Primary credit Tim Evanson

Bozeman, Montana – Main Street

Main Streets 2017: Montana

Primary credit Tim Evanson
Ellen Theater Tim Evanson
Primary credit Tim Evanson Ellen Theater Tim Evanson

In the heart of Big Sky Country’s scenic and historic Gallatin Valley, the past is present along Bozeman’s core thoroughfare, whose Main Street Historic District includes more than 40 buildings dating from the 1880s to the 1940s.

But the Old West is only part of the attraction. This lively college city is also a magnet for outdoor adventurers and avid shoppers, with antique stores, bistros, pubs and a restored vaudeville-era theater right here on Main. Not to mention that Yellowstone National Park, three major ski areas and five mountains are each within a day’s round-trip drive.

Bozeman’s fresh-air attractions has led Outside magazine to name it one of “the best places to live in America,” describing a typical local resident as “someone who hikes in half a dozen mountain ranges, fishes world-class trout streams, and refuels with grass-fed beef from local ranches.” If all that sounds a bit exhausting, just relax and join the thousands of visitors and Montana State University students who enjoy Bozeman and its 100-plus businesses along Main Street each year.

Central Main is full of life and lore to investigate, thanks to an active Downtown Partnership and years of collaboration among community leaders, business owners and residents. The street grew up on the Bozeman Trail, which linked Montana’s gold country to the Oregon Trail in the late 1860s — and the Historic District, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, extends for nine downtown blocks from 3rd Street to Broadway Avenue.

Landmarks include the Italianate-Art Deco Baxter Hotel, the Gallatin History Museum and the 1919-vintage Ellen Theatre, gloriously restored as a venue for live performance in a campaign led by the nonprofit Montana Theatreworks.

Whether you’re hunting for a hearty breakfast, high-end antiques, local food and brews or even old rock ’n’ roll records, you’ll hit paydirt in the shops, restaurants and cafes along Main. Annual events here include the Christmas Stroll, which draws over 5,000 to see Main Street’s holiday decorations; Music on Main each Thursday evening during the summer; the Sweet Pea festival in August, and MSU’s annual Cat Walk, when the university’s Spirit of the West marching band leads students in a stroll along Main as the school year opens.

Bozeman even has 60 miles of local cycling lanes and trails. How can you not love a city like that?

All photos taken by Tim Evanson

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Higgins traffic min

Missoula, Montana – Higgins Avenue

Main Streets 2016: Montana

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

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