Missouri IS the Midwest. You have Illinois to the north east, Tennessee to the south east, Arkansas due south, Oklahoma south west, Kansas due west and Iowa to the north. It is truly the central heart of America and has beautiful hills, lively cities and a huge outdoor wonderland to explore. The Ozark Mountains have their own charm, climate and landscape. The American Civil War left indelible marks and heritage here. For the arts, culture, heritage and theatre, there are some hard-to-rival destinations here that definitely make the top ten of places to visit. When you are 9 or 90, there's enough here to keep you entertained, inspired and happy for a great vacation.
1. Downtown Kansas City
OK, its not the capital, but it sure is the biggest city in Missouri. Its downtown has been recognised as amongst the very best in the USA by prestigious travel magazines. It's not hard to see why. Beautiful landscaping, parks and fountains make a great setting for culture, the arts, great restaurants and shopping. Kansas City has reinvented itself, renovated and clean itself up considerably over the last decade. Billions of dollars of investment has reaped huge benefits for the visitor and resident alike. You can now enjoy the Power & Light District: centreing around the Art Deco building, headquarters to the Power & Light Company, it's a bespoke entertainment area. You will now find arenas, ballrooms, a centre for the performing arts, high end shopping arcades and boutique hotels. There are some great examples of modern architecture and it is gratifying to see this new city emerge.
2. Gateway Arch, St Louis
This is a massive, man-made monument inspired by the western expansion of the USA by pioneers. It soars to over 192 metres, forming a dynamic forefront to the downtown of St Louis. It dominates the banks of the Mississippi River, marking the spot where Pierre Laclede told his assistant to build a city in 1764. This was a daring and expensive project in the Sixties; completed at the end of October in 1965. It looks as new today as it did then. St Louis lies right on the border with Illinois and is a beautiful city. The waterfront of the mighty river dominates and you simply cannot come here without viewing the arch, particularly at night when lit up. Trams take you right up inside and over the top of the arch, giving incredible views for over thirty miles and are accessible to all. This is a tribute to the pioneer spirit, so get adventurous and get up there!
3. Shoal Creek Living History Museum, Kansas City
Step away from the bright lights and back into the past at this outdoor, living museum, just a twenty minute drive from the very heart of downtown. There are few places like this. Explore around twenty original, authentic early nineteenth-century buildings in a parkland setting of more than eighty acres. There are old log cabins, churches, mills ... even a mansion. This is no dry display, either. The museum is dedicated to really bringing history to life, letting you experience what life was like for the Victorians here. There are re-enactments, demonstrations, guides dressed in costume, farm animals and loads more. Find it on Barry Road, within Hodge Park.
In the far southeast of the state, Branson has become renowned as a live theatre and music destination. It all started small, with H.B. Wright's book, The Shepherd of the Hills, being set here. Then, the Old Mill Theater dramatised it in the Sixties to much acclaim. Later, the Beverley Hillbillies was set in Branson. The Presley family made their own musical version of it and performed it (and still do to this day) right here in Branson. A whole strip of theatres grew up, until there were fifty! Rock bands started coming, country bands played here, and soon this was a major town on the entertainment map. Though there are only 10,000 residents, music lovers and families come here in their masses throughout the year. There are waxworks, museums, theme parks and so much more. But its not a built up purely urban however. Parks, caverns, lakes, caves and rivers make it a great outdoor destination too. You can enjoy golf and fishing, spas and boating.
5. Dogwood Canyon Nature Park
Just south of Branson on the Arkansas stateline, is 10,000 acres of what is widely agreed to be the best of the Ozarks countryside, with canyons, rivers, woodlands and mountains. In this lush landscape, you can explore on horseback, by ATV, on foot, by bicycle, on a boat, or with a line in your hand. Take a log cabin or camp to extend your stay. Stroll or segway past waterfalls and through forests. Try your hand at archery. Simply enjoy a back-to-nature family vacation in amongst the trees.
6. Jefferson City
Keeping with the cities, this is the state capital, named after the third U.S. President. Flanking the Missouri River banks, everything is within reach of the river. The State Capitol Building sits proudly on the shores. The fertile floodplains also make for superb wine cultivation. But most of all, this is a place for the history buffs. Lewis and Clark came through this plateau; the Osage's had inhabited it for centuries before; it was a Union stronghold in the Civil War and James Earl Roy was a prisoner in the penitentiary here. There are so many historic walking itineraries here, you can easily lose yourself in history for a few days. Find Jefferson City in the centre of the state, off Interstate 70, under 150 miles east of Kansas City. Talking of which ...
7. Forest Park, St Louis
Also in St Louis, a city of some 320,000 on the east border of the state, is Forest Park. Nearly 1,400 acres of land is available to the public, protected and cared for. It's commonly called the Heart of St Louis, created for the World's Fair and with over twelve million visitors each year. People come for the zoo, the hot air balloons, the museums, the beautifully sculptured gardens, the World's Fair Pavillion, golf course and much more. It's open all year, from dawn until dusk, for free. It really is worth a full day of your time ... wandering amongst the statues, taking in the pagodas and waterfalls and just watching the world go by.
8. Country Club Plaza, Kansas City
In a shopping and living area of the city is the Plaza: a high-end, immaculately designed public space and retail Mall that is also winning awards. On Brush Creek, it's right on the Kansas stateline making it a popular excursion for the neighbours. It includes the lovely Ward Parkway, a manicured, wide boulevard of trees and architectural fountains which has been popular since the Twenties. The whole place looks very European, with Spanish influences evident in buildings like Giralda Tower. And it's a great place for some unpressured retail therapy! All the big names are here, from Tiffany to Burberry, Armani to St John. Come in the Christmas season to enjoy the wonderful lights and fireworks.
9. Lake of the Ozarks
In the centre of the state is a man-made, excellent recreational venue: the Lake of the Ozarks. With more than 1,150 miles of shore line, this reservoir offers the very best of fun around the water. You can play golf on one of the seventeen world-class courses many of which are designed by the masters; go boating and shopping, ride horses, enjoy the party lifestyle, chill out on the beach, shop and dine. There is a huge variety of accommodation - 7,700 beds - and an almost bewildering number of antique shops and malls to browse. The Lake of the Ozarks is an inland beach resort of the finest kind, with everything laid on. The water options are almost endless. You can take a power boat, wake board, windsurf and sail. Or just swim in the clean waters from sandy beaches.
10. Wilson's Creek National Battlefield
Just south of Springfield near the town of Republic is an important Civil War site. Here, the first battle west of the mighty Mississippi River took place on 10th August, 1861. This bloody battle saw the death of the first general fighting for the Union: Nathaniel Lyon. The site now preserves some four square miles of pristine fields and forest ... such a pretty place for such a terrible fight. Take the five mile road by car with many interpretive signs or head off on foot on one of many trails. Visit the Ray House, a field hospital, where Lyon's body was brought. Stop in at the visitor's centre and museum to learn more about the history, and how the results of this clash kept Missouri in the Union. The park is open year round from 8.00am, with the exception of the high holidays.
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