To think that we have lived within a short three-hour drive of Missouri’s capital, yet it has taken us so long to visit. When we realized this oversight, we reached out to Visit Jefferson City, to arrange a day of exploration. Wanting to get a better understanding of the history of the city, from past to present in Jefferson City, we planned a day filled with unique stops. We have learned that local tourism bureau’s websites are one of the best resources for building a solid itinerary. Even if you like to just wing it, having a basic knowledge of a city’s sites can come in handy.

The local CVB’s are an integral partner for us, as they are the main sponsor for our visits. There are no bigger cheerleaders for a community, and their hometown pride shines through during our correspondences. For Jefferson City, we had the pleasure of working with Brittney Mormann, who met us when we arrived in town. After a short visit, we were ready to launch into a schedule filled with places that intrigued us, and some that Brittney had suggested. 

We want to thank Visit Jefferson City and the local businesses for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.

Learning history, from past to present in Jefferson City, brought us to the Missouri State Capitol for an in-depth study.

More Than a Dome

Our first stop was a chance to see the dome. We have been on a kick of late, and realized that we have visited a slew of state capitals in the past couple of years. I guess this is something we have just grown into, since we never really did many tours in the past. Now that we know just how amazing they are, you can bet we will look forward to more of them, as we continue our travels. We may even find a pair of capitals again, like we did in Springfield, Illinois. The capitol in Jefferson City was under renovation, on the outside, but still available for tours. We chose to forego the tour and just explored on our own.

Inside the building we found the home of the Missouri State Museum. Here we walked through the history of the state, from past to present. In Jefferson City, you will find some interesting details about how the city was chosen to be the state capital. The museum also holds many artifacts about the state’s citizens involvement in defending our country. Be sure to save time to walk the halls in the capitol. The artwork that we found there was so beautiful and adds to the story-line of the state.

Jefferson's landing is one of the oldest buildings in Missouri's capital city.

Rolling on the River

To see the history from past to present, in Jefferson City, meant that a visit to Jefferson’s Landing was a requirement. Located near the riverfront, this historic building has seen life as many types of business. We enjoyed meandering through the displays, where we learned about life in Jeff City during the early days. This place is certainly kid-friendly, and includes a scattering of interactive exhibits that we explored. The curator on duty is happy to explain to visitors the history of the site, as well as giving additional insight into life back in the 1800s.

Lunch at The Grand Cafe had us satisfied that we were dining with the locals.

Luscious Lunch

Now that our morning coffee was wearing off, our appetites were calling out to us. Time to head downtown and scope out a lunch location. We enjoyed finding that the downtown business district was located in sight of the capital. This makes exploring the past and present, in Jefferson City,  a foot-friendly destination. For our Noontime meal, we had determined to sample The Grand Cafe. Sandwiched in the middle of the shopping district, it makes a great refueling station. The food is a nice selection of American dishes, with interesting twists. The freshness of their ingredients was apparent in the tastes and we loved having a ringside view of shoppers strolling the sidewalk outside.

A variety of shops can be found in downtown Jefferson City, Missouri.

A Little Retail Therapy

While we dined, we reviewed our day, and were glad that we had saved some free time for exploring. The shop-lined street piqued our interest, and we decided to spend some time looking for treasures. After all, we had a little more than an hour, before our next stop. Walking up and down High Street, we found a nice assortment of choices. Besides finding toys, apparel, and home furnishings, we also spotted an assortment of coffee shops and eateries. Everything you need for a day filled with retail therapy.

The authors pose for a selfie outside of a boutique-style shop in downtown Jefferson City.

Holiday Preparations

Our visit to Jefferson City fell in the back half of November, so many shops were preparing for the upcoming holiday season. We spotted plenty of Christmas cheer being hung inside and out of the stores in the area. Crystal really fancied this shop and even requested that we stop for a quick selfie with the decorations.

Crystal enjoys browsing the selection at one of the shops in Jefferson City.

A Little Retail Therapy

We continued our treasure search and made a few small purchases during our visit. It is our belief that spreading some tourism dollars, in destinations we visit, is a positive way to impact the local economy. This is especially true when frequenting locally owned shops. Besides, it is always fun seeing the unique finds that can be spotted in these boutique-style shops.

Walking the bloack at Missouri State Penitentiary had us learning the history of this site from past to present, in Jefferson City.

Scary Stories

One of the stops that had not been on our original itinerary was the Missouri State Penitentiary tour. During our planning period, Brittney suggested this attraction. She arranged for us to take one of their two-hour history tours. Little did we know, this visit would be an excellent accent to our history research from past to present, in Jefferson City. While we have heard of sensationalized places, like Alcatraz, we never realized a more notable prison was found in our region. As we walked the cell blocks of these ages old structures, we could only imagine how fearful it would have been to be held there. There is a good reason it was referred to as “the Bloodiest 47 acres in America”.

The smoky goodness of Sweet Smoke BBQ made for an appealing meal, before heading home.

Bring on the BBQ

With the completion of our tour, we had finished exploring attractions in Jefferson City. It was time for a good dinner, before hitting the road for home. Back to High Street, for another downtown restaurant option. Being from the Midwest, you know we have a love for barbecue. During our walking tour of the shops, we saw a good stream of diners filing into Sweet Smoke BBQ. All of that activity piqued our interest in sampling some of the smoked meats that we could see through the windows. Oh man! This was a really good choice and we were happy to find a sampler platter on their menu.

Visiting the oldest dairy helped bring the past to the present in Jefferson City.

Local Landmark

I’m sure if we told you that we visited an ice cream shop, you wouldn’t be surprised. On this trip, we were trying to paint a picture of history from past to present, in Jefferson City. So when I tell you that we visited Central Dairy, it was really a research visit. Okay, it may have included some ice cream, but we had to verify the historical facts. This Central Missouri dairy has been in business since 1920, and introduced their ice cream counter in 1934. We needed to find out the secret of their longevity.

The rich and creamy treats at Central Dairy made for a delicious treat, before our drive home.

Sweet Endings

Since we were preparing to drive for almost three hours, we decided a sweet treat would be the perfect way to end our visit. Stepping through the front door, we found that the place was packed with locals. By the way, if you want to attract attention to yourself, just start taking photos inside of a place like this. As we waited our turn in line, we watched treat after treat being scooped up for anxious guests. Deciding on just one menu item each was putting a lot of pressure on us. Best to leave it to the professionals.

When our turn came, we introduced ourselves to our server. We explained the purpose of our visit, and told them about our decision making predicament. After thinking for a minute, she came up with a couple of great suggestions. She went to work creating our treats, while I captured a few more images of the space. She handed us our creamy dishes, and we found a spot to enjoy them. As we ate our ice cream treats, we watched the steady line of customers file along the ice cream counter. It proved to us that this is the kind of place to spend on evening on the town.

The authors found that bringing the past to present, in Jefferson City, is being accomplished at a variety of stops in Missouri's capital city.

Past to Present in Jefferson City

Even though we only spent one day in Jefferson City, we feel like we gained a good feel for the history of this destination. It confirmed to us, once again, that there are lots of great day trip destinations in the Midwest. Being centrally located between Kansas City and St. Louis, it’s a perfect place to spend a day. We hope our articles inspire you to seek out even more hidden gems in Missouri’s capital city. Now we just have to know, would you be willing to take the penitentiary tour?

the authors signatures.

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