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How to make the most of your college football gameday experience at the University of Missouri

Here are the essentials you need to know

University of Missouri Campus Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Where to Eat

Columbia’s food scene, like many college towns, is vast and would take much more than one game day and evening to traverse. It is ever-changing, enigmatic and effervescent. Delicious Indian food is situated next to the greasiest nacho joint you’ve ever stepped into, while delicious Thai food sidles up to a frozen chicken wing spot bathed in Frank’s Red Hot. Your options are nearly endless, and the quality spectrum is wide.

Like any university city worth its salt, CoMo has its staples. Booches Billiard Hall, a famous burger bar located on 9th Street, serves up sliders and an old-fashioned atmosphere (they only take cash). It’s worth a visit purely for the historicity of the city. Shakespeare’s Pizza is a downtown staple, sitting caddy corner from the Journalism School. It’s a tasty lunchtime treat and, again, worth trying at least once. Harpo’s and Big 12 Campus Bar and Grill are the two most popular college bars in the downtown area, and will more than scratch your itch for an authentic college-town experience.

If you’re looking to venture off the beaten path and stay in the downtown area, you’ve still got plenty of options. Pizza Tree is a quick slice-to-go spot on Cherry Street that serves up classic, New York style slices while stretching the boundaries of what can fit on one slice — their Bahn Mi, Flyin’ Hawaiian or Mac N’ Cheese slices are marvelous. Billiards on Broadway is my go-to spot for burgers and fries and, while it’s located on the outskirts of downtown, is more than worth it if you’re looking to get your money’s worth. CJ’s is the most notoriously finicky wing specialist in Missouri as it’s hard to tell when they’re ever going to be open — but if you can catch them, it might be the place you’ll remember the most. The Heidelberg, Flatbranch Pub & Brewing and Addison’s offer more low-key bar options if you’re looking for apps and drinks. And if you’re willing to sit down for a meal, 44 Canteen has the best food in the district, while Mama Chim’s serves up incredible and spicy Thai dishes.

Tourist Attractions

Columbia is situated firmly in between Kansas City and St. Louis and, as such, is surrounded by Missouri’s rural Midwestern landscape. That may sound boring to you, but it’s also the place where the natural beauty of Southern Missouri — full of lakes, forests and hills — starts to show itself. In other words, if you’re an outdoorsy person, you’ll find plenty of spots to visit. Gans Creek, Grindstone and Rock Bridge parks are all must-visits for those wanting a quiet hike, while Stephens Lake and Cosmo Park also offer some solitude from the business of game day.

More of an art-lover? CoMo has a lot of great small galleries, like Orr Street Studios or the Columbia Art League. You can also catch an independent movie at my favorite arthouse cinema on planet Earth, Ragtag Cinema (get a drink at the bar and grab breakfast at Uprise the next morning). Those seeking retail therapy after Mizzou punishes your favorite team should look for a number of small boutiques and print shops on Broadway. Vinyl collectors, hit up King Theodore Records on Walnut or Hitt Records on Hitt Street. And if reading is your thing, a visit to Yellow Dog Bookshop is well worth your time.

What you need to know about CoMo

When you hear the word “Midwest”, what do you think of? Corn fields? Flat surfaces? Livestock? You may not see much of that in Columbia proper, but you better believe that CoMo is the urban hub for Missouri’s centrally-located rural communities. As such, it can be a bit congested on game days, offering a lively, but cramped atmosphere pretty much anywhere you go. If you plan on eating out, anticipate waits and crowds unless, of course, you want to stagger your schedule to beat the crush.

Parking on game day can also be a hassle, which shouldn’t surprise you all that much. That being said, there’s plenty of free and/or cheap parking if you’re willing to show up early and know where to look. If you’re willing to walk, look for lots in the downtown area which are often free or cheap. Street parking is difficult to find in peak hours, but is easy to navigate with Columbia’s spacious streets (if you’re fussing to yourself about this distinction, I don’t know, maybe you’re a bad driver?). Otherwise, you can find plenty of parking in the college neighborhoods around the stadium or on Frat Row.

Finally, like any college town, you’ll find that Columbia residents and Mizzou fans are pretty amiable. Unless you come in looking for a fight — looking at you, jayhawks — everyone should be warm and welcoming. Maybe that’s setting too high of an expectation for our black-and-gold crew, but I have no reason to say otherwise. Columbia is a wonderful college town to visit, full of experience and cuisine aplenty. If you didn’t enjoy yourself, give it another shot sometime. I’d find it difficult to have a bad experience twice.