Nowhere is the meshing of the old guard with the avant-garde more apparent than in Bozeman Montana. The vibrant community sprouts from a broad agricultural valley encircled by the brawny Bridger, Madison and Gallatin mountains. Once a sleepy cow-college town, Bozeman is burgeoning community of 40,000 active souls. Outdoor and fishing magazines consistently tout Bozeman as one of the most livable cities in America. Not coincidentally, in 2017 it was the nation’s fastest growing community.
Bozeman Montana is a small town with a big personality and the moniker “Boz-Angeles”. The reason? Its high-end restaurants, boutiques, galleries, coffee bars, microbreweries, distilleries and pricey homes. The rich and famous frequently are spotted here. But you’ll also meet rural folks on Costco pilgrimages, coming for provisions and grub.
Montana State, one of the state’s two major universities, boasts an active student demographic. The cerebral side revolves around engineering, agriculture and film programs of national renown. Athletics, including rodeo, are a big deal, too.
A vibrant downtown wrapped in an Old West sheen is another reason for its global magnetism. Main Street Bozeman boasts many of our favorites for dining in Bozeman and imbibing in Bozeman. The thoroughfare is alive with activity almost any time of day or night. What you won’t find is box stores and chain motels. Those are banished to the outskirts, with convenient access to Interstate 90.
To get experience the full flavor of Bozeman, park and stroll on Main Street Bozeman, where history meets the present. Shops, galleries, outdoor stores, a marvelous indie bookstore, and restaurants with outdoor seating are abundant. For breakfast, choose between old-school or eclectic. The Western Café – “The Last Best Café”, they like to say – has served hearty helpings of local eggs and bacon to ranchers, farmers, ag professors and old-timers since Bozeman was a toddler. Across Main Street is the Nova Café, where the Subaru set goes for java and the town’s best omelets/scrambles. Most of the ingredients, whipped up every which way, are locally sourced.
Day One is museum day. Artisan shoppers with an interest in local will enjoy wandering the creaky wood-planked hallways of the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture. The old school building is a short walk off West Main Street. The Gallatin History Museum, behind two giant spruce trees, is in the original county jailhouse. It provides a worthwhile peek at Bozeman’s origins.
After taking in the sights and sounds of downtown, make the short drive south to Montana State University. On the edge of campus are two of the state’s most interesting museums. The Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of the Rockies lets you bone up on the state’s remarkable dinosaur history, and more. Across campus, take a fascinating look at the evolution of computers dating back 2,200 years — yes, 2,200 years. They’re at the American Computer Museum.
Grab a late lunch from one of Bozeman’s midday hot spots. Pick among Starky’s Authentic Americana, Dave’s Sushi or MAP Brewing, Then burn off calories with a muscle-testing, breath-taking (lungs and views alike) stroll up the College ‘M’ Trail. You won’t need GPS to find it. Just head toward the bleached white ‘M’ on the southern tip of the Bridgers.
After stretching your legs, take the scenic drive northeast on MT 86 into Bridger Canyon to Jackson Creek Road. Wind through piney hills toward the junction of I-90 to Montana Grizzly Encounter, This is where Casey Anderson of Nat Geo Wild fame provides an up-close and educational look at grizzly bears. You’ll learn how to live, work and play safely in bear country — which includes Yellowstone and the wild landscapes surrounding Bozeman.
Back in town for dinner, the Montana Ale Works draws folks with a prolific selection of hand-crafted regional brews. Standing out are the locally raised Waygu beef, beer-battered fish and chips, and other exquisite entrees For more subdued and intimate surroundings, 14 North is a relatively new “gastropub” with a flair for the creative. For a beefier formal dining experience, Jay Bentley’s Open Range will not disappoint.
In the vein of creatively funky eats — and environs — start your second morning at the Cateye Café with an egg-and-veggie scramble paired with their famous mimosa. Before you leave, get tips from the Cateye Way manifesto on their website. Wearing your cat-eye shaped glasses nets bonus points.
After breakfast, pick up a can of bear spray and point south. Drive through pastoral countryside to one of four popular access points on the Gallatin National Forest: Hyalite Canyon Recreation Area. A paved road snakes to the state’s busiest recreation area. Hiking, mountain biking, climbing and fishing highlight the array of outdoor activities.
After a morning on the trails, reverse course and pull into The Garage Soup Shack downtown. Choose from six options at the soup bar, or order hot/cold sandwiches from a menu on authentic car license plates. A fire pit and propane heaters warm the outdoor patio.
Next stop: Four Corners, about six miles west of town on US 191. You’ll see anglers with driftboats and rafts gearing up for a day on the Madison or Gallatin River. Much of their gear is from Simms Fishing Products, the only place in the country where waders are still manufactured. Watch through picture windows while they work and take in fly-fishing videos in the lobby.
Upon departure, wander across the street to River’s Edge Fly Shop, the only retailer selling all of Simms’ gear. From there, it’s a quick drive south on US 191 to the ornate and kid-friendly Bozeman Hot Springs. Soothe sore hiking muscles in nine pools ranging from 69 to 106 degrees. If soaking isn’t your thing, look for an elk-antler chandelier at one of the many antique shops in the Four Corners area.
Either way, you’ll be ready for a bison burger or bison stroganoff dinner at media mogul Ted Turner’s Ted’s Montana Grill on Main Street, It’s one of Ted’s busiest restaurants. The man himself might just pop in from his sprawling Flying D Ranch.
The Gallatin Valley Mall, with its anchors Barnes & Noble, multi-plex Regal Cinema, chain-store shopping and game center, offers youngsters a place to unwind – or wind up. For a brainier experience, kids can get their hands dirty, wet and busy with an array of exhibits and programs at the Children’s Museum of Bozeman.
Gallatin County Fair in July, Sweet Pea Festival in August, Cat-Griz college football every other November (sometimes called “The Brawl of the Wild”), Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival in December, Music on Main every Thursday in the summer, Bite of Bozeman, and the Christmas Stroll.