To some, Columbia is known as “CoMo,” but to others, it’s known as the “Athens of Missouri” for its characteristic beauty, Grecian-style pillars on Mizzou’s campus, and a strong emphasis on education. Columbia is also known for its public art and progressive politics. Missouri’s fastest-growing and fourth-most populous city, Columbia, offers a booming economy plus many cultural institutions and events.

Although CoMo is home to Stephens College, Columbia College, and most notably the University of Missouri, Columbia is much more than a college town. From the State Historical Society of Missouri, the Museum of Art and Archaeology, the True/False Film Festival to the Ozark Mountains, Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, Mark Twain National Forest, and the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Columbia has a wealth of cultural offerings amid outdoor beauty.

Columbia residents love the low cost of living, top-rated schools, friendly people and neighborhoods, and the number of job opportunities. And being close to the Ozarks with its abundant outdoorsy adventures is a real plus. Columbia, MO, is a great place to live, whether you’re a college student looking to further your education, a retiree looking to live your golden ages in the Midwest, or somewhere in-between.

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Living in Columbia: What to Know Before You Move to Columbia, MO

As the fourth-most populous city in Missouri and home to multiple top-rated colleges and universities, Columbia has an estimated 123,300 residents. The city has a history of progressive, open-minded journalism, a thriving economy and job market, and entertainment options galore.

Pros and Cons of Living in Columbia

Like any city, Columbia has its yays and nays.

Pros:

  • Small town vibe with big-city amenities: You’ll love living in Columbia because it feels like a small Midwestern town, but it has great restaurants, entertainment options, sports arenas, nightlife, and more.
  • Job opportunities: Columbia has one of the most flourishing job markets in the country because of its low unemployment rate and abundance of jobs.
  • Low cost of living: Although the cost of living in Columbia is 6% higher than Missouri’s overall, the city still has an affordable cost of living, clocking in at 12% lower than the national average.
  • Local businesses: From coffee shops to bookstores, Columbia has much to offer in terms of homegrown businesses. The farmers’ market is especially popular, with an average of 4,000 visitors every Saturday coming to take home locally made and raised products.

Cons:

  • High crime rate: The Columbia metro area receives an F rating, meaning it has high crime, according to AreaVibes.com.
  • Weather: While Columbia has four distinct seasons, the weather brings extreme temperatures. The city is no stranger to severe winter storms, snow, high winds, and humid hot summers.
  • Transportation: With a low walk score, low bike score, and a lack of bicycle lanes, most Columbia residents rely on a car to get around. The city is quite spread out, making a car the most convenient transportation option.

Tax Rates

  • Property tax: The property tax rate in Boone County is 0.99%.
  • Sales tax: The Columbia city sales tax rate is 7.975%. The Missouri state sales tax rate is 4.225%.
  • State income tax: Missouri’s state income tax averages 2%.

Housing Market

A great place to live, work, and raise a family, Columbia has an active housing market. According to Zillow, the median home value, as of December 2019, is $190,682. The median listing price is $229,900. The housing market increased by 3.7% in 2019 and is predicted to rise by 3.2% in 2020.

About 53% of Columbia residents rent their homes, which makes sense because of the high college student population. If you’re hoping to buy in Columbia, MO, the best neighborhoods to hunt in right now are Parkade, Worley Street Park, and Ridgeway.

According to Zillow, the median rent price is $1,000. Areas with more affordable housing purchase and rental prices include Ashland, Hallsville, and Centralia.

Cost of Living

Columbia’s cost of living index is 88 of 100, which is 12% lower than the national average but 3% higher than the overall Missouri average. The cost of living index factors in groceries at 98.3, healthcare at 100.6, housing at 78.9, utilities at 97.2, and transportation at 73.8.

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator, a family of four living in the Columbia area would need an annual salary of $81,753, or $6,813 a month, to live a modest but adequate lifestyle.

Weather and Natural Disasters

The Columbia area experiences all four seasons with hot and humid summers, colorful autumns, springs with perfect temps, and wet, snowy winters.

The hottest month in Columbia is often July, with average highs and lows of 88°F and 67°F. Although summers are hot and humid, late spring is Columbia’s rainiest month, when you’ll see about 5″ of precipitation in May. Summers often last about 3.6 months, from May 30 to September 16. The coldest month in the Columbia area is January, which has average highs and lows of 39°F and 21°F. Snow falls between November and April, with an average total accumulation of 18″.

Natural disaster threats include severe winter storms, lightning, tornadoes, flooding, extreme heat, and wildfires. You can prepare for natural disaster threats by familiarizing yourself with the Boone Country emergency management webpage.

Economy and Job Market

Columbia and its surrounding metropolitan area have a healthy job market and economy with a 0.3% job market increase over the last year. The unemployment rate is 2.3%, quite a bit lower than the US average of 3.9%. In the next ten years, it’s forecast that Columbia will see a 26.8% increase in job market growth; however, the anticipated US average job market increase over the next ten years is 33.5%. The average median household income is $43,776 a year.

The most prominent industries are healthcare, educational services (due to the prominent colleges and universities) retail, food service, technology, and finance/insurance. Major employers are the University of Missouri, MU Health Care, Mortgage Research Center, MFA Oil, Integrity Home Care & Hospice, MBS Textbook Exchange, The Landrum Company, and Mariner Finance.

Job seekers should start their hunt online at job boards like LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster, and more.

Traffic and Transportation

Go COMO provides Columbia’s public transportation with six basic routes plus special football schedules. If you plan on using public transportation, be sure to download the Go COMO app; you’ll be able to access real-time bus tracking. Students can buy semester passes, and long-term passes are available for frequent riders.

Columbia is dissected by east-west I-70, which in central Columbia continues east as State Route 40. I-63 runs north-south. Because so many people who live, work, or go to school in Columbia rely on their own cars to get around, traffic can be heavy and congested during traditional commute hours.

Walkscore.com awards Columbia a walking score of 42 and a bike score of 30, which is rather surprising for a college town. Most residents depend on their cars to get to work and run errands. Lyft, Uber, and other rideshare options are popular among university students, especially on the weekends.

What To Do

Although CoMo is known for being a “college town,” you can enjoy many activities no matter your age, marital status, interests, or hobbies.

  • Live music and entertainment: Whether you’re a fan of blues, indie rock, jazz, comedy, or anything in between The Blue Note is a beloved city landmark where you can see a great show. Or, head to the Rose Music Hall for an outdoor show and plenty of beer to go around.
  • Outside: Rock Bridge Memorial State Park offers beautiful trails to explore, whether on a bike or foot. Locals love checking out the Devil’s Icebox, a small cave, or exploring the boardwalks that wind their way through the dense trees. Also check out Shelter Gardens, Stephens Lake Park, Finger Lakes State Park, and Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area. Or play a round of disc golf at Indian Hills Disc Golf Course, Harmony Bends, or Albert-Oakland Park. And for family-friendly entertainment, head to Shryocks Callaway Farms for barnyard fun like corn mazes, bonfires, and more.
  • Arts and theatre: Columbia residents love visiting the Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Museum of Anthropology, finding antiques at the Midway Antique Mall and Flea Market, attending the True/False Film Festival, and exploring the PS Gallery.
  • Tasty eats: Columbia wasn’t always known to attract foodies, but these days, more and more must-try restaurants are popping up. A few top-rated favorites are Barred Owl Butcher & Table, 44 Stone Public House, Flyover, Flat Branch Pub & Brewing, and Teller’s. Are you looking for something more casual? Shakespeare’s Pizza and Pizza Trees are local hotspots. And for some refined cuisine, Sycamore, Catalpa, and Cc’s City Broiler are great options.
  • Sports aficionados: Get behind the University of Missouri’s Tigers. Attend football games at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium, or watch the Tigers play basketball at Hearnes Center or baseball at Taylor Stadium. With Columbia conveniently located midway between St Louis and Kansas City, a two-hour drive will put you in range of the St Louis Cardinals, the Kansas City Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs, St Louis Blues, and other pro teams.

Schools and Universities

Schools, ranging from elementary schools to renowned colleges and universities, pepper the Columbia metropolitan area. Columbia has 152 public K-12 schools and out of the 38 elementary schools, the top public elementary schools are Russell Blvd Elementary School 8/10, Midway Heights Elementary School 8/10, and John Ridgeway Elementary School 7/10. The top-rated middle schools are Ann Hawkins Gentry Middle School 6/10, Jefferson Jr High School 5/10, and West Jr High School 5/10. Rock Bridge Senior High School and David H Hickman High Schools are both rated 7/10.

Because Mizzou and Stephens College are so highly regarded in the community, Columbia high schools take education seriously. Established in 1839, the University of Missouri is the largest public college in the state of Missouri, with an enrollment of 30,046 in 2019. Columbia is also home to Stephens College, a private women’s college that follows a liberal arts curriculum and has three schools: Design, Health Sciences, and Creative and Performing Arts.

Crime

Unfortunately, the Columbia metro area has high crime rates, receiving an F rating on AreaVibes.com. Columbia’s crime rates are 2% higher than Missouri’s average and a whopping 25% higher than the national average. On a scale of 100, the US average for violent crime is 23, and in Columbia, it’s 27. The US average for property crime is 35 and in Columbia, it’s 46. Crime seems to be highest in central, south-central, and toward the west along US Hwy 40.

Utility Providers

  • Gas service: The main gas service provider in Columbia is Ameren Union Electric. As of this writing, their website wasn’t functional. Call 877-426-3736 to request new service.
  • Electric service: Ameren Union Electric is the primary electric service provider in Columbia. To start a new service, call 877-426-3736.
  • Water service: The city of Columbia has different water service providers depending on where you live: the City of Columbia, the Consolidated Public Water Supply District #1, and Public Water Supply District #9.
  • Trash and recycling pickup: The city handles Columbia’s trash and recycling.
  • Internet and cable service: A few companies provide Internet and cable services in Columbia: CenturyLink, Spectrum, Viasat, Mediacom, DIRECTV, and more.
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Best Neighborhoods in Columbia, MO

So you can refine your home search, here are some of the best neighborhoods in Columbia:

McBaine/Pierpont

McBaine/Pierpont may be one of the more expensive neighborhoods for housing. It’s a large area that sits in Columbia’s southern region, surrounded by downtown Columbia and highways 63 and 179. Depending on where in McBaine/Pierpont you live, downtown Columbia is just a 10- to 20-minute drive north. McBaine/Pierpont is full of large 3- and 4-bedroom homes built between 1970 and 1999 and small apartment buildings. Most residents own their home but if you prefer to rent, you’ll pay an average rental price of $1,158.

Some notable activities and attractions in and around McBaine/Pierpont are Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, Gustin Golf Course, Cosmo-Bethel Park, Gans Creek Recreational Area, and A Perry Phillips Park. One of Columbia’s two Walmart Supercenters is in this neighborhood.

Overall, McBain/Pierpont is peaceful and quiet, making it attractive for retirees and older families. Folks in this area make above-average incomes, and 58% of the working residents have executive, professional, and management occupations.

Fun fact: This neighborhood has more residents of Canadian ancestry than nearly any other neighborhood in the United States.

  • Population estimate: 37,000
  • Median household income: $33,320
  • Median home value: $325,005
  • Schools: Rock Bridge Elementary School, Beulah Ralph Elementary School, Mill Creek Elementary School, Gentry Middle School

W Route K/Arrowhead Lake Drive

West Route K/Arrowhead Lake Drive is also an expensive neighborhood, ranking pricier than 92% of the neighborhoods in Missouri. It borders Scott Rd on the west, Route K on the south and east, and W Nifong Blvd on the north.

Because W Route K/Arrowhead Lake Drive is just south of downtown, you’re only a 5- to 10-minute drive to downtown’s restaurants, shops, and attractions. Medium and large single-family homes and multi-family apartment buildings, built between 1970 and 1999, comprise most of the neighborhood’s housing. The homes often have three and four bedrooms, making Arrowhead Lake Drive popular among families. The average rental is $1,090. A few notable places in or near this neighborhood are the Gustin Golf Course, Grindstone Natural Area, Forum Nature Area, and Hinkson Woods Conservation Area.

Ranking higher in walking score and safety than other Columbia neighborhoods, the overall vibe of this neighborhood is friendly, safe, and family-centric. While many families live here, there’s also a large population of college students. 54% of residents work as an executive, manager, or in a professional setting, and 3.5% speak languages native to India.

Fun fact: About 32.5% of residents have earned a Masters, Ph.D., medical, or law degree.

  • Median household income: $60,000
  • Median home value: $312,665
  • Schools: New Haven Elementary School, Cedar Ridge Elementary School, Rock Bridge Elementary School, Gentry Middle School

Harg/Shaw

The Harg/Shaw neighborhood sits at the northeastern corner of Columbia, spanning I-70 and is about a 10- to 20-minute drive east of downtown. The neighborhood is filled with three, four, and five-bedroom homes, smaller apartment buildings, and is home to both large families, retirees, and college students. While some buildings were built between 1970 and 1999, there are also many newer buildings constructed after 2000. You’ll pay an average rental price of $946.

A few popular shopping areas in or around Harg/Shaw are the Walmart Supercenter (the other is in McBaine/Pierpont) and Broadway Market Place. For recreation, locals enjoy Stephens Lake Park, Columbia Country Club, Indian Hills Park, and Albert-Oakland Park. Popular chain coffee houses and restaurants include Starbucks, Panera, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Houlihan’s.

The neighborhood feels family-oriented and attracts families with children because many schools are within a short drive. About 40% of Harg/Shaw’s working population works in executive, management, and professional occupations. The second most important job group in this neighborhood is manufacturing and laborer occupations, with 21% of the residents employed in these industries.

  • Median household income: $54,287
  • Median home value: $189,165
  • Schools: Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary School, Ulysses S Grant Elementary School, John Ridgeway Elementary School, Frederick Douglass High School, David H Hickman High School

U of Missouri/S College Ave.

The University of Missouri and S College Ave area, like the name suggests, is popular among college students. This neighborhood bounds N Providence Rd on the west, W & E Broadway on the north, Old US 63 on the east, and Rollins St on the south. Housing is more expensive than many other Columbia neighborhoods because of its proximity to many landmarks, amenities, and high student demand. On the flip side, the average rent price is $740.

Because it’s downtown and the hub of the UM campus, this area bustles with exciting nightlife and restaurants like The Blue Note, Shakespeare’s Pizza, Flat Branch Pub, Yellow Dog Bookshop, and more. Most of the housing options here are small vintage homes, studio to two-bedroom apartment complexes, and high rises. Many of these homes were built between 1970 and 1999, with some even dating back between 1940 and 1969. Because of the high turnover rate of college students, this neighborhood often has an average 10% vacancy rate.

This neighborhood, home to many college students, a few teachers, young adults out of college, and families too, is known as the backbone of Columbia’s economy. Residents work in education, sales, and the service industry.

Fun fact: About 22% of this neighborhood’s residents have Irish ancestry. Most people who live in this area speak English, but you’ll hear Chinese and Polish too.

  • Median household income: $40,000
  • Median home value: $237,382
  • Schools: Ulysses S Grant Elementary School, Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary School, The University of Missouri, Stephens College

Cascades

With its quiet vibe, friendly neighbors, family-friendly amenities, and popular community events, the Cascades neighborhood is a great place to call home. It lies in the southern portion of Columbia, boasting quiet streets and wooded trails for urban hiking. Cascades is right off of Route K, Old Plank Road, Highway 63 (making it close to the Columbia Regional Airport) and Sinclair Road, and is known for being more peaceful and rural than neighborhoods near downtown or close to I-70.

Most Cascades residents are large families, retired couples, or professionals who work at either of the two colleges, are in management, or another professional field. Cascades is also known for a luxurious vibe, with its unique waterfall fountain, clubhouse, gazebo, large swimming pool for residents, putting green, and a bocce ball court. Locals enjoy Cascades Neighborhood Park, and nearby Bomber Field, and Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. Because Cascades is residential, there aren’t any restaurants in the neighborhood; fortunately, downtown is just a 20-minute drive north.

  • Median household income: $75,000
  • Median home value: $300,000
  • Schools: Beulah Ralph Elementary School

Old Hawthorne

One of the most expensive neighborhoods and known for its world-class country club, The Club at Old Hawthorne offers golf and other luxurious amenities such as a swimming pool and full fitness facilities. The Old Hawthorne neighborhood is ideal for families, young professionals, and retirees. Younger families live here too, especially for the top-rated Cedar Ridge Elementary School.

While the median home value here is $600,000, you can view homes ranging from $200,000 condos to lavish $2,000,000 homes. Local businesses and organizations you’ll find in Old Hawthorne include Sorenson Estate, a popular wedding venue; Sun Rise Gardens; 13 Stripes Fireworks; the local ELKS Lodge; and Olivet Christian Church.

Fun fact: This neighborhood was once a 630-acre horse farm.

  • Median household income: $73,000
  • Median home value: $600,000
  • Schools: Cedar Ridge Elementary

Thornbrook

Family-centered Thornbrook borders S Howard Orchard Rd on the west, S Brushwood Lake Rd on the north, S Scott Blvd on the east, and Route KK on the south. Downtown is about a 20-minute drive northeast of Thornbrook.

Known for having large, gorgeous homes built along attractive winding roads, residents enjoy the peaceful vibe of being away from downtown, plus two lakes, a walking trail, a community pool, a community clubhouse, and a private playground. Cakes.n.Macarons, Coats High Ridge Farm, Beulah Ralph Memorial Park, and the MKT Trail are all found in Thornbrook.

Thornbrook is another neighborhood filled with outdoor recreation and sights to see. This neighborhood is popular with families, with easy access to nearby elementary schools.

  • Median household income: $72,000
  • Median home value: $380,000
  • Schools: Beulah Ralph Elementary School

Vanderveen Crossing

With its easy access to I-70, a more rural setting, and multiple schools, Vanderveen Crossing is a great neighborhood for families, retirees wanting some quiet, or anyone looking for a home that feels more rural. But a real plus to this neighborhood is that downtown is a quick 10-minute drive southeast.

Not only is Vanderveen Crossing convenient to all the amenities of downtown, but it’s also close to LA Nickell Golf Course, Columbia Cosmopolitan Recreation Area, Garth Nature Area (including a dog park), Albert-Oakland Park, Sky Zone Trampoline Park, and Wilson’s Garden Center & Gift Shop. It’s also super close to chain restaurants such as Sonic Drive-In, McDonald’s, China Moon, and Taco Bell.

This neighborhood is especially ideal for families because of its safety, nearby schools, and emphasis on community. The Vanderveen Crossing community association boasts recreational facilities, a community pool, common areas with WIFI, a playground for little ones, and multiple celebrations throughout the year where you can get to know your neighbors and build a sense of community.

  • Median household income: $66,000
  • Median home value: $200,000
  • Schools: Parkade Elementary School, West Jr High School, David H Hickman High School

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