Anaconda, Prettiest Little Town in Southwest Montana

Anaconda sign
Photo by Sherman Cahill

As a writer, there are assignments you enjoy and some you don’t. Luckily, this was a good one. I was told to go to Anaconda and report back on what I’ve been told are a growing crop of cool businesses. Well okay, I said. I think I can handle that, especially since my girlfriend and I already love going to Anaconda whenever we can. 

If you approach Anaconda via I-90, then the first thing you see of her is the enormous smokestack, towering over town protectively. Still upright in defiance of the Anaconda Mining Company’s collapse some 40 years ago, the stack has gone from a blackened piece of industrial machinery to an objet d’art. This huge piece of masonry juts into the sky like a gargantuan ionic column, something out of an art museum for giants, and announces: “Here is Anaconda, the place you’ve been looking for.”

Anaconda, Montana (not pronounced AnDaconda, as some are tempted to call it) is very hometown. Not my hometown, alas; I was born somewhere not as nice as Anaconda. My hometown isn’t snuggled between mountains, with street lights that glow like rows of brilliant lightning bugs. Mine doesn’t have a spectacularly grand courthouse. My hometown, let’s face it, looks like a pile of garbage when compared to Anaconda.

Washoe Park
Photo by Sherman Cahill.

But then, most towns aren’t as pretty as Anaconda.

When I say Anaconda feels like a hometown, I mean it in the kindest, most enviable way possible. It feels like the sort of place where scenes from Norman Rockwell play out behind every closed door. There’s street after street of adorable homes nested in beautifully maintained yards, watched over by lovely old neighborhood churches. If you go out on an afternoon walk, you’re likely to hear children laughing in a school playground or the happy quacks of well-fed ducks down by the park, but it’s almost always wonderfully, even miraculously quiet

But just because it seems idyllic doesn’t mean that Anaconda isn’t a happening place. 

In fact, it’s a place of unexpected superlatives. Superlatives as unexpected as “best biscuits and gravy.” 

Jordi's Cantina
The sign for Jordi's Cantina. Photo by Sherman Cahill.

It doesn’t sound possible, but it is true. I ate the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had at a Mexican restaurant in Anaconda, Montana. They were served up hot, the biscuits just a little crunchy on the outside but warm and fluffy on the inside, and all smothered by, I kid you not, hatch green chili country gravy. Reader, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. How is it possible that Jordi’s Cantina has produced such a triumphant fusion of Southern-American and Tex-Mex cuisine? I don’t have an answer, except to say that I shook the hands that prepared the dish, and that they belonged to a man named Shawn. 

Just down the street is the spot of another impressive superlative: my significant other’s favorite women’s clothing store in the whole state, A Beautiful Life. When we go to Anaconda, and we love to go to Anaconda, I always bring a big detective novel so I have something to read while she tries on outfits. She asks which of them look good, and I say “all of them,” and she evidently agrees because she buys a whole lot of them. 

I don’t know many towns that have so many impressive businesses in such close proximity. 

There are so many great bars in Anaconda, from the iconic Club Moderne to Revolver, which mixes a hell of a cocktail, to the JFK Bar, named after, well, I don’t have to tell you who.

Pintler's Portal Hostel
Pintler's Portal Hostel. Photo by Sherman Cahill.

Pintler’s Portal is an award-winning hostel, and an essential mainstay for outdoor recreationists visiting the area. Around the corner, the regal Washoe theater is, in this author’s opinion, the most beautiful cinema in the state. No less impressive is the Copper Village Museum and Art Center, which contains not only an extraordinary local history museum, but a truly remarkable art gallery as well. A couple minutes walk from that is Bighorn Bottle Shop and Wine Bar, where, dear reader, I pretended I knew something about wine as I ordered. Whatever it was, it was red, and I enjoyed it. Just across the street from that is Smelter City Brewing, where I drank something blond and enjoyed it too, while I petted Taps, their cat. Behind the brewery is the Anaconda Taco Company, which makes a smash burger to die for. Walk a bit, turn the corner, and you’ll get to Gallicano’s Pizzeria, which is so good—wait, no. 

Here we have to pause a minute to really reflect on how crazy that is—that in this little southwest Montana town, you can get what I promise you is not only the best damn biscuits and gravy, but the tastiest pizza pie I’ve had west of Chicago? If it sounds like maybe the wine and beer were starting to act on me at this point, I can say that yes, they were, and to that I’d say that I was sober as a nun at breakfast. And as for the pizza, I returned after the fact and had it reconfirmed. What can I say? It’s really that good.

Well, after all of that you might be starting to get tired, which is when you should go to the Hickory House Bed and Breakfast, a mere 100-foot walk or so from most of the places mentioned in this article. There you will find some of the prettiest suites this side of the Continental Divide. 

Hickory House
The Hickory House. Photo by August Millard.

For my part, I stayed in the Garden Room, luxuriously appointed with a massive king-size bed into which I dissolved like a big fat marshmallow into a pillowy mug of hot cocoa. Which presents us with another opportunity for a superlative: best night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. 

The next morning, Hickory House served their breakfast—and did I mention that they won Best Bed and Breakfast in the 2023 Best of Montana competition? I was served a skillet piled high with piping hot country potatoes, queso blanco, bacon, pepper, fresh herbs, and morsels of perfectly soft-boiled eggs. This was a deliciously balanced breakfast, I thought. In fact, it was superb. There was something familiar about the particular way that it was good—I had the uncanny feeling that I’d already shaken the hands that had cooked it. 

Breakfast at the Hickory House
Breakfast at the Hickory House. Photo by Sherman Cahill.

Indeed, the chef was none other than Shawn of the best biscuits and gravy. It turns out that he and his wife bought the Hickory House a year and a half ago, and have been making a go of it ever since. They’d made a lot of improvements, and it had been a lot of work, but they were beginning to see the fruits of their labor. They’re the Best of Montana, after all. 

At any rate, I thankfully took the opportunity to shake the cook’s hand again. 

Anaconda is the kind of place that feels like a getaway even if you only drove an hour to get there. Both tucked away into the hills and just minutes from the interstate, Anaconda is an extraordinary little community. A short drive (for us Montanans, anything under four hours is short) from Bozeman, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, and even closer to Butte, Anaconda is perfect for a weekend excursion. 

You might even say it’s a Goldilocks town, in that, generally speaking, it’s just right. 

As a postscript, when my lovely girlfriend heard that I was going on this trip on a weekend she couldn’t make it, she got hopping mad. 

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “You know we’ll go again as soon as we can.” 

After all, we can’t stay away longer than a couple of weeks. And trust us, once you’ve visited, you won’t be able to, either.

Anaconda smokestack park
Statues of working men and miners at Anaconda smokestack park. Photo by Sherman Cahill.


Leave a Comment Here

Marjorie Hogge (not verified) , Mon, 03/18/2024 - 13:21
Anaconda also has a beautiful park & gardens with an amazing walking path!
Diana Brown (not verified) , Mon, 03/18/2024 - 20:34
Thank you for writing a beautiful tribute to my hometown. I may live elsewhere but my heart will always belong to Anaconda.
Susan Strain (not verified) , Thu, 03/21/2024 - 10:44
My family lived in Helena in the 60s. I remember, as a young teenager, traveling through Anaconda wondering what that awful aroma was and why the conifer trees in the hills were all dead. This was due to the mine. Now this story is a real testiment to reclaimation. Wow!
Carole Swanson… (not verified) , Sun, 03/24/2024 - 11:10
Wonderful article! Thank you.
Mary Mari-Jensen (not verified) , Sun, 03/31/2024 - 20:35
Thank you so much for this beautifully-written article. It surely captures the essence of this special town!
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