Experience the Culture
Scenic drives reveal the cultural and historic treasures of the Show-Me State. Take a spin on a Missouri stretch of the Mother Road, Route 66. State must-sees along the iconic highway include the nostalgic Coral Court Motel exhibit at the Museum of Transportation in Kirkwood and the 12 historical murals in Cuba, Missouri’s official “Route 66 Mural City.” In northwestern Missouri, visit Chillicothe (the “Home of Sliced Bread”) to see 20 outdoor murals. While in the area, visit Jamesport, the largest Old Order Amish settlement west of the Mississippi.
Best Bet: Follow Central Missouri's Gray Ghosts Trail to discover the region’s “Little Dixie” heritage. Trail stop Boonville also hosts April’s Big Muddy Folk Festivaland June’s Heritage Days. Late March to early November, tour (reservations required) Warm Springs Ranch, home of the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses.
Insider Tip: A new state-of-the-art museum opened in April 2016 at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield. The museum is adjacent to Rocky Ridge Farm where Wilder penned her autobiographical Little House novels (open March 1 to November 15).
Don’t Miss: Stop at these two October festivals—the Missouri Town 1855 Fall Festival of Arts, Culture, and Music in Lee’s Summit and the Louisiana Country Colorfest in Louisiana.
See the Cities
In Missouri’s most populous city, Kansas City, ride the free KC Streetcar through the heart of downtown to Union Station. Stops along the 2.2-mile (3.5-kilometer) streetcar route go through the Crown Center District, the historic Kansas City River Market, and the nine-block Power & Light District (or “P&L”) retail, dining, and entertainment hub. The state’s second largest city, St. Louis, is filled with urban play spaces—such as City Museum’s all-ages, indoor playground and 1,300-acre (527-hectare) Forest Park, host of the 1904 World’s Fair.
Best Bets: Historic C-Street in Springfield is a six-block district lined with locally owned restaurants, shops, and studios such as Creative Escape Glass. The glass studio offers workshops (most Saturdays and by appointment) where you can learn how to make your own fused glass pieces, as well as open studios Wednesday through Saturday. The studio is closed Sunday to Tuesday.
Insider Tip: Wednesday to Saturday, stroll around St. Louis’s historic (established in 1779) Soulard Market, one of the oldest farmers markets west of the Mississippi and one of the best places to try a city original: gooey butter cake.
Don’t Miss: Kansas City’s Arabia Steamboat Museum contains the world’s largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts, all recovered from a fully loaded steamer, which sunk in the Missouri River in September 1856.
Explore the Parks
Missouri’s national parks feature one of the most recognized landmarks in the world—the 630-foot-tall (192-meter-tall) Gateway Arch in St. Louis. The iconic arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which honors President Thomas Jefferson and the movement to the West. Encompassing about 91 acres (37 hectares) on the Mississippi riverfront, the area is undergoing construction through late 2017. The Museum of Westward Expansion is closed for renovations, but the Old Courthouse and its galleries, site of the Dred Scott trial, and the arch itself are open. Although the trams to the top of the arch, when fully operational, can handle 6,400 people a day, tickets sell out quickly. Buy them at the Old Courthouse or, better yet, purchase them up to two hours in advance online.
Best Bet: Across the state near Kansas City in Independence, the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site honors the 33rd president. Start at the visitors center on Main Street, where you can buy tickets to tour the Truman Home on North Delaware Street.
Insider Tip: National park adventure awaits in the southeastern part of the state at the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which boasts the famous Blue Spring, deep enough to hold the Statue of Liberty.
Don’t Miss: Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in Republic is the site of the first major Civil War battle waged west of the Mississippi River.
Hear the Music
Make the new (opened April 2016) National Blues Museum in St. Louis the starting point for a made-in-Missouri music road trip. St. Louis native Chuck Berry is featured prominently at the interactive museum (where you can record and mix your own blues riff) and on the walls of the Blueberry Hill restaurant and music club in University City’s Delmar Loop. From 1996 to 2014, Berry played more than 200 shows in Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room. Other Loop live music venues includeCicero’s, The Pageant, and the Halo Bar. Also in St. Louis, browse the massive record collection at Vintage Vinyl. Farther west in Kansas City, listen to jazz four nights a week in The Blue Room, a 1930s-style nightclub built inside the American Jazz Museum.
Best Bet: In Kansas City, save room for a slab of pork spare ribs served with a side of live blues at B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ (closed Mondays).
From Kansas City to St. Louis, Missouri is filled with flavor. The most famous eats are Kansas City barbecue—pork, beef, chicken, lamb, or fish smoked slowly over wood-stoked flames and covered in a sweet sauce of tomatoes, molasses, and spices. Get a taste at Arthur Bryant’s, opened in the 1920s; and Jack Stack Barbecue, noted for its hickory-fired smoked meats. At the other end of I-70, St. Louis lays claim to unique pizza made with unleavened thin crust and a processed cheese named Provel (mainly a mix of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone)—find it at Guido’s Pizzeria and Tapas or Frank & Helen’s Pizzeria.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Insider Tip: Special culinary events—such as the Wild Bacon Wine Trail, during which vintage vino is paired with dishes featuring bacon the first weekend in May (tickets are $30 per person for 2017 and go on sale October 1, 2016)—are held year-round across the state.
Don’t Miss: South of St. Louis in Sikeston, Lambert’s Café is famous for its “throwed” yeast rolls—pieces of bread literally tossed across the dining room to servers—and “pass arounds,” side dishes such as macaroni and tomatoes, fried potatoes, and fried okra served in buckets are wheeled between tables by waitstaff.
The granddaddy of Missouri recreation areas is the Lake of the Ozarks, a paradise for swimming, boating, water skiing, hiking, and camping. Conveniently located in the middle of the state, the outdoor playground covers 54,000 acres (21,853 hectares) with 1,150 miles (1,851 kilometers) of shoreline. There are two great state parks on the lake: the Lake of the Ozarks State Park, which includes Ozark Caverns, a cave system available for tours; and Ha Ha Tonka State Park, boasting the ruins of a huge 1905 castle constructed by a Kansas City businessman.
Best Bets: Walk, run, or bike a section of the Katy Trail, a relatively flat 240-mile (386-kilometer) rails-to-trails project running across the state. Explore St. Louis by bike or on foot via the St. Louis Riverfront Trail, covering more than 11 miles (18 kilometers) of urban neighborhoods from the Gateway Arch to Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.
Insider Tip: Elephant Rocks State Park, near a large section of Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest, is so named for its huge, pachyderm-shaped red granite boulders perfect for climbing or photographs.
Don’t Miss: Grand Gulf State Park, near Thayer along the southern border of the state, is called the “Little Grand Canyon” for the gorge running through steep rock walls up to 130 feet (40 meters) high.