9 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Columbia, MO
Thirty minutes north of Jefferson City and near the center of the state, Columbia is a collegiate themed city that delivers on sights, scenery, and a welcoming community. Offering visitors exploration at the Columbia Art League, as well as significant social performances at The Blue Note, Columbia is brimming with a culture that seems to resonate most at the Francis Quadrangle of the University of Missouri. An underlying theme of Columbia's top tourist attractions is the surrounding natural space that begs to be explored. From the off-road excursions found at Finger Lakes State Park to the constantly cold temperatures of the Devil's Icebox, Columbia is a city that encourages you to step outside and enjoy the seasons.
1 David R. Francis Quadrangle, University of Missouri
Located at the heart of the University of Missouri (Mizzou) campus, the David R. Francis Quadrangle is a culturally significant centerpiece of the university. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Francis Quadrangle continues today to be a common gathering spot for students and community members alike. Surrounded by red-brick buildings and the architecturally eye-pleasing Jesse Hall, the Quad delivers on scholarly appeal, and the history it was built upon speaks for itself.
The most iconic monuments of the Francis Quadrangle include the six towering columns in the middle of the grassy space, which stand as the last remaining structures of the original Academic Hall that burned down in 1892. Besides the aesthetic appeal of the columns, the quadrangle also lends access to other significant landmarks. During any visit to the Quad, it's always worth checking out Thomas Jefferson's original tombstone, and the grounds for the Mizzou Botanic Garden, which feature hundreds of perennials, shrubs, trees, and flowers.
Address: 205 Jesse Hall, Columbia, Missouri
2 Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
Five miles south of downtown Columbia, Rock Bridge Memorial State park is a great natural getaway and a prime example of the lush Missouri environment. Defined by karst features found underground and restored grasslands and forest on the surface, Rock Bridge delivers on adventure in multiple ways. Hikers can enjoy the trails on the Gans Creek Wild Area Trail System, which spans over eight miles through a remote area of the park. Rock Bridge Memorial State Park also has a permanent orienteering course, where individuals and groups can practice their map and compass skills.
Underneath the abundant trail systems, a favorite attraction at Rock Bridge Memorial is the Devil's Icebox and Natural Rock Bridge. Along the half-mile Devil's Icebox Trail, visitors can travel through the 63-foot-high natural rock bridge before accessing the double-sinkhole entrance of the Devil's Icebox. Two cave systems can be accessed from the Devil's Icebox, including the complex Devil's Icebox Cave, which contains at least seven miles of mapped passageways and can only be toured with park staff. Across the underground opening of the Devil's Icebox Cave, Connor's Cave comes in at 150 feet, with no wrong turns to be made, and can be explored by mindful visitors throughout the year.
Address: 5901 South Highway 163, Columbia, Missouri
3 The Blue Note
To absorb some of the collegiate and cultural vibe of Columbia, the first place to check out is the Blue Note, located close to campus. Serving as one of the state's top-rated music venues, The Blue Note features a wide range of big-name bands, emerging regional acts, and a variety of alternative events. The Blue Note is housed in a 1920s vaudeville theater, and the ambiance and acoustics are half of what makes it a great place to watch a show. The other half is the enthusiastic crowd of Mizzou students and Columbia community members that surround the stage. For a more intimate show, the Blue Note also hosts regional and local acts just down the street at the Rose Music Hall, a local favorite to catch some live music.
Address: 17 N 9th Street, Columbia, Missouri
4 Shelter Gardens
Adjacent to the Shelter Insurance Corporate Office on the west side of the city, Shelter Gardens provides a bountiful botanical display complete with waterfalls, rock gardens, and a replica one-room schoolhouse. Popular with anyone who enjoys the relaxing pace of garden gazing, Shelter Gardens has no admission fee and is open to the public every day of the year. Some of the most social times at Shelter Gardens occur on Sundays throughout June and July, when the Shelter Gardens Concert Series is in full swing. Each season adds a different shade to Shelter Gardens, making this top-rated attraction a worthwhile place to visit throughout the year.
Address: 1817 W Broadway, Columbia, Missouri
5 Columbia Art League
Located at the center of downtown, the Columbia Art League, also known as CAL, is a thriving pulse of the Columbia culture and art scene. Offering adult workshops, kids' summer camps, and a Community Exhibit Program that places local art into local businesses, CAL strives to provide more art in everyone's life. Admission to the CAL gallery is free, and school groups and interested visitors are encouraged to call ahead for a guided tour. The exhibits at CAL rotate between the seasons and can often be tied to regional artists, offering something new for each visit.
Address: 207 S 9th Street, Columbia, Missouri
6 Stephens Lake Park
Located just east of downtown, Stephens Lake Park offers yet another fresh air option to explore in Columbia. At the centerpiece of the park, Stephens Lake provides 11 acres of water with a seasonal swimming beach, fishing opportunities, and non-motorized boating access. Other popular things to do at Stephens Lake Park include using the paved trail that circles the water and appreciating the landscaped waterfalls installed alongside the pathway. Complete with picnic table shelters, an indoor pavilion, and outdoor amphitheater, Stephens Lake is also popular in the winter with a perfect sledding hill and opportunities to ice skate.
Address: 2001 E Broadway, Columbia, Missouri
7 Museum of Art and Archaeology
North of the central downtown district, the Museum of Art and Archaeology is operated by the University of Missouri and features a wide range of art forms spanning thousands of years. Admission is free to the Museum of Art and Archaeology, and visitors will be surprised by the large number of exhibits found around each corner. The collection ranges from ancient works of art to rotating regional exhibitions. With docent-led tours and stimulating community events, the Museum of Art and Archaeology provides a vital cultural outlet in Columbia.
Address: 115 Business Loop 70 W, Columbia, Missouri
8 Grindstone Nature Area
Located just minutes from the University of Missouri campus and downtown Columbia, Grindstone Nature Area provides the perfect natural respite from the city, for both you and your canine companion. Operating as one of two leash-free areas of Columbia, all 199 acres of Grindstone Nature Area are open for dogs and owners to explore. The only area in the Grindstone Nature Area where dogs are required to be on a leash is on the paved Hinkson Creek Trail that is popular with bikers. Other than that, everyone can run wild. Dog or no dog, Grindstone Nature Area provides a picturesque environment to take a step back and appreciate the seasons in Columbia.
Address: 2011 Old 63 S, Columbia, Missouri
9 Finger Lakes State Park
Located just over 10 miles north of downtown, Finger Lakes State Park hosts a wide variety of outdoor activities that you can't find in many other places in the state. Before Finger Lakes was a recreation destination, it had been a strip mine for the Peabody Coal Co. After mining operations discontinued, in conjunction with the mining company and state and federal representatives, the Mark Twain Mine was reclaimed and repurposed into what is now Finger Lakes State Park. Thanks to these efforts, visitors to Finger Lakes can enjoy all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails, lake sports, and a place to get away into nature.
Serving as one of two state parks in Missouri that accommodate off-road riders, Finger Lakes State Park has more than 70 miles of trails to explore via motorcycle, four-wheelers, and ATVs. In addition to the plentiful off-road trails and motocross track, Finger Lakes provides numerous namesake water outlets to enjoy swimming, fishing, non-motorized boating, and scuba diving. Kayak and canoe rentals are available through the state park, and plenty of fishing holes can be found throughout the sprawling area. To extend your stay within Finger Lakes, the state park also offers basic and electric campsites complete with modern restroom facilities.
Address: 1505 E Peabody Road, Columbia, Missouri
Other Fun Cities and Attractions in Missouri
If you feel the appeal of Columbia, you might also enjoy our article on the Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Springfield, MO. In the country-themed city of Branson, the top attractions include live performances, waterparks, and fun-filled family museums. If you're planning to explore the Lake of the Ozarks, see our articles on the Best Campgrounds and Best Resorts in the area.