THE REVIVAL: Before the University of Missouri was established, in 1839, Columbia in the rolling foothills of the Ozarks was just a stagecoach stop en route to California. As it grew, it became a hub for higher education (downtown boasts three colleges) and insurance firms but gained a rep as a staid, boring, and straitlaced community in need of a makeover.
Done. CoMo is swinging these days. In 2000, local filmmaker David Wilson, 33, helped open the Ragtag Cinema, a small indie-film house downtown. Four years later, he co-founded True/False, an annual documentary-film festival that draws international raves and is at the forefront of Columbia's creative revival. Developers have retrofitted old meatpacking warehouses into SoHo-style lofts and art spaces. Nearby, you'll find "the Diaper Factory," which houses a dance troupe, artists' studios, and a café. This summer, the 1928 Tiger Hotel will get a boutique facelift, complete with requisite mod eatery. Columbia recently scored a $22.5 million federal grant to develop a citywide trail system to add to its 65 urban parks, including 32-acre Capen Park, with its limestone top-rope routes.
THE LIFE: The nine-mile, run-or-ride MKT spur links downtown Columbia with the Katy Trail, a 225-mile rails-to-trails traverse that follows Lewis and Clark's route along the Missouri River. Nearby Easley Hill is central Missouri's toughest bike climb, and boaters float the mighty Missouri from Catfish Katy's to Cooper's Landing, 90 minutes downstream. Back in town, fresh-obsessed Sycamore sources its ingredients from local farms and growers, and Shakespeare's is the locals' pick for pizza.
THE WORD ON THE STREET: COLUMBIA
"My stress level is half what it was on the East Coast, and so is my rent. Heaven for cyclists."