People-watching in Missoula is a fine summer pastime and there are many places to enjoy the sport, whether at a street-side bistro table or a bench in a park.
Sometimes, though, a mountain or river is a more inviting backdrop, with good food or good drink to enjoy too. Here are a few suggestions for spots where the sights are as satisfying as the sustenance.
VENUE: FINN and PORTER, 100 Madison St., Missoula
VIEW: River, fisher people, dogs swimming, tubers floating, paddle boarders, birds hunting for fish, Mount Sentinel and the “M.”
Finn & Porter, inside the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, has one of the blue-ribbon outdoor dining decks in Missoula. The first sunny days of the year usually prompt hopeful queries, “Is the deck open yet?”
The deck overlooks the Clark Fork River, a hub of activity all summer long. In hot weather, scores of tubers and floaters pass by as they cool off with the flow. Across the river is the Bark Park, with good views of happy dogs and owners swimming, fetching and romping together. Gaze off the deck’s rail and you might see a fly-fisher patiently casting for a bite or kids exploring rocks along the river.
The menu at Finn & Porter is one of the best in Missoula, with something for everyone, hors d’oeuvres to small plates to fill-you-up dinners: antipasti, shrimp, oysters, fish, steak, salads and gourmet pizzas are popular. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails, and the deck is open as weather permits.
If the deck is full, many indoor tables have nice views too.
VENUE: RIVER EDGE RESORT, 168 S. Frontage Road, off I-90, Alberton
VIEW: Walkers, campers, birds, Clark Fork River.
This restaurant-bar-motel-campground compound is an oasis on the Clark Fork River just 30 minutes from Missoula, offering a snapshot of gorgeous mountain and river views and wildlife. It is family owned, casual and peaceful, with good food and drinks in a beautiful setting.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; the dinner menu spotlights steaks, burgers, chicken, prime rib, seafood and pork, with many gourmet options (hickory smoked elk burgers; blackened steelhead alfredo pasta).
Thirsty? Try the $8 “Brew Crate,” a sampling of six Montana craft beers. The pours are large enough for two people to share. Or there’s a full-service bar if a cocktail is more to your liking.
A bonus are the trails around the property. Visitors can explore the river and compound before or after a meal to work up an appetite or work off a few calories.
VENUE: TEN SPOON VINEYARD AND WINERY, 4175 Rattlesnake Drive, Missoula
VIEW: Vineyards, deer, birds, kids, friendly resident dogs, Mount Jumbo.
The tasting room of this winery is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in the summer from 4 to 9 p.m., with live music every Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. The location is stunning: grapes ripening on nearby vines; dusk lights on Mount Jumbo; a large grassy area where kids roam and deer mingle; and landscaping and flowers to greet visitors. It’s a lovely and luscious spot near the Rattlesnake Wilderness.
Ten Spoon wines are the featured fare here, of course. A flight of four will give you a taste of several, or just choose one to sip outside or inside. The winery offers an hors d’oeuvres plate to purchase and enjoy, or feel free to bring your own picnic or snacks. Food trucks often are parked onsite, including Rollin’ Bytes brick-oven pizza, which makes hand-crafted pies to order.
Don’t be surprised if you meet the vineyard’s greeter dogs, Ranger and Scout. They don’t beg but they’re available if a pizza crust tumbles their way.
VENUE: THE KEEP RESTAURANT, 102 Ben Hogan Drive, Missoula
VIEW: Missoula from above, city lights, bright greens of the golf course, deer, Snowbowl ski area and surrounding mountains.
The Keep has an outdoor patio and big-windowed indoor lounge and dining rooms with stunning panoramic views of Missoula proper and the mountains and hills that hug the city’s north edges and beyond. There’s no better spot to get a sense of the rugged wilderness that makes Missoula such a special spot.
Right below the restaurant is the Highlands golf course, so the surrounding greenery stays lush all summer long. As the day cools you may spot a fawn searching for tender nibbles. The setting sun offers a light show year-round.
The Keep’s restaurant menu is one of the best fine-dining options in Missoula; the lounge and outdoor patio menu is more casual but fits the summer season perfectly. Crab cakes, grilled sirloin, fresh salads, grilled fish, and more than 15 starters that could be a meal by themselves are some of the selections. Wine, beer and fancy cocktails quench a summer thirst.
VENUE: LOLO CREEK DISTILLERY, 6610 U.S. Highway 12, Lolo
VIEW: Lolo Peak (a peek at it, anyway) and the surrounding foothills and mountains, Traveler’s Rest State Park.
The outdoor deck at this popular distillery faces south, looking into the Bitterroot Valley and the Bitterroot Mountain Range. You can see the top of Lolo Peak, at 9,000-plus feet high, nine miles away.
Closer — just across Highway 12 — is the entrance to Traveler’s Rest State Park, where the Lewis and Clark Expedition stopped in 1805 as it headed west, and then again in 1806 on its return trip. Native peoples used this area for centuries before them.
The distillery closes at 8 p.m., late enough to get a hint of what sunset lights on the mountains will look like. Cloud formations are stunning when they appear in the blue skies of the valley.
And of course, the distillery has a full complement of adventurous and satisfying cocktails, made with their own spirits, like “The 847,” made with honey-huckleberry vodka, huckleberry syrup and lemonade, or “Up the Crick,” made with gin, house simple syrup, grapefruit juice and basil.
The distillery offers a charcuterie board of fancy meats and cheeses for $15, or bring your own snacks for the cocktail hour. Some people buy a burger at the Lolo Creek Steak House on their way up to the distillery and eat it while sipping a treat from the drink menu.