Exploring Historic Missouri: St. Louis, Kansas City and Fun in Between
No U.S. state lends itself more to the idea of a “fly-drive” than Missouri – Route 66 was born here!
Nestled close to the geographic center of the country, in the heart of the American Midwest, Missouri offers a mix of small towns and bustling cities. From St. Louis, the Gateway City in the East, to Kansas City (or KC) in the West, you can explore it all at your own pace, whether it’s music, food, vineyards, breweries, sports, history, outdoor pursuits or life on the river. In between, there’s a small-town, old-world charm that comes from following Route 66 – a journey that brings the American Midwest to life.
St. Louis: Gateway to the West
St. Louis (with its famous Gateway Arch) is a great place to start your adventure. Enjoy the St. Louis riverfront and beautiful views of the city’s skyline by taking a cruise on a replica 19th century paddle-wheel boat. At the Museum of Transportation (one of numerous museums in the city), you learn about St. Louis’ rich, historic relationship with the rail and automobile industries.
Nightlife is never dull here; foodies and beer lovers have plenty of great choices. Broadway Oyster Bar brings authentic Cajun cuisine to the Midwest, along with live music every day of the week. Dip into a local institution at Ted Drewes, where they’ve been selling frozen custard for more than 80 years.
For a taste of the outdoors, St. Louis’ Route 66 State Park provides opportunities for hiking, biking and horseback riding, while the Katy Trail State Park is known as the USA’s longest developed rails-to-trail, ideal for a scenic bike ride. For more history, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial pays homage to the birth of the American West, detailing the explorations of Lewis and Clark.
Looking up at the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis
Traveling Route 66 and Beyond
If you want to see the state via the legendary road, start your journey tracking old Route 66 by traveling west to the road’s birthplace: Springfield, Missouri. The city’s tourist center commemorates Route 66’s legacy and shows how the nearly 2,500-mile thoroughfare transformed the country, linking small towns and rural communities from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California. For accommodations, try the original sandstone cottages, built roadside in 1938, which are now part of the Rail Haven Best Western. And in town, the historic Gillioz Theatre showcases a variety of concerts, plays and opera. Nearby, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield features self-guided driving tours at the site of the first major American Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River.
Take a short detour to visit Branson, a picturesque, lakefront city south of Springfield that is especially known for its diverse entertainment scene. During the day, you can enjoy a variety of outdoor recreation and family attractions, such as at the Track Family Fun Parks. At night, take in a live show at any one of Branson’s legendary theaters.
Back on Route 66, in the town of Carthage, there are classic American experiences like an entire cowboy dinner and rodeo show at the Lucky J Steakhouse and Arena or the open-air, 66 Drive-In Theatre. The historic town of Joplin features downtown shopping, dining and nightlife. Be sure to stop by the Route 66 Mural Park which showcases a replica 1964 red Corvette that makes a whimsical photo backdrop.
The Haygoods lighting up the stage in Branson
Kansas City Jazz & Fun Central
Heading north, Kansas City is the perfect way to end your trip. It is well worth spending a few days exploring this city on the banks of the Missouri River. Kansas City barbecue is a must-try dish at any number of stand-out restaurants, such as Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, Jack Stack and Q39, to name a few. The shopping is great, and children have loads to do: with adventures like visiting the zoo, Science City at Union Station, Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life Kansas City Aquarium. The American Jazz Museum reveals the stories of the unique sound and style created here in the 1930s, when Count Basie and Charlie Parker set the tone for Missouri’s musical heritage. Discover the history of America’s favorite pastime at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
There’s so much to enjoy in Missouri. The bustling cities and wide open spaces await your visit, where the open road leads everywhere.