Columbia, Missouri is a hip college town with much more to offer than just a university. There are actually quite a number of attractions that draw visitors to the city. Located centrally between Kansas City and St. Louis, it is worth a stop on any road trip across the state. Bookmark this list of things to do in Columbia Mo and pull it up on your next trip across Highway 70!
This list of 20 Things To Do In Springfield, Missouri will help if you’re headed to other parts of Missouri.
The main draws for most will likely be touring the three campuses located in the city – quite remarkable for a town with a population of 120,000. Visiting some of the numerous parks and nature reserves – there’s no way you’ll see them all. And enjoying some food at Columbia Missouri’s many quirky, niche eateries.
1 – University of Missouri
You can’t expect to visit a college town like Columbia, Mo and miss out on its university. This is especially true when the university, Mizzou, is the largest University in the state! The campus is the heartbeat of the city which is why it tops the list of things to do in Columbia, Missouri!
There is a wealth of things to see and do at Mizzou. Start off by taking a stroll around the campus and checking out the landmarks scattered throughout the grounds. Be sure to make your way to the Francis Quadrangle which can be seen in the image above. The Francis Quadrangle is the historic center of the university and makes a picturesque place to stop while you take in the bustling campus.
Parks and Gardens
Columbia, Missouri has an abundance of state parks, gardens, and recreation centers. Far more than you would expect to see in a city with a population of 120,000, and far more acres of land than you’d expect to see as well. Listed here are a few of the best natural spots in the city. So, put on your walking shoes and let’s explore beautiful Missouri!
2 – Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
Rock Bridge State Park takes its name from a natural rock bridge that formed here and has become a sort of landmark for the area. Getting here will require leaving the city boundaries as it sits 5 miles south of Columbia, Missouri. It is perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in nature and experience what Boone County has to offer.
Rock Bridge stretches across 2,200 acres of natural Missouri landscape. There are a number of cool and exciting geological features that can be found throughout the sprawling park. With 15-miles of trails located in the park, you shouldn’t run out of things to see here! Some of the highlights include the Devil’s IceboxCave, the limestone karsts that dot the park, and of course, the rock bridge.
3 – Shelter Gardens
This 5-acre park is a bit smaller than some of the others on the list. With that said, it is unarguably among the best maintained in the whole of Missouri! Named after the Shelter Life Insurance company, the Shelter Gardens are located just behind the company’s headquarters. When stepping into the gardens, visitors will be greeted with a zen-like atmosphere and pristine views that rule the park.
Be sure to check out the three main highlights of Shelter Gardens. The Vietnam War Memorial, Garden For The Blind, and the Newcomers Schoolhouse. The Garden For The Blind is a unique experience in Columbia, MO and offers a complete sensory experience for those with impaired sight. Spend some time feeling, touching, and hearing the plants as you walk through this part of the garden.
The old schoolhouse at the Shelter Gardens is a replica, but it will give you an accurate feel for what education in the area used to be and how far it has come. Take a seat in the schoolhouse or spend some time as an instructor as you write on the chalkboard of the one-room schoolhouse. Either way, it’s a nice bit of history to experience.
If visiting be sure to keep an eye out for painted rocks. Local residents will hide colorful rocks around Shelter Gardens and Columbia’s other parks. Finding one is a neat experience and can serve as a treasure hunt for young kids – or the young at heart. Just remember to re-hide any rocks you find fo the next person to find. Also, post a photo on the Facebook group to let others know what you found!
4 – Stephens Lake Park
Stephens Lake Park is widely regarded as the highlight of Springfield, Missouri’s park system. And, topping the list of such a well-developed park system is certainly nothing to scoff at! Located in the Eastern part of Springfield, it makes for a convenient stop during a day tour or on longer trips.
The park is situated around a lake with a well-maintained boardwalk. This is great news for those looking to take a stroll. Stephens Lake Park also lends itself to picnickers with its large stretches of open grass. Arranging an impromptu picnic would be a great idea – assuming you’re here during the seasons of good weather! After a walk, stop by Broadway Market Place for a wide range of quick eats.
Hours: 6am -11pm
5 – Original Grave Marker of Thomas Jefferson
Did you know that Missouri University is the unlikely home to an important piece of American history? That’s right, Columbia, MO is where you will need to go in order to see the tombstone of Thomas Jefferson, one of the nation’s founding fathers.
After his death, Thomas Jefferson was buried at Monticello, his residence in Virginia. And that is where he is likely to stay – unless there is a sudden rise from the dead. His tombstone, however, has had a far more exciting journey through the years. It was originally erected at his burial spot at Monticello but quickly made its way to the University of Missouri. The reason for this move was likely for safekeeping.
A plausible reason as to why the University of Missouri was chosen was that it was the first school opened in the Louisiana territory. The school was of major significance as it helped highlight the brilliant success of Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase. After moving to Missouri the grave marker was victim to a series of misfortune that damaged it seemingly beyond repair. For more than 100-years it sat in storage until finally being restored by the Smithsonian Museum. You can finally find the repaired grave marker on display in Columbia, Missouri.
6 – Mizzou Peace Park
Over the years Peace Park has seen its fair share of student gatherings and peaceful student protests. In fact, anti-war protests in the Vietnam War era were directly connected with the change in name to Peace Park. Today, the park still serves as an important place for meetings and events. The biggest of these is the annual Earth Day celebration that takes place each year.
Peace Park is located on the Mizzou campus and is a must-see when visiting Columbia, MO. It is officially a botanical garden so you will be able to enjoy a wide variety of trees and plants. Spend some time walking around and enjoying the fresh air and peaceful views. If you’re into photography you will be pleased with the number of photogenic plant species on display.
7 – Nifong Park + Maplewood Building
Nifong Park is a large wooded park in the Southeast corner of Columbia, Missouri. This park actually serves as a bit of a conservation area for the historic homes located here. There are numerous buildings here that date back to the 1800s. The most well-known is the Maplewood building. It is a two-story brick building that has been immaculately preserved. Be sure to visit in the daytime when you will be able to tour the interior of the building!
In addition to the historic buildings, there is also a decently sized lake, a playground for children, and an outdoor theater venue. The Maplewood Barn Theater will put on plays throughout the year so you might get lucky and be able to see one during your visit.
The Boone County History & Culture Center is also located in Nifong Park. It is one of the best things to do in Columbia, MO. The fact that it’s located in the middle of a popular park makes it even better to visit. The History and Culture center has great educational resources for both kids and adults visiting Columbia, MO.
8 – Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area
If you’re looking to play some sports, the Columbia Recreation Area will be the best choice. You will find endless recreation options in what is billed as the largest park in Columbia, Missouri.
The Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area offers baseball fields, soccer fields, and basketball courts as you might expect. In addition, there is also a skate park, playgrounds, and even an RC car course. Anglers will be delighted by the well-stocked lakes which are open for fishing. There really is something for everyone here!
Hours: 6am – 12am
9 – Grindstone Nature Area
The Grindstone Nature Area is a 200-acre reserve nestled in southeast Columbia. This epic nature area has everything you could want and more. There are a total of 11-miles of paths running through the park. It’s a fairly even split between paved paths and dirt trails. This is good news if you’re looking to do some running or biking in Columbia. Do note that if you need any emergency bike maintenance there is a bicycle repair shop conveniently located on-site.
This is also one of the top places to go in Columbia, Missouri if you are traveling with dogs. The Grindstone Nature Area is totally dog-friendly, and you will come across many happy, furry pets. Dogs are even allowed leash-free on the dirt trails in the park. Just make sure they go back on the leash when you head back to the paved portions of the park.
Hours: 6am – 11pm
10 – Columbia Farmers Market
A visit to the Farmers Market is a great way to spend any morning in Columbia, MO. If you’re up early enough that is. The market closes at 1 pm so you’ll need to plan this as one of the first stops on the itinerary. It is worth visiting and you should plan on spending 1-2 hours here. It’s located directly next to the shelter gardens which makes it easy to see both of these top spots in the same morning!
While here, be sure to check out the local vendors selling numerous types of fresh produce, meat, baked goods, and cheese. The vendors are quite friendly and are willing to answer questions from visitors. Many even go so far as to offer free samples of their products. If you like any of the products you taste, I hope you will consider supporting them with a purchase of some local Missouri products!
Hours: Saturday 9am-12pm (Year-round)
Tuesday 10am-1pm / Thursday 3pm-6pm (Summer-Fall)
11 – Ragtag Cinema
For another historic building head to the Ragtag Cinema located downtown. The Cinema is a nonprofit organization looking to bring art and cinema to the community. The main focus of the theater is on independent and foreign films, great if you’re looking to see something new.
The interior of the theater is just as interesting as the exterior. The Ragtag Cinema offers couch seating so you can cozy up while you get your film watching on. Sit down with your popcorn and feel right at home, only now home has a top-of-the-line sound system. Definitely an upgrade!
Another cool aspect of the Ragtag Cinema is the drinks they offer. You will find far more than carbonated beverages here. Moviegoers can choose from a good selection of beer and wine to enjoy during the show. Seriously, why don’t more theaters offer alcohol?
Yes, Columbia is a great place for museums. If you’re a history lover you will absolutely need to spend several days in the city exploring the archives. As home to the first University in Missouri, you can expect to find a lot of state history in Columbia. In addition, a wealth of treasures from around the world have ended up here via donations and museum acquisitions.
12 – Museum of Art and Archaeology
The Museums of Art and Archaeology and the Museum of Anthropology are located adjacent to each other in Northern Columbia just off Highway 70.
For a free attraction, these museums deliver far above what anyone could expect. The collections which are housed throughout several adjacent buildings show the dedication of the museum staff. The artwork here is thoughtfully presented with a strong aesthetic appeal. New visitors will appreciate the clear descriptions informing of the important facts behind each piece.
Additionally, the large collections of sculptures, pottery, bones, and other artifacts on display help paint a picture of the ancient world. This is a great educational stop for anyone visiting Columbia, Missouri especially young families.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9am-4pm / Saturday-Sunday 12pm-4pm
13 – Museum of Anthropology
The museum has a wide range of artifacts pertaining to historical cultures and civilizations. A large number of the artifacts on display are of North American origin. If you’re interested in Missouri’s history you are in for a treat. The archeological collection offers the most complete look at life in Missouri possible. The Museum of Anthropology holds millions of artifacts that were discovered around Missouri. These artifacts date back to the beginning of human history and are really something to see.
In addition to Noth American Artifacts, the Museum of Anthropology holds exhibits spanning the rest of the globe. Plan on spending some time walking through exhibits that cover each of the seven continents. The artifacts on display offer visitors a better understanding of how cultures developed in different parts of the world. A selection of exhibits is available through their online display.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 9am-4pm / Saturday-Sunday 12pm-4pm
14 – The State Historical Society of Missouri: Center for Missouri Studies
Don’t let the lengthy name scare you off, the State Historical Society of Missouri is an absolute gem. The new location across from Peace Park means there is no reason to pass up the chance to visit. Make sure you double-check the location when planning a visit. The new building only opened in August 2019 so some websites may still list the old location. Check out the Google Maps link below and bookmark the location for future reference.
It should be easy to find as the first thing you will notice about the Columbia branch of the State Historical Society of Missouri is the sleek ultra-modern architecture of the building. The artistic design of the building is certainly a sign of things to come as visitors will leave feeling impressed with every aspect of their visit.
The center has a wealth of information related to Missouri’s history. This comes in the form of art, maps, books, and much much more. Plan on spending a good amount of time here if you have even a remote interest in history. Once finished, head to the cafe and relax with a nice cup of tea or coffee.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 8:30am–4:30pm / Saturday 8:30am-3pm
15 – Sager Braudis Gallery
Nestled in a charming brick building in the Columbia arts districts sits the Sager Braudis Gallery. The building, which originally served as a warehouse before being updated and restored, dates back to the 1800s. When entering the building you will notice the welcoming atmosphere that draws in visitors from across the nation.
The Sager Braudis Gallery focuses primarily on American and Cuban pieces by contemporary artists. In addition to paintings, there are also a number of sculptures on exhibit. The gallery hosts frequent exhibits, many of which showcase and promote local artists. These exhibits offer a great chance to gain insight into the local art scene. Check here for a list of upcoming exhibitions.
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11am-6pm
16 – Shryocks Callaway Farms
For the next sight, we will need to get in the car and hit the road. Shryocks Callaway farm is a 12-minute drive out of Columbia down I-70. This is something to keep in mind if you’re on a weekend road trip. The farm has been in operation since the late 1800’s so it’s a good chance to see some of Central Missouri’s history.
There are various activities to partake in on the farm but the biggest highlight is without a doubt the corn maze. Which, if we’re being honest, deserves a feature of its own. It sprawls over eleven acres and will put your past corn maze experiences to shame. This is great fun for both kids and adults. The farm is open on weekends and you can check their website for more info on prices and attractions.
17 – Bluestem Missouri Crafts
Bluestem Missouri Crafts is an eclectic shop that specializes in local Missourian artwork in a variety of forms. You can expect to find everything from crocheted hats and scarves, to handmade pottery and drinkware. If you’re really feeling the Missouri spirit you could even walk off with a cutting board shaped like the state of Missouri!
Now, we all know that no road trip would be complete without a memento or two to remember the trip by. Instead of picking up another magnet or postcard, consider stopping by Bluestem Missouri Crafts and giving their selection of local crafts a look. With such a wide range of products, you’re sure to find something to take home.
Hours: Monday-Thursday + Saturday 10am-6pm / Friday 10am-8:30pm / Sunday Noon-5pm
If you’re headed to Columbia, MO on an empty stomach then you are in for a real treat. This university town has an abundance of eateries that draw in diners with their exciting and innovative menus. As you might expect, there is a large concentration of hip eateries centered around Columbia’s downtown district. There are dozens of places worth checking out and it might be worth walking around and seeing what speaks to your stomach. We’ve included a few places to eat in Columbia, Missouri that we can wholeheartedly recommend.
18 – Shakespeare’s Pizza
Are you looking for a quick bite while out exploring your list of things to do in Columbia, MO? Shakespeare’s Pizza is a good choice. There are actually three locations in Columbia, however, the downtown branch is my favorite due to the convenience of the location.
The hand-tossed pies are tasty and loaded with cheese and toppings. There are all the familiar combos as well as some more interesting and experimental varieties. The wood paneling of the interior gives it a homey, welcoming atmosphere. Stop by for some good pizza and beer (soda if you’re driving). The pinball machines offer good entertainment while you wait for your order to be called.
Hours: 11am – 10pm
19 – Barred Owl Butcher & Table
If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, consider paying a visit to Barred Owl Butcher and Table. This is a bit more pricey than other options but it is certainly worth it. The eatery focuses on the preparation of delicious and well-presented dishes, and on freshly butchered meats.
They also offer a variety of cheese and meat boards. A great choice even if you’re not in the mood for a full meal. Sit down for a flavorful snack fest with a beer or expertly crafted cocktail.
Menu: Bared Owl Butcher & Table
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 10pm
20 – Murry’s
Murry’s is a great restaurant offering tasty food and live jazz music. The atmosphere is a good match to the college town vibe and welcomes locals and out-of-towners for their nightly live music sessions. If you’re headed here for the music, note that performers are scheduled from 7 pm to 10 pm on Monday-Thursday. An additional performance is held on Saturday from 9 pm to 12 am.
You will find a wide range of comfort food here which will please even the toughest food critic. Plates range from steak and fish to pasta and burgers. There is also an extensive dessert menu offering a rotation of tasty desserts. Tip: The Blue Chips Cheese Bread is a local favorite and should not be passed up!
Hours: Monday – Saturday 11am – 12am / Closed on Sunday
Bonus – Boathenge
Next up on the list of things to do in Columbia, Missouri is possibly one of the strangest and most eccentric sights in the area. It’s none other than Missouri’s very own Boathenge.
If you are stuck with thoughts of Stonehenge then you will have a pretty good idea of what Boathenge is like. This attraction draws in visitors who come to take photos with a collection of boats that have been set up along the Missouri River. The six boats are all standing upright in the dirt. While this might not strike you as particularly interesting, the next fact certainly will. Each boat was carefully selected to follow the exact proportions of its matching stone at Stonehenge!
To get here you will need to drive south past the Rock Bridge Memorial Park. Boathenge is located near Cooper’s Landing Campgrounds.
What are your favorite things to do in Columbia MO?
What do you think of these things to do in Columbia, MO? Are there any that you are excited to see? I think the highlight of Columbia is the Mizzou Campus and the Rock Bridge State Park. Although the food scene is definitely trying to steal the show! Columbia is a great place to visit for people of all ages and the parks make it great for couples or families with children. Visitors can easily spend an entire day sightseeing without scratching the surface of Columbia Missouri.
Let us know in the comments which attractions you’ve seen already!
Next Up: Springfield, Missouri