Literary City Guide | Missoula, Montana

The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.
— Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It

Tour Guide: Erika Surmi

While playing hooky in the Golden State of California, Erika followed her roots back to the city that stole her heart - Missoula, Montana. Her passion for creative minds, the great outdoors and delicious brews are all encompassed in this place we call the Garden City. Find her writing over at The Root. Twitter: @therootblog



Relationship to Missoula: Born and raised Missoula Native

Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Harper Lee

Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Travis Surmi - Talented Chef and Food Stylist (and loving brother)

Writing soundtrack: Johnny Cash

Pen or Pencil: Pen

Coffee or tea: Coffee in the morning, tea in the evening

Paperback or Hardback: Paperback

Good Reads


Shakespeare and Co. This little gem is tucked away in the Hip Strip is my favorite little bookstore that yields a place to escape for hours. Independently owned, you can find best sellers, kids books, journals, post cards and more. Their local readings and events are a great place to mingle with fellow journalists and be inspired.  

The Book Exchange. The Book Exchange features 11,000 square feet of new and used titles. It’s a great place to grab a cup of coffee by locally roasted Liquid Planet and indulge in a great book. 


The Missoula Public Library. The Missoula Public Library is located downtown just off of the Clark Fork River. Thousands of reads and a great story time for kids. 

The Mansfield Library. The Mansfield Library is located on the University of Montana campus. I used to call this place my second home for all the hours of studying I put in there during college. Not only is it a great place for research and advancing you studies, you can find thousands of books, articles, newspapers and journals that are as old as the campus itself. 


The University of Montana. UM has a tremendous journalism program and creative writing program. The creative writing program was founded in 1920 and is the second creative writing program for undergraduates in the United States. Famous alumni include, Colin Meloy, Janisse Ray and Sandra Alcosser. 

The Festival of the Book. Every year, Missoula gets flooded with 80-100 authors celebrating storytelling with Festival of the Book. Days and nights are filled with readings, exhibits, demonstrations, workshops and signings. It’s a great place to learn and advance your writing skills or just pick up a few new reads while meeting great storytellers. 


Noteworthy. My heart is very fond of stationary stores. Noteworthy was founded by two fab graphic designers with a shared dream of starting their own paperie. They do everything from letterpress to customized stationary and sell a range of gifts and craft supplies. They were a finalist in Martha Stewart’s American Made Contest this fall and continue to dazzle the locals with their Holiday window designs. 

Art on Tap. I just recently discovered this genius idea of combining art and drinking into one buzz-worthy event. Grab your friends, a brush and a drink for Art on Tap, a traveling painting class hosted by local breweries, distilleries and bars. Girls night out anyone?

Draught Works. After a hot summer day spent on the river the only thing that is on my mind is an ice cold brew. Draught Works has a great patio gather with your pals. Love live music? They’ve got that too. The weekends are lined up with the best live bands. Did I mention they were named Best Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival this year? Oops, my bad. 

River surfing. On any given summer day in Missoula, you’ll find hundreds of rafts, tubes, SUPs, kayaks and surfboards on rivers that run through the city. The three rivers that make up Missoula are the Clark Fork, the Bitterroot and the Blackfoot. Who says you need an ocean to surf? As featured in Outdoor Magazine, “River surfing” is a popular sport amongst the locals, who take their boards to the chilled waters of the river. Where can you find a surfboard in Montana? Just head to Strongwater Surf Shop, where you can rent or buy your own customized river board.

Good Eats


Black Coffee Roasting Co. They’ve got a brand new shop in town and it’s pretty epic! Now located in a quiet little neighborhood on Spruce Street is what I call the best coffee in town. It’s craft organic coffee that soothes your soul and ignites your spirit. Try the Drift Blend while it’s in season! A perfect winter warmer. 

Buttercup Cafe. Located in the middle of the University residential area is the cutest little cafe that you ever did saw! I call Buttercup Cafe a whole in the wall because most people don’t even know it exists. I won’t say too much about this place because, hey, us locals like to keep it to ourselves. They offer breakfast, lunch, pastries beer and wine, meats and cheeses and Montana-made gifts. 

The Break Espresso. This local cafe has been brewing and bustling for over 15 years and it’s still one of my favorite places! It’s the perfect place for meeting with friends, clients or just to hangout and relax. But get there early, tables are usually full all day!


Five on Black. Likely to be my favorite lunch spot in Missoula. The menu highlights the fresh flavors of Brazil with their 5-step build your own bowls. I recommend the spicy coconut chicken bowl with sweet potatoes and spicy chimicurri. Oh and don’t forget to try the Pao de Queljo (pow di kay ju), delicious gluten-free cheese bread. A Brazilian favorite and certainly mine. 

Biga Pizza. For the pizza lover in you (or me) it doesn’t get much better than Biga. They are famous for their Flathead Cherry pizza, made with housemade sausage, cherry chutney, smoked gouda, mozzarella, garlic oil and parsley. A seasonal treat, you’ll find a line out the door every October 1st just to get a slice of summer. 

Plonk. Perfect for date night or girls night, Plonk has the best cocktails in town and a delightful menu to match. The atmosphere is modern and posh with traditional touches like the exposed brick from the original building and a rooftop deck perfect for summer dining. 

Tamarack Brewery. One of my favorite spots in town is this local brewery. I wouldn’t call it “proper” but you can usually find me bellied up at the bar on Sundays watching everything football. The laid back atmosphere and positive vibe makes it a great place to mingle and drink great beer. They even have your back when you’ve had a little too much fun with their bloody mary bar and full brunch menu. 


Big Dipper Ice Cream. It is certainly a Missoula icon. Just ask the folks at Good Morning America. And chosen as one of America’s Best by Food and Wine Magazine, Big Dipper features some of the best flavors in the nation. Open year round, you’ll never not see line around the block. 

Bernices Bakery. Famous for their cakes, this Missoula bakery is every sweet tooth’s dream. Made from scratch are pastries, cookies, cakes and more! Their toffee bars are to die for!

Posh Chocolate. Chocolate is the way to my heart so naturally, I’m obsessed with this local chocolatier. You’ll find handmade truffles, chocolate bars and sipping chocolate. Try the Lavender Honey’ll die. 

Erika's 5 Favorites

1. Favorite view: Nothing beats a hike up Mount Jumbo to take in the beauty of the city. It’s a great place to meet friends, break a sweat, relax and remind yourself to be present. 

2. Favorite place to write: In the big comfy chair at my parents house - next to the fire, coffee in hand.

3. Favorite museum: First Friday - a gathering the first Friday of every month with local shops and restaurants showcasing the best of local artists, poets and food.

4. Favorite Coffee Shop: Black Coffee Roasting Company. BCR just moved and expanded to a rad location where you can mix and mingle or just relax with a good read. 

5. Favorite thing about your town: Ask anyone who lives here this same question and you’ll always get the same’s the people.