Culture and Lifestyle
Missouri's central geography gives the state a unique blend of culture. The southern Bootheel region is as southern as shoofly pie. Here you'll find friendly folks and gracious hospitality. The Bootheel is the northernmost part of the country where cotton and rice are grown. Go north, toward the Iowa border, and you'll find an entirely different culture - equally friendly and accommodating, but with a decidedly northern flavor.
It is often said that Kansas City is the easternmost western city and St. Louis is the westernmost eastern city. In between are dozens of smaller communities - places that are timeless, with town squares, interesting characters, and, more often than not, a revitalization effort fueled by Missouri's DREAM City initiative. These are the places that have fostered the imaginations and creativity of people like Mark Twain (Hannibal), Sheryl Crow (Kennett), Rush Limbaugh (Cape Girardeau), Walt Disney (Marceline) and Harry Truman (Lamar and Independence). Mid-size communities like Columbia, Jefferson City, Springfield and Joplin have developed into strong regional metro areas with major league amenities. Columbia, home to the main campus of the University of Missouri, features regular cultural, musical, and athletic events, not the least of which is Mizzou football on fall Saturdays. With its university influence, Columbia consistently rates as one of America's "best places to live" by Money Magazine, MSN.com and Men's Journal among others.
Just 30 minutes south of Columbia is the bustling metropolis of Jefferson City, the seat of Missouri state government. Both cities, in the center of the state, feature growing industrial and research parks with a well-educated population to support many kinds of companies. In Columbia, for example, State Farm Insurance recently made the decision to consolidate several service centers spread around the country into one campus. Largely on the strength of the K-12 educational system and a steady supply of college students from the University of Missouri, they chose Columbia.
Springfield in southwestern Missouri is located in one of the fastest growing parts of the state. Since 1990, the Springfield MSA (metropolitan statistical area) has grown at a 2.3 percent annual rate. Home of Bass Pro Shops and Tracker Marine, the Springfield MSA is 400,000 and growing. Inc. Magazine recently rated Springfield one of the top 15 cities in the country in which to do business.
Joplin, born of mining, is today a robust industrial, logistics and service economy. Branson, on the shore of Lake Taneycomo, is an entertainment mecca, hosting over eight million visitors each year. But now, with the addition of Branson Landing, the city is also a shopping and convention destination. The nearby "Mountain" underground facility offers some of the most secure data storage in the country.
In northeast Missouri, Hannibal is as quaint now as it was in the days when young Samuel Clemens watched steamboats and dreamed of piloting one up and down his beloved Mississippi. Sedalia in west central Missouri hosts the Missouri State Fair each year and is home to the faithfully remodeled Hotel Bothwell across from the courthouse in a historic downtown. The list goes on, county by county, throughout the Missouri countryside. For those stressed by the frenetic pace of this digital age, Missouri's small and mid-size communities offer a quality of life that is refreshing and, one could argue, therapeutic.
Yet, this is not to say that life is slow. For the last two years, Missouri has hosted one of the premier events in world cycling. The Tour of Missouri winds through seven stages across lush countryside, similar to the Tour de France. It attracts the world's top riders, thousands of spectators, and millions following international media coverage.
In St. Louis and Kansas City, visitors and residents find world class sports and entertainment ranging from Major League Baseball, football and hockey to jazz and blues in the two cities' entertainment districts. Symphonies in both cities and unique concerts such as those in the St. Louis Cathedral and the Kansas City Power and Light District are extraordinary.
Asked when they think Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, south of downtown, was developed, most visitors guess no more than a decade ago. They are astonished to learn that this beautiful urban landscape with its Spanish motif, Italian sculpture and numerous fountains was conceived in 1922 by real estate developer J. C. Nichols. Nichols' love of European culture led him to develop the first American shopping plaza - one that is studied and replicated in today's "lifestyle" malls.
Hikers and bikers thrive in Missouri. The Katy Trail (bikekatytrail.com) follows the former Missouri Kansas Texas Railroad right-of-way for 225 miles. Starting in historic St. Charles, the Katy winds along the Missouri River through spectacular scenery and small towns replete with bed-and-breakfasts, wineries, and unique shops.
Water recreation is abundant on Missouri's many lakes including Lake of the Ozarks, Lake Taneycomo, Table Rock Lake and Mark Twain Lake.
Missouri prides itself on its park systems. Kansas City, for example, is known as the City of Fountains, second only to Rome in the number of fountains within its borders. The St. Joseph Park system, with 48 separate parks, 1500 acres and 26 miles of parkways, is so unique it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Forest Park in St. Louis, larger than Central Park in New York, was the site of the 1904 World's Fair and today is home to art and history museums, the St. Louis Zoo, two golf courses, outdoor theater, a world-class tennis facility, and over 7 miles of jogging and bike trails.