VERTICAL BRANDS: Come to Missoula, Montana!
Client: Vertical Brands
Do you want to live in a place where you can wear your Birkenstocks 360 days a year—not because it’s warm outside but because it’s considered stylish with wool socks? A place where the smell of patchouli isn’t a cliché, it’s real, and residents don’t think twice to smile when they see you pass by? Welcome to Missoula, Montana! This vibrant hippy town lives up to its reputation as a peace-lovin’, granola-eatin’ mecca of free spirits. However, it’s not just the carefree culture that draws people here. In Missoula, outdoor recreation is a way of life and the region’s stunning mountains and crystalline rivers lure thousands of people here every year. After all, this is the state where Robert Redford filmed “A River Runs Through It” and David James Duncan penned “The River Why.” (And though we have no proof, we’re pretty sure John Denver was sitting at Lolo Pass when he wrote “Wild Montana Skies.”) On this page, we’re going to help you find the perfect place to live amid this outdoor wonderland.
Missoula is the land of Subaru Outbacks, patchwork pants and didgeridoos— home of the modern beatnik. Its style and demographic is heavily influenced by the college culture, which spills into the rest of the city. Yet integral to that vibe is the love of the outdoors and in that regard, Missoula offers no shortage of things to do. The outskirts of town hold opportunities for skiing, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Being located in Montana, there’s also a little bit of redneck mixed in, so don’t be surprised by all the hunters and fly fishermen filling up at the gas stations.
Within the city limits, folks like to relax and take it easy. Brewpubs, art galleries and coffee shops decorate the main drag. In the summertime, the University of Montana comes alive with college kids throwing up slack lines and tossing Frisbees. And though college life definitely dominates the town, it isn’t the Alpha Beta Kappa type you find in other cities. You’ll be hard-pressed to find Joey “The Situation” here, greased with Axe Body Spray, or booming nightclubs with lines out the door. Here, North Face fleeces are the staples of fashion and Open Mic jams rule the night.
In Missoula, you’ll be considered a local once you’ve: 1. Hiked up to the big M on the hill; 2. Played a round of Frisbee golf (Folf) at Pattee Canyon; and 3. Eaten “brains and eggs” at The Ox at 2 a.m. Until then, let’s work on finding you a house.
Finding a Place
For years, the mantra in Missoula was to “live wherever you could find a place.” Although that pressure has let up some in recent years as the city has grown and new housing has been developed, it’s still no cakewalk for renters to find a place. The best advice from the Missoula Chamber of Commerce? “Start early.” It may take a while and there is a large range of housing styles and quality. Since most places require a 12-month lease, you want to make sure you are happy with your decision. Additionally, there are lots of property management places so it is best to try out several to find the best fit. Locals know that the best time to find housing is in early summer when all the college kids are graduating or going home for a few months. Many places are vacant this time of year. But hurry— by August they will bet filling up again.
One thing many locals don’t know is there is another let-up time in late December when winter term ends. Lots of kids move back in with their parents during this time and if you’re quick, you can snag something then. The most difficult time of year to find housing will definitely be fall when school is back in session. Take advantage of the gap times.
The thing about describing housing in Missoula is the city is so much more about what’s outside than inside (Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, Pattee Canyon Recreation Area, etc.). That said, there are certain neighborhoods you’ll want to investigate, each of which carry their own distinct vibe and culture.
With tons of bars, coffee shops, pizza parlors, art houses, restaurants and cafes scattered throughout the streets, the downtown neighborhood is definitely a hip place to live — and convenient to boot. If you can find housing, it isn’t even that expensive. Unfortunately, the majority of residential units in this district fall into the category of old historical homes, university-owned housing, family-owned residences or fraternity buildings. That means it is hard for renters. Nevertheless, a select number of apartments, multiplexes and rental houses exist and with diligence (and a little luck_, you may be able to nab one. If you do, the area will offer you an abundance of food, shopping and nightlife nearby, and you’ll be able to walk or bike just about anywhere.
Although you will find students living everywhere in Missoula, the South Hills area provides relatively affordable housing and an abundance of rental units. Moreover, it is within a reasonable distance of the university. For these reasons the South Hills, reaching into the Moose Can Gully and Lewis and Clark areas, are perhaps the most popular region for University of Montana kids. That said, they don’t have the feel of a typical college neighborhood. For one thing, the neighborhoods are spread out. Secondly, there aren’t a lot of bars or nightlife nearby, so noise isn’t a big issue. It is mostly quiet and a number of families live there too. Although you will probably have to drive a car to get downtown (or ride a bike if you have one), the South Hills area offers a lot of good options for young people or families.
This quaint, scenic part of town is a mix of homes, apartments and multiplexes nestled in and out of the woods at the foot of the Rattlesnake National Recreational Area. Prices range here and, though you can definitely find some bargains, the combination of scenery and proximity to town tends to make it a little pricier. It is also more competitive for renters. But it’s no wonder. Most of the housing options here are surrounded by trees and you can bike downtown in ten minutes. Even with its pricing and availability challenges, many student, professors and families find residence in this pretty part of town.
West End (Orchard Home, Mullan Road)
Although not every housing option in the West End is expensive, units here tend to be pricier and there are fewer apartments than big homes. Students or young people on a limited budget may have a hard time finding something that fits their needs. However, for families or folks with a bigger budget, the neighborhoods are newer and the region feels more “suburban” than other parts of town. It is close to Reserve Street, the stretch of town holding the city’s big box stores and strip malls. For people seeking a quieter, more upscale vibe, the West End is the place to be.
This part of town is tucked on the east side and is in close proximity to the university and downtown. There are fewer large homes and housing options are mostly apartment complexes and trailer homes. However, what the neighborhood lacks in charm it makes up for in affordability.
This up and coming part of town has been renovated in recent years through a number of revamping initiatives. Though historically a rougher part of town, the city’s focus on economic development has given it a fresh facelift. Neighborhood councils have been added and cultural centers established. Brewpubs and art galleries have sprung up which, combined with its affordability, have made it a viable place for people of all types to call home. The North Side is well on its way to becoming a hip, thriving part of Missoula.
This area is on the outskirts of town and a bit of a drive if you have to commute to work or school every day. However, it offers some of the most scenic and beautiful views in the city limits. Moreover, it has the nestled, small town feel that many people move to Montana to experience. It is still affordable (though there are some pricier homes) and many houses rent out to students. If you move to the Miller Creek area, you will likely have a big yard and quiet neighbors. An ideal living spot for people with vehicles who love open spaces.
A Note on Transportation:
Missoula is a small town. Although its bus system now offers service to most neighborhoods, you won’t find super comprehensive routes or schedules that run all night. There is no urban train or trolley car. There are a few taxi cabs services but in general, if you are planning on being out in the evenings, you need to plan ahead. The same goes for your daily commute. Many people choose to carpool and the university is a great place to connect folks.
The good news is Missoula is considered one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country and there are paths to get you everywhere, many of which are out of traffic. It is also very walkable with a number of pedestrian bridges and walkways. With a little forethought, you will find a transportation system that works best for you.
Missoula is what an old college friend once called, “a liberal oasis in a desert of conservatism.” This is pretty much on point. While the political atmosphere inside Missoula is ultra-liberal (“Legalize Pot signs dot the city and peace advocates rally weekly on the bridge), the town sits on the Western end of a very red state. Once you get out of the city limits, you will notice. Heavy right-leaning political signs spring up on the side of the highway and ranchers with moose heads populate the bars. You will overhear them talking and, after some time in Missoula, might be surprised at what you hear.
Yet, the upshot is that Montana conservatism is a unique brand of conservative. It isn’t generally the preachy, values-based type. It’s tends to be more of the Libertarian, “Keep Off My Property” brand. Montanans value their guns and their freedom. Most natives consider their state to be the last wild frontier and want to keep it that way. They don’t like the government in their business and they don’t like how liberals in the west have “screwed everything up.” Yet take a minute to warm up to them and you’ll find most of them are good, hardworking people who simply have a different perspective.
Photo with permission from Pixabay.