Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, which is evident in the scenic towns that dot the Missouri landscape. From smaller towns famous for their Wild West heritage to tiny gems with lively art scenes, the “show me” state has many lovely towns brimming with photogenic opportunities and fun adventures.
Here are the 7 most beautiful, charming, and quaint historic towns found throughout the Midwest state of Missouri.
7 BEST HISTORIC TOWNS IN MISSOURI
Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Contributed by Angela Essington from Dang Travelers
Cape Girardeau, located just two hours southeast of St. Louis, is a charming river town with a storied past. Established over 250 years ago, the city is a fantastic stop for history buffs. It has numerous well-preserved historic sites including nine districts on the National Register of Historic Places.
The town played an important role in the Civil War during the Battle of Cape Girardeau in 1863. Don’t miss Fort D, the Confederate War Memorial, Cape Rock Scenic Overlook, or the Trails of Tears State Park.
The city is named after Jean Baptiste de Girardot, who established a temporary trading post in the area around 1733. As you might imagine, Cape Girardeau’s historic downtown is a step back in time.
But history isn’t the only draw. The Cape also has wineries, hiking trails, a casino, fantastic restaurants, and entertainment in and around the city.
When you’re hungry, there are a number of restaurants to choose from. You can’t go wrong with Broussard’s for Cajun cuisine, Katy O’Ferrell’s for Irish fare, or Port Cape Girardeau for barbecue. And if you enjoy craft breweries, detour over to Minglewood Brewery or Ebb & Flow Fermentation for an assortment of unique beer offerings.
For other adult entertainment, walk over to Century Casino or take a drive through the countryside to one of the three wineries in the area.
Where to Stay: Book a room at the Courtyard by Marriott right downtown where you’ll find a “Great American” Main Street lined with flowers, restaurants, shops, and boutique galleries. Around the block is an array of colorful murals decorating the flood wall. Each panel tells the story of the area’s tumultuous past and its connection with the river.
Cape Girardeau is not only rich in historical significance, but a fun city to explore.
Cape Girardeau is one of the most popular day trips from St. Louis; just under two hours (115 miles).
Contributed by Stacey Billingsley from Love, Laughter, and Luggage
Joplin, Missouri, may be best known because of the lyrics of “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” but the Southwest Missouri town has a rich history and plenty of fun. Historic Route 66 runs right through town, so history buffs interested in the Mother Road will certainly want to make a stop.
Joplin originated as a mining town in the 1870s when lead and zinc were discovered in the area. Since then, Joplin continues to thrive while finding its way on the pages of history. Joplin is the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes.
For a time, Bonnie and Clyde lived in Joplin, and you can still visit the apartment they shared. In 2011, an EF5 Tornado cut a path through the city. Since then, parks and memorials have been added.
Joplin is a beautiful place to explore the outdoors. Nature trails wind around Shoal Creek, and Grand Falls is a peaceful place to watch a sunset. Nearby, 66 Drive-In offers first-run movies under the stars. Just over the state line, the Hornet Spooklight has been mystifying visitors for decades.
While you’re in Joplin, be sure to check out some great restaurants like The Red Onion, Mythos, and Del Rio Bordertown Cafe. Joplin also has plenty of familiar chain hotels, many right near I-44.
Joplin is one of the most historic towns in Missouri and today, has a thriving arts community with a street event running all summer on every third Thursday of the month and a quaint historic district. In Joplin, Missouri, there’s always something to see or do and it’s consistently voted one of the best places to visit in Missouri.
Joplin is an easy day trip from Kansas City; just 2.5 hours or 157 miles.
Contributed by Michelle Marine from Simplify Live Love
Mansfield, Missouri, located in Southwest Missouri off Highway 60, is a quaint little town famous for its connection to Laura Ingalls Wilder. In 1894, Almonzo, Laura, and their daughter Rose packed up from South Dakota to move to Mansfield. They were beckoned by advertisements proclaiming the area to be “The Land of the Big Red Apple” after years of hardship, loss, and illness in South Dakota.
The Wilders had much better luck in Missouri than they did in South Dakota, and Laura lived on their Rock Ridge Farm for 63 years and wrote her famous books in the houses you can visit! Not only can you tour the farmhouse Almonzo built for his family after their arrival in Missouri, but you can also visit a new visitor’s center, and the stone cottage Rose had built for her parents as well. If you’re interested in gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is also located just outside
Mansfield is a small, rural town, with around 1200 people. It’s about 45 minutes east of Springfield and makes a good day trip from Springfield. If you’re an RVer, the Laura Ingalls Wilder RV Park is nearby and offers RV hookups and cabins for rent as well.
If you prefer bed and breakfast accommodations, the Weaver Inn is located in downtown Mansfield. Heritage Guesthouse is also an Airbnb option.
Food is limited in Mansfield, but you’ll want to check out Vaccaro’s Pizza & Pasta! The gas station, Casey’s, also offers a famous Midwest pizza, and the Signal Truck Stop serves Subway sandwiches and Hank’s Chicken – local’s favorite fried chicken!
Mansfield is just over 3 hours from St. Louis (198 miles) and 3.5 hours from Kansas City (215 miles) and is a great weekend getaway from either city.
Contributed by Cindy Ladage from Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl
You will love Perry County and the town of Perryville, Missouri. The area is hilly and lovely. There is so much history and so many things to do in the area. For those that love outdoor activities and natural beauty, Perryville is right up your alley! Check out the Old Appleton Bridge is the only one of its kind still in its original location in Missouri. An old mill was once located here.
For a one-of-a-kind activity, stop by the Hadler Shoe Tree , a tree filled with shoes. Throw one up of your own! Tower Rock is a must-see. This amazing limestone rock juts out of the Mississippi River. If you are a bike rider, a stay at Caroline’s bike hostel is a must!
In the town of Perryville, stop by the beautiful Perry County Courthouse. One of the newest attractions is the American Tractor Museum. Located in the Catalyst Center this museum is in a former International Harvester Dealership!
Both the Lutheran and Catholic denominations run deep in these gently rolling hills. In nearby Altenburg is the Luthern Heritage Center and Museum. Be sure to tour the nationally recognized Shrine of our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and St. Mary’s of the Barren Church. The rosary walk and grotto are two of the most beautiful places in the tiny town.
Perryville also offers a National Veteran’s Memorial. The Memorial is comprised of a Visitor’s Center, Military museum, Honor Flag, Guardian of Freedom Monument, and an exact replica of the Vietnam Memorial that sits in Washington DC!
Perryville is an easy day trip from downtown St. Louis; about 1 hour and twenty minutes (115 miles).
Contributed by Kelly Blick from Greetings from Kelly
Historic Main Street Saint Charles is a short drive from Saint Louis and is packed with boutique shopping, delicious dining options, and beautiful hiking trails all packed into one spectacular location. You’ll fall in love with the picturesque cobblestone that lines the streets, but you’ll also find one of the most important landmarks in Missouri’s history: the First Missouri State Capitol.
A tour of the First Missouri State Capitol will transport you back in time and immerse you in what it was like to live in Saint Charles in the early 1800s.
On the opposite end of Historic Main Street, you’ll find the Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Museum. This museum includes a full-sized historical replica of the boat that Lewis and Clark took as they explored the West as well as exhibits of what they encountered on their journey.
St. Charles has an impressive art scene and notable art galleries. The interdisciplinary fine arts center on the banks of the Missouri River in the Frenchtown district of Historic St. Charles is well worth a visit.
Once you’re done exploring these spectacular historic sites, take some time to explore the shopping districts and nightlife in Saint Charles. Grab a Van Gogh Milkyway Mocha at Piccaso’s Coffee, have a bite to eat at Salt+Smoke BBQ or Schlafly Bankside, and finish your day with dessert from Grandma’s Cookies. After a day of exploring, relax at the Country Inn & Suites that is located right on Historic Main Street.
For even more great historic places to explore in the Saint Louis area, check out this post by Greetings from Kelly: The 9 Best Historic Home Tours in Saint Louis.
Saint Charles is an easy day trip from downtown St. Louis; about 30 minutes (23 miles).
Contributed by Melissa Schwartz from A little Time and a Keyboard
Walking along the streets of Ste. Geneviève, you will be surrounded with a special French charm. Ste. Geneviève was established in 1750 by French Canadian settlers attracted by the region’s rich agricultural soil and became the first permanent European settlement in Missouri. Throughout town, you will notice elements of original French colonial architecture while admiring structures with exterior posts and rustic porches beneath sweeping awnings.
In 2020, a collection of historic structures in Ste. Geneviève became part of the new Ste. Geneviève National Historic Park. Starting at the park’s Visitor Center, you will learn a lot about Ste. Geneviève history and sites to see on your visit.
Several of the structures are open for touring. The Centre for French Colonial Life offers another opportunity to learn town history. Throughout the year, Ste. Geneviève hosts French-inspired events adding another way to experience this unique town!
In addition to French colonial structures, Ste. Geneviève has plenty of intriguing historic structures from other periods to appreciate. The quaint town is also full of small businesses including local makers and artisans as well as eateries.
If you have a sweet tooth, Sweet Things Sweet Shop is the perfect place to tempt all. Beanik Café and Pastry bake up yummy pastries, has made-from-scratch soups, salads, and bread as well as coffee concoctions. The Hotel Audubon Grill & Bar not only offers delicious food options but also a spot to stay within a historic building in a town wrapped in history.
An adventure to Ste. Geneviève certainly delights with a French flair and small-town charm. Take a step back in time in Ste. Geneviève and enjoy a uniquely French colonial adventure!
Ste. Genevieve is Missouri’s oldest town and is an easy day trip from downtown St. Louis; about 1 hour (62 miles).
Contributed by Katy Flint from KatyFlint.com
Located in North Central Missouri, you’ll find the fabulous & historic town of Sedalia, Missouri. This city boomed when the railroad came through many years ago and they’ve been offering great things to its residents and visitors ever since! Over the years many politicians have come through the area while campaigning so there is a great deal of political history to learn while visiting.
Must Do Things: Downtown Sedalia is home to many great historic buildings and lots of street art to enjoy while browsing local shops! Head just outside the city limits to the Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site for a tour and learn about how influential businessman John Bothwell was to the area and enjoy the scenery!
If you love nature or riding bikes, definitely jump on the Katy Bike Trail. No need to transport your bikes, you can rent them in the historic depot adjacent to the trail! (Make sure to tour the museum in the depot too!)
If you love antiquing, Sedalia has a wide variety of antique shops including Becca’s Framing & Antiques, Chelsea’s Antiques, Dollars & Cents Flea Market, Flipping Flea Flea Market, Golden Key Antiques, and Juanita’s House of Antiques.
Where to Stay & Eat: Located in downtown Sedalia, you’ll find the Hotel Bothwell which has been part of Sedalia since 1927 and where many politicians have stayed. It’s been recently renovated to its historic glory.
Ask for a tour to learn more about the history. When you’re hungry, the Ivory Grille located within the hotel offers a 5-Star dining experience. Other don’t miss eats: Khede BBQ where you can eat in a historic train car and Ozark Coffee Company!
Sedalia is a great place to visit from Kansas City; just 1.5 hours (94 miles).
Next up on our road trip calendar is a trip to the Mark Twain boyhood home of Hannibal, Missouri. What is your next Missouri adventure?
If you are looking for more Missouri history and Wild West adventures, check out:
- The Jesse James Museum In Kearney
- Locust Creek Covered Bridge In Laclede
- The Most Haunted Places in Missouri
- Jesse James Bank Museum In Liberty