Missoula, MT City Guide

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With a humble population, Missoula, MT is small, but mighty. Surrounded by five mountain ranges and myriad rivers, many recognize Missoula for its University — but as today’s city guide writer, Jessica Lowry, knows firsthand, this great city is much more than that. An editorial and commercial photographer, editor and writer, Jessica was born and raised in Atlanta, GA and earned her degree in Journalism and Telecommunications from the University of Georgia. Although her work has taken her everywhere from Rome to the inside of a bat cave in rural Tennessee, Jessica followed her lens and heart all the way to Missoula, where she and her husband have lived for nearly a decade.

Filled with oodles of options categorized into Missoula’s various popular neighborhoods, today, Jessica is sharing the very best that Missoula has to offer — including adventurous outings and the best spots to find succulents, bibimbap and charming paper goods, and the perfect places to go to for a greasy spoon breakfast.  –Sabrina

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DOWNTOWN

EAT

The Catalyst

This might be my favorite restaurant in Missoula. From its constantly rotating specials at breakfast and lunch to its healthy vegetarian and vegan options, it’s delicious at every bite. Small but inviting, the outdoor tables are the ones to snag come summer for the best Saturday morning parade of people-watching. And order the side of pepper jack potatoes, no matter what you do. You’ll thank me later.

The Shack

Old-time charm meets delicious breakfast bites. Since 1949, The Shack has been serving up plates to hungry Missoulians looking for bacon and eggs with a strong cup of coffee. Make like a local and order the veggie browns or choose from one of their fantastic omelets. Also a great spot to hit for an early (think 7 am) breakfast before you head out to fish for the day. It’s often slammed on the weekends, so be prepared to wait if you venture in for a Saturday brunch.

The Old Post

Do you like beer? Do you like burgers? If you answered yes to either one of these questions, then you should head to this well-loved establishment on a Monday for their burger-and-a-beer special for the best of both. Or any night of the week, for that matter, because it’s delicious. Vegetarians will dig the falafel wrap while everyone will love the brunch options. If it’s summer in Missoula then it’s probably a good idea to meet a friend on the deck here.  You won’t be disappointed.

Biga Pizza

It’s not hard to convince me to eat pizza. It’s even easier to convince me to eat a wood-fired pie – from the classic margherita to the Flathead Cherry – at Biga. My favorite will forever be the fig, prosciutto, basil masterpiece, but you’ll just have to come back more than once to try them all and find your own favorite combination.

Red Bird Wine Bar

When you think wine bar, you might not immediately think hushpuppies. You’d be wrong. Besides having a fantastic selection of wine and beer, they truly make a mean hushpuppy. And this is a compliment coming from a southern lady. They are that good. Located in the fabulous and historic Florence Hotel, the Red Bird is a great place to take a date and cozy up in the corner over a flight of Spanish wines. Stop in on a Monday for free live music with your vino. If you are looking for more of a fine dining experience, you can make reservations for the attached restaurant for the full Red Bird experience.

Scotty’s Table

Located on the garden level of the Wilma Theater, this fine dining restaurant boasts of locally sourced ingredients for their drool-inducing plates. Serving lunch and dinner during the week and brunch on the weekends, it’s a great splurge for a fancy bite out. It also (in my opinion) serves one of the best burgers in Missoula. And there are a lot of burgers to try here. Trust me. It’s that good.

The Pearl Café

Quaint and charming, The Pearl is a local’s favorite. With a French influenced menu, it’s consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in Missoula. To up the Montana-factor, order the trout or bison specials. You’ll feel extra fancy and get a taste of Montana-grown delights. This cozy and inviting restaurant is a fantastic place to visit on a snowy winter’s night. You’ll be so warm and full you’ll wish there was a bed and breakfast attached so you never had to leave.

Sweet Peaks

If you are anything like me, you sometimes count ice cream as lunch. Sweet Peaks is a fantastic place to visit any time, including my necessary midday salty caramel break. With homemade flavors that include Tipus chai, lemon dill, and chocolate love, you can’t go wrong at this adorable spot. The original shop opened in Whitefish in 2010 by husband-and-wife team Sam and Marissa. This Missoula outpost stays true to the original location’s ambiance and knock-your-socks-off delicious ice cream. There is no wrong time to stop here.

 

DRINK

Black Coffee Roasting

This industrial space is home to one of the best cups of coffee you’ll find in Missoula. Take home a bag of freshly roasted beans, or just get your daily java fix here. You can bite into a slice of artisan toast while sipping on a latte that looks like a work of art.

Break Espresso

Missoula is a college town. And like all college towns, there is always a favorite coffee shop to cram for finals or write that term paper. In Missoula, that place is Break Espresso. In addition to providing the perfect studious atmosphere, it also boasts excellent pie.

Montgomery Distillery

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The best damn cocktails in Missoula. With a rustic swagger and spot-on aesthetic, enjoying one of the hand-crafted drinks here made from their gin, vodka, or aquavit is a great way to wind down after a long day of Montana adventures. Order the off-menu “Black Diamond” cocktail, named one of the best cocktails in America by New York Magazine, or the Bloody Olaf, Montgomery’s answer to the bloody Mary. Leave with a bottle (or two) of finely crafted Whyte Laydie Gin, Quicksilver Vodka or Skadi Aquavit to take home for your friends (or yourself).

Charlie B’s

A Missoula institution, everyone has a Charlie B’s story and you should, too. Order a drink and play a round of pool under the gaze of Charlie’s regulars, whose black-and-white portraits decorate the halls of this dive bar for the ages. If you need a bite to accompany your stiff drink, order some gumbo from the Dinosaur Grill found at the back of the bar.

James Bar

If you want a great spot to meet friends for a drink and a bite, James Bar does the trick. With a large stone fireplace and larger-than-life portraits of rock and roll legends, it’s hip and delicious. The truffle fries and tater tots will make you want to come back again and again.

Butterfly Herbs

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A great spot to stop for a cup of tea or coffee and a quick lunch (cash only). It’s also the best place to find bulk teas and spices downtown. Make sure to try the Evening in Missoula tea, an intoxicating combination that can become a nightly necessity.

Dram Shop

If you love beer and want to tap the pulse of Montana’s Craft Beer scene, this is a great place to start. With a constantly rotating selection of beer on tap, it’s the perfect spot to compare beers from around the state side-by-side. From here, you can make a plan to visit the numerous breweries in Missoula (Flathead Lake Brewing, Kettlehouse, Big Sky Brewing and Draughtworks come to mind). In addition to local brews, Dram Shop frequently has interesting beers from the across the country and abroad. Plus, in true Missoula form, there’s a kids’ play area for parents in need of an adult beverage and kiddo break.

Plonk

This trendy and upscale cocktail bar also boasts a menu of delicious lunch and dinner items. Exposed brick walls and candlelight combine for a funky vibe that’s East Coast meets Montana. Order a GFC and lean back into your leather chair to enjoy the scene. Summertime guests should head upstairs for the small and adorable rooftop patio.

 

SHOP

House

If you like modern design with a little bit of funk, this is the shop for you. You can find everything here from a sweet gift for your best friend to a stunning couch for your living room — and all points in between.

4 Ravens Gallery

There is a vibrant art scene in downtown Missoula and this local gallery is full of great gifts, art, and other beautiful must-have items. With an new opening every month, it’s a great introduction to art in Missoula.

Radius Gallery

Another good spot, this contemporary art gallery is a hot ticket on gallery nights (the first Friday each month). They have their finger on the pulse of what’s new and fresh in Montana art. A great place to find a one-of-a-kind piece of work for a friend or loved one.

Cloth and Crown

Everything in this beautiful boutique makes you want to take it home. Well styled and impeccably curated, you’re bound to leave with a necklace you just can’t live without or the perfect pair of jeans.

One Eleven

You’ll find a fabulous selection of dresses and jewelry in this downtown boutique. This is a perfect place to go when looking for the chic, little black dress or trying to add something fresh to your wardrobe.

The Green Light

Focused on sustainable and environmentally conscious clothes, accessories, makeup and cooking items. You’ll find an extensive selection of “406” t-shirts here, too, if you are looking to remember your time in one of the only states with just one area code.

Noteworthy

If you are in love with paper products, then Noteworthy is a can’t-miss stop. Their extensive selection of paper, pens and letterpress cards can fill the better part of an afternoon. Adorable is an understatement.

Habitat Floral

If you want to add some succulents to your home or an air plant to your office, this is the place to find them. Especially if you want them to be extra adorable.  It’s also a great spot to head for a bouquet for Mom’s birthday. Always beautiful and stylish.

 

PLAY

The Wilma Theatre

The Wilma Theater seen on Higgens Avenue in downtown Missoula, Montana. The theater was built in 1921 and hosts as a venue to many bands and events every year.

After an extensive renovation, the historic Wilma Theatre has been polished into a shiny music box that honors its tradition as a top music venue in Missoula. The beloved theater now boasts an amazing sound system, meaning it’s the go-to spot for concerts in Missoula. The Wilma is also home to the annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in February for the documentary buffs out there.

The Top Hat Lounge

Owned by the same folks that renovated the Wilma, The Top Hat could just as easily have been classified as a place to eat with its top-notch tapas menu. Grab a bite and enjoy a night of music here. They’ve recently hosted such notable acts as Lake Street Dive and Lucinda Williams.

Caras Park and Brennan’s Wave

On the banks of the Clark Fork River, this outdoor park is a great spot to take kids to play at Dragon’s Hollow, or watch surfers and kayakers brave icy waters to surf the manmade Brennan’s Wave. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no surfing in Montana.

Missoula Art Museum

Modern art made (mostly) in Montana. Missoula has an active and lively arts scene. So it stands to reason there is an active and lively museum located right downtown. When they aren’t showcasing art made in the west, you can find the likes of Andy Warhol or Jasper Johns gracing the gallery walls. Plus, it’s free!

The Union Club

If you just need to dance the night away, then this is the place to do it. Come hear local favorite Cash For Junkers play tunes that will make you two-step till dawn. Or at least 2 am.

Missoula Symphony Orchestra

Darko Butorac, 37 conducts the Missoula Symphony Orchestra during it's Red, White and True concert. The symphony is celebrating it's 60th anniversary.

With a free concert in Caras Park each summer, the Missoula Symphony Orchestra provides an impressive annual concert series. Typically performed in the Dennison Theater on campus at the University of Montana, it’s a great way to spend a night out hearing talented musicians do their thing.

 

STAY

The Wilma

Beautifully renovated suites in this historic building put you within walking distance of all the downtown fun. Plus, you’ll wake to stunning views of Mount Sentinel and the Clark Fork River.

 


 

HIP STRIP

EAT

Hob Nob

Great spot for a delicious breakfast. It’s small but delightful. An organic Missoula staple that has won best lunch in town for five years running.

Bernice’s Bakery

If you want a cupcake that’s outta-this-world-melt-in-your-mouth-good, then this is must-visit spot. No wi-fi means it’s filled with people talking to each other or reading books, not staring at laptops. Delicious coffee and budget-friendly lunch options.

Le Petit Outre

The best croissants in town. Available in plain, almond, or chocolate. Perfectly paired with an Americano and best enjoyed in the outdoor seating for maximum deliciousness.

Clyde Coffee

This bright, modern coffee house is a friendly addition to the Missoula coffee scene. A great spot for a quick breakfast and latte on the south side of the Clark Fork River.

Iza

Asian-fusion that hits the spot. I might be slightly obsessed with their Korean bibimbap. Happy hour specials abound for folks wanting a drink and small bite as they wander downtown.

Big Dipper Ice Cream

This Missoula staple has a nightly line as locals and out-of-towners alike wait for their perfect scoop of ice cream. Open year-round, don’t miss the Mexican Chocolate and Mint Oreo flavors. You’ll understand why there’s a line.

 

DRINK

Kettlehouse (South) Brewery

By now you’ve probably heard of Missoula’s famed Cold Smoke Ale. This is the place to get it. The lively tasting room is full of regulars and you’ll find a friendly, upbeat crowd here.

 

SHOP

Betty’s Divine

Style on-point for men and women can be found at Betty’s. It’s hip and stylish and the perfect spot to while away an afternoon. There’s a fantastic selection of shoes for ladies and they carry my personal favorite T-Bird Leather, a collection of handmade leather bags and accessories.

Bitterroot Flower Shop

If you are looking for a sprig of button mums for your kitchen table or a splash or ranunculus for a birthday bouquet, then this is the spot. Unique flowers and cute gifts abound.

Shakespeare and Co.

My favorite bookstore in Missoula. It recently expanded (yes, a brick-and-mortar independent bookstore expanded!) and hosts an extensive children’s section in addition to its well-curated fiction, non-fiction and Montana-based authors sections. If you have a bibliophile in your life, this is the place for them.

La Stella Blu

Adorable items for bebe from wooden toys to organic clothes. Everything is so tiny and cute you’ll want to come back again and again for the kiddos and parents in your life.

 

PLAY

Boom Swagger Salon

If you want to spend a Saturday morning feeling stylish and indulgent, this is the spot. Saturday clients leave with adorable haircuts only after they’ve enjoyed a delicious mimosa. You’re welcome.

 


 

SLANT STREETS

EAT

Café Dolce

This Italian eatery is as delicious as it is beautiful. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s yummy no matter the time of day. You can enjoy a scrumptious breakfast on the patio filled with lavender, or end your day eating pasta (that’s made fresh daily in-house) while gazing at the immaculately hand painted ceiling frescos. This is a can’t-miss spot.

Tagliare

If you like sandwiches, then it’s good to know that Tagliare’s “The Kiss” sandwich is my second favorite sandwich I’ve ever had. My first favorite sandwich was found in Park Slope at Bierkraft (which has sadly closed). So, if you are in Missoula and you want a sandwich, this is the place to be.

 

PLAY

Rockin’ Rudy’s

If you want to be overwhelmed by amazing and hilarious options of things to buy, Rockin’ Rudy’s fits the bill. From concert tickets to jewelry to music to toys, this store has it all. And there’s a funny Rooster out front that sometimes has a knit sweater or scarf on. Just go here. You’ll be happy you did.

 


 

RATTLESNAKE

EAT

Rattlesnake Gardens

This small restaurant/grocery in the Rattlesnake is quaint and has a large yard with picnic tables that beg you to drink coffee while pouring over a crossword puzzle. Delicious options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it’s best followed by a walk around this adorable Missoula neighborhood.

 

DRINK

Tenspoons Winery

Bring a picnic lunch or dinner and order a glass of pinot from this local winery’s tasting room. Best enjoyed in warmer weather, the large lawn overlooks mountains to the east and the vineyard to the south. Great spot to spend an afternoon.

 

PLAY

Rattlesnake National Forest

If you want to enjoy a winter-wonderland adventure without going very far, grab your cross-country skis and head to the trailhead for the Rattlesnake Wilderness. The groomed trails wind you through vistas worthy of an REI catalogue. Summer visitors can enjoy a hike or wind their way by bicycle through the area’s extensive trail network. This area keeps me coming back year-round for outdoor adventures of all shapes and sizes.

Mount Jumbo

Everyone will tell you to hike to the “M” on Mount Sentinel. You should do that. But if you want to do something earlier in the alphabet, then hike to Mount Jumbo’s “L” for a different epic view of the Missoula Valley. Beautiful views along the way make this a great family-friendly hike.

 

STAY

Blossom’s Bed and Breakfast

This historic bungalow has been converted into a welcoming bed and breakfast. Hardwood floors and quiet location combine to create a relaxing retreat. This is a great place to stay if you want to be close to everything but with a neighborhood feel.

 


 

RIVER ROAD NEIGHBORHOOD

EAT

The Good Food Store

Where Missoula goes for organic groceries. It’s a great deal if you want to stock up on items from the bulk section. They have everything from granola to olive oil and even chocolate-covered ginger candies. Plus, there is a hot food bar that is one of the best deals in town for a quick and healthy meal on the go. Don’t miss their juice bar for a healthy sip with your meal.

 

DRINK

Bayern Brewery

I told you Missoula is crazy about beer. German beer made in Montana is the draw here. Bayern’s been around for ages and taking a tour of their beverage bounty at the tasting room is a fun way to explore Montana’s beer scene. Plus, they will take your used beer bottles and recycle them for new, freshly brewed beers. Genius!

 

SHOP

Nest

If you want to get lost in a world of kitchen and cooking goodness, this is a good place to go. A newly-added shop that’s a part of The Good Food Store, Nest is a great place to find adorable napkins, unique dishes, and kitchen appliances galore. It’s like a tiny, local Williams-Sonoma.

Home ReSource

This is a great spot to spend a morning envisioning all kinds of projects you never knew you wanted to do. As a place that collects and sells reusable home-building materials, you won’t be surprised to find everything here from front doors to kitchen cabinets. It’s DIY central if you want to make a unique headboard, revamp your kitchen, or just see what kinds of crazy stuff people salvage from home renovation projects.

 


 

UNIVERSITY DISTRICT

EAT

The Buttercup Market and Café

Locally sourced organic food in a small and cute neighborhood café. If you are looking for a place to grab a bite or a drink after walking around the nearby University of Montana campus, this is a perfect spot to take a break. Delicious specials and baked goods made fresh daily make for a winning combination.

 

PLAY

Mount Sentinel

You can hike the switchbacks to Missoula’s famed “M” for a stunning view of town, or keep going and summit the mountain. Either way, you’ll be rewarded with bucolic scenery and epic vistas. Plus, you’ll get your workout in before you eat and drink everything else on this list.

German exchange student Diren Dede was shot by neighbor Markus Kaarma in the garage of Kaarma's home in the Grant Creek neighborhood of Missoula, Montana. Kaarma is free on a $30,000 bond and charged with one count of deliberate homicide.

 

  1. Nicole says:

    Being a Montana girl myself, you hit every spot I typically recommend! Charlie Bs – I mean come on – does it get any better?! And Butterfly Herbs – I dream of their tea. So glad you are spreading the good word of Montana :) #lastbestplace

  2. Margaret Aitken says:

    We had our 2 large suitcases stolen from our truck in Missoula in hotel parking lot, Jan 2016. Our trip there was ruined.

    1. Caitlin Kelch says:

      Oh Margaret,

      We are so sorry that happened to you :(

      Thank you for sharing that bad experience so others can be cautious. Missoula is a lovely town so it is sad to hear about this.

      I hope you have a better travel experience soon!!

      Caitlin

  3. karin says:

    What about the North and Westside? Surely the Burns Street Bistro should have made this best of list. I had a stunning brunch there Sunday morning.

  4. Alexandra says:

    I love reading about such a great places. I am also looking for special places to spend vacation and maybe to retire there.

  5. Stacie says:

    Ahh… Kettlehouse Brewery, I miss you! Every time I visit home I get me some Coldsmoke…. Favorite beer ever!!!

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