If you think Montana is all wide-open country and cowboys and quaint rustic charm, you wouldn't necessarily be wrong. But when it comes to Bozeman, the state's first—and often, only—stop for many West Coast visitors, it's time to cast those "home on the range" notions aside.
Less than a two-and-a-half-hour direct flight from SFO, Bozeman manages to mix indie boutiques, hyperlocal restaurants, and live music venues that wouldn't all be out of place in San Francisco with an earnest friendliness and shocking affordability you can only find in Montana. And with everyone looking for "the next Portland" or "the West Coast Brooklyn," Bozeman patiently awaits—and charms—by being decidedly itself.
Where to Stay in Bozeman: Madeover Motels
(Courtesy of The Lark)
Even rustic Bozeman has hopped on the trendy refurbished motel train, with two downtown options designed to delight hip city visitors. Right in the thick of the action on Main Street, The Lark (122 W. Main St.) combines an enviable location with quirky touches such as rooms outfitted with unexpectedly informative local artwork (our room featured outlines of bird wingspans) and striking wood, metal, and leather interiors punctuated with bright colors and accents that wouldn't feel out of place in a Wes Anderson film. While you likely won't kick back by the outdoor firepit or take the complimentary cruiser bikes on a spin in the dead of winter, the well-versed staff is more than willing spill their secrets to finding the best outdoor excursions, local microbrews, or can't-miss museums. // The brand-spankin' new RSVP Motel (510 N. Seventh Ave.), which opened in July 2018, lies a little off the main drag, making it perfect for visitors aiming to stay near downtown but still just outside the hustle and bustle. The 38-room property manages to bring a vintage aesthetic into the 21st century, with dusty pink velour headboards, printed silk robes, and a Champagne welcome at check-in—plus the option to spring for an in-room blowout or massage. Don't miss breakfast or lunch from onsite restaurant The Farmer's Daughters Cafe and Eatery, where most dishes feature ingredients sourced from Montana farms and purveyors.
Where to Eat in Bozeman: Sit-Down Sustenance
Splurge on an unusual cut of meat, like the venison chop, at Open Range.
(Courtesy of Open Range/Facebook)
Breakfast and Lunch
You'll have no issue with portions in Bozeman, with breakfast and lunch options that let you choose between virtuous fare and more gluttonous (and glutenous) indulgences. As the name implies, Stuffed Crepes & Waffles (26 W. Main St.) isn't for the lightly peckish, with both sweet and savory options crammed into a delicate crepe or piled atop a Brussels-style rectangular waffle. Try the state's namesake—a tweak on s'mores with marshmallows, Nutella, dark chocolate, and crushed graham crackers—or get a little fiery with the ham, egg, swiss, spinach, red pepper, and pesto Florina. // Local favorite Main Street Overeasy (9 E. Main St.) doesn't look like much from the outside, but it's the town's mainstay for straightforward breakfast for a reason, with fresh buttermilk biscuits made hourly, hearty portions, and friendly service. // Bring your appetite (and a friend) to Salted Caramel Cafe (5 W. Mendenhall St., Ste. 103) so you can take down the fried chicken and creme bruleé French toast and the shrimp and grits and the seasonal avocado toast, although you can't go wrong with most of the made-from-scratch dishes. // For something a little lighter, head to The Nova Café (312 E. Main St.), where you'll find a selection of classic breakfast dishes mixed with more adventurous fare. The locavore "benediction" features grass-fed beef sausage and microgreens for a tweak on the traditional eggs benedict, whereas the breakfast bowls are where you'll find your acai and spirulina superfood smoothies. // Sister restaurant to Nova, Feed Café (1530 W. Main St.) elevates counter service with a menu of simple yet expertly executed house-made toasts and light breakfast and lunch options, served in a charming red barn. // Roost Fried Chicken (1520 W. Main St.) brings Southern-style crispy chicken to Bozeman, with outdoor seating that's perfect for finger-licking destruction of the dish. Order the Nashville hot at your own risk.
Ask a local bartender or server where to head for a nice night out as a first-timer in Bozeman, and he or she will likely point you in the direction of one of two places. Open Range (241 E. Main St.) occupies a showstopper of a space on Main Street, with the exposed wood, soaring ceilings, and exposed light bulbs that have become universal code for a hip hang. While you can certainly make a reservation for the main dining area, you'll be just as happy at the bar chatting up the staff about their Bozeman favorites as they sling anything from a "dealer's choice" riff on a classic Negroni or Manhattan, to Open Range originals that make smart use of Amari and bitters, to one of the oft-changing punches (available in large format for sharing or by the glass). The food also respects the classics while veering from the expected. Start with the ploughman's board to sample the butcher's choice of meat and cheese, graduate to a classic hand-cut steak seared in cast iron—why not try bison in Bozeman?—and finish with a huckleberry twist on a creme brulee. The restaurant hosts frequent events, so see if your visit times with happenings like an all-Montana cider menu for Cider Week or Repeal Day party, or swing by for the late-night menu Fridays and Saturdays to cure your drunchies from 10pm–midnight. // Blackbird Kitchen (140 E. Main St.) brings a bit more romance with a cozier space, low lighting, and Italian-inflected ambiance, making it the perfect choice for date night during a couple's getaway. Turn to the wood-fired oven for pizza and made-in-house bread, sample from housemade pastas, or go all in with a generous rack of lamb or New York strip sourced from local farms. The restaurant also boasts an envious selection of old-world wines to pair with your selection, as well as one of the best European beer lists in the area.
Outside of that no-brainer duo of options for dinner, you'll still have plenty of good eating in Bozeman. Urban Kitchen (5 W. Mendenhall St., Ste. 102) offers an escape from the Main Street madness, in a space it shares with Salted Caramel Cafe across the hall and under the same talented pair of chef-owners. Consider swooping in for some light sustenance from the bar bite menu (3–6pm daily) between meals; or plonk down for a dinner of spicy garlic shrimp and grits, slow-braised beef short ribs, or bison meatloaf in a downright sexy sliver of a space—save room for the Nutella "bombe" for dessert. // Speaking of plonking, Plonk! (29 E. Main St.) is hard to beat for low-key light bites in an always-bustling atmosphere. The restaurant does a brisk-but-never-brusque brunch service on weekend mornings (ideal if you've booked your evenings or want to catch Bozeman's locals before they've had their morning coffee), but we recommend swinging by at least one night to sip wine and cocktails alongside light bites while watching the Bozeman scene. While the focus remains on the wine, the bartenders can also whip up cocktails that capitalize on house-infused liquors and fresh muddled herbs. // When you've had your fill of hip and trendy and just want some good old-fashioned fine dining, 14 North (14 N. Church Ave.) satisfies your old-school gastropub cravings in a setting with decidedly updated appeal. This locally owned and operated restaurant can navigate allergies and dining restrictions with ease, but we'd recommend a carnivorous appetite for the tempura-fried bacon, local grass-fed beef burgers, and bacon-wrapped meatloaf made from local beef, elk, chorizo, and venison.
Where to Eat in Bozeman: Coffee + Sweets
Ease into the weekend with an oozy ham and gruyere croissant from Wild Crumb.
(Courtesy of Wild Crumb/Facebook)
Local favorite Wild Joe's Coffee Spot (18 W. Main St.) fully embraces the third-wave coffee movement without abandoning its old-school coffee shop vibe, with small-batch, locally roasted coffee; live mic nights; and worn wood flooring, a pressed-tin ceiling, and plenty of comfy seating to encourage lingering. If you just can't quit the lattes, you'll find multiple types of matcha, chai, and seasonal iterations. // The Candy Jar (1805 W. Oak St., Ste. 2) is best known for its Instagrammable candy-bedecked mug milkshakes, but if you're not into slurping a frozen treat when temps hover near freezing, fill up a bag with its vast array of chocolates, candies, and other sweets. // Wild Crumb (600 N. Wallace Ave., Ste. 6) satisfies any chewy, crispy, and croissanty inclinations, with both savory and sweet iterations of comforting baked goods hidden behind a strikingly industrial (in a good way) exterior. Go for the huckleberry scone. // We'd like to think we're not alone in our kombucha obsession, which is why it's heartening to find a place like Dean's Zesty Booch (11 E. Oak St., Ste. 1F) in Bozeman. Hidden in a back alley, you'll find both non-alcoholic and boozy versions of that coveted booch, in a space that makes it easy to forget you're just drinking fermented tea.
Where to Drink in Bozeman
Sip through the spirits at the tasting room for Bozeman Spirits.
(Courtesy of Bozeman Spirits/Facebook)
Beer and Mead
You'll find both food and drinks at the expansive Montana Ale Works (611 E. Main St.), a little off Main Street's main drag. While the focus leans decidedly more gastropub than beer bar, it's you best bet for a low-key night for big groups or a duos looking for a combination of suds and upscale bar bites. Sip your way back in time with more than 40 craft beers on draft in the former historic Northern Pacific Railway freight building setting. // White Dog Brewing Co. (121 W. Main St.) also has a location in Boise, but this Bozeman O.G. pioneered the frost bar for keeping your pints cool, and serves as a surprisingly bustling hang for beer prior to its 8pm last-call time. We especially loved the whiskey barrel–aged porters and stouts and brett-infused IPAs. // It's hard to beat the views from the main taproom at MAP Brewing (510 Manley Rd.), with windows that open out to snow-capped mountains and award-winning beers that span the spectrum from IPAs to a European-style kolsch and marzen. // The Norse vibe is strong at Valhalla Meadery (875 Bridger Dr.), where you'll score all variations of the honey-based beverage, from sweet and carbonated to still and strong. The couple behind the meadery warmly welcome all entrants not just with the boozy beverage, but with Scandinavian-inspired eats and live tunes, giving this relative newbie (Valhalla opened its doors in September 2018) legs. // The wood-bedecked interior of Mountains Walking Brewery (422 Plum Ave.) is just one of the many things to love at this pint-sized taproom, which highlights the beers made with living cultures and clocking less sugar and alcohol. Since the beers often veer towards the wild-fermented and small batch, you'll sip a true taste of place each time you order an IPA, stout, or sour.
If you only drink one thing (or two, as local law limits drink consumption inside distilleries), make sure it's a cocktail from Bozeman Spirits (121 W. Main St.). Conveniently located across the street from The Lark (if that's where you choose to stay), Bozeman Spirits not only distills its own alcohol—the flavored vodkas, including huckleberry, are miles above anything else on the market—but also doles out a killer selection of mixed drinks highlighting its liquors, whether you choose from the selection of Bloody Marys, fresh-muddled concoctions, or spiked coffee drinks. // It's not easy to stumble into Copper Whiskey Bar & Grill (101 E. Main St.), a basement-level bar dedicated to the brown stuff, but you'll be glad you descended into its boozy depths. As Bozeman's de facto whiskey bar, it excels at whiskey flights (you can even score Pappy van Winkle) and classic cocktails, but also serves up a surprisingly legit Southern-inspired menu—try the "pickins platter" for a little taste of everything—and cult-fave sriracha margarita. // The speakeasy vibe behind subterranean Kitty Warren Social Club (211 E. Main St.) gives it inherent cool points, which helps when you're navigating your way past the bouncer and into the vaguely prostitution-themed interior "20 steps below Main." The vibe—and crowd—is decidedly hip, but there are worse ways to pass the evening than perched at one of the high-top tables with a classically inspired tiki drink or at one of the themed movie screenings, complete with drinking games. // Wildrye Distilling (111 E Oak St, Ste.1E) highlights Montana ingredients in its line of liquors, spanning from a fairly neutral vodka to an apple pie liquor, hand-made and bottled in Bozeman—with the corn for the bourbon even grown on a family farm in Corvallis.
What to Do in Bozeman: Hot Springs, Hip Duds, and Frozen Waterfalls
Winter serves as the ideal time to snowshoe through Montana's outdoors.
Springs and Sings
Bozeman takes its hot springs seriously, and the steamy waters are doubly enticing when the ground is dusted in snow. Located roughly 45 minutes outside of town, Norris Hot Springs (42 MT-84, Norris) is worth the drive any day, but especially Friday through Sunday, when you can take a dip alongside live tunes that kick off at 7pm, with a beer or drink in hand. // A little closer to town, more-than-a-century-old Bozeman Hot Springs (81123 Gallatin Rd.) features 12 pools (of varying temperatures) mere minutes from Gallatin Airport, with live music Thursday and Sunday nights. At $10 for a day pass, this is a seriously cheap-chic way to while away some hours. // If you're not feeling swimsuit ready quite yet, Pinecreek Lodge (2496 E River Rd., Paradise Valley) serves as a sweet little escape outside of town, with trivia night Wednesdays, acoustic brunch Sundays, and other excuses to scoot town and convene with the great outdoors against a guitar-soundtracked backdrop. Consider a stay in the warmer months, when the lodge really comes alive in all of its outdoor glory. // If you're craving live tunes with a little more edge, head outside downtown to The Filling Station (2005 N. Rouse Ave.), which serves as a locals-first roadhouse bar during the day and a music venue at night, or Live from the Divide (627 E. Peach St.), a slightly more polished space and intimate (we're talking 50 people max) venue for American roots music that frequently sells out its shows.
If you swing by Bozeman in winter, expect to have some company at Hyalite Canyon (20 mins south of Bozeman), especially if do the easy 1.4-mile paved hike out to Palisade Falls (Palisade Falls Trailhead), which frequently freeze over in winter and draw ice climbers. Or head out from the Hyalite Creek Trailhead and hike or snowshoe the 2.5-mile path to Grotto Falls, another frozen falls. // The area's biggest outdoor draw remains Big Sky Ski Resort (50 Big Sky Resort Rd.), which entices plenty of powderhounds looking for uncrowded slopes and a dash of big ski resort–style amenities in Big Sky Country. The April ski pass will score you 21 days of slope access for $299, or you can swing by for the day or weekend If skiing or snowboarding isn't in your wheelhouse, try taking a ride in the Lone Peak Tram; a sleigh ride at Lone Mountain Ranch; or the zipline, snowshoe, snowmobile, or snowcoach tours. // For a slightly more rustic feel, hit up Bridger Bowl Ski Area (15795 Bridger Canyon Rd.), a cozier locals mountain that rarely has lines at the lifts leading to four main bowls suited to a wide-range of abilities.
There's no shortage of shops seemingly born ready to scratch any Western-wear itch in Bozeman, but the town has not-so-quietly birthed a trio of boutiques that bring big-city selection and aesthetics to Big Sky Country. On the menswear side, Revolvr Menswear (30 W. Main St.) slings well-made button-downs, sweaters, boots, and more from the likes of Taylor Stitch, Richard Sherman, and Welcome Stranger. Even better? You can sip locally brewed beers while you peruse the racks and shelves. // Similarly lacking in a few key vowels but not taste, sister boutique Evrgreen Clothing (16 E. Main St.) keeps the ladies well-dressed in trendy felt hats, lacy bralettes, chunky sweaters, suede boots and other well-made essentials, plus homegoods and other gifty items. // Speaking of stores made for picking up presents, lifestyle store Heyday (7 W. Main St.) serves as a true treasure trove, whether you're looking for made-in-Montana jewelry, hygge-ready throws and coffee mugs, or kitschy bar cart accessories. If you can swing it with the timing, try and sign up for a spring workshop on cookie decorating, spring wreath making, and more.
Day Trip: Yellowstone
While some creatures hibernate, the landscape comes alive in Yellowstone in winter.
Okay, you're in Montana—now what? Well, obviously, Yellowstone National Park (N. Entrance Rd., Gardiner). While Yogi Bear may have not immediately heralded the cool factor behind the country's first national park, the OG of the park system drums up a different appeal outside its peak summer hours, with snowy expanses, abundant bison, and a one-track road (and mind) mentality compelling most drivers to wave enthusiastically as you pass by. And at just a 1.5-hour drive south of Bozeman, it makes sense to rent a car, swing into Livingston for coffee (look for the credit for Jeff Bridges at Coffee Crossing), and take the plunge into the great unknown through the park's north entrance in Gardiner. Most roads close to vehicles for oversnow travel, so you'll likely be traveling the one year-round road from the north entrance to the northeast entrance, a 56-mile drive that will take you past the wildlife-rich Lamar Valley. Lookouts that'll be swarmed with tourists come summer remain delightfully bereft of other passerby, and you can nab a Yellowstone beer from the visitor centers to crack open (unsanctioned) inside park ground, with a herd of stalwart and distrustful buffalo near-always within braying and side-eying range.