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Main Street Missouri

Missouri’s small towns have made a big impact on America. 

From German wine country and Civil War battles to world-famous personalities and renowned Route 66, Missouri appeals to a variety of interests. When your group visits, they will discover the diversity of attractions, natural beauty and breadth of culinary possibilities in the small towns of Show-Me State.

Joplin

Looking forward to Route 66’s Centennial in 2026, Joplin is formulating plans and collaborating with surrounding towns. Route 66 bisects downtown, and the 1910 City Hall houses Thomas Hart Benton’s last signed mural. A step-on guide can point out nearly 20 murals depicting the city’s story. 

In November, Spiva Center for the Arts will move to the new Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex. Exhibits, art workshops and entertainment in the 470-seat multi-use performance hall will fill their calendar. PhotoSpiva, the longest running photography competition west of the Mississippi, displays juried entries March through May.

Less than 20 minutes away, George Washington Carver National Monument tells the story of Carver’s life and work and his contributions to Black history. Groups can tour the homestead where Carver was born or stroll through native prairie on walking trails. Lunch can be catered inside the visitor center or on picnic tables alongside the creek. Groups can pick a project in Carver’s lab, such as making peanut butter or take a guided ranger tour. 

“With the park’s proximity to I-49 and I-44, it’s the perfect location to begin or end a tour of Joplin,” said Kerstin Landwer, director of sales for Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s one of our most popular attractions.”

In the surrounding countryside, local caterers can provide dinner at Christine’s Vineyard. Guests can also order charcuterie boards, enjoy weekend food trucks and outdoor games. Keltoi Winery will set up a large tent for dinners. Both offer wine tasting and live entertainment.

visitjoplinmo.com

Springfield 

Outdoor gear fills the world’s first and largest Bass Pro Shops store — Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World — in Springfield. Inside, visitors can explore the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum, Archery Hall of Fame and exhibits detailing the history of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Connected to Bass Pro, the nonprofit Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium wows visitors on its one-mile walk-through.

“It’s a wildlife gallery and aquarium adventure with an incredible attention to detail,” said Susan Wade, public relations manager at the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The displays and murals make people feel like they’re looking at animals in their natural environments, and the fish are from around the world.” 

In the Ozark hills, Smallin Civil War Cave boasts the state’s largest cave opening at 11 stories high. It was once used by Native Americans and settlers as a social gathering place, especially in the hot summers. Guided tours on the paved walkway recount its history and geology. At Fantastic Caverns, jeep-drawn trams deliver the nation’s only ride-through experience. The cave wasn’t discovered until the Civil War and was first explored by a group of women.

West of the Mississippi, the Civil War’s first major battle took place at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. An excellent visitor center and museum showcase interpretive displays and artifacts such as weapons, flags and medical supplies. Today, 75% of the battlefield remains intact and offers a drive-through option.

springfieldmo.org

Jefferson City   

Jefferson City is the political epicenter of Missouri, and no visit would be complete without touring the state capitol. Groups start on the first floor near the Missouri governor’s portraits and rubberneck at the extensive art throughout the building. The second floor features 41 lunette paintings by 20 different artists, plus 13 rotunda oils painted in London. On the lower level, the Missouri State Museum rotates special exhibits. Next door, the Governor’s Mansion offers a limited number of first-floor tours each week. 

Nearby, Central Dairy Ice Cream’s red-and-white striped awning trademarks this iconic spot. Open since 1934, the old-fashioned ice cream parlor reminds guests of simpler times. Some 40 flavors are crafted in-house.

Connecting the capitol complex and Veterans Memorial to Deborah Cooper Park, Bicentennial Bridge also provides access to Adrian’s Island. Paved walking and nature trails showcase panoramic views of the capitol and Missouri River. Great for group picnics, public art dots the landscape, including the life-size Missouri bicentennial chessboard.

Known as “The Walls,” the Missouri State Penitentiary served as the state’s primary maximum-security institution from 1836 to 2004. Extremely popular history tours, ghost tours and overnights tours investigate the paranormal inside the prison walls. 

“Visitors can see the different housing units and the gas chamber,” said Alexandra Bobbitt, communications/film manager for the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “A handful of the tour guides worked at the penitentiary before it was decommissioned. They sprinkle in personal stories, talk about infamous inmates and highlight the penitentiary’s 168 years of history.”

visitjeffersoncity.com 

Hermann 

German immigrants brought their passion for winemaking to Hermann. Eventually, the area became the nation’s first designated wine appellation before Prohibition shut down production. 

On a hilltop, award-winning Stone Hill Winery gives tours of the largest series of underground cellars in North America, with 175 years of history. The winery’s Vintage Restaurant features German specialties in a restored horse barn and carriage house. The German sampler platter features sauerbraten, German-style schnitzel and knackwurst.

“The Hermann Trolley and Hermann Crown Suites Taxi will take groups to most area wineries,” said Tammy Bruckerhoff, tourism director for Visit Hermann. “Our wineries are very picturesque, and each one has a unique setting; some overlook the Missouri River or the town of Hermann. Hermannhof Winery’s downtown tasting room still has its original 1852 cellars.”

All beautifully restored, many of Hermann’s buildings are listed on the National Historic Register, and their red bricks originate from a late-1800’s brick factory. Many of the historic buildings offer lodging, and groups can stay in boutique hotels, small cottages, or bed and breakfasts. On historic Market Street and First Street, antique stores, specialty shops and museums line the sidewalks. 

Historic Hermann Museum is located in the 1871 German school building. Deutschheim State Historic Site offers tours of its four-square garden, the 1840 family home and barn, as well as the 1842 home on Second Street, which contains the printing press that produced the first German newspaper west of the Mississippi.

visithermann.com

Independence

This year, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum completed a $30 million renovation. All of the exhibits were redesigned and rebuilt, plus two exhibit galleries were added. Truman’s Oval Office and the Thomas Hart Benton mural, “Independence and the Opening of the West,” remain part of the experience.

“Anyone who hasn’t been here since 2019 will see a completely different museum,” said museum curator Clay Bauske. “Exhibits are more interactive and deal with the challenges that Harry Truman faced as president.”

Ten blocks away, groups can tour Bess Truman’s family home. Harry and Bess lived in this two-story Victorian from 1919 until they passed away. According to Bauske, it’s the only home they lived in outside of Washington, D.C.

Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham also called Independence home. The Victorian-era Bingham-Waggoner Estate sits along the Santa Fe Trail. Behind the house, a paved quarter-mile walking trail loops around 10 wagon swales. Inside, 95% of the contents are original, including numerous European oil paintings. Guided tours can be followed by a catered lunch in the 1900s carriage house.

Across the street, the National Frontier Trails Museum highlights the Kansas City region as the principal jumping off point for the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails. Displays recount stories of westward travel using original maps and diaries, artifacts and an award-winning video. Chuck wagon dinners or pioneer meals with square dancing and fiddle music can be scheduled through Pioneer Trails Adventures. 

visitindependence.com

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.

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