Billings Bucket List

Mom and Daughter write a book highlighting all the city’s hot spots

Nancy Icopini has no idea how many miles she put on her car hopscotching all over town checking out this upscale martini bar or that comic shop. She was on a mission, along with her daughter, Gina Tarnacki, to find things to do in Billings — 100 things, to be exact.

The two joined forces after being nudged by Reedy Press to write “100 Things to do in Billings Before You Die.” It’s a different kind of guidebook that plays more to people who live here than it does to travel buffs.

“The intriguing and fun thing about this book was that it was what is unique, what is different, not necessarily the highest stars on a travel site, just those fun, cool things to do,” Nancy says. Gina laughs and adds, “You’d spend hours and hours going everywhere in Billings trying to figure out what to include.”

Gina is a former travel agency marketing director turned freelance travel writer. She has a few travel blogs. One blog is deals exclusively with international travel. The other, which she runs with her mom, shines a spotlight solely on Montana. Reedy Press, a publishing company out of St. Louis, Missouri, that’s known for its travel guidebooks, reached out to Gina and asked if she’d be willing to pen a book on the Magic City and, with her mom’s help, the two jumped at the opportunity.

Nancy is a retired teacher who started in special education in the largest high school in Minnesota. She spent the last 15 years of her career as an outdoor adventure education teacher, taking kids canoeing, rock climbing, kayaking and basically showing different ways to stay active.

“Naturally, when it came to the book, I thought there are so many wonderful outdoor things here,” Nancy says.

Gina knew the two were onto something. While running her travel blogs during the pandemic, she’d look at Google Analytics to see what people were interested in searching and reading about. Traffic was down on her international blog, but Montana travel stories were soaring in popularity.

“I said, you know, there’s really a market for information about Montana from people who actually live in Montana,” Gina says.

Gina was born and raised in Billings but has since moved on to Seattle with her husband and two girls. That doesn’t stop her from coming back each summer by car and stopping off in all corners of the state on her way back home.

“They go all over before we ever get to see them,” Nancy says with a laugh.

After getting some guidance from Reedy Press, the two started in the summer of 2022 to throw out all the ideas they found with the hopes of whittling it down to 100 spots. They had to hit food and drink hot spots, music and entertainment venues, where to go for recreation, culture and history locales, plus where to go to shop. It wasn’t easy.

“Billings has an awesome downtown, so many breweries. Red Lodge is an hour away. It’s surrounded by stuff to do plus you have all the history,” Gina says. Most guidebooks, she continues, have a heavy focus on food and drink. She and her mom knew their book would be different, since Billings offers so much more than places to grab a bite.

“It was way more fun than I expected,” Nancy says with a chuckle. She knew she and Gina could work well together. She’d been editing Gina’s online content for years. “We each have our strengths for this kind of project,” Gina says. “We just complement each other so well.”

If you flip through the book, you might be tempted to learn from a local chef at Zest, a downtown cookware and kitchen store. You might become a birder at the Montana Audubon Center. Or, you might awaken your inner child with a stop at Action Toys.

Right away, the two realized this book was aimed more at those who live here than those who are just popping in for a day or two.

“What a great book for parents who have kids home from school for the day. Let’s open the book, point your finger to a page, and go,” Nancy says.

In the back of the book, you’ll find highlights for each season, along with itineraries on what to do for girls’ night, date night or ways to take in a few Rims or trail adventures.

“We really wanted to have — and I feel that we captured it — a real diverse look at what Billings offers,” Nancy says.

That meant walking into stores they’d never been to before like Keep It Alive Antiques and Collectibles, which gives a nod to ’80s and ’90s kids with toys from that time along with old Atari game consoles. And, it meant sampling unique fare.

“Rattlesnake sausage,” Nancy says. “I remember when I first had it at the Buffalo Block. I thought, I can’t do this. Snakes are a big phobia of mine, but it was good and I did try it!”

“I think Billings is so special and when I talk to people who aren’t from here, it just doesn’t get a lot of love,” Gina says. “I was excited to give it some love.”

“For me personally, it made me fall in love with Billings again,” Nancy says. “I think it’s great to have pride and really know where you live.”

YOU CAN CHECK OUT more of Gina and Nancy’s adventures by going to the blog You can find “100 Things to Do in Billings Before You Die” at Joy of Living, This House of Books and The Basecamp, to name just a few spots.


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