Like Walt Whitman, Missoula contains multitudes. One day it’s a sleepy little college town, the next it’s an recreationist’s paradise, and the next it’s an urbane oasis in a rural sea. Luckily, there are plenty of avenues into Missoula’s varied identities, and more luckily still, you don’t have to choose. Here are three day-plans designed to dig you a little deeper into whichever Missoula you choose.
The history buff
• Start with breakfast at the Oxford Saloon (337 N. Higgins Ave.), a 24-hour bar founded in 1883 where you’ll find large photographs hanging on the walls depicting Missoula and other Montana towns in their logging, m2ining and railroad heydays. Entertain yourself reading the old menu, which references such items as “Inside Job” (liver) and “He Needs ‘Em” (brains and eggs).
• Walk downtown to enjoy the work of architect A.J. Gibson, who designed the Atlantic Hotel (519 N. Higgins Ave.), the old Carnegie Public Library that’s now home to the Missoula Art Museum (335 N. Pattee St.), and the Missoula County Courthouse (220 W. Broadway).
• Historic Fort Missoula (3400 Captain Rawn Way), built in 1877, is a reminder of dark times, including its role in defending white colonialism and, decades later, as a detention center for nearly 2,400 mostly Japanese and Italian nationals during World War II. It’s also a strikingly beautiful place, where you can stroll the grounds and gardens and check out the museum’s latest exhibit.
• Missoula has been training smokejumpers—firefighters who parachute into remote areas—since 1942. Check out the Smokejumper Visitor Center (5765 W. Broadway) to learn all about this tricky career choice. If it’s still fire season, you may even see smokejumper planes taking off.
• Grab a bite of Cajun food and a beer at the Dinosaur Cafe, inside Charlie B’s (428 N. Higgins Ave.). Formerly known as Eddie’s Club, the watering hole was a favorite of legendary Missoulians including printmaker Jay Rummel and photographer Lee Nye, whose work hangs on the walls. Flip open a copy of James Crumley’s The Last Best Kiss (which you bought at one of Missoula’s independent book shops) and order a shot of Patrón in honor of Crumley’s days holding court at the corner barstool.
• Catch a rock, folk, country or bluegrass show at the Wilma (131 S. Higgins Ave.), which was once a majestic movie theater, and is now a stately venue for touring bands. No matter how contemporary the live music might be, the renovated Louis XIV-style interior still reflects the aspirational glamour of 1921, when it was built.
The art lover or artist, starving or otherwise
• If it’s a Saturday in season, take the morning to explore the Missoula Farmers Market (at the north end of Higgins Ave.) and Clark Fork Market (under the Higgins Ave. bridge) to pick up all the essentials: veggies, pastries and cut flowers. In between markets, stop by the Peoples Market (Pine and Higgins), where you’ll find an assortment of locally made arts and crafts, including soaps, barstools, leather shoulder bags and framed photographs.
• If it’s not Saturday, or out of season, grab a coffee and pastry at any of Missoula’s multitude of bakeries and tour the downtown streets, where you’ll see several public artworks, including the commissioned lightboxes situated on almost every corner.
• Starting at 11 a.m. every day except Sunday, drop in at the Zootown Arts Community Center (235 N. 1st St. W.). Check out the center’s art exhibit (it changes monthly) and tour Missoula’s only public printshop, where, with a little instruction, you can try your hand at silk-screening, relief and intaglio printing.
• Spend the afternoon exploring Missoula’s art galleries. The Missoula Art Museum’s exhibits are always stunning, and the museum’s Art Park on Pine Street is a great place to hang out if you’re looking to be outside. Tour Higgins Ave. and downtown’s side streets to find other galleries, including the Dana Gallery (246 N. Higgins), Radius Gallery (114 E. Main) and E3 Convergence (229 W. Main).
• Take in an arthouse flick or cult classic film at the Roxy Theater (718 S. Higgins Ave.). The Roxy opened in 1937 and was closed after a fire in 1994. It’s been home to the International Wildlife Film Festival for several years, and it reopened post-renovation for year-round films in 2013.
• Looking for a little arty, do-it-yourself rock music? Head back to the Zootown Community Art Center and descend into the basement at the ZACC Below, where there is often a 7 p.m. all-ages show taking place. Here’s where you can get familiar with some of Missoula’s best local bands and catch underground and emerging touring acts.
• Need one last stop to get your creative juices flowing? Karaoke and open-mic nights are easy to find at the Union Club (208 E. Main St.), Badlander (208 Ryman St.) and VFW (245 W. Main). Some of the best singers in town frequent the Badlander on Wednesday nights, when karaoke is hosted by the charming theater actor Reid Reimers.
For the person who can’t sit still
• Grab one of the fast (and addictive) breakfast burritos from Market on Front (201 E. Front St.) and gather some friends for 18 holes of folf at Blue Mountain Recreation Area. The course is hilly with lots of trees and great views, sure to put a little burn in your legs and fresh air in your lungs.
• Take a break from physical activity and put all your positive energy to use in a breakout room. Big Sky Breakout (307 N. 2nd St. W.) or Break Out (2100 Stephens Ave. #107) both offer interactive gaming experiences in which you have one hour to solve puzzles and search for clues in order to get yourself out of a locked room. You can book any of the themed rooms as a group, or be paired up with other people.
• Demo a road bike from any of Missoula’s many bike shops and ride the Bitterroot Trail. The route is easy to find on Google Maps, and a good place to pick it up is next to Bob Ward’s (3015 Paxon St.). The paved trail covers 51 miles, and it’s mostly flat, paralleling US 93 through the Bitterroot Valley and ending at Angler’s Roost south of Hamilton.
• Take a brewery tour with Thirst Gear, a mobile bar that fits 15 people (or a minimum of six) and requires everyone to pedal to keep things moving. The tour will take any combination of strangers, so no worries if you only have a few friends. It offers a three-hour tour of Missoula’s microbreweries, beginning at the Dram Shop (229 E. Front St.). We recommend close-toed shoes and a large water bottle. $25 per person. Visit thirstgear.com.
• No matter the day of the week, you can almost always close out your night with a dance party. If it’s a weekend night, head down to the Badlander, where DJ Kris Moon plays all the club hits, past and present. Club hits not your jam? Try the Union Club Bar & Grill for some western-swing dancing. A recent rehab removed the longstanding pillar in the middle of their dance floor, so your risk of concussion is significantly lessened.