CGM's List of the Best Free (or Close to It) Activities in Columbia

To be honest, Columbia used to seem like somewhat of a boring city to me. I’m from a large suburb of Chicago where there’s always something to do, and so throughout my freshman year at Mizzou I was under the impression that Columbia didn’t have much to offer other than a charming college town atmosphere. However, now that I'm staying the summer here I decided to give the city a second chance, and I think I’ve found some of the best (cheap) activities to do in our beloved home away from home.

1. Spend a morning at the Columbia Farmer’s Market

Image: Niki Kottmann

Five days a week, the city’s Activity and Recreation Center (ARC) is host to what Rural Missouri magazine once dubbed Missouri’s best farmer’s market. With a membership of close to 70 farmers, producers and artisans, it’s impossible to leave the market without something delicious in your hands. From fresh flowers and vegetables to “baby” pies, the assortment is fantastic and the vendors are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. My roommate and I especially loved Grandma Barb’s Baked Goods, from whom we bought a generously iced $2 cinnamon roll and a $4 loaf of dangerously addicting banana bread. We chatted with Barb’s daughter-in-law Jeannie, who was thrilled to tell us about their all-natural products (no artificial preservatives for them -- only natural ones like honey!) and the success of their individual “baby” sized pies that come in a variety of flavors.

Location: 1701 W Ash St.
Hours: Monday and Wednesday 4-6 p.m., Thursday and Friday 3-6 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m.-noon

2. Get in Touch with Mother Nature

The great outdoors is, in my opinion, the best place to unwind. I’m most familiar with the MKT trail, which is 8.9 miles of pure natural beauty. Taking a long walk, bike ride or run (if you’re motivated, unlike me) on a beautiful summer day is a fantastic workout both physically and mentally. The path has plenty of shade from Rock Bridge National Forest’s dense foliage to help you survive the humid Missouri summer weather, and you’re sure to meet plenty of other nature-lovers along the way. Another way to take in the forgotten beauty of Columbia’s landscape is to take a long drive away from town. The other night my friends and I drove until we were on gravel roads instead of asphalt, and the closest house was miles away. While slightly spooky at night, it was refreshing to get away from my crowded apartment complex and remind myself that life is much simpler out in the country.

Location: Access at any trailhead; Flat Branch Park 101 S. 4th St., 501 S. Providence Rd. (No parking), 800 W. Stadium Blvd. 2701 Forum Blvd and 3662 Scott Blvd.

3. Act Like a Local

Memorial Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to rub elbows with some Columbia locals, so I headed downtown to check out the Memorial Day parade. The description online had promised a patriotic, non-political celebration commencing with parachuters, so I was getting pretty excited to see it for myself. Unfortunately, after picking the best America-themed outfit in my closet, being forced to park behind a frat house then waiting on the curb for fifteen minutes for the festivities to begin, it was announced that the parade was canceled due to inclement weather. My roommate and I were bummed, especially since the free Tai Chi class (yes, that’s a thing and I still plan on going) we had planned to attend earlier in the day had also been canceled, but we agreed that it was worth the try. We definitely enjoyed people watching and talking with a few Columbians who had also been looking forward to the parade, and it was nice to see that how friendly they were.

A Few Other Ideas:

  • Check out the Columbia Public Library. It has an outstanding collection of every genre of book you can imagine, and the modern architecture creates a fresh and fun environment to read and kick back.
  • Take an adventure to the historical side of town. The neighborhoods behind the library are full of beautiful old houses marked by “Historical Site” signs. Follow the brick roads to a charming array of wrap-around porches, bay windows and bright colored exteriors.
  • See Columbia from the eyes of its other college students. Parade got canceled? Cheer yourself up like I did by taking a stroll through Stephens College. We’re so used to walking around Mizzou that we forget that Columbia is home to two other colleges with beautiful campuses of their own. Stephens is home to multiple brick buildings that have been there since the school was established in 1833. My favorite is the oldest-and supposedly haunted-Senior Hall with its gorgeous stained glass door.

For more events and activities, check out The Columbia Tribune’s calendar of local events.

By: Niki Kottmann


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