The vibe around Bozeman is determined by three things: the surrounding mountains, a prominent creative class and the city’s status as the only real college town for 200 miles in any direction. It’s a town with a lot of energy and a population that’s grown by 35 percent in the last 10 years. There’s a thriving downtown, and new buildings seem to be going up everywhere, recession be damned. Look past all that scaffolding at the Bridger, Bangtail, Gallatin and Absaroka mountain ranges, and you’ll get an idea why Bozeman is attracting so many new residents, many of them retiree from the coasts.
Things you notice your first time in Bozeman: Everyone seems to prefer sitting outside. There are dogs everywhere, and dog-friendly businesses catering to them. More than one person on the street is simultaneously rocking a cowboy hat and a Grateful Dead T-shirt. In many ways, Bozeman feels like a Dave Matthews Band concert with a city council and a sewer system, but Bozemanites have a decidedly adult attitude toward business and investment. The market for second homes has plateaued since the recession, but there’s still capital to be had and an entrepreneurial ethos that’s birthed big names in tech, outdoor gear and, yes, Montana’s booming (and legal) medical marijuana industry.
Just over the pass, tiny Livingston is a kind of sister city, the historic, scruffy answer to Bozeman’s hipster bustle. It’s more overtly a gateway town to nearby Yellowstone National Park, although both cities benefit from the tourism and natural resource economies that come from being nearly surrounded by public land. Which is where you’ll find most Bozmanites on the weekends—mountain biking in Bangtails, skiing the Gallatins or, very often, fishing. Fly-fishing is pursued with the same passion around Bozeman as sunbathing is in Miami. So do like the locals do: Relax, and let this mellow mountain town reel you in.