After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, when Thomas Jefferson's government acquired a vast swath of territory in the middle of the continent from France, St. Louis became a boomtown overnight. As the gateway to the West, it was suddenly swarming with settlers on their way to the prairies. That time is commemorated by the Gateway Arch, a soaring 192-metre (630-foot) monument at the city's Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which also includes the Museum of Westward Expansion. Other don't-miss sights in St. Louis include the Missouri Botanical Garden and the St. Louis Zoo.
The state's other big metropolis, Kansas City, has a storied history in both barbecue and jazz—be sure to sample both during your stay. Explore Country Club Plaza, a bustling shopping and dining area with pretty Spanish-style architecture. Take in an opera or symphony performance. And get points with the kids by bringing them to Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, two theme parks boasting roller coasters, a lively water park and more.
In both cities, you can catch a pro baseball (St. Louis; Kansas City) or football game (St. Louis; Kansas City), and in St. Louis you can also see NHL hockey action. If you'd rather get some exercise yourself than watch others sweat, cycle or hike along the 360-kilometre (225-mile) Katy Trail, some sections of which are also open to horseback riders. Underground, you can explore one of more than 6,200 caves in the state. You'll also find championship golf courses in Lake of the Ozarks and Branson.
Speaking of Branson, it has grown in the last several decades into an entertainment destination rivalling much larger cities. With some 40 theatres presenting about 100 shows at any given time, it's the best place in Missouri to go for glamour and glitz. As well as the country music shows for which it's famous, you'll also find diversions ranging from magicians to Chinese acrobats.