Set amid the spectacular Northern Rockies of Montana is the hip, relatively young city of Missoula. With a median age of 30 and an economy and culture energized by the local University of Montana, Missoula may surprise some with its fresh small-city atmosphere, nestled in Big Sky Country. This community of almost 70,000 people has been grouped with better-known destinations like New Orleans, Seattle and Denver, by the Huffington Post as one of its “20 Cities You Must Visit in Your 20s.”
Missoula’s environs are an outdoor enthusiast’s playground, yet downtown also offers much to do and see, especially in art and culture. Much of Missoula’s character, modern and historical, can be found on Higgins Avenue, whose intersection with Front Street is the city’s central crossroads. Occupying an entire block — as its name suggests — is Higgins Block, an impressive Queen Anne-style historic building that houses a handful of businesses, a bank, a café and shops.
Higgins Avenue is also home to two notable historic theaters, the Wilma and the Roxy, which both host distinguished film festivals, live performances and community events. The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, International Wildlife Film Festival and the Montana Film Festival attract thousands of filmgoers to downtown Missoula each year.
Through the year, downtown Missoula hosts a rich selection of events. The Winter BrewFest and Garden City BrewFest spotlight the city’s excellent local breweries, and the Parade of Lights is a Saturday-long holiday highlight that ends with a lovely parade on Higgins Ave. First Friday Missoula is an art-gallery walk highlighting downtown’s plethora of art galleries, boutiques and small eateries; and the Missoula Farmer’s Market is a favorite gathering spot, taking place twice a week from May through October in Circle Square at the north end of Higgins.
A highlight of August in Missoula is the River City Roots Festival. This downtown celebration of music, art and entertainment draws quite the crowd to the city where the late Norman Maclean set his famed book “A River Runs Through It.”
All photos courtesy of Missoula Area Chamber of Commerce