Montana has many wonderful museums. Collections cover a wide range of “subjects.” There are art museums, paleontology museums, and even a mineral museum and an old car museum. But most of the museums focus on local/regional histories. One museum in Helena does a fine job on covering the history of the whole state.
The great variety and scope of the state’s museum collections is amazing, given that so few people live in Montana and its cities are not large when compared with most other states.
Most certainly it is never possible to even scratch the surface if you are interested in seeing all the museums, as there are too many to visit even with countless trips to Montana. However, regardless of the towns or cities on your travel itinerary, an excellent museum will likely be nearby to entertain or educate.
For the best part, museums will give you background information for understanding and enjoying the things, architecture, cultural history, natural history, events, and creative endeavors that you will experience during your travels in Montana. Essentially many museums are there to showcase the state’s history, explain and interpret why it has developed as it has. In addition, some museums focus on the wonderful things and activities Montanans are currently engaged with on a regular basis.
Two museums, particularly, are outstanding. The Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming just across the Montana state border, southwest of Billings. Both museums have huge, wonderful, and carefully curated collections.
The collections in Helena are large in scope and character ranging from original C.M. Russell paintings to the story about first peoples, the Native Americans. Subject matter covers mountain men and fur traders, mining and prospectors, early pioneers and the settlement of the state, natural history, wildlife, conflicts with native Americans, and more are all here.
Buffalo Bill who was a world-famous showman in the American West in the late 1800s is the central thread of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, near the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park. But there is a whole lot more. This museum is really five separate thematic museums under essentially under the same roof covering: western art, culture of the plains Indians, firearms, natural history, and the man Buffalo Bill.
The separate museums all have a name: The Whitney Western Art Museum; Plains Indian Museum; Draper Natural History Museum; The New Cody Firearm Museum; and the Buffalo Bill Museum. Every collection is world-class. Separately and together, these museums rival museums in much larger cities around the country. As a bonus, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has the resources to put on major special exhibitions. In 2020, the museum showcases 100 years of the Cody Stampede and the Equestrian West, for example.
Not widely known, the Montana Historical Society Museum has a magnificent, non-circulating, research library on Montana history which is open to the public. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West also has a special library centered on topics which support the mission of the museums. This library may be open for people doing advanced research. Always inquire before you go.
Montana’s history is, in some ways, alike that of Wyoming; as such, the museums in Helena and Cody can be viewed as complimentary. Of Course, Wyoming has Buffalo Bill while Montana has C.M. Russell, both geniuses who came out of the same era, days when Wyoming and Montana lands were on the western frontier.
Both states played a central part in the glorious story of mountain men and fur trading in the early 19th century. But Montana alone can lay claim to a huge part of the famous Lewis & Clark Expedition that explored the great Northwest in 1804-1806. Plus, Montana had the precious gold and silver and the men and women who sought to gain riches from the earth.
Visit Montana’s museums, one or more. Amazing rewards await those who chose to come by for a few hours or more. It should be noted that the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena is run by the state and open free-of-charge. Donations accepted. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody is a private operation. Visitors pay a fee to enter. Generally, $19.50, or less, depending on the age of the visitor. Seniors get a small break and for children free.
Both museums have extra-nice stores that sell books, art prints, and a variety of souvenirs. Your purchases at these stores help to fund the good deeds of the museums. Money earned is used on maintenance and to make the museums ever better.
Art Montana publishes an excellent directory of all museums in Montana, listed by city. Choose museums in the list, then a city, and pick out a museum to visit.
Horace Greely once said, “Go West, young man.” A wiser man might have said, “Conquer the West y’all, visit a Montana museum.”
Many folks like to stop for a cup of Starbucks coffee when traveling or on a vacation. There is often more than one Starbucks store in most larger cities. Stores can vary in size depending on the location and some stores can look a little different from other stores even in the same city.
Starbucks serves tasty coffee and more: Featured on their Website this week: creamy, all-new, iced coconutmilk drinks and Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino Blended Beverage. Always something new at Starbucks. Yum!
Starbucks stores in Montana are modern as the chain arrived here later than in many other cities. Stores are easy to find, on or near major streets, in every city. Just look for the mermaid. A few favorites:
Billings: Starbucks at 910 Grand Avenue (close to downtown)
Bozeman: Starbucks at 1122 West Main Street (close to downtown)
Kalispell: Starbucks at 10 North Main Street (in the heart of downtown)
Missoula: Starbucks at 5260 Grant Creek Road (just off the interstate highway)
Butte: Starbucks at 2307 Harrison Avenue (south of downtown area)
Helena: Starbucks at 1300 Prospect Avenue (close the state capitol)
Great Falls: Starbucks at 1000 10th Ave. South (south of downtown)
Helena (pop. 31,429) is Montana’s state capital. The city is quite small, so it is easy to get around, even for first-time visitors. Tourists generally do not flock to Helena like they do other hot spots such as Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and cities and towns near the parks.
Helena is defined by Last Chance Gulch, the main street through downtown. Why go there? Last Chance Gulch is lined with many historical building dating back to the late 1800s. Architects and common folks will marvel at the beauty of these old buildings, many built with stone.
On the Gulch or near the Gulch, on side streets, are some of the city’s best restaurants and hotels. For upscale dining, try On Broadway and Lucca’s. More casual dining is found at Bert and Ernie’s. The Parrot Confectionery, on Last Chance Gulch, is a must-visit old-time establishment, serving malts, mild shakes, chili, and other delights. Plus, the Parrot makes home-made chocolate candies that are in a word, the best.
Two hotels stand out on or near Last Chance Gulch: DoubleTree by Hilton Helena and the Great Northern Best Western Hotel. Both hotels have or are near excellent dining for guests and the public.
As for attractions, the Montana Historical Museum near the state capitol is outstanding. The museum has displays and artifacts covering the early days of Montana’s history. The museum also includes a wonderful art gallery which has many original pieces by famous artist C.M. Russell. The museum is open 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. weekdays and Saturday, closed on Sundays and holidays.
The state capitol is open to the public. The building is magnificent, a genuine treasure for such a small town. The capitol is open 7:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. weekdays and 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. weekends.
Chocolate candies, malts, and milk shakes are as good as motherhood and apple pie some may suggest. Combine this with special ambience and an old-time atmosphere, complete with booths and counter stools, and you have the Parrot Confectionery on Last Chance Gulch in downtown Helena, Montana.
The Parrot makes over 100 kinds of home-made, hand-dipped chocolates and caramels. Want a bowl of chili, they have it. This place will stir old memories and, as if on a time machine, take you be back to the 1950s and 1960s. The Parrot is way cool, Do NOT miss the Parrot during you next stay in Helena. MTbest™
Being a large city, Billings offers many great dining options. Bistecca at the Granary has the best food and atmosphere in Billings. The Granary’s bar is special and a delightful place to have a seat even if you only order a Coke. The Granary is open for lunch and evening dining and located in a quiet neighborhood on Poly Drive.
The City Vineyard is on Grand Avenue in far west Billings. This place is exceptional. Don’t miss! Sandwiches, salads and soups, desserts, and more. Try the “create your own meat and cheese board.” Great selection of Montana craft beers and wines are served.
City Vineyard sells a very large selection of quality wines. Deer Creek Field Medal cheese from Wisconsin and other treats found here too. Next door and adjoining City Vineyard is the City Brew Coffee shop. This is a very, very nice coffee shop. MTbest™
Harper and Madison is another top eatery in Billings. Pastries, desserts, sandwiches, salads, and locally roasted coffee are on the menu. Great breakfast menu. This restaurant is very popular with locals and is located near the hospital-Billings Clinic area north of downtown area. The setting is in a local neighborhood. Open Tuesday thru Friday (7:00 am – 2:00 pm), and Saturday (7:00 am thru 1:00 pm. casual surroundings. Great Harvest Bread is always another good choice.
Bratwursts, schnitzels, apple strudel and many tasty German foods are on the menu at Oktoberfest German Restaurant on Grand Avenue in west Billings. The food is authentic German. The restaurant’s owner is from Stuttgart. MTbest™
For an extra nice atmosphere and good prices dine at Jake’s restaurant downtown. For yummy seafood and ribs, try Montana’s Rib & Chop House on Majestic Lane in the far west end of Billings. Don’t miss McCormick Café’s sandwiches and fresh-baked goods. McCormick Cafe is on Montana Avenue downtown.
Meatloaf sandwiches just like you mom used to make are on the menu at The Fieldhouse restaurant in downtown Billing on Montana Avenue. The Fieldhouse has many other delicious foods too: Burrata (Benton’s ham, crouton, flathead cherry, sage); Lamb Bolognese (with orecchiette pasta, herbs, pecorino, shaved fennel salad); and many more savory temptations.
The 406 Kitchen & Taproom has a great location on north 27th Street, not far from downtown, the airport, and area colleges. On the menu Famous 406 nachos, halibut sandwich, are many more tasty delights. The atmosphere at 406 Kitchen & Taproom is very average but the kitchen has good hours of service.
The Burger Dive in downtown Billings is a favorite for a quick bite in casual surroundings. Great Harvest Bread is always another good choice.
To find dining in Bozeman, head for Main Street. Western Café on east Main Street is a favorite of locals. It’s easy to understand why. A Western Breakfast Sandwich (large biscuit, egg, cheese, ham and sausage OR bacon) cost all of $6.50. Management at The Nova Cafe claims to serve “the best breakfast in town.” Too boastful? Well go and find out. Starbucks coffee is served on west Main Street.
Don’t miss the Baxter Hotel. This establishment features Ted’s Montana Grille and the Bacchus Pub. As you leave the Baxter Hotel pick up some fine chocolates and other gourmet treats at the La Châatelaine Chocolat Co.
Plonk Wine Bozeman on east Main Street has, what else, a great selection of premium wines. Top shelf red is a bottle of 2014 Mommessin Monopole Grand Cru Clos de Tart, Morey St-Denis, only $495. More budget friendly is a 2016 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, $42. Cocktails served too. Plonk serves tasty cuisine, often prepared from products sourced from local farms and ranches. Beef tartare and pan roasted chick breast are favorites on the menu. A special ambience makes Plonk Wine a most satisfying experience.
Blackbird Kitchen is a Bozeman dining place on everyone’s list of top restaurants. You know the cuisine great when management advertise “happy local organic wood fired casual dining.” On the menu: goat shank, beef sirloin, spaghetti and meatballs, and a large selection of delicious pizzas. Find a super wine list here. If your taste is birra, order Kloster-Andechs Weissbier Heil or Propolis Brewing Spruce.
bisl offers another fine dining experience in Bozeman. As with Plonk Wine locally sourced ingredients are used when possible. Montana Short Rib and Scallop run about $31. Enjoy your meal with wine or beer, carefully selected from local, national, and international sources. bisl is on east Main Street.
Italian cuisine is the regular fare at Blacksmith Italian restaurant. The Open Range is another restaurant with great reviews. Dining at the Bay Bar & Grille is convenient while shopping at the Gallatin Valley Mall. Other good dining options are: Squire House, Urban Kitchen, South 9th Bistro, and Seven Sushi.
Missoula restaurants and bars are tops. Most of the best restaurants and bars are concentrated along a five-block section of Higgins Avenue, a major north-south artery though the downtown area. The Shack Cafe is a good choice for breakfast, lunch and evening dining. For fresh pastries, breads, and desserts, don’t miss Bernice’s Bakery.
The Iron Horse Brew Pub sells every beverage imaginable, plus has good food, especially sandwiches. The Iron Horse Brew Pub rocks even on weekdays. Tasty sandwiches and veggies are served at Worden’s Market and Deli. Tamarack Brewing (downtown) is a popular sports pub with a low-key, dining experience on the upper level.
The Pearl Café is open for upscale dining. Try the “Boneless trout with Dungeness crab,” cost a mere $29. The menu at Caffe Dolce lists house-made pasta, pizza, salmon, lamb burger and more. Wines are from Italy, France, and Spain. Red Bird at 111 N. Higgins offers upscale dining. Scotty’s Table has tasty delights, local meat, produce, and grains for an exceptional dining experience.
Plonk Wine Missoula on Higgins Avenue has, what else, a great selection of premium wines. Top shelf red is a bottle of 2009 Domaine Clerget Echezeaux Burgundy, only $320. More budget friendly is a 2013 Tangent Grenache Blanc, Edna Valley, $32. Cocktails served too. Plonk serves tasty cuisine, often prepared from products sourced from local farms and ranches. Alaskan halibut, $32. and grilled local bone-in park chops, $25., are favorites on the menu. A special ambience makes Plonk Wine a most satisfying experience.
Great Falls has many good dining spots. Tops is the Celtic Cowboy in the Hotel Arvon in downtown Great Falls. The Celtic Cowboy is a pub and restaurant. On the Menu for breakfast try “Scotch Eggs” for $9 or Irish Porridge (Irish oatmeal) $6. For lunch try their Celtic Burger (ground bison or elk, with cheese, tomato, and slaw) $15. A favorite for dinner is Irish Whiskey Glazed Salmon, $24.
On the pub side, the Celtic Cowboy offers about 35 craft beers made in Montana. Go for a craft beer or to dine, the Celtic Cowboy is an amazing place. MTbest™
Dante’s Creative Cuisine has a nice atmosphere and, according to management, offers “casual [dining] elegance in the heart of Great Falls, Montana. Perfect steaks and prime rib, delicious seafood entrees, southwestern specialties and delectable desserts make us hard to resist!” On the menu, Manicotti Italiano, $18.95, Chicken Milano, $19.95, Charbroiled Salmon, $28.95, and Grilled Ribeye, $29.95. A great selection of wine, beer, and spirits here, too.
Wheat Montana Bakery and Deli makes delightful sweet baked goods, soups and salads, and sandwiches. Made from the best Montana ingredients. Great Harvest Bread is always a good choice. JB’s Restaurant is a family dining restaurant near major shopping areas and the city’s main mall.
Restaurants are plentiful in Helena. Those who like superior Italian cuisine and good wine dine at Lucca’s on Last Chance Gulch. Exceptional service here.
For other upscale dining, try The Wassweiler Dinner House & Pub. Pan Seared Salmon with creamy goat cheese couscous, tomato, mushroom, sweet corn, spinach, and lemon caper beurre blanc is on the menu at $34. Drive a short distance west of Helena on U.S. Highway 12 to arrive at the Wassweiler.
For a good wine selection and splendid cuisine, many dine at On Broadway near the downtown. The Brewhouse Pub & Grille in the Great Northern Town Center, a few blocks north of the downtown area, is very popular.
The Parrot Confectionery, located downtown on Last Chance Gulch, opened in 1922 and serves famous chili, malts, and milk shakes. Best of all you can try over 100 kinds of home-made, hand-dipped chocolates and caramels. This place has an old-time atmosphere, sort of like out of the 1950s. A neat spot if you have a sweet tooth.
Try Steve’s Café for the best breakfast. For tasty coffee, tea, baked treats, and lunch in Helena try Hub Coffee on Last Chance Gulch downtown. Great Harvest Bread is always a good choice. The Grub-Stake, a few miles north of Helena on I-15, is an interesting hang out for locals.
For upscale dining in Kalispell, try Jagz Fine Dining. A full pound center cut ribeye, char-grilled and topped with bourbon onion sauce goes for $32.95. The Desoto Grill is wildly popular too. The Desoto Grill serves BBQ, sandwiches, desserts, and beer. A smoked chicken sandwich, $12.25. Banana pudding, $4.75. Yum!
The Montana Club restaurant is in the downtown area just off Main Street. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For this reason, the Montana Club is a good choice. Sometimes it’s hard to find a restaurant that serves breakfast.
The Carbon County Steakhouse on Main Street has a wonderful dining atmosphere and cuisine is first-rate. A large wine selection is served. This is upscale dining Red Lodge, so don’t look at prices on the menu.
Locals and visitors enjoy tasty cuisine at the Carbon Fork Restaurant in downtown Red Lodge. Try their Huckleberry ice cream for dessert, so good. There’s a lot to love at the Carbon Fork. Foster & Logan’s Pub & Grill on Main Street is another spot to have a good meal. A special at Foster and Logan’s is a Folo’s Dog, a 1/4 pound all beef hot dog with extras for only $7.95. Bogart’s serves a variety of Mexican food.
For a tradition pub atmosphere, go to the Snag Bar. A beer at the Snag goes for $3.00, a burger $8.00. A pool table and a few video gaming machine attract some visitors to the Snag Bar.
The Rock Creek Resort (1-800-667-1119) is located a few miles south of Red Lodge on U.S. Highway 212. The nearby Old Piney Dell Restaurant and Bar is a favorite dining spot for locals. The restaurant has a very rustic setting, along the banks of Rock Creek.