Many travelers make the mistake of skipping over Missouri when planning their dream vacations, and they're really missing out. Missouri shares in a lot of the culture of its southern neighbors without losing an authentic Midwestern feel. If you want to get a true feel for what this state is like, you can't just stick to the big cities. Some of the best and most memorable travel experiences are waiting for you in the little towns.
If you don't know much about Branson, the stories of its incredible offerings might have you believe it is one of Missouri's biggest cities. In reality, this small treasure has a population of under 15,000 people. However, despite its small size, it is one of the fastest-growing vacation destinations in the state. Its many theaters have hosted legendary acts, including Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings, and Ozzy Osbourne, and continue to attract some major artists. Branson also prides itself on its family-friendly attractions, like Dolly Parton's Stampede and Ripley's Odditorium. Lovers of the great outdoors have plenty to do since Branson sits directly in the Ozark Mountains.
If you paid attention in your U.S. History classes, the name Lexington should ring a bell. The self-appointed "Athens of the West" was home to two of the biggest battles of the Civil War, and its history has forever changed the tiny town. Like many towns, Lexington has some classic attractions like water parks and a disc-golf course, but its true offering is the many historical tales that permeate its every inch. Whether it's a Civil War cannonball still lodged in a pillar or the museums with pristinely preserved artifacts, history buffs can't miss this destination.
As the name hints, this tiny town pulls its name from the one-and-only George Washington. Despite its location, Washington was home to many abolitionists, giving it a distinctly different history than its neighbors, which you can experience at the Fort Charrette Historic Village. If you need to escape from the world and relax a bit, try the James W Rennick Riverfront Park or John G's Bier Deck. Plus, there are plenty of spots for hiking, fishing, or even just having a picnic.
When it comes to literary history, Hannibal is a must-see town. Thanks to its idyllic location next to the Missouri River in the state's northeastern corner, Hannibal is a serene town with a lovely ambiance. As Mark Twain's hometown, it's also the setting for both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Hannibal is full of interesting stops, like ghost tours, plenty of trains, and unique shops. Recently, it even made an appearance in the modern literary classic "Gone Girl."
If St. Louis or Jefferson City have tired you out, follow in President Truman's footsteps and stop by Cuba. Due to being a key stop on Route 66, this town has a unique history and has attracted many historical figures. And, while this tiny hamlet is famous for many things, its delicious apples will definitely stick with you forever. Outdoor enthusiasts will love Cuba's many campgrounds and rustic lodges, as well as its rivers and lakes. Make sure to stop by the Wagon Wheel Motel, the City Jail, and the world's second-largest rocking chair before heading out.
With incredible views of the Black River and St. Francis Mountain, Centerville creates a sense of nostalgia that's hard to find in the modern world. Because of its lush greenery and proximity to the Black River, Centerville is a wonderful stop for the more relaxation-focused outdoorsman. What remains of its mining heritage also makes Centerville an unforgettable stop for history buffs and their families.
If you're a traveler who wants to experience a lot in a small time frame, Fulton is the destination for you. Fulton is a town that revels in its history and wears it proudly through institutions like the National Churchill Museum and the Historical Society Museum. Fulton was once a respite for travelers and traders, so there's a dynamic mix of cultures that you don't normally see in such small towns. This is most evident in its architecture, but it's also present in the food.
One of the United States' great hidden gems is the Missouri Wine Country, of which Hermann is a staple. Its breathtaking scenery, delectable wine, and extremely visible German heritage make Hermann a truly memorable town. Visit the Stone Hill Winery to learn more about the town's history—and get a sample of some delicious wine. If you want to fill your stomach, plenty of incredible restaurants in the area will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
The oldest permanent European settlement in Missouri, Ste. Genevieve was founded by French-Canadian migrants who left a clear footprint that the town has followed for centuries. To this day, the town hosts many events celebrating its French heritage. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has made extensive efforts to preserve and revitalize this historic town, and it has become an unbelievable blend of old-world charm and modern wonder.
Many Missouri towns boast a spot or two on the National Register of Historic Places, but it's hard to beat Boonville, which features over 400 buildings on that list. Start at the visitor's center to begin a self-guided walking tour to experience many of the town's historic locations. Plus, Boonville sits on the Katy Trail, making it a popular stop for cyclists.
Another stop on Route 66, Carthage, is a town that experienced devastation and bounced back. After major Civil War battles, soldiers burnt the town to the ground, but it was rebuilt and has overcome the dark events that took place. Now, the town is a haven for artists and hosts many galleries and museums. Additionally, you absolutely need to see Carthage in the fall! Every October, the town holds a festival that celebrates the 10,000 maple trees that populate its photogenic historic district.
Back in 1835, German immigrants settled in this small town, and their influence has stuck with Westphalia ever since. From the food to the architecture, you can practically feel Germany in every cobblestone of this town. Even its street signs are in both English and German! Its St. Joseph Church has been on the National Register of Historic Places for over 50 years and is a must-visit. You should also swing by the nearly 1,500-acre plot that contains a painted rock conservation area and some of the most scenic views in the state.
Kansas City is an incredible stop for travelers, but it can be a bit much to take in. If you need to chill out after spending the day in a major city, head a few miles north to Parkville. With its many antique shops, clothing boutiques, and cafes, Parkville gifts a sense of rural calm and charm to its visitors. Plus, with over three miles of walking trails, a boat ramp, and a 68-acre nature area, Parkville fully embodies its name.
Just across the river from Branson lies Hollister, an adorable little town that will make you feel like you magically teleported to England. Its historic Downing Street was specifically modeled after the architecture and style of an English village, and every little shop, cafe, and restaurant is perfect. There's no way you'll be able to resist snapping a quick pic. Hollister is also just a short drive away from Table Rock State Park, making it a great choice for an eventual vacation.
Sedalia might not be the smallest town in Missouri, but it truly embodies that Missouri charm. Every year, people flock to this tiny town for the Missouri State Fair, but even without a major event, Sedalia is a must-see. The Daum Museum of Contemporary Art is awe-inspiring, and the Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site will transport you back in time. Get some fresh air in one of its many parks, or keep the kids entertained with mini-golf and go-karting.