Nicknamed the Show-Me State, few destinations in the United States can match Missouri’s unique mix of history, culture, indoor activities, the outdoors, the sprawling open plains and the dense urban centres. Situated along the banks of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, Missouri’s biggest claim to fame was its role as the gateway to the American West before the settlement of the lands acquired by the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Following the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the growth of cities such as St. Louis, Missouri became the perfect starting point from which settlers wanting to head west could jump aboard the Oregon Trail and more than 400,000 families made the cross-continental trek to Oregon.
Missouri is rich in culture, with American literature icon Mark Twain and hip-hop trailblazer Eminem just two of the most popular names hailing from the Show-Me State. From the stainless steel Gateway Arch in St. Louis to the barbecue joints in Kansas City, Missouri is the ultimate travel destination for anyone seeking to see a combination of all that is great about the United States packed neatly into one small slice of the Midwest.
- What Is Missouri Known For?
- Plan Your Trip
- 1- St. Louis
- 2- The “Gateway to the West”
- 3- Kansas City
- 4- Mark Twain
- 5- The Missouri River
- 6- Branson
- 7- The Ozarks
- 8- Anheuser-Busch
- 9- The Pony Express
- 10- The Birthplace of Eminem
- 11- Harry S. Truman
- 12- The Lewis and Clark Expedition
- 13- Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech
- 14- The Oregon Trail
- 15- Barbecue
What Is Missouri Known For?
1- St. Louis
Known as the Gateway to the West, St. Louis is renowned for its role in exploring the American West, its soaring stainless steel archway and the city’s blues music scene.
St. Louis sits just south of the Missouri and Mississippi River confluence along the Missouri-Illinois state border and is the second-most populous metro in Missouri behind Kansas City.
The city was first settled by French fur traders along the Mississippi and was named in honour of King Louis IX of France.
St. Louis garnered national fame when the Lewis and Clark expedition successfully returned from their journey westward, opening up the lands west of the Missouri River for settlement.
- St. Louis: 75-Minute City Trolley Tour
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- St. Louis: Guided Small Group City Tour with River Cruise
2- The “Gateway to the West”
Missouri, specifically the city of St. Louis, has been the “Gateway to the West” ever since Lewis and Clark arrived back from their successful voyage westward, kicking off the start of the Oregon Trail and the goal of settling the continental United States from east to west.
Marking St. Louis’ legacy as a former frontier city is the world-famous Gateway Arch, a massive 630-foot-tall (192 m) stainless-steel-clad archway recognised as the tallest arch in the world and the tallest accessible structure in all of Missouri.
Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen in 1947 and only completed in 1965, the Gateway Arch has flourished into one of the most visited attractions in Missouri, boasting an on-site visitor centre, the Museum of Westward Expansion and a panoramic observation deck at the arch’s apex.
Recommended tour: St. Louis: Gateway Arch and Old Court House Photoshoot
3- Kansas City
Spilling over into two states and recognised as the most populous city in Missouri, Kansas City, commonly known as the “City of Fountains”, is a haven for foodies, artists and sports fanatics, with some of Missouri’s best entertainment spots and dining options found in or near downtown KC.
Kansas City has grown into one of the largest cities in the Midwest and is perhaps best known for its fountain-dotted downtown district and sumptuous barbeque flavours.
Home to popular attractions such as the American Jazz Museum, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, and rowdy Arrowhead Stadium, it’s easy to see just why KC is among the most popular destinations in the Midwest.
4- Mark Twain
Regarded as arguably the greatest American writer and humourist of all time, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by the pen name Mark Twain, was born in the small Missouri town of Florida on 30 November 1835, garnering fame by incorporating humour into his works to comment on the time’s pressing social issues.
Twain grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, which Twain also later used as the setting of both “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer”, with Twain employed as everything from a typesetter to a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River before setting his sights west to Nevada.
Dubbed “the father of American literature” by William Faulkner, Twain’s novels and literary works remain popular in the 21st century, more than a century after the writer’s passing, with Missouri credited with influencing much of Twain’s early writings.
5- The Missouri River
Apart from being the 24th state’s namesake, the mighty Missouri River is also the longest riverway in the United States, running from the Rocky Mountains’ Bitterroot Range in Montana to the river’s confluence with the Mississippi River near St. Louis.
Spanning a total length of roughly 2,341 miles (3,767 km), the Missouri River was once the border between the United States and the lawless territories and regions of the American West, with the Missouri River a major natural feature which travellers along the Oregon Trail had to cross on their way westward.
The Missouri River supported the growing fur trade during the 1800s and was crucial to the livelihoods of the region’s vast Native American populations, with the explorations of Lewis and Clark and the tales of Mark Twain responsible for its fame outside the Great Plains.
Best experienced aboard a riverboat cruise, the Missouri River was instrumental in the establishment of Missouri as a state and, without which, the story of the Great Plains simply cannot be retold.
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Not the largest or most economically productive city in Missouri, Branson’s claim to fame is quite different from other larger Missouri towns and cities.
Branson is a relatively small town in southwest Missouri which boasts theatre-lined boulevards, the 1800s-themed Silver Dollar City amusement park and Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction, making Branson among the most popular family destinations in Missouri.
Deep in the Ozark Mountains, Branson is just a short drive from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, and has been a busy travel destination ever since William Henry Lynch, the owner of the local Marvel Cave, began charging visitors to tour it in 1894.
Branson’s list of attractions includes a half-scale replica of the Titanic, a branch of the Hollywood Wax Museum, retail space along Lake Taneycomo and a 7,500-seat amphitheatre which has hosted shows and concerts by world-renowned artists and musicians.
7- The Ozarks
The Ozark Mountains, or simply the Ozarks as most locals and visitors call them, are a 220-mile-long (350 km) collection of rolling hills and valleys shared by Missouri as well as neighbouring Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The Ozarks are made up of the Boston and St. Francois Mountains, with the Ozarks covering an area well over 30 million acres (12 million ha), with the range recognised as the biggest highland region between the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains.
Dotted with dozens of idyllic rural towns and stunning observation areas, travellers can expect to come across everything from natural hot springs to cascading waterfalls in this truly unmatched part of the Show-Me State, with the Ozarks among the most visited outdoor spots in the region.
Headquartered in downtown St. Louis and the official home of the beer brand Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch is an American-based multinational beer brewery which first began brewing its popular lagers, seltzers and ales in Missouri back in 1852.
Anheuser-Busch was founded by German-American Eberhard Anheuser and is responsible for producing popular American beer brands such as Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob.
Still operating out of St. Louis more than 165 years later, Anheuser-Busch’s massive 142-acre (57 ha) headquarters has been declared a National Historic Landmark and includes attractions such as the Budweiser Clydesdales, countless Romanesque-style red brick buildings, public facility tours and the always-buzzing Biergarten.
9- The Pony Express
The Pony Express was a revolutionary, albeit short-lived express mail service which operated between April 3, 1860, and October 26, 1861, utilising a cross-country network of riders and relay horses to deliver mail and carry news between the East and West Coasts.
The service was pioneering for its time, decreasing the time it took to cross the United States to just 10 days, and was critical in connecting states such as California and Oregon with the economic and political hubs along the East Coast for the brief moment that the Pony Express operated.
Ultimately made redundant by the completion of the first transcontinental telegraph system on October 24, 1861, the need for the Pony Express disappeared virtually overnight.
Departing from St. Joseph, Missouri, en route to Sacramento, California, the Pony Express proved that swift transcontinental communication was viable before the telegraph system, and is an integral period of 1800s America that remains romanticised in Wild West pop culture even today.
10- The Birthplace of Eminem
The world-renowned American rapper Marshall Bruce Mathers III, better known as Eminem, might be more associated with the city of Detroit, however, it’s in Missouri where this icon of 21st-century hip hop originally hails from.
Born on 17 October 1972, in the Missouri city of St. Joseph, Mathers and his mother lived in several cities across Missouri before settling in Warren, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, when Mathers was around 12 years old.
One of his generation’s most popular rappers, Eminem is celebrated for breaking stereotypes as a rapper in a predominantly black industry and has won 15 Grammy Awards and has had more than 220 million records sold worldwide.
11- Harry S. Truman
Born on May 8, 1884, in Lamar, a small city on Missouri’s western border, Harry S. Truman became the first US President from the Show-Me State when Truman was inaugurated back in 1945.
President Truman succeeded former president Franklin D. Roosevelt following the latter’s passing, with Truman’s two-term presidency most remembered for his decision to drop 2 atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
The decision left Japan with no other option but to surrender, effectively ending World War II and cementing Truman’s legacy as the president who ended the war and the only US President to date to use nuclear weapons in combat.
12- The Lewis and Clark Expedition
Launched by then-President Thomas Jefferson to map and chart the lands of the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition played an influential role in opening up the American West for large-scale settlement.
Captain Meriwether Lewis and his Second Lieutenant William Clark were entrusted with crossing the continental divide and reaching the Pacific Ocean, with the pair enlisting the aid of dozens of highly skilled soldiers and volunteers to form the expedition’s Corps of Discovery to begin the journey westward in 1804.
The expedition safely returned from their voyage on 23 September 1806, when they landed on the shores of St. Louis, setting off a new wave of American expansion and the beginning of the Oregon Trail.
13- Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” Speech
Truman wasn’t the only leading figure of World War II and the Cold War to hold ties to Missouri, as this where former British prime minister Winston Churchill delivered his infamous “Iron Curtain” speech, warning about the rising threat of the Soviet Union in Europe.
The speech was delivered in the Missouri city of Fulton on 5 March 1946 and began the popularisation of the term ‘iron curtain’ as a reference to the growing militaristic, economic and ideological divide between the West and Soviet-controlled countries and territories.
Churchill delivered the speech following an invitation from President Truman to speak at Fulton’s Westminster College and remains the most important historical event in the city’s history.
14- The Oregon Trail
Kicked off on the heels of the successful return of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Oregon Trail was a 2,170-mile-long (3,490 km) cross-country wagon journey which stretched from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon.
The trail was first laid out by fur traders between 1811 and 1840, with the first pioneers hopping aboard the Oregon Trail in 1836, kicking off a long-running settlement process which saw more than 400,000 families head west from the launch of the trail in 1811 until about 1869 when the last settlers arrived in Oregon via the trail.
Navigated using covered Studebaker and Conestoga wagons, members of the Oregon Trail and their descendants went on to establish and grow the West Coast’s major urban centres into what they are today, making the Oregon Trail among the most important moments in US history.
Kansas City is widely regarded as the Barbeque capital of the United States, with the art of serving grilled, smoked or slow-cooked meats to the people of KC dating back to the early 1920s.
Henry Perry is the name most people associate with growing Kansas City into the world’s barbecue capital, with Perry originally serving newspaper-wrapped barbecue to patrons from his streetcar barn’s next-door barbecue pit.
Today, barbecue is bound to be the number one thing most people associate with Kansas City, with KC-style barbecue renowned for slow-cooking dry-rubbed beef, chicken, pork, turkey or lamb basted in a generous coating of barbecue sauce.
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