In the recent past, Missoula was a place to get away from everyone else and live a simple life on the doorstep of an amazing bounty of wilderness. Then everyone else heard about it, which fueled Missoula's rapid transformation from a quiet mountain town into a hip tourism and second-home epicenter.
See also: The best places to live the simple life.
A lot of tourists come because Missoula is roughly in the middle of the Golden Triangle of fly-fishing, defined by Glacier and Yellowstone national parks to the north and south, and Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains to the west. Even non-anglers will appreciate the stunning scenery of the surrounding mountains.
Not surprisingly, Missoula's economy, long driven by the University of Montana (enrollment 13,300), is now soundly rooted in tourism.
The city boasts dozens of restaurants, bars, breweries and coffee houses including Italian, Thai, sushi, Mexican and vegetarian-friendly eateries. The downtown shopping district includes an array of boutiques, galleries, clothing, home décor and outdoor gear stores. The local farmers market is a showcase for Montana-grown produce, meat and baked goods.
Much of the culture here is nature inspired: The International Wildlife Film Festival, held annually at the historic Wilma Theatre, is a major event. But there's also a cache of contemporary art at the Missoula Art Museum, which also offers classes and lectures. Missoula's renowned Children's Theatre tours internationally and often needs (adult) volunteers. The International Choral Festival draws choruses from out of state and abroad.
Unemployment is low and the proportion of workers who are self-employed is very high. Missoula is loaded with college-educated young adults. Few residents are age 65 or older.
A lot of people walk or bike to work in Missoula, and the city has been honored as a bicycle friendly community for maintaining over 100 miles of trails, many of which lead into the surrounding mountain wildness. The boundaries of the 2 million-acre Lolo National Forest are just outside of town, one of several huge swaths of public land nearby.
All that healthy outdoor activity helps explain the high life expectancy here — 84.3 years for women and 79.7 for men. Missoula has a high number of doctors for a town its size and the city works hard to educate residents on healthy living. Few residents are obese, few have hypertension and most people say they exercise regularly. Take a look around the wild lands and you'll see why.
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