Few ideas resonate with the American psyche more than “Middle America,” and few states embody that ethos quite as much as Missouri. Its central location in the middle of the country means that you’re closer to so many aspects of American life than you might otherwise imagine.
It is a special place, and these special facts about Missouri help to show why.
With that in mind, let’s show you why the “Show Me State” ranks among the best in America.
1. Middle America
As mentioned above, Missouri is located in the middle of the heartland, giving it a unique geographical as well as cultural status. Its borders with Nebraska, Illinois, and Arkansas underscores its role as a cultural crossroads between Plain States, Midwestern, and Southern culture.
The idea of “Middle America” as a baseline for the broadest and “truest” definitions of American culture is as timeless as it is tricky to define. As with so much of America’s self-image, “Middle America is a myth.” That said, if any state can be said to make “Middle America” a reality, Missouri, with its geographical sweet spot and unique cultural blend, is a strong candidate.
Few places tap into the fiction of “Middle America” more than Disneyland’s Mainstreet USA – itself inspired by Marceline, a small town in Missouri where Walt Disney spent part of his childhood.
2. Gateway Arch
St. Louis is nicknamed “The Gateway to the West.” The city’s most famous landmark, and one of the most visited in the entire country, the Gateway Arch pays homage to that legacy. It is the largest arch in the world, standing 630 ft. It is an inverted catenary arch. It is made of stainless steel, is at the center of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and sits right on the bank of the Mississippi.
All of this makes it a great place to visit for anyone looking to take in the architecture and natural beauty of the area at the same time. You can take a tram to the top of the archway and enjoy views of up to 30 miles around, affording you a view of the entire St. Louis area that’s second to none.
3. Lake of the Ozarks
Another thing to love about the Midwest in general and Missouri in particular are the incredible lakes which dot the region. While that certainly contributes to the high humidity which characterize spring and summertime in Missouri, they are also without a doubt among its most bountiful and beautiful natural features. There are 568 lakes in Missouri, none more prominent than the Lake of the Ozarks.
Situated in the Ozark Mountains, which are themselves located in a northern part of central Missouri, the Lake of the Ozarks is a reservoir which borders the Osage River and local tributaries. It was created by impounding the Osage River, making it the largest manmade river in the United States at the time of its inception in 1931.
In the decades since it has become one of the most popular vacation destinations in Missouri. It is one of the best places to take in so much of Missouri’s natural beauty, from the lake and reservoir itself to the nearby forests and hills to Lake of Ozarks State Park. The latter features a first-class resort in the Lodge of Four Seasons, which itself boasts one of the most challenging and well-traveled golf courses in the Midwest.
Few natural features across America are lovelier than its many lakes, and few states can boast lake areas as vast and beautiful as the Lake of the Ozarks.
4. Hannibal and Huck
Missouri was home to one of the greatest authors in American history, Mark Twain. He was born Samuel Clemens, but his “Mark Twain” moniker was a product of his Missourian life working on steamboats, which he recounts in Life on the Mississippi. When throwing a line overboard to test the waters, steamboat workers would call out “mark twain” to measure the depth – and the rest is history.
Hannibal, Missouri is also the home of Huckleberry Finn, Jim the Slave, the Mistress, and the rest of the cast of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of the towering works of American Literature. The book’s searing and still-controversial treatment of race and class in America has painted one of the most enduring portraits of America’s complex relationship with ideas of freedom and itself. No less an American author than Ernest Hemingway famously claimed, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” Fellow literary titan and Missouri native T. S. Eliot called Huck Finn a “masterpiece.”
All of this makes Missouri one of the true epicenters of American Literature.
5. Baseball Nation
Baseball is America’s Pastime, and St. Louis has been repeatedly voted America’s Best Baseball City.
That’s helped along in no small part by the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals have historically been one of the most successful teams in Major League Baseball. They have won more pennants and World Series than any National League team and has the most such titles of any team not named the New York Yankees.
Part of the magic of Cardinal Nation is the fact that it actually extends far beyond St. Louis and Missouri. Cardinal Baseball has become a key part of the cultural landscape in the Midwest, with games being broadcast to Nebraska, Kansas, and other states throughout the region.
Of course, it’s not just St. Louis and the Cardinals which contribute to Missouri’s baseball-rich atmosphere. Kansas City is home to the Royals, who’ve themselves taken home a couple of World Series banners.
The Royal’s “regal” name provides a partial link to the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the longest-running and most celebrated teams of the Negro Leagues, home to such stars as Satchel Paige. Jackie Robinson played for the Monarchs before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking baseball’s color barrier in a move which would help lay the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement.
6. Missouri’s Great Museums
The Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Getty in Pasadena, the Boston and Philadelphia Art Museums – think of American museums, these are some of the first which are bound to come to mind. This tends to overlook Missouri’s great museums, however, and that’s a shame. Missouri is home to a wealth of incredible museums, including the National World War I Museum, The Museum of Westward Expansion, the Pony Express Museum, and Mark Twain’s House.
7. Country Music in Branson
New York has Spanish Harlem, Tennessee has Nashville, Georgia has Atlanta, and in the American music-making sphere, Missouri has Branson. Like Nashville, Branson is a noted country music hotbed. The Grand Country Music Hall is one of the most celebrated live country music halls in the country.
8. The Mighty Mississippi
While it does not belong to the state alone, so much of the aura and majesty we associate with the mighty Mississippi is at its most amazing right here in Missouri.
The state offers some of the most fantastic places to view America’s largest and most legendary river. There’s also the huge role the Missouri stretch of the Mississippi plays in Huck Finn. You can see the Mississippi in many places across the country, but the fact the Missouri stretch represents the same waterway to freedom perceived by Huck and Jim imbues it with extra meaning.
9. Missouri Botanical Gardens
We’ve already demonstrated how much natural beauty Missouri has to offer, and its Botanical Gardens are a perfect way to experience that without leaving St. Louis. Located in the heart of the city, it was founded by philanthropist Henry Shaw in 1859. It is one of the oldest botanical gardens in America, and remains at the epicenter of botanical research and cultivation in the country.
The gardens span 79 lush acres and include incredible plants from all over the world, including an Osage-themed encampment, a pioneer-themed area, and Seiwa-en, the largest Japanese-style garden in North America. The area is also the site for festivals year round, including festivals celebrating Chinese and Japanese cultural heritage.
10. St. Louis Zoological Park
There is a lot to love about the St. Louis Zoological Park, beginning with the fact that, being located right in the middle of St. Louis, it is remarkably easy to reach. This makes it a great choice for a day out with the family or a place to take a date. Adding to that status is the fact that with the exception of special exhibits, entrance is free.
What’s more, the zoo is one of the region’s premiere names in conservation and animal research. It has been a fixture in St. Louis ever since the World’s Fair in 1904.
From Big Cat Country to the Butterfly House to the Mary Ann Lee Conservation Carousel, there is something for everyone.
In a nutshell, that is Missouri. Of all its great features, the best things about Missouri are how it is a place where everyone can find their place within the greater American mythos.