Written by Lauren Hillestad
I moved to Missoula without ever seeing it in person. Not for a job or a partner or family, but simply because I had a really, really good feeling about this place I'd never been. This place with rivers and beer and concerts and mountains. And now that I've spent the past two years exploring these mountains, floating these rivers and drinking local brews, I can confidently say that I made the right choice.
My fascination with Missoula began with multiple friends, on multiple occasions, asking, "Have you been to Missoula? You would love it there!" After hearing it a few times, the suggestion finally sparked my curiosity. I did my fair share of Googling, Pinterest-ing, and asking everyone I knew if they had ever been. And in the summer of 2018, when the time was right and I felt ready for a change of scenery post-graduation, I did it. I signed a lease all the way from northern California, and headed east.
I arrived in Missoula in the middle of the night, trying to catch glimpses of the sleeping town. Desperately hoping I didn't just move myself, my dog and a Subaru full of stuff to an average ole' town for no good reason. I got my answer the next morning, when my new roommates brought me to the farmers market. I remember walking across the Higgins bridge, looking out over the Clark Fork River and thinking that everyone who insisted I would like this place was right—very right. I was in love. And ever since that first summer morning, walking across the river, chatting with vendors at the farmers market and wandering downtown sipping a local latte, I've been home.
Since I jumped into my new home rather abruptly, there were definitely some surprises along the way. Here are 5 things I discovered after moving to Missoula.
Before moving to Missoula, river days used to be a rare treat that required a good deal of planning and driving. But after moving to Missoula, I quickly learned that life on the river is a given. We bike along the river, float on the river, surf in the river, eat overlooking the river—you get it. And, most importantly, we respect the river. We watch as all three rivers in Missoula transform with each season, wait patiently for the right conditions when summer comes around, and learn every eddy and rock along our favorite floats. We pack out every piece of trash, always opt for cans instead of glass bottles, and respect the wildlife that inhabits each waterway. Simply put, Missoulians are experts at "going with the flow."
In my mind, "eating local" just meant that you weren't at a big chain restaurant. I rarely knew where my food came from or who produced it. Fast forward a couple years, and I now know the name of the chicken who laid the eggs in my morning omelette. Eating local isn't just a habit in Missoula, it's a movement. Local restaurants will happily list off the origin of every part of your burger, right down to the Montana-grown wheat in your Montana-made bun. Missoulians take great pride in knowing where their food came from, and putting money right back into the pockets of local farmers, ranchers and producers. And pretty soon, I started taking pride in it as well. Between local restaurants using local ingredients, local vendors at every farmers market, and my own garden out back, I can confidently say that local food really does taste better.
I've always been outdoorsy, but Missoulians take fresh air to a whole new level. These folks can grocery shop outdoors at the farmers market, go for a hike or river float in the afternoon, grab a beer on the outdoor patio of their favorite brewery, and finish the day off with a slice of pizza overlooking the river. It's impressive how much fresh air and sunshine a Missoulian can squeeze into a single day. And that doesn't just go for warm summer days—it's a year-round phenomena. The Riverfront Trail stays busy no matter the season, people strap on their cross country skis to commute in the snow, and everyone happily bundles up for the outdoor Winter Brewfest year after year. Like a true Missoulian, I now opt for the porch over the couch, and the walk over the drive every chance I get.
It may sound silly, but this one surprised me! Missoula has its fair share of fun nicknames, and it took me a bit to realize that Missoula, Zootown, the Garden City and the Zoo were all in fact the same place. It took me even longer to find out what the "L" on Mount Jumbo stood for! It's "Loyola," for Loyola Sacred Heart Catholic High School located in Missoula.
This one is the most important of all, and perhaps why I felt so at home in a place I'd just moved to. Missoulians have created this inclusive, creative, kind and hardworking community that never ceases to amaze me. We support local every chance we get because we know it means supporting each other. We enjoy a shared love of adventure, and respect for nature. We act like neighbors, even when we're meeting for the first time. It's been incredible getting to know Missoula more and more, and see just how much work and love everyone pours back into their community.