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Missouri’s Fascinating Finds

Missouri’s museums are packed full of memories. 

The Show Me state has more than its share of fascinating institutions showcasing history, art, culture and even nature. Whether exploring its small towns or big cities, groups traveling in Missouri can find unique museums flourishing with thought-provoking content and exhibits. 

This itinerary highlights just a few of these gems, leading groups from the southern portion of Missouri, up through the northwest and then central part of the state. Groups can easily complete this trip in four to five days, though extending it by a day or two would allow for further exploration of each city. 

Iceberg Ahead in Branson

Just west of downtown Branson is the Titanic Museum Attraction, a partial replica of the famed Titanic luxury liner. This interactive museum takes visitors back to 1912, where they can immerse themselves in the history of the ship and learn about its crew and passengers via a self-guided tour. Upon entering the museum, each guest receives a boarding pass for an individual who was on the ship, and later they learn their fate in the Titanic Memorial Room. The room itself is filled with more than 2,200 names. 

During the tour, visitors can get a feel for the Titanic and its setup by exploring hallways, cabins, parlors and the grand staircase, which is an exact copy of the original. Plus, guests can peruse more than 400 artifacts that belonged to the ship or its passengers — a collection valued at over $4.5 million. 

For those who prefer more of a hands-on experience, this attraction offers several interactive opportunities. For example, visitors can shovel coal in the boiler room, sit in a lifeboat, touch an iceberg, feel 28-degree water, learn how to send a distress signal or experience the sloping decks of the Titanic’s stern as it descended into the water. 

While you’re there: When not engrossed in the Titanic’s history, groups can check out the 1,534-acre Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area in Branson. This beautiful, woodsy space features trails, a lookout tower and a slew of scenic views. Plus, Sugar Leaf Bakery, Café and Espresso is the perfect spot for visitors to enjoy a meal or tasty treat. Its menu is full of coffee, breakfast favorites, sandwiches, salads, baked goods and more.

Springfield’s Wonders of Wildlife

Johnny Morris, the founder of retail company Bass Pro Shops, created a museum/aquarium venue that is said to be the most immersive fish and wildlife attraction in the world. Located next to Bass Pro Shops’ headquarters in Springfield, Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium allows guests to learn about a variety of animals as well as the importance and history of conservation. 

While inside, visitors can explore a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that’s full of mammals, fish, reptiles and birds. Made up of multiple exhibits, the aquarium gives guests a chance to move about the “globe” as they please, from exploring the murky swamps of the southeast United States to viewing Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and coastal mangroves.

Exploring the attraction’s many wildlife galleries also provides an exquisite experience. Each exhibit features the sights, smells and sounds of a particular habitat, giving guests the illusion they are in that specific part of the world. 

Given that the attraction is rooted in honoring wildlife conservation, visitors are also educated on the men and women who have played important roles in the conservation movement. 

While you’re there: While in the Springfield area, groups can tour Askinosie Chocolate, a small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate micro-factory that crafts mouthwatering, award-winning chocolate products. Plus, if stomachs are grumbling and energy levels are low, Classic Rock Coffee Co.’s wide selection of signature coffees, smoothies, pastries, sandwiches and flatbreads are the perfect fuel.

Art Exploration in Kansas City

For roughly 90 years, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has served as a place where people can enjoy and contemplate gorgeous works of art. Via a self-guided or docent-led tour, visitors can explore one or several of the museum’s temporary exhibits. Examples of recent exhibitions include “Traditions of Japanese Art,” “Between Myth and Reality,” “Family Ties” and “Life of Christ and Saints.”

Overall, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art houses a more than 40,000-piece collection, with works ranging from 5,000 years ago to present day. One collection considered a must-see is the museum’s French paintings. It includes works by Nicolas Poussin, François Boucher, Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun and many others. 

In addition to admiring works, guests can sign up for studio classes that allow them to produce their own. Led by seasoned instructors, attendees can explore Chinese art, learn to mix and pair colors or develop a mixed media collage, among other things. 

While inside, groups can also enjoy the museum’s Rozelle Court Restaurant, which resembles a 15th-century Italian courtyard. Menu items include soups, salads, sandwiches, breads and desserts.

While you’re there: Should time permit, Kansas City offers a wealth of other attractions, such as Starlight Theatre. This 8,000-seat outdoor theater is known for hosting Broadway musicals, concerts and unique theatrical shows. As for a great place to grab coffee or a quick meal, River Market Opera House Coffee and Food Emporium serves excellent specialty coffee as well as breakfast, lunch, dinner and brunch options.

A Historic Hotel in St. Joseph

Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965, the Patee House Museum takes guests back in time through the building’s storied past. Originally constructed to serve as a luxury hotel in 1858, the building was considered a “modern marvel” of its time, as it featured amenities like hot and cold running water. In 1860 the hotel’s first floor became the headquarters for the famous (but short-lived) Pony Express, a mail service by way of horse-mounted riders that ran from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California. While exploring the museum, visitors will also learn of the other roles this building has held, including serving as the provost marshal’s office during the Civil War. 

Right next door to the Patee House Museum is Jesse James’ Home, the house where the infamous outlaw was shot and killed. While inside, guests have the opportunity to peruse the home as well as several artifacts related to James, including a lock of his hair and a tie pin he was wearing the day he was killed. 

While you’re there: St. Joseph boasts several entertainment options worth exploring. The Axe Factor offers indoor ax throwing, and Hazel’s Coffee Bar at American Electric Lofts serves delicious coffee, flaky pastries and breakfast, lunch and dinner items.

Rev Your Engines in Fulton

Cars don’t just take center stage at the Auto World Museum in Fulton — they serve as marks on a timeline. Moving clockwise through the building, visitors take in several familiar scenes, such as a family drive in a convertible, a Studebaker parked at a drive-in movie and even modern vehicles that run on alternative fuels. This unique setup allows visitors to both view cars and learn about the era during which they were popular. 

The museum grew out of an automobile collection started by the late William E. Backer, who owned the Backer Potato Chip Company in Fulton. 

Though it has changed throughout the years, his collection remains on display in Auto World’s 18,000-square-foot facility. Vehicles within the collection include the 1896 Ford Quadricycle, the 1902 Oldsmobile R Runabout, the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air and the 1960 Chrysler Imperial, among many others.

While you’re there: To top off a day spent learning about cars, groups can explore Fulton’s downtown Brick District, which is full of fan-favorite family-owned restaurants and cute boutiques. Plus, GOPO Gourmet Popcorn is a great place for groups to snag a snack, as it serves up cups and bags of uniquely flavored popcorn, from cookies ‘n’ cream to dark chocolate sea salt and signature cheddar.