The Show-Me State. The home of the Cardinals. The middle of the the country. One of four neutral states in the Civil War. Lots of corn, cotton, cattle, and caves. Where both Noah and I were born and raised.
Missouri is the most forgotten state. I’m reminded of a Kathleen Madigan bit in her “Bothering Jesus” special where a California cashier took one look at her Missouri driver’s license and negated the existence of the state altogether.
Even though we gave the world Maya Angelou, Eminem, Nelly, Kate Spade, and Harry S. Truman, as well as the gateway to the west, the state seems to lay pretty low with a whopping 22.4% of the US population forgetting its existence entirely.
Noah and I were both born and raised in the Southeastern part of Missouri: me in and around Cape Girardeau, and Noah in and around Malden. However, we’ve both traveled quite a bit within the state, and we will be sharing some tops things to see and do in our humble and beautiful home state.
Here are our top 10 regions and things to see in our home state of Missouri.
10. Jefferson City/Columbia
Most state capitals aren’t the biggest or most tourist-centric cities in the state…Albany? Sacramento? Tallahassee? What? Missouri is no exception. Most people would think the state capital might be Kansas City or St. Louis, but no… Jefferson City is the state capital. Jeff City and the nearby Columbia make it on our top-10 list because of the beauty of the state capital legislative buildings, The University of Missouri – commonly known as Mizzou, and the young and upcoming vibes that Columbia offers. Take a pitstop here to enjoy some live music, Shakespeare’s Pizza, and beautiful architecture.
9. Lake of the Ozarks
A summer was never complete without a convention at Lake of the Ozarks. Most Missouri companies use this vacation destination as a conference hub and many school competitions and conventions also meet here, due to the central location of this iconic lake. You might recognize the name from the Netflix television series, Ozark – and, yes, it’s the same spot. Plan a visit to this spot if you are all about fun in the sun, boating, beaches, and nature.
8. Kansas City
Sports fans unite in the home of the Chiefs and the Royals. Kansas City, Missouri is known world-wide for their BBQ, jazz, and Plaza, the first shopping center built for auto-based visitors. Kansas City is the largest city in Missouri and provides tourists with top-tier attractions such as art galleries, shopping, amusement parks, sporting events, large concerts, a zoo, and – yes – world-class BBQ.
7. Wine Country
Off the Interstates and into the rolling hills, you will find Missouri’s wine region. Hidden from most tourists and special to Missouri residents, top Missouri wineries feature distinctive varietals including Norton, Chambourcin, Vignoles, and Catawba. Due to the high amounts of rain and concentration of two major rivers (Missouri and Mississippi) surrounding the state, these vines are dense with liquid and nutrients. The Missouri grapes don’t starve, instead, they are stressed with mold and over-mineralization. This produces a truly unique flavor, and one that you can only find in Missouri. On top of the dry wines, you can also find a vast variety of sweet wines that reflect the German heritage of many Missouri residents, such as peach, blackberry, strawberry, and late harvest wines. To explore Missouri’s wine country, plan your trip in areas such as Ste. Genevieve, Hermann, and Augusta.
Many-a-weekend in Missouri start with the words, “Let’s go to the River.” That means, tubing, or in Missouri-speak – “floatin.'” Grab a few inner-tubes, ropes and coolers, and you’ll be set for the day. You can find a river to float throughout the state, but Current River was our family favorite.
5. St. Louis
The second largest city, and Noah’s and my old stomping ground, St. Louis holds a special place in our hearts. When we land at Lambert International Airport and see the Arch and the Mighty Mississippi come into view, we know we’ve made it home. St. Louis was a major transportation hub when the rivers ruled our shipping industries. St. Louis went all-in for the future of major waterways and docks. Chicago, on the other hand, spent their time and energy building up their railways… We see now which city won that bet.
Still, St. Louis is a relatively small city that’s packed with attractions and entertainment. Shakespeare in the Park? Yep! A Butterfly Garden? Absolutely! History and Art Museums? Plenty! A strange museum for kids that could never pass code in any other state? Naturally! Six Flags, casinos, and large concerts? Yes! And, a Little Italy and St. Louis style pizza? Oh yeah!
Head to St. Louis if you’re looking for truly authentic food you won’t find anywhere else, a great time watching baseball, or for a really fun city that resembles Brooklyn, but doesn’t have the crowds or traffic…
4. Cave Splunking
Growing up in Missouri, I had no idea that it is the “Cave State.” With more than 6,000 caves, exploring the underworld was simply a part of life. There are wineries in caves, restaurants in caves, convention centers in caves, and multiple cave exploration trips. If you are into grottos and caves, Missouri should be top of your list!
3. The Mighty Mississippi
My hometown of Jackson/Cape Girardeau is located right on the Mississippi River. The majestic river brought tourism, great parks, spectacular vistas, and annual danger – flooding. Sandbagging our downtown area was something we did often in my early years as the Mississippi threatened to ravage our local shops, restaurants, and homes.
When I visit Missouri, I always make it a point to stop by the river and watch the currents fly by… The river is huge, the river is fast, the river is unstoppable. And, seeing something so big makes me realize how small my life and my problems really are.
2. Trail of Tears
US History teaches us that we misplaced our Native Americans to the western regions of our country. It’s a sad truth and a burden we all bear. Many people don’t know about the actual trail that was paved as we literally walked people from their homes and relocated them thousands of miles away. Missouri was a big part of that trail, and you can find it stretching from my hometown in Jackson all the way to Springfield on the west side of the state. It’s a sad and incredible history that has born a beautiful stretch of parkland for hiking, camping, horseback riding, and reminiscing.
1. Branson, Table Rock Lake, and the Ozarks
The number one tourist attraction for Missourians and out-of-state visitors alike is Branson, Missouri. Located in the Ozarks, this is Missouri at its finest with nightly shows and entertainment, a beautiful downtown landing, the massive Table Rock Lake, Silver Dollar City, and multiple parks and beautiful scenery such as Dogwood Canyon, Big Cedar Lodge, and Alley Springs. If you visit Missouri only one time and hope to find the best of the state, Branson is the place to see.
We typically write about our travels in Europe, our previous life in California, or our current musings in and around New York City. But, occasionally, we do miss our hometowns. For more musings on the Midwest, check out:
- Top Spots to Social Distance Travel in Your Region
- Midwest Manners, California Idealism, and New York Passion
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