Nestled at the crossroads of America, Missouri is an easy state to get to—but a more-difficult one to put a label on. It blends the flavors of the Midwest and the South, while also embracing a pioneering “Gateway to the West” heritage.
The following attractions and experiences are among the very best for an essential Missouri group experience.
ST. LOUIS AREA
It’s hard to get more iconic than the towering Gateway Arch, and its eye-catching allure and amazing vistas make it a perfect group experience.
“This is by far the No. 1 thing that groups love to do in our city,” says Donna Andrews, public relations director for Explore St. Louis. “If you come to St. Louis, you just have to take a trip to the Gateway Arch.”
Groups can reach the zenith of the 630-foot arch in only four minutes via an elevator-like “capsule” shuttle, where a short flight of stairs then leads to an observation deck perfect for photo-ops—or just take in the expansive views of the downtown and Mississippi River.
Andrews also urges fair-weather groups to visit Busch Stadium for a tour, ballgame or both.
“A tour really takes you behind the scenes,” Andrews says. “And taking a tour one day and then going to a Cardinals game the next is quite an experience. The amazing atmosphere and being a part of the ‘sea of red’—as Cards fans are known—is hard to top.”
She adds that the stadium has great food for groups and also encourages attendees to arrive early to really appreciate the atmosphere and ambience.
In nearby St. Charles, the charming burg offers history at every turn and some wonderfully walkable avenues along the Missouri River. And nothing epitomizes the local heritage and flavor like The Lewis & Clark Boat House and Discovery Center, says Carol Felzien, director of communications for the Greater Saint Charles CVB.
“Situated beside the Missouri River at Bishop’s Landing in charming historic St. Charles, the educational facility features exhibits relating to the Lewis & Clark expedition as well as the Missouri River ecosystem,” Felzien says. “The museum’s artwork, entitled ‘Missouri River Walk,’ is the largest indoor mural in the state, and visitors also get a feel for old St. Charles with four half-scale buildings showing architectural styles of the 18th and 19th centuries.”
Guided tours and orientation programs are available, and a scavenger hunt can also be organized by Boat House staff. A nifty gift shop adds to the fun, and the center is also home to frequent events ranging from kayak races to July 4 parades.
Groups seeking modern meeting facilities in the historic city will be pleased as well, with the 154,000-square-foot Saint Charles Convention Center located only 10 minutes from St. Louis International Airport and within walking distance of 500-plus hotel rooms.
KANSAS CITY AREA
Missouri’s largest city has plenty to offer for groups, but nothing stands out more than what’s on tap for attendees’ taste buds and eardrums.
“When Kansas City comes to mind, most people think of barbecue or jazz,” says Derek Klaus, communication manager for the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association. “And for good reason. Kansas City has more barbecue restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the country. More than 85 barbecue restaurants dot our landscape, and each one has its own house specialty.”
Klaus is equally effusive about K.C.’s jazzy music scene.
“We like to say that although jazz was born in New Orleans, it grew up in Kansas City,” Klaus explains. “During the 1920s and ’30s, the art form flourished here, to the extent that Kansas City was once called the ‘Paris of the Plains.’”
He adds that groups gathering in the city can learn more about jazz’s storied local history at the American Jazz Museum, rich with interactive exhibits, frequent live performances and some top-notch event spaces for groups to consider.
As for the smokin’ barbecue scene, Gates is a casual local favorite dating back to 1946, with six dining spots spread around the city. Other can’t-miss barbecue joints include the down-to-earth L.C.’s Bar-B-Q and Jack Stack Barbecue—served at two K.C. locales, including the snazzy Freight House.
In Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City shows off a trio of quintessential offerings for groups, according to Ryan Winkler, the CVB’s communication manager.
On the traditional side, the Missouri State Capitol and Governor’s Mansion offer enjoyable insights into the state’s past. The capitol offers free 45-minute guided tours seven days a week on the hour (from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.), boasting such highlights as the remarkable Social History of Missouri mural by Thomas Hart Benton. The Governor’s Mansion extends free public tours each Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., though groups of 10 or larger should call ahead to check in.
For something altogether different, the Missouri State Penitentiary was the longest continually operating prison in the U.S. before closing in 2004. Today, it’s home to a mix of marvelous tours, including Ghost Tours, Paranormal Investigation Tours and even Photography Tours.
In nearby Columbia, Megan McConachie, the Columbia CVB’s web and communications manager, touts outings at the University of Missouri Campus and a nearby vineyard to get a real taste of the local heritage.
“The University of Missouri campus is both gorgeous and full of opportunities for groups. The campus itself is a botanic garden, and tours are available,” she says. “Additionally, the campus is home to a Museum of Art and Archaeology, Museum of Anthropology and the State Historical Society of Missouri, all of which are great for groups to explore.”
As for a group grape outing, McConachie highly recommends Les Bourgeois Vineyards in Rocheport, just 15 minutes west of Columbia.
“This picturesque facility is set on a bluff-top over the Missouri River and can create a custom experience for groups that includes wine tastings, facility tours and meals,” she explains.
And in the Lake of the Ozarks, essential outings mean getting active with your group at one of the 16 area golf courses, or along the more than 1,000 miles of local lake shoreline. At the heart of this alfresco adventure is Lake Ozarks State Park, home to two public beaches and more than 85 miles of shoreline. From May through October frequent programs are presented by naturalists in an open-air amphitheater, and the seasonally operating Ozark Caverns offer yet another diversion.
In Branson, Deborah Cohen, director of meeting and convention sales for the Branson/Lakes Area COC and CVB, spotlights the city’s standing as an unbeatable bastion of live performances, but also emphasizes that the local allure runs much deeper.
“The true ‘Live Music Show Capital of America,’ Branson features 100-plus shows in over 50 theaters,” Cohen says. “These one-of-a-kind theaters can provide a venue for your group’s events or can become a great option for one of your attendee’s free nights. We also have numerous educational museums, wholesome theme parks, elegant boats, championship golf courses and exciting zip lines—all perfect for unique off-site events your attendees will love.”
She adds that groups can also explore an abundance of outdoor recreation on Branson’s three pristine lakes. And for groups seeking to focus on meetings and events, the Branson Convention Center shows off 220,000 square feet of flexible space.
In Springfield, Susan Wade, public relations manager for the Springfield CVB, touts the downtown entertainment district, in addition to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame—which gets highly interactive with exhibits that allow visitors to drive a simulated NASCAR car, compete in the closing seconds of a basketball game, or try their hand at golfing or quarterbacking. Another essential draw is a restored mansion with plenty to offer for planners and attendees.
“The owners of Pythian Castle have done a wonderful job restoring and redecorating this historic building,” Wade says. “It’s a beautiful venue for meetings and events, and they also offer shows, murder mystery dinners, dancing lessons and tours, including ghost tours.”
And in the Joplin area, the George Washington Carver National Monument offers a window into the history, nature and culture of the region. Spread around the 240-acre enclave, groups will discover a visitor compound complete with a museum, theater, discovery center and gift shop; the historic 1881 Moses Carver house; and a nature trail leading to a pre-Civil War cemetery. Educational experiences abound as well, from Wildflower Walks to seminars on Carver and his accomplishments.