Shopping, Dining, and Activities in Helena
I love Helena’s surrounding mountains, how the town lights up at night, the sunsets, the buildings, the people, and the unique ways Helena changes during the seasons. Despite the sometimes crazy weather and the drawn-out winter, moving to Helena, Montana, was one of the best places we could have chosen for our new home. Although some people lament about the insanity of leaving “Paradise” (Hawai’i), I sometimes cheekily argue, “Then why do you call this the ‘Last Best Place’ (Montana’s slogan)?”
Helena is the capital of Montana, and is a college town as well. It has a nice blend of vintage, retro, and hipster vibes. In 1875, Helena became the capital of what was originally the Montana Territory. If you’re interested in Helena’s history, steeped in its mining and gold rush background, read about it here.
Given that Covid-19 is causing more people to stay at home in their own state, as well as causing domestic road trips to be the default travel method for the foreseeable future, I want to share with you some of the highlights of Helena, Montana. I’ve already found places I like and dislike, and will update this post when Covid-19 allows me to experience more of what Helena has to offer.
So without further ado, here are some of the places to eat, drink, shop, and explore in Helena, Montana.
Helena offers great opportunities to support small businesses, whether buying a gift for someone or treating yourself to a cool item or souvenir. Here are my favorite stores so far.
Sage & Oats Trading Post
Sage & Oats Trading Post has been in Helena two years. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Michelle, who owns the store with her husband. It’s a Native-owned business, given that her husband, Major, is Northern Cheyenne. Michelle is of Scotch Irish heritage. The thing I love about their shop is how culturally diverse it is.
Their shop is filled with amazing products. Michelle said they wanted to celebrate Montana’s cultural diversity, which is why they sell products that are Scandinavian, Celtic, European, Asian, Montanan, and Native American. Many of the items are handmade by local vendors and artists, such as medicinal teas, jewelry, candles, soaps, and magnets. Some items are imported goods, such as embossed rolling pins from Poland.
Whether you’re buying Native American goods, multicultural food items, or some of their Harry Potter products, there is definitely a gift for everyone on your holiday and birthday shopping lists at this cute store.
They recently moved to a new location that is shared with Buzz Boutique at 424 N Last Chance Gulch. Best thing yet is you can also shop online from the comfort and safety of your home! Shop on Etsy (click here) or their website: https://sageoats.com/
So far, my favorite products I’ve purchased from them are “Blackfeet Indian Made All Natural Lip Balm” and also an herbal tea that’s great for colds, called “Drum Song Tea.”
Montana Book Co.
Where I came from, we didn’t have great bookstores carrying new releases once Borders went out of business. So I’m in heaven having Montana Book Co. in Helena. They have a broad selection of new books for adults, teens, and children. They also sell Montana tourism books, vinyl records, writing supplies, stationery, coloring books, and much more. They really stepped up as well with the Black Lives Matter movement by stocking a ton of books about racial justice, Black history, and racism. The bookstore was one of the first stores to require face masks after businesses closed down, since they value staff and customer safety. They also are good about special orders, whether you want to order a new book or to track down a used book.
General Mercantile Store
I popped into this cute store before the pandemic hit. It has a great selection of gifts, novelty items, teas, games, gag gifts, candy, greeting cards, and more. At the time, they had some food and drinks that people would take “to go” or would enjoy while sitting in one of the store’s many nooks. The store has a vibe of a unique gift store meets Old West charm.
Four o’ Six
One of the first things you’ll notice in Montana is several cars with this store’s logo sticker. In case you didn’t know, 406 is the area code for Montana, so no wonder the sticker is popular. This is a lifestyle and clothing brand and is popular with locals. I bought one of their Montana shirts and I also bought an area-specific shirt that I custom ordered on a shirt color I liked better than the standard color (special orders are an option to get a design on one of their other shirts if the default colors don’t suit you).
Dining in Helena
Lattes and Sundaes
This place was quickly becoming my favorite restaurant before Covid finally hit Montana. Don’t let the name fool you — they serve an array of breakfast and lunch meals, not just coffee and ice cream! I love their hot sandwiches because the bread is grilled perfectly. So far my favorite sandwich is the Grilled Chicken Caprese. Their soup of the day is also fantastic. Our favorite drinks are the lattes, Spiced Cider, London Fog, and the dangerously delicious Frap O Rama.
This year, I have been reminiscing over our honeymoon to Greece and Turkey. With most of us grounded stateside for the foreseeable future, a lot of us are finding ourselves turning to food that will allow our taste buds to make the trip around the world that our bodies can’t. This restaurant was founded in 2004 and has indoor as well as patio seating. They are known for their Sunday brunches. The owner is from Turkey originally, so you can count on the food being authentic.
We enjoyed our meal here and the food rivalled what we ate in Greece and Turkey. Their stuffed grape leaves, spinakopita, Pizza Margherita, gyro sandwich, and baklava were all delicious. If you’re craving food from the Mediterranean, this is the place for you, since their menu is inspired by Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Northern Africa, Morocco, and the Middle East.
The Silver Star
The Silver Star is the Best Western Great Northern Hotel’s restaurant. It’s also popular with locals and business people. I enjoyed their huckleberry mule, which is a huckleberry Moscow Mule, and their bison burger. Dining at the Silver Star gets a nice bang for your buck since the portion sizes, ambiance, and food all make the price tag seem very reasonable. For example, one night I dined there alone and was shocked at the huge portion size and got so full that it was foolish I ordered dessert. Whether it’s for cocktails, a date, or a business meeting, the Silver Star is a good choice to keep on your radar.
I enjoyed a latte here as well as a hot sandwich–it was either the Reuben or the 1889 Hot Pastrami–and it was very good. I loved their upstairs seating area, and would say they have the nicest ambiance and view of all the Helena coffee establishments I’ve tried thus far. When I visited before Covid-19 struck, I could easily imagine working on the computer or chilling out with a book on their upper floor.
The Vanilla Bean
Like me, this is a newcomer to town which arrived earlier this year. My husband and I sampled several of their baked goods and enjoyed them. I haven’t tried their sandwiches, but they do make a good latte. The desserts are good (I’ve tried their brownies, a cupcake, sugar cookies, and cheesecake cups). The cafe is super cute, and they sell some cool branded merchandise.
Park Avenue Bakery
I didn’t enjoy the coffee, but I promise you, these are some of the most delicious chocolate chip cookies ever. I’ve never had a chocolate chip cookie that rivals a homemade chocolate chip cookie until I tried the ones at Park Avenue Bakery.
Helena Hokkaido Ramen & Izakaya
Dine here for some tasty ramen. I was happy to find a place to replace the ramen place I left behind in my old town.
This charming restaurant was recommended to me by someone from Georgia who loves Southern food. I tried their Grilled Shrimp Po-Boy and hush puppies, and thought they were good. Their Beignets were delicious.
This is a French creperie with sweet and savory crepes as well as espresso and salads. It’s a small establishment. When I went in, I was so torn over what to get that I ordered and pigged out on three different types of crepes (2 savory and one sweet), and enjoyed them all.
Brewhouse Pub and Grill
Try their onion rings and their beer cheese soup!
Although their parfait bowl isn’t anything to rave about, I loved the two Hub Signature Sodas that I have tried. I tried their Lemon Apple Fizz (fresh lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and their own ginger simple syrup with club soda) and their Mango Ginger Soda. One day I bought a fancy pastry, which was tasty and high quality, and also tried their Italian Sandwich, which I’d also recommend.
So far I’ve tried Lewis and Clark Brewery and Ten Mile Creek Brewing. I recommend both of them and look forward to the day it’s safe to explore more of the small breweries and bars in Helena.
Things to do
Explore downtown Helena
Helena is a great place to explore when the weather is mild enough. There are cool historic buildings as long as several ghost signs to be seen, all in downtown. There’s a walking mall with cool shops, including Big Dipper Ice Cream.
If you want a look at Helena’s past and get a taste of architecture in the 1870’s, the oldest intact piece of the town is Reeder’s Alley. Its buildings are a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places. I’ve visited in both winter and spring and find it to be a charming street that all visitors should check out. I love the streetlamps, buildings, and brick walkway.
Cathedral of St. Helena
This is definitely one of my favorite Cathedrals. It is absolutely awe-inspiring. Its marble pillars and gorgeous stained glass will take your breath away. Construction began in 1908 and its first mass was held in 1914. It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places and I highly recommend a visit if you like to see churches and places of worship when you travel.
Helena has over 70+ miles of hiking trails. Two popular places are Mount Helena, which is one of the most iconic landmarks here, and Mount Ascension. There are also the Scratchgravel Hills. Helena is also known for its mountain biking and flyfishing.
Spring Meadow Lake State Park
A cool place to visit if you just want a leisurely walk or an easy walk with family.
Visit Carroll College
Considering College? Check out this beautiful campus.
As I noted above, this post will be updated when I find new places to rave about, so be sure to bookmark or pin it if you’ll be visiting Helena in the near future. Overall, I love Helena and I’m so happy I moved here, and hope this list helps you to discover some things to love about Helena, the Capital of Montana.