Being equally distant from St. Louis and Kansas City, Columbia is located in Boone County, central Missouri. It rests upon the Missouri River valley, where the forested hills of the Ozark Mountains turn into savanna and plains. Interestingly, Columbia is the fastest-growing city in Missouri.
Originally an agricultural town, Columbia’s economy is now dominated by education and healthcare. In fact, the University of Missouri employs almost 10% of the city’s inhabitants.
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Columbia (MO)
1. Columbia Mall
With a convenient location and a mix of retailers and restaurants, Columbia Mall is more than just a stylish mall with local and global brands. There, you will find big stores like Target, H&M, JCPenney, Victoria’s Secret, among others. One of the highlights is the Barnes & Noble bookstore which has a small cafe serving Starbucks Coffee, sandwiches, and pastries, in general.
The large food court is a favorite gathering place for shoppers and the kids have a blast riding the carousel. Besides, the mall also features a few toy claws machines, a nice arcade, and a bowling alley. Columbia Mall is also pet-friendly, as long as your pet is trained.
2. Stephens Lake Park
A former golf course, Stephens Lake Park is now a big park with a lakefront boardwalk and several picnic shelters. With two main short trails, you can choose to walk around the lake or the park itself. Regardless of your choice, you will see people biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, jogging, and even taking their pets out for a walk.
Besides the free Wi-Fi, the park features a few playgrounds and its famous Sprayground. This beach and roped off area is perfect for a swim in Stephens Lake.
3. Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area
Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area is the largest municipal park in Columbia with lots of space for any kind of sporting activity. Some of its amenities include a fishing pond, tennis courts, and ball fields for all types of sports like soccer, lacrosse, football, as well as baseball. You can also find the Columbia Skate Park and L.A. Nickell Golf Course.
The Cosmo Park, as kindly nicknamed by the locals, is also home to the largest playground in Columbia, the Steinberg Playground. And of course, just like any other park, you can also start a hike there, since this is where the trailhead for the Bear Creek Trail is found.
4. The Blue Note
If you are looking for a fun-filled night with good music, the Blue Note is the place to go. This indie-rock club established in a 1920s theater presents all sorts of eclectic acts. The Blue Note is small enough that there is not a bad seat in the house but big enough to get some pretty popular artists and bands.
There is plenty of room downstairs, a VIP area upstairs as well as theater-style seats that open up for the bigger shows. Besides the great sound system, security, two bars, and balcony seating, the venue provides an intimate experience in the heart of Columbia.
5. Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
Popular for its hiking and biking trails, the Rock Bridge Memorial State Park is known for its unique rock formations and waterways. With a large cave system and a rock bridge, you can explore the Gans Creek through the park’s sinkholes. Some of the trails are completely made out of wood with rails.
Even though the rock bridge and Connor’s cave are some of the public’s favorite attractions in this park, the highlight of Rock Bridge Park is the Devil’s Icebox. This impressive cave with a creek bed as its ground is home to many bats. So, watch out and take a flashlight if you intend on exploring it.
6. Mizzou Arena
The University of Missouri is the largest employer in Columbia and its basketball facility is an attraction itself. With over 15,000 seats, private boxes, and eating options, Mizzou Arena is worth the visit. The arena also hosts other sporting events such as wrestling matches and live music concerts. So, with all the Tiger basketball games, concerts, and so much more running through its hallowed halls and court, Mizzou Arena is a showcase and tribute to its fans and followers.
The seating is decent and comfortable all around, and regardless of seat location, the view is always good. Also, although the food options are the standard arena food, it is pretty tasty.
7. Finger Lakes State Park
Built in a former coal mining area, Finger Lakes State Park is considered a paradise for off-road vehicle riders and fans. The park features a trail system for ATVs and off-road motorbikes along with space for camping, boating, hiking, and fishing.
There is one main off-road marked trail with unmarked trails that you are free to ride on. Some are challenging with steep hills if it has rained recently. So, expect a lot of mud. Besides, from Finger Lakes Park you can start the 2.75-mile Kelley Branch Mountain Bike Trail and a 4.5-mile water trail.
8. Faurot Field
Faurot Field is the University of Missouri football stadium and as such, it is a great place to watch a game and have fun with the whole family. The atmosphere for a football game under special lighting with close to 70,000 people in Black and Gold cheering for the Mizzou Tigers makes it a brilliant spectacle. Even for those who are not from Columbia.
In general, the stadium is very inclusive with a diverse environment. You can choose to bring your padded seat or even seat in one of the lawn seats.
9. Shelter Gardens
With colorful flowers, lush plants, and towering trees, the Shelter Gardens are Columbia’s botanical garden. This quiet and secluded spot right in the middle of the city is also very educational with all sorts of plants being labeled. Take a stroll along the winding comfortable pathways and explore the manicured and exquisite landscape.
Besides, this green space has a Vietnam Veteran Memorial which is an essential stop for residents and tourists alike. Make sure to check out the koi fish swimming in the pond and the playful squirrels.
10. Ragtag Cinema
Featuring indie and independent films, Ragtag Cinema provides a more intimate and engaging theater experience than most cinemas. The atmosphere is cozy and quiet, and the theater is never too crowded. Besides, the theater has non-traditional seating available during movies. Just be careful not to fall asleep in one of their sofas.
The biggest seller of this joint is that Uprise Bakery operates out of it so you can get great cookies, pastries, sandwiches, and of course, drinks! Yes, they serve alcoholic beverages at Ragtag and you can take them with you into the theater. Nothing beats a great movie accompanied by a drink!
11. Albert-Oakland Park
Albert-Oakland Park is jam-packed with fun activities including the Albert-Oakland Family Aquatic Center and pool. There are winding trails guiding you through disc golf courses, taking you to the tennis courts, past the baseball fields, and to the basketball courts. The park’s highlight is the disc golf course which is home to the Ice Bowl disc golf’s food drive tournament.
Whether you are a sports enthusiast, a lover of raw nature or just curious about everything in between, Albert-Oakland Park will stun you. Overall, the park is well maintained and beautifully landscaped, as well as a great place for a family outing.
12. Francis Quadrangle
The historic Francis Quadrangle at the University of Missouri has a classic 19th-century architecture in a beautifully landscaped square. Through a historic vibe, with a glimpse of both the past (older pillars) and present (Jesse Hall), this square is a true photogenic spot on the campus. In fact, the entire campus makes you feel as if you were in a botanical garden.
Be sure to check out one of the newer features, the bronze chest of Thomas Jefferson, along with his original obelisk-shaped grave-marker, on the East side of the quadrangle.
13. Big Muddy National Fish And Wildlife Refuge
Because of its murky waters, the Missouri River is kindly nicknamed as the Big Muddy and its National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is the perfect spot to go hunting or fishing on a nature reserve. Serving as a habitat for many wildlife species, you can spot several types of birds, deer, and even bobcats.
If you prefer taking the less traveled trails, go for the one over River’s Edge Park or Howell Island. And as the name states, this whole area gets very muddy and slippery during the rainy season. So, be extra careful when driving and hiking there.
14. Garth Nature Area Dog Park
With 1.6 miles of gravel trails around wetlands, the Garth Nature Area Dog Park features a fenced leash-free dog park. It has plenty of room for dogs to run, and it even has a pond for them to splash in. There is also a small obstacle course set up so you can train your four-legged friends.
The park itself is very relaxing with a few picnic tables and a lot of wildlife to spot. Also, from this park, you can access the trailhead for the Bear Creek Trail.
15. The Crossing
Although the Crossing is a very large church, it is great at connecting people in ways to serve, small groups as well as book studies. They also participate in a lot of community and global missions. The entire Crossing community is super welcoming, and you will instantly feel “part of the family”. Whether you are a long-time devoted Christian or someone just curious, the Crossing is a wonderful place to be.
The Crossing becomes even more magical during Christmas time. They decorate the entire church and hand out hot cocoa and cookies to everyone.
16. Grindstone Nature Area
With beautiful bridges and several trails, Grindstone Nature Park is a great little escape right in the middle of Columbia. There is so much to do there. You can explore and look in the creek for fossils, or even go rock climbing on the opposite side of the park. Also, this is a good area to look for flowers, raspberries, and mushrooms!
Grindstone Nature Park provides fun for the entire family. Take the kids to the creek to skip rocks and the dogs to the special off-leash area. With great overhead tree coverage and well-maintained walkways, the hiking trails are well worth the time, as well.
17. Three Creeks Conservation Area
Halfway between Columbia and Ashland, Turkey Creek, Bass Creek, and Bonne Femme Creek run through the Three Creeks Conservation Area. The park features rugged forest with scenic bluffs, intermittent streams, geologic formations, and old eastern red cedar trees.
Come prepared to hike up and down big hills. There are no designated camping areas so hike as far as you can until you find an area that suits you. Even though most of the water is very shallow, you can still find a nice swimming hole with a rope swing.
18. Museum of Art and Archaeology
Covering the last six centuries, the Museum of Art and Archeology is the third-largest visual arts museum in Missouri with over 15,000 objects. The museum, which is actually a series of galleries, features a wide range of cultural artwork and artifacts. However, the collection of Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern art is especially strong.
Just like many other attractions in Columbia, the Museum of Art and Archaeology is also part of the University of Missouri. And be sure to pay a visit to the Museum of Anthropology next door.
19. Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary
The Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary was first idealized in 1993 when the Russel family donated a 92-acre land to preserve nature. This urban wildlife sanctuary holds a lot of the history of Columbia and serves as a preservation area for native plants and animals. So, you can expect to see many different types of birds, rabbits, and deer.
Nowadays, open for visitors, the Nature Sanctuary provides a great educational opportunity for all ages. Besides, the park features both paved and unpaved walking trails and picnic shelters. Surrounded by a residential area, this is one of Columbia’s hidden gems.
20. Boone County History & Culture Center
Founded in 1924, the Boone County History & Culture Center collects, preserves, and exhibits historic artifacts, records, and artwork of the people of Boone County. Run by the non-profit organization Boone County Historical Society, the space features several galleries and two major exhibit halls in a 5,500 square feet space.
The museum also holds important documents and objects in climate-controlled vaults and storage spaces. Although it has rotating and seasonal exhibitions, the museum usually shows three to four displays at a time. Besides, the museum hosts several events throughout the year focusing on its county history and art.
21. Shryocks Callaway Farms
In 2002 the Shryrock family opened the Shryrocks Callaway Farms to visitors to show the country lifestyle with the corn maze as their main attraction. You can also go on a hayride across the functioning farm and enjoy a campfire afterward.
Also, make sure to check out the Big Red Barn and the Gumball Coaster with its hand-made three-story gumball. Besides purchasing pumpkins during fall, you can visit the fun barn where you will find a corn pit, a huge slide, and a rope swing. At the Barn, you can purchase food and drinks, as well as your Columbia souvenir.
22. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Garden
This garden is home to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial which is composed of a sculpture and an amphitheater with eight columns. Walking around the memorial you can read quotes by Dr. King in each of the pillars. Nowadays, the space is used for public events and private reflection as well as being a popular venue for weddings.
Around the park, you can find a few walking and biking trails, exercise stations, and water fountains. This secluded little green area is a common gathering place in Columbia and perfect for an afternoon picnic.
23. Flat Branch Pub & Brewing
What started as a beer brewing hobby became the Flat Branch Pub & Brewing in 1994. This warehouse setting for house-brewed beer offers a big selection of whiskey and upscale American pub fare. This is a great place to hear Rock n Roll music, and taste food that makes you feel cared for and appreciated.
Make sure to try their most unique drink, the Green Chili Beer. Although the Oatmeal Stout is not far behind as one of the public’s favorite. Also, there is a great outside seating area which is perfect for that summer sunset beer.
With its old wooden bar and the marble top, the eclectic American restaurant Murry’s has unique decoration with all the music posters covering its walls. Although the menu is a la carte, they have some interesting foods which include frog legs, powdered-sugar fried green peppers, and chicken livers.
Beyond the food, the atmosphere is unique, with a pianist some nights playing jazz. In fact, Murry’s is also a jazz-club featuring live music 5 nights a week. But be aware that Murry’s is quite popular which means it is usually a bit crowded.
25. D. Rowe’s Restaurant & Bar
Established in 2002, D. Rowe’s Restaurant & Bar is your typical family-friendly American restaurant with big portions served up in a laid-back bar & grill with outdoor tables.
At first, it might seem like the menu is about the same as any other pub. But when you look more carefully, you notice many subtle differences. So be sure to try their portabella fries and their famous smoked wings, an award-winning dish. Other popular dishes include the huge baked potatoes, pulled pork, and of course, their chocolate chip cookies.