There’s so much to do in the Show-Me State. Whether you’re looking for adventures with your friends, activities with your kids, relaxing getaways with your significant other or just hoping to make memories, there are plenty of options from which to choose across the state. The following is a nonexhaustive list of ideas so your next Missouri getaway can be as easy as ABC.
illustrations by Dan Zettwoch
Most people know the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, however an older arch greets drivers on Highway 61. The Bootheel Arch was constructed in 1924 on what was then the North-South Road, a major roadway that linked St. Louis and Memphis. The arch splits the state line and is halfway between Steele, Missouri, and Blytheville, Arkansas.
Barbecue is king in the Show-Me State. From the creation of burnt ends at Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue in Kansas City to a full plate of St. Louis-style ribs that requires a napkin, carnivores have plenty of options. From the Bootheel to St. Joseph, you’ll have no problem finding pulled pork, smoked sausage and all kinds of barbecue creations.
Corn Cob Pipe Museum
Washington is the Corn Cob Pipe Capital of the World. In the 1920s, there were a dozen corn cob pipe companies in Franklin County. Today, the Missouri Meerschaum Co. is the lone vestige of that history, shipping out 5,000 pipes daily around the world. Their corn cob pipe museum features literature, documents and correspondence that tell the one-of-a-kind corn cob story.
A pair of canines are reverently memorialized in western Missouri. A statue of Old Drum sits outside the Johnson County Courthouse in Warrensburg. Drum was shot by a neighbor who believed the hound was killing sheep. His owner sued for damages and won. Up the road in Marshall, Jim the Wonder Dog is honored with his own statue in a memorial garden. Jim was alleged to have remarkable abilities including responding to commands in multiple languages, picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby and correctly guessing the sex of unborn babies.
Missouri’s bald eagle watching is ideal from late December through February due to the many rivers, lakes and wetlands the birds find while migrating south. From the locks and dams along the Mississippi River to Bagnell Dam at Lake of the Ozarks to Table Rock Lake near Branson, there’s ample opportunity to spot the birds. For a more organized setting, join one of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Eagle Days events.
The Branson skyline stretches a little higher than it did a decade ago with the 150-foot-tall Branson Ferris Wheel. The former Navy Pier Ferris Wheel can hold up to 240 passengers in 40 gondolas offering sweeping views of the popular destination. St. Louis is home to a pair of permanent wheels including The St. Louis Wheel at Union Station and the Ferris wheel atop the City Museum.
Whether it’s your local municipal course or a long buddies weekend, Missourians have plenty of options to hit the links. Big Cedar Lodge has turned Branson into a golfer’s paradise with 77 holes designed by golf’s biggest names, including Tiger Woods, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Fazio. For golfing neophytes in northwest Missouri, check out the Watson 9 at Mozingo Lake in Maryville. The short course was designed by Tom Watson to introduce newcomers to the game.
Hall of Waters
Excelsior Springs is home to one of the most unique city halls in Missouri. It was built in the 1930s to be the most complete health resort in the country. It housed the world’s longest mineral bar, health spa, competition-size swimming pool filled with saltwater and a pool for polio victims. The interest in mineral water eventually declined, but you can still visit the hall and learn about the history and economic importance of the building today.
The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence honors Truman who was born in Lamar and went on to be the 33rd president of the United States. The museum’s exhibits document his life and ascension to the highest office following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Guests can enjoy sound-and-light theaters depicting World War I and the Cold War, insight on Truman’s leadership on civil rights, the recognition of Israel and more.
No visit to Jefferson City is complete without stops at the Missouri State Capitol and Missouri State Penitentiary. Highlights of the 106-year-old Capitol building include the State Museum, rotunda and Thomas Hart Benton mural painted in the House Lounge. A few blocks away at the notorious prison, guides explain why Time magazine once called the site “the bloodiest 47 acres in America.” The prison was decommissioned in 2004 and now plays host to history and ghost tours.
The nation’s longest rails-to-trails project is perfect for those seeking a calm morning stroll, bike ride or a multi-day, 240-mile test of stamina. The Katy Trail runs from Clinton to Machens in northeast St. Charles County. There’s plenty to do depending what time of year you traverse the trail. Stop in Sedalia for the Missouri State Fair in August. In October, stop in Hartsburg for the Pumpkin Festival or Hermann for Oktoberfest. Christmas Traditions takes over downtown St. Charles the day after Thanksgiving.
Located in Arrow Rock, the Lyceum Theatre is one of Missouri’s oldest professional theaters. Housed in an historical church, the theater began in 1961. The intimate theater now hosts more than 33,000 guests annually for Broadway-caliber productions. Highlights of this year’s season include “The Addams Family,” “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” and “A Christmas Carol.”
Mark Twain is impossible to miss on a trip to Hannibal. His name and that of his characters adorn restaurants, shops, caves and festivals throughout town. Stop by the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum to see how Hannibal and the mighty Mississippi River shaped the small-town boy into a world-famous author.
Nestled along the Missouri River, New Haven can be your perfect destination or a pitstop along the way. Stop into Astral Glass along Front Street to check out their one-of-a-kind, hand-blown glass and jewelry or catch a live glassblowing demonstration. Cool off down the road at Pinckney Bend Distilling with its signature gin and tonic.
Ozark National Scenic Riveways
By tube, raft, canoe or kayak, a Missouri float trip is a relaxing way to pass a hot summer day. Have the perfect day on the Ozark National Scenic Riverways with your friends and family as you make memories slowly meandering down Current or Jacks Fork rivers. Just remember to bring the sunscreen.
People have flocked to Webb City for nearly half a century to visit the 32-foot-tall, 110-ton Praying Hands Memorial. The hands are the work of local artist J.E. “Jack” Dawson who began the framework in his backyard before it was moved atop a 40-foot mound and covered with white stucco not far from the highway.
Tucked away off Highway 36 in rural northwest Missouri is Hamilton, better known as Quilt Town, USA. When Missouri Star Quilt Co., opened its doors 15 years ago, little did they know their passion would become the economic driver of a town with a population of less than 2,000. Today, thousands of quilters of all skill levels flock to Hamilton each week to pick up supplies, take classes or make their keepsakes to take home.
Running from Chicago to Santa Monica, Route 66 is pure Americana. Those traveling the Mother Road in the Show-Me State can keep well fed at the historic Big Chief Roadhouse in Wildwood, explore 4.6 miles underground at Meramec Caverns in Stanton, check out the 41-foot rocking chair in Fanning or catch a show at the 66 Drive-In Theatre in Carthage.
Chillicothe is home to the best thing since, well, ever. Sliced bread was invented in the northern Missouri city nearly a century ago. The town pays homage to its past today with a “Home of Sliced Bread” mural downtown and Sliced Bread Innovation Center. The historic building was once the Chillicothe Baking Company and today houses an escape room.
Warm, cold, sun or snow, thousands of Missourians know where they’ll be at 6:30 a.m. on March 1 annually. The date and time mark the official start of Missouri’s catch-and-keep trout season that runs through October. Anglers flock to Roaring River, Montauk and Bennett Spring state parks to catch their limit.
With more than 20 diving trails, there’s plenty to explore in the Bonne Terre Mine. The now-flooded former lead mine features dives averaging 40 to 60 feet. With no animals in the mine, the water is crystal clear so divers have more than 100 feet of underwater visibility.
Not far from the northern tip of the Gravois arm of the Lake of the Ozarks, Versailles is a popular stop for those coming and going from the lake. Stop by in the fall and join the thousands of people at the Old Tyme Apple Festival surrounding the Morgan County Courthouse. Your visit wouldn’t be complete without an apple dumpling or caramel apple.
The Liberty Memorial and National World War I Museum in downtown Kansas City stands as a tribute to all aspects of the war and remembrance of the lives lost. There’s no shortage of exhibits to see at the nearly century-old memorial. Be sure to leave time to take a trip to the top of the 217-foot tower with beautiful city views.
After the bitter taste of losing the Rams to Inglewood, California, St. Louis-area sports fans have a new football team to cheer for: the St. Louis BattleHawks. The team competes in the third iteration of the XFL and the Dome at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis became the place to be in 2023. The BattleHawks home opener drew more than 38,000 fans, a league record.
The Pinnacles Youth Park features 70 acres of natural, open space. There are several trails throughout the park with the most popular taking hikers to the top of the namesake rock formation. The park is 12 miles north of Columbia and was deeded to the youth of Boone County in 1965. It is maintained by a nonprofit foundation.
For a few Saturdays in the fall, Farout Field at Memorial Stadium in Columbia is a can’t miss destination for Tiger tailgaters and football fanatics. Following a $98 million facility expansion in 2019, Mizzou faithful have more seating options than ever to watch the Tigers take on their competition from the SEC. There are seven games at “The Zou” this fall, including action against Kansas State, LSU and Florida. M-I-Z!