Home to the Ozark Mountains, culturally rich capitals, and deep threads of United States history, the state of Missouri offers a wide range of experiences. While there are plenty of things to see and do in Kansas City and St. Louis, other sights and cities in Missouri offer even more to explore. Brannon provides a long list of outdoor attractions as well as a thriving live-music scene, and the Wilson Creek National Battlefield in Springfield preserves a dynamic moment in Civil War history. To really savor the flavor of Missouri relaxation, the welcoming waters of Lake of the Ozarks is a defining vacation destination with resorts, campgrounds, and thousands of miles of shoreline.
1 St. Louis Gateway Arch
The Gateway Arch is the iconic structure that visually defines St. Louis and is also the symbolic “Gateway to the West.” Visitors can take an elevator up to a viewing platform at the top, which reaches 630 feet, for stunning views out over the city. The arch is located in Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park but can be seen from all over the city and even from great distances on the surrounding highways. Other ways to enjoy the arch are helicopter tours, riverboat cruises, and visiting the Old Courthouse for some historical perspective on the area
Brandon, in southwest Missouri, with no false modesty, calls itself the “Live country music capital of the universe.” It draws millions of tourists each year, mainly country music fans. The “Strip” is crowded with music palaces, motels, restaurants, and souvenir booths selling all imaginable kinds of kitsch. The music venues here host some of country music’s greatest performers.
Brandon is also a good base for excursions into the surrounding Ozark Mountains. Natural points of interest include Table Rock Lake State Park and Talking Rocks Cavern. A fun way to experience Bronson’s wild side is to hop aboard the Bronson Scenic Railroad, complete with refurbished 1930s passenger cars. For more adrenaline action, the roller coasters and rides at Silver Dollar City provide the thrills.
4 Silver Dollar City
Silver Dollar City in Brannon combines a major theme park with crafts and the preservation of 1880s Ozark culture. Craftsmen in the park demonstrate glassblowing, basket weaving, blacksmith, pottery, candy making, and candle making. The park also has rides and attractions, shops, restaurants, and live shows.
Marvel Cave is part of Silver Dollar City. It carries on the tradition of the 1880s mining town, which once stood at the entrance to the cave. The cave was first discovered by the Osage Indians in the 1500s and since that time has attracted explorers looking for the Fountain of Youth, miners of marble and bat guano, and archaeologists.
Address: 399 Silver Dollar City Parkway, Brannon, Missouri
5 Forest Park
Host to the 1904 World Fair, this wonderful St. Louis city park sprawls out over more than 1,300 acres and receives millions of visitors a year. Regarded as one of the most beautiful urban parks in the world, Forest Park not only delivers appealing natural settings via ponds, gardens, and more than 45,000 trees, but it’s also home to many of the city’s top cultural attractions. Tourists can visit the St. Louis Zoo, Saint Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, and the St. Louis Science Center all on the grounds, or enjoy a live show at The Mun, America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater
6 Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield
Around 5,400 Union troops and 11,000 Confederates fought on the site of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield on August 10, 1861. The Confederates were victorious, but this battle led to more fighting in Missouri. On site is the Wilson’s Creek Civil War Museum housing artifacts that include the sword belt and sash of Arkansas General Patrick Cliburn. Visitors can tour the battlefield and remaining historical structures via a 4.9-mile tour road, which provides plenty of parking spots to explore the seven miles of trails that connect throughout this scenic area.
7 Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum
Samuel Clemens, before adopting the pen name Mark Twain, first moved into this two-story home with his family in 1843 and lived there from the age of seven to 18. The home has been open for public tours since 1912 and has since been restored and decorated in period. The adjoining museum consists of two buildings that contain Twain memorabilia, such as first editions of his books, photographs, original manuscripts, and the desk where he sat to write The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
8 Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
Historic and artistic objects are displayed at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence. Truman’s career and US history covering the period from 1945 to 1953 is the main focus of the museum. A replica of Truman’s office in the White House is on display, and President and Mrs Truman’s graves are in the courtyard. A mile down the road, at the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, visitors can tour the Victorian home where the Truman family lived from 1919 until his death in 1972. The house contains original furnishings and other Truman family possessions.
9 Lake of the Ozarks
Created by an impediment of the Osage River in 1931, Lake of the Ozarks is one of the most popular lake destinations in the Midwest. Favorite reasons to visit include professionally designed golf courses, scenic campgrounds, and first-class resorts, as well as an array of water activities including boating, fishing, and swimming at sandy beaches. Lake of the Ozarks State Park is reason enough to visit, but the massive shoreline offers plenty of tourist attractions and things to do, including shopping, dining, and a community that always welcomes out-of-downers. To see the marvel of engineering that created the Lake of the Ozarks, a drive over the Bagatelle Dam is recommended.
10 National World War I Museum and Memorial
Home to one of the largest collections of World War I artifacts in the world, the National World War I Museum first opened in 2006 and has since hosted millions of visitors from around the world. Long before the museum was established, the adjacent Liberty Memorial has looked over the streets of Kansas City for more than 90 years. Completed in 1926 and dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in front of a massive crowd, the Liberty Memorial still stands tribute today to the Great War. Visitors to the museum can learn more about this history through interactive exhibits, documented eye-witness accounts, and more than 75,000 historical items on rotating display.
11 Jefferson City
As the state capitol, Jefferson City is worth a visit. The museums and galleries are home to some of the finest collections in the state, and the historic government buildings give the city a well defined sense of grandeur. Some of the must-see sights are the state capitol building, the Governor’s Mansion, the Missouri State Penitentiary, and the Missouri State Museum. The Lewis & Clark Monument at the Lewis & Clark Trailhead Plaza, located near the state capitol building, is a beautiful sculpture and a tribute to these explorers.
Springfield is a lovely city with a small town feel and all kinds of parks, green space, and other attractions. Among the outdoor highlights are the Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, with walking trails, gardens, and playgrounds, and the beautifully laid out Minamoto Japanese Stroll Garden. Another interesting site near Springfield is the Fantastic Caverns, which claims to be “America’s only drive-through caverns.” There is no walking required on this tram tour of the cave. Also of interest, the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, adjacent to the original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, provides a look into an underwater world.