Out to Lunch & Downtown ToNight the Showcase of Summer in Missoula


Summer has arrived in Missoula, Montana! The telling tale is the start of Out to Lunch in Caras Park. Of course the weather may be an indicator as well. It’s supposed to be in the mid-80s this week and next, and the hot sun feels good on my skin.

2013 marks the 28th year of Out to Lunch, and it is the longest-standing outdoor food and music festival in the State of Montana. It was created in 1986 by a group of downtown business professionals led by Pat Simmons, Monte Turner, Kim Murray and others. The goals were multiple: bring people to Missoula’s new city-center park to sample foods from downtown restaurants and showcase local musicians in an outdoor setting. Responsible parties were Missoula Parks & Recreation, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) and the Missoula Downtown Association (MDA).

Out to Lunch Tent

A Brown and Orange Circus Tent was the first home to Out to Lunch.

The first couple of years the event was held under a brown and orange tent that was acquired from a travelling circus. In the late 1980s, the city and the MDA had a blue, turquoise and white tent made specifically for summer events.

A large group of volunteers would show up in late May for the ‘rising of the tent’. It took about 30 people to spread it out, stake it down and raise the posts. It was like an old-fashioned barn-raising with downtown business owners and their families at the helm.

MDA Out to Lunch summer tent

The blue, turquoise and white tent was for summer events.

One summer, vandals cut the tethers in the middle of the night, the tent fell down, and Out to Lunch was cancelled. That was the impetus to building the current permanent pavilion in 1997.

Today Out to Lunch serves thousands of Missoulians and our visitors each Wednesday in June, July and August from 11am-2pm. More than 20 food vendors serve just about every type of food you can imagine each week for an average lunch price of $7-8 per person. You’ll find sandwiches, salads, noodles hot and cold, pizza, burgers, hotdogs, barbecue, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, drinks, desserts and more!

MDA Out to Lunch

The permanent pavilion at Caras Park.

Three hours of exceptional and upbeat live music is featured each Wednesday, and Missoula is full of great musicians who provide wonderful entertainment. Each year more than 100 performance groups apply to perform, and the MDA’s volunteer committee spends hours sorting through the applications and listening to hundreds of mp3 files. Additionally, the committee selects hands-on activities for young children, provided by local kid-friendly organization.

Out to Lunch continues to be an admission-free event so everyone can attend and enjoy this community-based event without having to spend money. Lots of folks bring their own lunch or just come down for the entertainment alone. Oftentimes we see school groups or summer camp groups at the event, plus most of our downtown employees, lots of families with children, and tourists galore, especially in July and August.

It’s easy to get to Caras Park, and this year the brand new parking garage on East Front Street is open and ready for service. It’s just one block away from the park, as is the Central Park Garage on West Main Street. Parking is free for the first hour and just 50 cents for the second hour. It’s also easy to bike, walk and bus to Caras Park, and Mountain Line offers a free shuttle service strait to the park from anywhere along South Higgins Avenue.

In addition to Out to Lunch, the Missoula Downtown Association produces the Downtown ToNight Summer Series, held every Thursday in June, July and August from 5:30-8:30 pm in Caras Park. This summer series has exploded in popularity and attendance due to the relaxing, after-work flavor. It mirrors the Out to Lunch program with great live music, fabulous food vendors and children’s entertainment. However, the addition of beer and wine service – and oftentimes spirits of a more flavorful nature – makes this a must-attend event on Thursdays throughout the summer. It’s a wonderful way for families to enjoy an inexpensive night out in a beautiful outdoor setting. Parents can enjoy an adult beverage, while children are entertained with wholesome, educational, hands-on activities. 2013 marks the 13th year of Downtown ToNight, which brings lots of business to the downtown community.

There are just 13 weeks between now and the time school starts in the fall, so we will do everything we can to take in as many outdoor summer events as possible. After all, it’s part of why we live here in the beautiful Garden City.

See you in Caras Park!

– Linda McCarthy

2013 Entertainment for Out to Lunch

2013 Schedule of Entertainment for Downtown ToNight