Given its proximity to nearby Bozeman it’s a wonder, really, Livingston exists at all. Where Bozeman has flourished in recent years with an influx of new inhabitants from nearby states and whose culture has evolved as a result, Livingston’s population has remained largely constant and maintained much of its traditional Montana flavor.
Built largely on a foundation of railroads, ranching, and recreation, Livingston is a popular waypoint for those visiting Yellowstone National Park close-by. But even if America’s first national park vanished and didn’t exist at all, Livingston’s landmarks, nightlife, and charm would stand on its own as an inviting destination for visitors from any state, or those from within Montana itself seeking for a fun weekend getaway.
Like many Montana towns, Livingston owes much of its existence to the railroad. The Northern Pacific Railway first arrived in what is present-day Livingston in 1882. Soon after the transcontinental railroad began promoting Livingston as a destination for those wanting to visit the magical Yellowstone National Park. Railcars overflowing with visitors from the east soon arrived and the rest was history.
Although the clatter of trains is still the chorus of Livingston’s soundtrack, Amtrak suspended service to Livingston and the rest of southern Montana in 1979. And while the end of passenger service was a death knell for many cities along the North Coast Hiawatha’s route, the importance of this arterial railway to Livingston’s prosperity had been replaced many years earlier by the interstate highway system…and to a lesser extent, the Yellowstone River, which became sacred waters for fly fishing aficionados.
Livingston’s railroad history is preserved at Livingston’s Depot Center Museum. Located in the city’s beautifully restored, and equally historic, railroad depot, the museum is at the top of the list of Montana’s must-see museums. It is rich with exhibits to remind visitors of Livingston’s past as a Northern Pacific Railroad hub. Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the Livingston Depot Center Museum is filled with exhibits that will thrill even casual rail buffs. Livingston is also home to the Yellowstone Gateway Museum, which is packed with artifacts of regional history, and the International Fly Fishers Museum, which tells the story of one of Montana’s (and America’s) most popular game sports.
Of course, there is much more to see and do in Montana’s 11th largest city than museums. Livingston has one of the most vibrant and beautiful downtown scenes anywhere in the west. Old school neon signs and notable small-town architecture offer an inviting backdrop for the city’s many restaurants, bars, shops, and galleries.
Like a fine bottle of whiskey, the historic Murray Hotel located at the intersection of Park Street and Second Street in downtown Livingston has improved with age. It was made even more popular recently by high-profile visits from American chef, author, and television personality Anthony Bourdain. But big city chefs didn’t put the Murray on the map. No, big shots have frequented this charming inn for many years. Honestly, you never know who you might bump into in the Murray’s lounge.
Yes, the Murray Hotel’s 30 rooms are higher priced than what the chains in nearby Bozeman would typically charge, but if you are looking to spend a night in the lap of luxury and/or hole up with a loved one in one of Montana’s more exciting downtowns, then you really can’t go wrong with a stay at the Murray Hotel. Their luxurious and contemporary accommodations are the perfect respite for those who just spent a few days roughing it deep inside Yellowstone National Park. The Murray is the oasis you visit at the end of a long stay in the wilderness. And it is the reason you keep coming back for more.
Food and drink, of course, are woven into Livingston’s culture, too. On the more pedestrian side of the menus is Mark’s In and Out, which is a classic American burger joint located halfway between the Interstate and downtown Livingston on the city’s main thoroughfare; West Park Street (exit 333 off of the Interstate). It is truly a throwback to another time. Try the pizza burger and fried mushrooms. And although it is not on the menu, be sure to ask for their signature Montana huckleberry shake. You will be happy you did.
Northern Pacific Beanery, Gil’s Goods, and Pinky’s Café are also culinary must-stops while in Livingston. Each offers a diverse menu and foods that will please any palette.
Livingston also home to two craft breweries; Katabatic Brewing Company and Neptune’s Brewery. And if you think about it, two really is a perfect number. Montana’s craft breweries have a consumption limit of three pints per day per tasting room. So, when you reach your limit at one of Livingston’s two craft breweries and still have a thirst for more locally made suds, all you need to do is saunter (slowly) over to Livingston’s second craft brewhouse for more. Try the popular Sacajawaea Pale Ale at Neptune’s Brewery (which also has some of the best sushi–believe it or not–in all of Montana) and the Strong Scotch Ale at Katabatic Brewing Company. Both will please the craft beer fan in you.
After an evening of enjoying Livingston’s nightlife, a hearty breakfast rich with lipids will hit the spot at the Other Cafe. Don’t let its modest name and façade fool you…their breakfast fare is among the best in town. Omelets, pancakes, biscuits and gravy…whatever you want; the Other Cafe has the calorie rich start to your day you need before you drive south and hike the trails in Yellowstone National Park.
Like every Montana city, Livingston comes to life in the summer with special events. Among the most popular are the Livingston Farmers Market, which is open to the public on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 7:30 PM across from the lagoon at the Miles Band Shell Park.
The city’s 4th of July Rodeo is also a busy time in town when saddle bronc riders, bull riders, and barrel racers compete for one of the biggest purses in the country. A two-day outdoor music festival dubbed Summerfest is also held in mid-July and features some of the region’s best music and dance. And during the first week in August Livingston comes alive again as locals gather to attend the Park County Fair, which is one of the finest county fairs in the state.