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Unassuming, down-to-earth, and friendly in a way rarely found outside the Midwest, Missouri’s Jefferson City has everything you could want for a weekend jaunt: locals eager to lend a hand, just the right amount of indoor/outdoor activities, plus plenty of quirky boutiques, tasty eats, and a little luxury to round out the experience. Clocking in at around 2.5 hours by train or car from St. Louis, the Show-Me State’s capital is a laid-back good time.

SHOPPING & SWEETS

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When it comes to vintage and handmade goodies, the city’s historic downtown area is a veritable oasis. Power up before you begin with Rocket Fuel (the house brew) at Yanis Coffee Zone (130 E. High St.). Then browse local and Missouri-made wares like chocolates, stationery, and natural soaps at Southbank Gift Company (110 East High St.); dive into tomes by area authors (and don’t forget your copy of BUST) at Downtown Book & Toy (125 E. High St.); and nab a cinnamon roll the size of your face at High Rise Bakery (118 E. High St.). Or stock up on shockingly wholesome treats like dark chocolate brownies at Love2Nourish (700 E. High St.) before scoring vintage threads in rainbow hues (oh the floaty and sometimes flammable dressing gowns of yore), amidst all the accessories and a smattering of vinyl, books, furniture, and housewares at Encore Department Store (113 E. High St.). Cap off your shopping trip, and satisfy your sweet tooth, with malts, banana splits, ice-cream sodas, and hand-packed pints to go at Central Dairy (610 Madison St.), a local favorite since 1934. Bring your appetite; the ice-cream is piled on just as thick as the nostalgia in this old-school ice cream parlor.

EAT & DRINK

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If you decide to become a regular anywhere during your stay, make it Ecco Lounge (703 Jefferson St.). The oldest restaurant in town, this lady-owned establishment continues to be a local institution for myriad, delicious reasons, most of them battered and deep-fried (cauliflower and green peppers should always be this addictive), although the steak salad’s pretty hard to resist, too. Of course, if meat’s what you’re after, you’re better off opting for a “slop” or “fat pig” barbecue platter with a side of just-spicy-enough jalapeño cheddar grits at Sweet Smoke BBQ (127 E. High St.). Craving pizza? Get your fix at Arris’ Pizza (117 W. High St.) where you can top your thin-crust pie with Greek ingredients like gyros and feta. If drinks are what you’re after, share a flight of seven seasonal beers brewed on site at Prison Brews (305 Ash St.) or wind down with wine by the glass or bottle at Bar Vino (204 E. High St.). For relaxed vibes and live tunes head to The Mission (915 East High St.) for your nightcap of choice.

ARTS & CULTURE

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When you’re shopped out, head for the hill—Capitol Hill (201 W. Capitol Ave.), that is. The tallest structure in town, the early-20th-century State Capitol building, currently in restoration, also houses Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton’s highly stylized and vividly colored “The Social History of Missouri” murals. Nearby, gawk at the creepy old toy collection in “Granny’s Attic” at the Cole County Historical Society (109 Madison St.) and track the ongoing evolution of style for political wives in the Delong Room display of first ladies’ inaugural gowns—it’s the only not-for-profit, private collection like it open to the public in the U.S. 

OUTDOORS

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When the weather cooperates (the city’s prone to sudden showers), meander on two wheels (or two feet if you prefer) through sprawling farmland and wooded hills following in the wake of the rushing waters of the Missouri River along the Katy Trail (Clay Street Trailhead Plaza). For a zero-hassle cycling adventure on the U.S.’s longest developed rail trail, rent a bike and gear from Red Wheel Bike Shop (400 West Main). They’ll even shuttle you further up the trail so you can pedal on back to town at your leisure. 

On stormy days, hit up Runge Nature Center (330 Commerce Dr.) where you can learn about endangered wildlife and bird-watch without risking lightning or flash flooding on the Katy. Then really soak up those vacation vibes by splurging on a massage with Rachel Steinmeier of Graceful Healing Massage (at the Yoga Studio), or at Much Kneaded Touch (606 Dix Rd. Suite B).

By Chris Ciolli
Photographed by Julia Calleo
Top photo: Missouri Governor's Mansion
This article originally appeared in our Winter 2020 print edition. Subscribe today!

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