1. Ferguson is not a “war zone.”
Ferguson, MO became a household name when it became the epicenter for the Black Lives Matter movement. At the time, the city was in a state of upheaval and many news and media outlets reported on the violence happening throughout the area. As such, Ferguson is now synonymous with an idea of violence and unrest — but that is far from the reality. While the tensions in Ferguson remain high and the need for change continues, the violence once seen on TV has ended. Ferguson is a small community, home to some nice restaurants and shops. The Ferguson Brewing Company is a great choice if you enjoy microbreweries and the Citywalk Concert Series is a good opportunity to experience the community coming together. Understanding the history of Ferguson is important in order to understand what it is today. Instead of fearing a place without learning about it, get to know what it’s really like.
2. East St. Louis is in Illinois.
St. Louis often draws attention for its supposed crime and danger. More commonly, the city you are hearing as “the most dangerous in the US” is actually East St. Louis, which is in Illinois. The Mississippi River lies between Missouri and Illinois and when you cross the bridge, you also cross from St. Louis into East St. Louis.
St. Louis, MO is not without its own problems. The downtown area is different than that of most major cities because it houses fewer residents, making it a little more desolate on weeknights. However, a major effort is being made to revitalize the downtown region to bring better businesses and more residents back into the heart of the city. This area is also home to the Gateway Arch and the newly renovated grounds around the Arch and the riverfront. The Arch is a beautiful landmark to visit and you should embrace crawling into the egg-shaped pods that will jerkily carry you up to the lookout windows at the top. From there, you can enjoy views of the entire city and a look across the river into East St. Louis too.
The better you understand the rebuilding efforts of St. Louis and the geographical aspects of the city, the more you can appreciate the amazing cultural opportunities it provides.
3. There’s a difference between Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO too.
Kansas City falls along the Kansas-Missouri border. A Kansas City exists in both states, but they are two different cities with different things to offer. Most of the KS side is suburban communities, whereas much of the cultural experiences and fun activities are found in MO. The majority of the fountains, jazz clubs, museums, and restaurants are on the MO side of the border and Missourians appreciate you knowing the difference.
4. Yes, there is culture here.
It is easy to imagine Missouri as a vast prairie land. This is often how the Midwest is depicted, but that image doesn’t account for the high-end restaurants, museums, and shopping found in both St. Louis and Kansas City. Both cities have James Beard award-winning restaurants and chefs. St. Louis is home to The Fabulous Fox Theatre, which hosts a Broadway series annually and The Pageant — one of the most popular music venues in the Midwest. Historical spots like The Arch also pay tribute to the Lewis and Clark Trail and its history. Kansas City features the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the historic 18th and Vine district devoted to Jazz, and the National WWI Museum and Memorial. MO is brimming with cultural opportunities that are far more affordable than one finds on either coast.
5. Being a vegetarian is going to be very inconvenient for you.
Yes, Missouri is home to beautiful farmland and vegetable-filled farmers markets, but our obsession with BBQ is going to make it very difficult for you to remain a vegetarian. From the sauces slathered onto square-cut St. Louis-style ribs to the perfect burnt ends in Kansas City, the state is essentially one delicious BBQ joint after another.
If you are on the east side of the state, then Pappy’s and Bogart’s are both worth their long lines. On the west side, stop in at Arthur Bryant’s for a classic spot or Q39 for a more refined dining experience. Driving through MO? There is also Kehde’s Barbeque in Sedalia where you will eat in a 1920’s style railcar or Shotgun Pete’s BBQ Shack in Columbia, which has been heralded ‘best BBQ in Mid-Missouri.’
The most important thing about eating BBQ in MO is to come hungry, ask for extra sauce, and enjoy getting messy with some friends and family.
6. There is more in our middle than just farmland.
A lot of emphasis gets put on St. Louis and Kansas City (with good reason), but there is a lot to see and do in the middle of Missouri too.
A few examples: Branson is most famous for Silver Dollar City, the award-winning, 1880s-themed park. Though not the official state nickname, MO is often called ‘The Cave State’ because it has nearly 6,400 caves. Learn the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite so you can fully enjoy a tour down into one of the caves. The Katy Trail stretches 237 miles across most of the state and combines outdoor recreation with history because much of the trail follows Lewis and Clark’s journey.
7. Beer is King, but there’s wine here too.
An appreciation for good beer is important for anyone spending time in Missouri. St. Louis has the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, as well as a growing collection of microbreweries. Kansas City is best known for Boulevard Brewery but is also becoming a popular city for microbrews. However, wine country begins an hour outside of St. Louis. Since the weather isn’t quite the same as in Napa Valley, don’t expect the same flavor profiles as in Napa wines. Instead, go for the ice wines that are fruit-based and compliment the colder weather of the MO region. If you plan your day right, you can hop from one winery to another. Or, spend a whole day in Hermann and enjoy the landscapes and historic German-style buildings.
8. Bandwagon fandom is not appreciated in MO.
Sports are important to Missourians. The state divides red and blue — that is, the red of the St. Louis Cardinals and the blue of the Kansas City Royals. Both teams have huge followings and recent post-season showings that make MO a haven for baseball fans. In addition, the KC Chiefs have been given their own version of the National Anthem and Sporting Kansas City draws fans from across the Midwest as one of the region’s only professional soccer teams. The St. Louis Blues also fill their stadium with devoted fans ready to cheer on the team and its most dedicated fan — the ‘towel man’ who waves his towel for the crowd after every Blues’ goal.
If you are in either city, you should make the effort to get to a game of some kind. The energy and excitement will make the experience fun even if your support lies elsewhere. But, just know that if you try to get into an argument with any of the fans, you should have your facts straight since MO sports fans pride themselves on being the most knowledgeable around. You’ll be in for a serious debate, not just easy jabs.
9. What Missouri lacks in coastlines, it makes up for in lakes.
Yeah, we don’t have a coastline but Lake of the Ozarks draws large crowds every summer because it has more than 1,150 miles of shoreline. You can boat, swim, golf, or explore Lake of the Ozarks State Park for other recreational and outdoor activities. In the park, you can escape on 12 different wooded trails, explore another MO cave by lamplight, or spend the weekend sleeping inside a rustic cabin or even in a yurt. You should pick carefully where you want to spend your time — whether in a lake town or in the park — since some parts are more family-friendly than others.