepper Mill Turkey, Black Forest Ham, Pastrami, The Beast, Grilled Cheese, and more.

You can also go for healthy eats like Vegetarian and The Healthy Veggie sandwiches, or better yet try to Create Your Own Sandwich.

Try other Lakota Coffee Company food items like Soups and Combos, pastries, and snacks like bagels, muffins, scones, and much more.

Shop for Local Fresh Produce at Columbia Farmers Market

Shoppers at Columbia Farmers Market

Grey Wanderer, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You’re sure to find the best and freshest local produce at Columbia Farmers Market.

This year-round market is exclusive to local producers and artisans and is held every Saturday at Agriculture Park on West Ash; additional market days on Wednesdays are also available from May to September.

Since its first year of opening in 1980, it has now grown with over 80 vendors from all around Columbia and nearby areas.

The market also earned the top spot in 2021 among the farmers’ markets across the state, the Midwest, and the whole country.

Choose from an array of fresh fruits and vegetables in season, farm-fresh eggs, coffee blends, and other food products like wagyu beef, wild purslanes, and Ayurvedic herbs.

Likewise, you can also check out assorted plants and handmade crafts, along with delicious food sold by food trucks every second and fourth Wednesday of the month.

There’s also live music, various activities for kids, and other special events to enjoy at Columbia Farmers Market.

Camp Out with the Family at Cottonwoods RV Park & Campground

Planning for fun camping activities with the family? Cottonwoods RV Park & Campground is the perfect place to camp on your RV.

They’re located on North Oakland Gravel Road and open all year round; the campground is also a few minutes from several local attractions like the Warm Springs Ranch and the University of Missouri.

The park provides full hookups for electricity, water, and sewer in addition to picnic tables and concrete patios at each site.

You’ll find all you need at the large store and gift shop from beverages and food to camping and RV supplies, toys, and more; likewise, you can also purchase local wines from Les Bourgeois and craft beers by Log Boat Brewing and Burr Oak Brewery.

If you book from May to September, you can enjoy and take a dip at the outdoor pool.

Little ones can also have a fun time at the large playground area built with swings and mini rock climbing walls.

Otherwise, play a game of horseshoes or shoot hoops on the basketball court.

And since the park is also pet-friendly, you can bring along your furry family member with free pick-up baggies and waste stations you can use for your pets.

You can also spend time in the recreation room with books, games, DVD movies, and gym equipment to keep you busy.

Other amenities at Cottonwoods RV Park & Campground include a pavilion, gazebo, laundry area, high-speed Wi-Fi connection, restrooms, and showers.

Final Thoughts

Columbia, located in Missouri’s center, provides fantastic views of the stunning landscape that encompasses it.

With all the features of a large metropolis and the bustling community, Columbia is a fantastic destination to explore and learn about.

Make the most of your adventure trip by going to all the most incredible tourist locations and engaging in all the enjoyable activities with loved ones.

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