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Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Road trip: Why you need to explore Columbia, Missouri, even if you don't go to Mizzou

 A sculpture of 5 feet tall letters in brushed stainless steel spell out C O L U M B I A, with the "O" a globe etched with significant Columbia, Missouri dates and names.
Nathan Parker
Mizzou Visual Productions
A sculpture by artist Emmett Russell spells out "Columbia," installed in Gateway Plaza at Broadway and Providence in 2021.

Located smack in the middle of Missouri, Columbia is more than the home of the University of Missouri. It's also a destination for dining, entertainment, and access to nature.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure! newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

Columbia is about a two hour drive from Kansas City, making it perfect weekend trip material. It’s sometimes referred to as the “Athens of Missouri” because of its classic beauty (looking at you, Mizzou Columns) and college town roots, but many locals affectionately refer to Columbia as “CoMo.”

Beyond the prominent college campuses, Columbia is packed with restaurants, entertainment venues, and outdoor activities. Here’s where you should get started.

Sweet treats and bakeries

 A pie with a crust cutout in the shape of the state of Missouri, sitting on a white tile surface.
Silverbox Photography
Peggy Jean's Pies
Peggy Jean's Pies are run by a mother-daughter duo and offer over 50 flavors.

Columbians are foodies, and there are countless restaurants that you need to try at least once when you visit.

Let’s start off sweet. With more than 50 flavors like Banoffee, a banana-caramel cream pie, or Peach Raspberry, matriarch-owned Peggy Jean’s Pies has been providing fresh-baked pies in Columbia for more than a decade. The store closed in 2004 because half of the pie-making duo, Peggy, passed away, but it reopened in 2014 when Jean (whose full name is Jeanne) and her daughter joined forces.

The pies are made from scratch every morning. If you have your eyes on a specific flavor, it’s recommended you pre-order.

Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream is a longstanding staple in Columbia for some of the best (and wackiest!) ice cream. The downtown shop has been around for more than 20 years. It stands out for a lot of reasons, and not just because of their bright, lime green exterior and eclectic decor.

Sparky’s is known for unique flavors that highlight other local businesses like their Boone Olive Oil Blueberry Balsamic and fun seasonal flavors like “Finding Nemo,” a blueberry lemon ice cream with Nerds, gummy sharks and gummy clownfish.

B&B Bagels, a beloved favorite pre or post-class spot for students, started as franchise but is now locally owned. Their New York-style bagels are freshly baked and boiled and made in-house. B&B Bagels has two menus, a breakfast menu and a lunch menu.

The breakfast menu features savory egg’wiches, oatmeal, and a variety of sweet treats. The lunch menu offers a variety of deli sandwiches and savory bagels as well as several flavors of pizza bagels.

If you’re looking for yet another great bagel place in CoMo, Goldie’s Bagels is another superb option. Goldie’s is a pandemic baby, opening in 2020 when Amanda Rainey started baking bagels. She originally sold them at pop-ups in Pizza Tree, a pizza joint (that you have to check out) Rainey and her husband own.

Now, Goldie’s Bagels has expanded to its own brick-and-mortar, and so has Rainey’s goal of sharing Jewish comfort food. Their menu features a variety of bagel flavors, with their signature being a sourdough bagel with a touch of turmeric rolled in black-sesame seeds.

In addition to a variety of bagel sandwiches and schmears, their menu also features traditional Jewish pastries, like rugelach, and creative takes on old classics, like babka buns.

Café culture

 Two hands hold a green mug with a display of latte art.
Lakota Coffee Company
Columbia, Missouri is a great spot for coffee lovers, including Lakota Coffee Company since 1992.

Like any good college town, Columbia has a lot of great spots for coffee lovers/addicts.

One longtime favorite is Lakota Coffee Company. Although the classic downtown location is currently closed for construction, their Green Meadows location in south Columbia is open for business.

Their coffee is hand-roasted daily, like it has been since the place opened in 1992. The south location also offers a handful of alcoholic drinks, like beer or coffee cocktails and a food menu.

Another spot to swing by is The Grind. This fun, locally-owned coffee house calls itself “Columbia’s neighborhood coffee shop” and it has become just that. The Grind, which began in 2016, now has three locations.

The Grind’s menu features a yummy array of signature drinks, like the Adult Chocolate Milk, a 42-hour cold brew mixed with mocha, white mocha, and milk, or the Triple B, a “Grinder” (think blended frappuccino) made of matcha, Andes chocolate mint, and mocha.

You can also customize your own flavor combination, or choose from their list of fruit smoothies and protein shakes. The Grind also serves food, partnering with local businesses like the Ice Cream Factory or Ellianna’s Donut Shop.

Arts and entertainment

Stop Day Rave at The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri, in 2022.
The Blue Note
Stop Day Rave at The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri, in 2022.

Got your caffeine? It’s time to explore Columbia’s vibrant arts and entertainment scene.

Participating in events like the North Village Arts District First Fridays Art Walk is a great way to get to know the mid-Missouri region and its artists better.

The Columbia Art League (CAL) is another great place to catch the vibe of CoMo’s art scene. The non-profit gallery is loaded with work by community artists. CAL’s current hours are Tuesday - Friday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., but be sure to check their social media for potential schedule changes.

If you’re looking to learn more about the state of Missouri, the Center for Missouri Studies is a great place to start. The sleek-downtown archive facility opened in Columbia in 2019. It serves as a research facility for students, researchers, genealogists, and more.

The first floor gallery is home to renowned Missouri artists like George Caleb Bingham and Thomas Hart Benton. Visitors to the Center for Missouri Studies are strongly encouraged to make an appointment. To learn more about hours and reservations, follow this link.

After 10 years on Mizzou’s North Campus, The Museum of Art and Archaeology (also known as MA&A) has moved back to Mizzou’s main campus. Renovations are still in progress, but the museum’s collection of more than 16,000 objects will soon settle in on Ellis Library’s main floor in a brand new gallery space. The gallery is projected to open this winter.

Step into history at the Blind Boone Home located in downtown Columbia. This beautifully preserved home was built in the late 1800s. It belonged to John William “Blind” Boone, a nationally known pianist and ragtime music composer. Boone was born in Miami, Missouri, in 1864, during the Civil War. According to the website, Boone’s mother, Rachel, was an enslaved person liberated from Confederate forces who then worked at a Union camp. His father, William Belcher, was a soldier.

Boone lost his eyes as an infant to a severe brain injury, but this didn’t stand in the way of his incredible talent as a musician. The museum’s website says Boone began playing any instrument he could get his hands on (or anything he could tap a rhythm with). “His [Boone’s] first instrument was a tin whistle with which he could play any ordinary tune after hearing it once,” the website says.

We won’t give away any more spoilers — you’ll have to visit the Blind Boone Home to learn more about Boone’s life and how he ended up in Columbia, Missouri. But it is definitely worth the trip, especially for a music or history lover.

 Spoon performs at The Blue Room
Karl Bussen
Spoon performs at The Blue Room in Columbia, Missouri, on April 25, 2022.

If you’re craving live music, you gotta plan a visit to The Blue Note. The beloved concert venue has been around since 1980, and its stage has hosted artists like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Pixies, and more. After moving to a new home in downtown Columbia in 1990, The Blue Note resides in a historic, ornate vaudeville theater. The theater’s ornate details add to the concert experience.

In addition to great concerts, The Blue Note is home to the CoMo Comedy Club. Follow this link for more information about comedy shows.

The Blue Note’s sister venue, Rose Music Hall, just a few blocks away, is another great concert venue to check out. Rose Music Hall has both an indoor and outdoor stage located in Rose Park.

Rose Music Hall is a smaller venue and tickets can be purchased online or at the Blue Note’s box office. Check out Rose’s calendar to see what musicians will be in town.


 A pizza with pepperoni and artichoke hearts in front of a glass of soda, a pint of beer, and white plates with red napkins.
Alycia Lewis
Shakespeare's Pizza
Local chain Shakespeare's Pizza celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

If you’re craving something savory or a full meal, Columbia is packed with options.

A crowd favorite is Shakespeare’s Pizza, a locally-owned pizza joint celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. They have three locations, and although their O.G. downtown spot was rebuilt a few years back, it retained its quirky vibe and dark green branding.

It’s a great place to grab a quick slice for lunch, bring a group and order a whole pizza (or several!) and enjoy their bar, or just about anything in between. The pizzas are made in-house, from dough to brick-oven.

If you’re bringing along a squirmy kid, the shop will hand out balls of dough to play with if you ask. You can also reserve a “Shakespearience” where parties of six can make their own pizzas.

Sycamore — a classic, downtown New-American eatery — has welcomed guests for almost two decades. The warm, cozy interior is lined with local art and it's a great place to “taste” Columbia, as many of their ingredients are sourced from mid-Missouri farmers.

Their extensive menu rotates with the seasons and is subject to change a little bit day-to-day. This summer, they’re plating up everything from ceviche to a strawberry-spinach salad. Sycamore also has a lot to offer in the beverage department. With cocktails, mocktails, beer and a wine list crafted by their own sommelier, there is something for everyone.

Parks and nature

 A view of Stephens Lake Park, with a spray ground in the foreground and the man-made island in the background.
Columbia Parks and Recreation
Stephens Lake Park, with walking trails, a spray ground and a man-made island in the middle of the lake, is a great place to cool off and chill out in Columbia, Missouri.

Columbia and its surrounding areas are home to lots of really beautiful parks and natural areas that you will want to add to your list of day trips.

Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, about five miles south of Columbia, is a great place for a scenic hike. The park’s six beautiful trails offer views of a cave system, a natural land bridge, various streams, an underground stream, and more.

Devil’s Icebox, a double sinkhole which offers a window to the underground stream, is one of the most well-known features in the park. The view is accessible by a boardwalk trail, and though visitors aren’t allowed to enter the cave, you can still enjoy a refreshing, cool breeze that wafts through it.

If you’re looking for a more urban park, Stephens Lake Park is a local gem. Spanning over 116 acres, the park offers three playgrounds, an amphitheater, and various gardens. The park is circled by a paved trail, making it easy to walk around and take in the scenery. Within the lake is a little man-made island, accessible by a boardwalk trail, that’s a perfect spot to chill and enjoy the scenery or take photos.

Stephens also is a great place for fishing or splashing in the water at the swim beach or spray grounds. Admission to the swim beach and spray grounds is free, and they’re open May 1 to September 30.

Shelter Gardens is a great place to stop for a lovely stroll. Located on the grounds of Shelter Insurance’s corporate office, the public garden and arboretum spans over five acres. With more than 300 varieties of trees and shrubs and 15,000 annuals and perennials, you’re bound to spot a new plant. The garden also has a handful of neat features, like a waterfall, a replica of a 19th century one-room schoolhouse, and a garden designed for the visually impaired.

Columbia has access to the Katy Trail, a 240 mile trail built on the former corridor of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (a.k.a MKT or Katy). The Katy Trail is the longest recreational rail trail in the country, and to access it, you’ll need to bike or walk the 8.9-mile MKT Nature and Fitness Trail located in Flat Branch Park in downtown.

If you’re wanting to climb around on some rocks, check out Pinnacles Youth Park (a.k.a. “The Pinnacles”). This privately-owned park is open to the public 8 a.m. to sunset and is located about 15 miles north of Columbia.

The pinnacles are a geological anomaly — steep, winding limestone rock formations that were sculpted by two rivers. The view is breathtaking, but the climb can be dangerous, so it’s probably not the best park to visit if you are afraid of heights or have small children with you.

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga reports on health disparities in access and health outcomes in both rural and urban areas.
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