Story by Stephen Foutes | Feb 24, 2016

YOU’VE BEEN BANKING VACATION DAYS, and now it’s time to make a withdrawal. Finding the ideal location is the tricky part. Fortunately, a variety of memorable experiences are waiting for you, and they’re closer than you might think.

With our town for example, you can spend half a day in the Capitol, then tour the Missouri State Penitentiary, enjoy a craft beer at Prison Brews, let the kids explore the Runge Nature Center and top off the day with ice cream at Central Dairy.

Experiences like those make Missouri the perfect place to spend your vacation days. In the Show-Me State, you find the excitement of large cities, the charm of small towns, the beautiful results of Mother Nature’s handiwork and an impressive collection of destinations and attractions.

EXPLORE THE SPLENDOR

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Having been named America’s Best Trails State in 2013, and the country’s Best Camping State the year prior, Missouri’s outdoor assets have earned their share of national recognition.

The clear rivers and streams are ideal for canoe and kayak trips and expansive lakes offer boating, fishing and swimming, which are top activities for visitors. Missouri’s waterways are among the best in the nation. In fact, Lake of the Ozarks was voted as the Best Recreational Lake in the U.S. by readers of USA Today and 10Best.com in 2015.

Missouri’s lauded State Parks system, which operates 87 parks and historic sites, has more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails, including the popular Katy Trail. It’s open for pedestrian, bicycle, and in some spots, equestrian use, and continues to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Areas managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) offer excellent recreational options, including hunting, fishing and hiking, and MDC’s nature and interpretive centers and hatcheries have interactive exhibits visitors of all ages enjoy.

Golf courses offer another great way to enjoy the outdoors in the Show-Me State. Whether you’re playing a quick nine at your favorite local course, working on your short game at a pitch-and-putt, making the rounds on the Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail or following in the footsteps of legends at Top of the Rock or Buffalo Ridge near Branson, Missouri’s golf courses are fun for players of all skill levels.

Scuba enthusiasts shouldn’t pass up the chance to dive at Bonne Terre Mine, home to a lighted, billion-gallon lake and optimal diving conditions year-round.

FOR THE FAMILY

HomegrownGetaway_WelderThere are countless options for family travel in Missouri. Sites include one-of-a-kind activity centers, wow-worthy caves and museums designed specifically for kids. The Show-Me State truly has fun for children of all ages.

At the Discovery Center of Springfield, hours of interactive fun await thanks to exhibits such as the High Wire Bike, Bodyworks, Discovery Town and WaterWorks. Discovery Center is as educational as it is fun with concepts focusing on physics, chemistry and health.

Missouri’s caves make a great year-round getaway. They’re cool in the summer, warm in the winter and plentiful in central Missouri. Bridal Cave is about four miles west of Camdenton, Fantasy World Caverns is five miles south of Eldon, Jacob’s Cave is eight miles south of Versailles, Ozark Caverns (inside Lake of the Ozarks State Park) is nine miles east of Linn Creek and Miller Cave is at Fort Leonard Wood.

For an interesting and unique Missouri experience, don’t miss the City Museum. Located in downtown St. Louis, City Museum boasts a fascinating collection of recycled materials, many of which have been fashioned into slides, tunnels and climbing towers. Kids love the experience, and there’s plenty of room for grown-ups to explore too.

Across the state in St. Joseph, there’s an opportunity to show your children what instant messaging was like in 1861. Young visitors enjoy interactive displays at the Pony Express National Museum which brings to life the stories of brave riders who spent 10 days crossing the country to deliver mail to California.

Family adventures in southeast Missouri often involve stops at Elephant Rocks State Park and Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, both ideal destinations for families looking to connect with the outdoors. Families find more excitement at the Home of the Missouri Dinosaur, otherwise known as the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History in Marble Hill, which has an impressive collection of dinosaur fossils and artifacts.

Theme and amusement parks in Missouri, such as Silver Dollar City in Branson, Worlds of Fun in Kansas City and Six Flags St. Louis offer hours of family fun thanks to exciting thrill rides such as Outlaw Run (Silver Dollar City), Mamba (Worlds of Fun) and Boomerang (Six Flags).

CULTURAL IMMERSION

On your getaway, make a cultural connection with Missouri’s music, food, art and history. In doing so, know that it’s okay if you find yourself tapping your toes at a live show or using 11 paper towels to wipe barbecue sauce off your face at lunch.

Yes, it’s natural to spend hours admiring priceless works of art in world-class museums and learning about the people and events that shaped Missouri. In fact, that’s kind of the point. But where to begin?

Why not start with a show? Fans of the arts love Missouri’s wide range of performance venues and the performers who help bring them to life. Branson is renowned as the home of live music shows, while eye-popping concert halls, like those at Kauffman Center for Performing Arts in Kansas City, host a variety of national touring performers and performances.

Food presents another gateway to Missouri’s culture. If you’re from the Show-Me State, you probably recognize the awesome barbecue restaurants in Kansas City. Now it’s time to enjoy out-of-the-way joints such as Dexter Bar-B-Que in Dexter, Randy’s Roadkill Barbecue in Rolla and Wabash Barbecue in Chillicothe.

And because you can’t have food without a drink, don’t miss original flavors of Missouri when you visit any number of the state’s 130 wineries. Those in Hermann are particularly popular, especially during the annual Oktoberfest celebration. Many include on-site restaurants with extensive menu options. Pair your visit with a stay at one of the state’s bed and breakfasts. Also not to miss, are the ever-expanding list of Show-Me State breweries and distilleries.

When it’s time for you to make a connection with Missouri’s history, start at the top. Way at the top. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is the country’s tallest monument at 630 feet. This iconic structure represents America’s westward expansion and the president who made it possible, Thomas Jefferson. Combined with the nearby Old Courthouse, the two properties comprise the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

Locations such as the State Historical Society of Missouri Art Galleries in Columbia offer the chance to view works created by two of Missouri’s leading artists, Thomas Hart Benton and George Caleb Bingham, while traveling exhibits and modern works of art are highlights at stops such as the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia, the Springfield Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Learning the stories of Missouri’s famous residents is another great way to make a connection with the Show-Me State. Mark Twain’s youth unfolds at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, and the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence focuses on the only Missourian ever elected president.

The Scott Joplin House State Historic Site in St. Louis tells the story of one of Missouri’s most well-known musicians, and jazz clubs in the 18th and Vine District of Kansas City shine the spotlight on the city’s musical heritage and performers, including Charlie Parker, who once called the area home.

Other Missouri destinations connect you with folks, such as animator Walt Disney, whose life is chronicled at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum in Marceline, and George Washington Carver, whose childhood home is a national monument near Diamond.

Oh, and save the date for April 2, 2016. That’s the scheduled opening for Missouri’s newest cultural asset, the National Blues Museum in St. Louis.

A NIGHT OUT

HomegrownGetaway_BballLet’s make this clear right away. Going to a baseball game counts as a night out, especially when you get to choose between seeing the defending World Series Champion Kansas City Royals and the consistently playoff-bound St. Louis Cardinals.

Okay, it doesn’t have to be baseball. Football and hockey work, too.

So what makes an ideal night out in Missouri? Like a lot of things, it depends on your particular taste.

You might try your luck and do the stay-and-play thing at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Isle of Capri in Boonville or Argosy Casino in Riverside (Kansas City) where gaming action pairs with lodging, live music and dining to give you a complete vacation experience.

Missouri’s music scene comes into play again (pun intended) when you’re looking for a reprieve. Whether it’s a live show in Branson, an outdoor concert in Kansas City, a local group playing at your favorite winery or a blues club in St. Louis, it’s never difficult to find a great show in the Show-Me State.

Entertainment hubs, such as Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza and Columbia’s District, are ideal destinations for a night out as they combine dining with the fun of shopping, sightseeing and club-hopping. The Blue Note in downtown Columbia has a storied history as one of the state’s top live entertainment venues.

The options for Missouri adventure are limitless, close by and perhaps more rousing than you think.

Okay, you might be thinking, “I live in Missouri. Traveling in-state isn’t really a getaway.” If that’s the case, take this quiz to determine if a staycation is right for you. ‘

1. Have you seen the sun set over Table Rock Lake this year?
2. Do you have a framed selfie in front of the World’s Largest Rocking Chair?
3. Has your bicycle been on every mile of the Katy Trail?
4. Have you sipped award-winning wines in between spectacular views of the Missouri River?

If you answered “yes” to all four questions, you’re free to pass on traveling in Missouri this year. If not, put your passport back in the filing cabinet and gear up for an amazing Missouri adventure.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON IN-STATE VACATIONING, GO TO VISITMO.COM.

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