There’s a large swath of America that doesn’t make it onto travel guides or “10 best” lists. I mean, not every city can be San Diego and simultaneously dominate the worlds of burritos, craft beer, and beaches. But if you’re more into seasons (and less into watching stacks of money quickly disappear), then you should take a trip to middle America.
Columbia, Missouri, a small college town that sits exactly between Kansas City and St. Louis on I-70, is about as middle America as you can get. There’s a healthy downtown bar scene thanks to the University of Missouri, and it has a good mix of college bars and classy drinking establishments. There’s plenty of Budweiser and Busch — it is just two hours from the home of American macro lager, after all — but Columbia wasn’t forgotten in the craft-beer scene that’s swept the nation.
If you find yourself going across country, or your just need to get away and see how another part of the country lives, spend a night or two in Columbia. You won’t regret it.
Arrival: The easiest way to get in and out of Columbia (other than driving along I-70) is the St. Louis airport. From there, a bus service called the MoX will take you to your destination — whether that’s a hotel or an Airbnb. Be aware of the timing of when you go, because places to stay will be incredibly more expensive if it’s a college football weekend.
Afternoon: Your first stop should be Logboat Brewery, located in the northeast part of town. The taproom is staffed by people who know beer and want you to know it (if you’re into that sort of thing). If you just want to grab a beer and enjoy the outdoors, you can do that, too, in the “Logboat Park” right next to the brewery. Year-round beer favorites include the Mamoot and the Snapper, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a beer you don’t like.
Dinner: When you’ve had a draft of real Missouri beer, head downtown to Flat Branch Pub & Brewing. The delicious meals come in portions and at a price unheard of in coastal cities, and there’s more local beer to choose from.
Night: Get a change of pace and head to Room 38, just off the main strip of bars. You don’t want to miss out on specialty cocktails made with house-infused creations like jalapeño-pineapple-cilantro moonshine, or cucumber-lemon-basil gin. There’s even a ghost pepper-infused vodka for the brave.
Morning and mid-afternoon: Get up early and head to Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. There are plenty of hiking and biking trails, but the real draws here are the caves, sinkholes, and a stream that goes down to what’s known as the Devil’s Icebox. It’s not nearly as ominous as it sounds.
Brunch: Rent a car or find a way to get out to Les Bourgeois Vineyards about 20 minutes away. It’s Missouri’s third-largest winery, and the Blufftop Bistro features an array of food fitting for the bourgeoisie. Then taste wines late into the afternoon.
Night: Hit up Günter Hans European Bar and get a pretzel and a liter of German beer. It’s the only German beer garden in the city, and it’s got everything you need. If you’d like a little more variety, though, you can head to iTAP, which has an overwhelmingly long beer list.
Mid morning: Get coffee and a little food at Kaldi’s before you head out of town. It also has fresh fruit smoothies if you’d like to replenish a bit. If you’re driving out of Missouri, finish your trip with a stop at Macadoodles for a huge selection of nearly any kind of booze you might want, at a price you won’t find anywhere else.
Note: If you’re a sports person, plan your trip around a Mizzou football or basketball game. The football team has seen better days, but it’s hard to beat a Southeastern Conference college environment.