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Missouri sits right in the middle of America, bordered by a whopping eight states. Kansas City and St. Louis are the largest cities and the places to visit for world-class museums, lively sporting events, and fantastic dining—baseball and barbecue are big here—while Columbia, home to Missouri’s belo…ved university, features a chilled-out, college-town vibe that’s ideal for weekend getaways. Travel south and you’ll find Springfield. While it’s the third most populous city in the state, it’s surrounded by the stunningly beautiful Ozarks, with rugged woodlands, limestone bluffs, crystal waters, and cool caves that make for endless outdoor adventures.
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Missouri has four distinct seasons. Spring (from mid-March to early May) brings not-too-hot temperatures that are perfect for camping comfortably, while fall (which sets in around September) means brilliant orange, red, and yellow leaves, plus tailgating and football. Visit in the winter and you can expect cold weather, and often snow. Missouri isn’t a ski state, though there are a few tiny mountains, but if you’re into sledding, you’ll have plenty of options. Summertime officially starts over Memorial Day weekend, when locals head to nearby lakes to kick off the season. The weather turns hot and humid in July and August, but there are rivers and lakes throughout the state where you can cool off—and sweating it out at a Cardinals or Royals game is practically a rite of passage.
Most travelers to Missouri fly into the state’s major airports in Kansas City (MCI) or St. Louis (STL). The latter is just an easy-to-navigate Light Rail ride to the city center and its many attractions. If you’re visiting to explore the Ozarks, fly into Springfield (SGF) for the most direct access to southern Missouri.
Missourians love their cars. As such, public transportation options are limited, so it’s best to visit with a vehicle. Ride-share services are also readily available in the major cities.
You can’t visit Missouri without trying barbecue. Kansas City is known for burnt ends and St. Louis for ribs, but you can get good BBQ anywhere in the state. Recently, Missouri has also begun to embrace the farm-to-table movement—a step that makes sense given the state’s long history with farming—resulting in fantastic restaurants that serve a sort of upscale heartland cuisine. (Vicia, in St. Louis, reigns supreme.) Other must-try food includes St. Louis–style pizza (defined by its square, cracker-like crust, with toppings that are almost always finished by Provel cheese—a locally popular blend of Swiss, cheddar, and provolone), Springfield-style cashew chicken (with deep-fried chicken smothered in brown gravy), toasted ravioli, ooey-gooey butter cake, frozen custard, and morel mushrooms in season.
As in most states, there are now craft cocktail bars and loads of breweries throughout Missouri, but moonshine is more fun. The Ozarks in particular have long been associated with the formerly bootleg liquor, thanks to the many low hollows and caves that proved perfect for production. Today, Copper Run Distillery in Walnut Shade is the place to go to sample moonshine in a cozy, cabin-like atmosphere.
Large cities dominate the market on museums in Missouri. In Kansas City, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is among the finest in the world, as is the WW1 Museum and Memorial. KCMO is also home to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the American Jazz Museum, and an entire art gallery district, while St. Louis features the National Blues Museum, the Museum at the Gateway Arch, and a massive park with an art museum, science center, outdoor theater, and zoo.
The southern section of the state celebrates nature with the 350,000-square-foot Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, a destination for those who hunt, fish, and act as stewards of the land and water. Other, smaller institutions in the Ozarks pay homage to locals like Mark Twain and the notorious outlaw Jesse James.
Head north to Sally Mountain Park for a top-notch bluegrass festival over Independence Day weekend, then back to St. Louis in September for popular events like the Saint Louis Art Fair and the Great Forest Park Balloon Race.
Missouri has major cities that are easily worth a stand-alone trip for great food and culture, but if there’s one reason to visit the state, it’s for its jaw-dropping nature. With everything from rivers and lakes to hiking and biking trails, the Show-Me State excels at outdoor pursuits. If you only have one weekend, paddle a canoe down one of the many rivers that crisscross the state—known here as going “floating.” Bring a cooler of cold drinks (cans only) and some water shoes or old sneakers (riverbeds can be rocky) and lazily paddle the day away, then spend the evening camping by the water.
Missourians are a mostly casual bunch—jeans, T-shirts, and even yoga pants are almost always perfectly acceptable—so unless you’re dining at a fancy restaurant, you’ll likely feel overdressed in anything too special. And always buy advanced tickets to major sporting events, especially if the team is on a hot streak.
Born and raised in the Ozarks, Anne Roderique-Jones is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest, Vogue, Shape, Town & Country, Saveur, Elle Decor, Southern Living, Marie Claire, Men’s Health, and The Knot, among other outlets. She also has a column in Self. Throughout her career, Anne has sweated it out with a shaman in Mexico, surfed in Hawaii, and eaten a lot of balut in Asia—all while mostly living out of a carry-on suitcase. Follow her adventures @anniemarie_.