Known as the "Gateway to the West," Missouri has a unique blend of Southern and Midwestern cultures due to its straddling of both sections of the country. The state is famous for its amazing barbecue and the beautiful Ozark Mountains, but Missouri’s small towns are also excellent attractions. Full of charm and whimsy, these towns in the nation’s heartland are genuine slices of Americana and offer everything from historic architecture to scenic mountain views.
Towns like Arrow Rock are an increasingly rare sight in the US. Overlooking the Missouri River, the area has long been historically and archaeologically significant. Excavated evidence shows people have inhabited the area for over 10,000 years. Once European settlers arrived, they established Arrow Rock as a frontier town on the Sante Fe Trail. Arrow Rock’s charm is a combination of its well-kept historic buildings and thoughtful urban planning conducted back in 1829. There are several well-reviewed bed and breakfasts in town. Visit the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre and watch a production inside a historic church in the National Historic Landmark District. Dine at the J. Huston Tavern, the oldest operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River. Take a walking tour through the town and see the many historically significant landmarks for yourself.
Named one of "America’s 10 Coolest Small Towns" by Frommer’s Budget Travel Magazine, Rocheport is one of the prettiest places in the state. The town is right beside Katy Trail State Park, the longest developed rail-trail in the nation. Biking, hiking, and horse riding are all popular activities at Katy Trail. The Rocheport Riverwalk largely follows the winding Missouri River and offers amazing views of the surroundings. Surrounding Rocheport are several family-owned wineries, including Les Bourgeois Vineyards. In town, visit the Rocheport General Store for old-timey ice cream in a beautiful brick-faced building that hosts live music Fridays and Saturdays. There is even a bed and breakfast in town, which was set up inside an old schoolhouse. The Warm Springs Ranch has a stable of friendly horses on-premises and offers guided walking tours for equestrian fans.
The town of Fulton is one of the most walkable in the US, so be sure to pack a comfortable pair of shoes when visiting this Missouri gem, as there is plenty to see. With 13,000 residents, Fulton is big enough to maintain visitors’ interest during extended stays without losing its charm. America’s National Churchill Museum educates visitors on the former British Prime Minister’s famous Cold War speech. The town has 69 buildings on the national historic registry, like the George Washington Carver School and the Pitcher Store, a former post office. The Brick District Playhouse hosts events throughout the year, so be sure to check the venue’s events calendar. Saturdays during warmer months in Fulton are when the local farmer’s market starts up again. Swing by for sweetcorn, blackberries, turnips, and more delicious Missouri produce.
Known for its historic main street and nearby access to the Missouri River, this pre-Civil War town, is an amazing place with so much to offer visitors for any length of stay. Weston’s historic downtown district, founded in 1837, has a palpable period atmosphere. The Weston Historical Museum is a great place to immerse yourself in the town’s heritage. Drive or walk through Weston amongst the many beautiful antebellum and Victorian homes in town. Today, Weston hosts some of the area’s most popular festivals, including Irish Fest, Apple Fest, and a Holiday Candlelight Tour of Homes. Walk through Weston Bend State Park on the bluffs of the Missouri River the same way Lewis and Clark did. There are several wineries in and around town, and the Riverwood Winery has a well-stocked whiskey bar for those looking for something a little more spirited.
This Missouri town has a rich history dating back to the Civil War. The Battle of Lexington State Historic Site transports visitors back in time. Tours led by historians pass through the historic Anderson House and a museum containing preserved period artifacts. In town, there is even a cannonball that was fired in 1861, which remains lodged inside a pillar at the Lafayette County Courthouse. Lexington’s family farming community has delicious produce. Visit one of the many roadside stands and pick up a basket of tasty Missouri produce for yourself. Follow the Missouri wine trail through the rolling countryside hills and stop by Crystal Lake Park and Riverfront Park, both great places to sit back, relax, and enjoy a scenic waterfront view.
As headquarters for Missouri Meerschaum, the tobacco pipe manufacturer, Washington is called the "corn cob pipe capital of the world." This riverside town is much more than a manufacturing hub, however. The German immigrants who settled the town contributed greatly to its distinct Central European feel. The downtown area of Washington has undergone significant revitalization as part of the Main Street America initiative. The town has worked hard to make it an attractive destination through the use of artistic murals, programs to encourage small businesses, and policies meant to make it walkable. The Old Dutch Hotel and Tavern is a classic Washington watering hole that doubles as a modernized place to spend the night. Walk along the Rotary Riverfront Trail for a great trip through the downtown core and all along the waterfront. Washington also has an aquatic complex to beat the heat in summer.
Named after Perry Crosthwaite, the owner of a local mill, Perry was known for its opera house, horse stables, and lumberyard. Stroll through the charming main street of Perry and be cast backward to a simpler time in American history. Quaint and quiet, Perry is the peaceful southern gateway to Mark Twain Lake. The lake is serene and roughly half an hour away by car. There are three campgrounds and almost 19,000 acres of lake to fish bass and crappie, while the Mark Twain State Park has more than 6 miles of trails that lead through the hickory and maple trees amidst the deer and turkey which call the park home. Visit the Arlington Antiques for a vintage keepsake to remember your trip to the Show Me State.
The town of Kimmswick is under a half-hour drive from St. Louis and is a great day-trip location. Here, there are no traffic jams and no symphony of car horns during rush hour. Peace and quiet are two of Kimmswick’s selling points, a town where the crickets serenade the town to sleep on warm summer evenings. Shutterbugs will want to visit the Windsor Harbor Road Bridge, the oldest known wrought iron bridge in the state. There are plenty of delicious things to eat in Kimmswick as well. Buy handmade fudge in town at the local sweet shop or stop by The Blue Owl, as seen on the Food Network. The Apple Butter Pavilion is the home of the annual Apple Butter Festival held in October. This event draws over 100,000 visitors each year, and features live bands playing bluegrass, a petting zoo, and apple butter.
With so much to see, it is clear that Missouri is called the Show Me State for a reason. Boundless natural beauty and classic small-town charm await visitors to this gem in the American heartland. Walk alongside the fast-moving Missouri River in the state’s many riverfront towns. Hike through the Ozark Mountains, home to countless sparkling springs and waterfalls, or stroll into a classic ice creamery to taste the good life. In the small towns of Missouri, there is plenty to be had.