As for culture, music and food top Missourians’ lists. Branson, the self-proclaimed Live Music Show Capital of the World, has 52 theaters, more than 100 live performances and 59,000 theater seats—about 10,000 more than on Broadway. Maybe surprising to some, the state also has a deep-rooted history of winemaking: In the late 1800s, it was the largest wine-producing state in the U.S., generating more than 2 million gallons a year. Today, it still has more than 95 wineries to explore. As for good eating, barbecue tends to be top of mind in a visit to Kansas City, which hosts the American Royal, the world’s largest barbecue competition, each year.
These facts are proof alone that Missouri has both natural and cultural offerings to compete with enticing coastal destinations, but locals won’t complain if you simply have to see it for yourself. After all, we are talking about the Show Me State.
The state’s nickname dates back to the late 1800s, and is attributed to Missouri U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver. In a speech he gave at an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia, he said, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
Locals today are known for this same noncredulous attitude, but planners will have no trouble showing their group how much Missouri has to offer.
Where to Meet
Missouri’s many charms are highlighted in its two largest cities. Kansas City has a population of 459,787, while St. Louis has 319,294. Or show your group the picturesque lakes near the Ozark Plateau by booking in Branson, which has a population of just 10,520.
View of Kansas City from Crown Center
Why we love it: A $4.5 billion urban development project debuted in 2007, adding the Power & Lights District surrounding KC Live, an outdoor space complete with a stage perfect for concerts or welcome receptions in the summertime.
Standout feature: The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The $413 million center opened in September 2011, featuring the 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall and the 1,800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theatre. Architect Moshe Safdie designed the building to look like two overarching shells, which have completely changed the downtown skyline.
Convene here: Kansas City Convention Center. The LEED Silver-certified building features 388,800 sq. ft. of space, as well as the first ballroom in the country to use a controllable, digital day-lighting system, which incorporates natural light into the venue through windows or skylights.
Stay here: Hotel Phillips. The circa-1931 property was once the tallest hotel in the Midwest, standing 20 stories above downtown KC. Its Art Deco design still defines the elegant interior, with bronze and nickel metalwork, walnut paneling and antique light fixtures. The Four-Diamond property completed a multimillion-dollar renovation in November; it features 217 rooms and 5,600 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Book here: Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. A giant spider sculpture stands outside this museum, where admission is free to the public. Groups of 150 (seated) and 350 (cocktail) can gather beside nearly 1,000 works from the gallery’s permanent collection, including pieces by David Hockney, Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein.
Network here: Crossroads KC at Grinders. It’s a pizza place, music venue and backyard-like oasis in the heart of downtown. Attendees can gather to watch a concert beneath the downtown skyline, or the venue is also available to rent for events of up to 3,000 people.
Chateau on the Lake Resort Spa & Convention Center, Branson
Why we love it: This lakeside destination offers an escape-from-it-all experience amid acres of forests, for an affordable rate. Plus, the city turns 100 this year—time to celebrate!
Standout feature: Silver Dollar City. This local attraction combines live entertainment and amusement park excitement with 1880s crafts. The onsite Culinary and Craft School also offers seasonal cooking classes.
Convene here: Branson Convention Center. Located in the middle of the $420 million Branson Landing development—with shops, restaurants and entertainment along Lake Taneycomo—the center features 220,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. It’s connected to the 294-room Hilton Branson Convention Center hotel.
Stay here: Chateau on the Lake Resort Spa & Convention Center. The Four-Diamond property overlooks Table Rock Lake and includes a full-service marina. It features 301 guest rooms and 57 suites, as well as 43,500 sq. ft. of meeting space. Extensive water sports activities—paddle boating, kayaking and canoeing, to name a few—will keep attendees entertained for hours.
Dine here: The Worman House. This restaurant serves up traditional comfort foods such as pot roast and beef short ribs in the circa-1921 former home of Harry and Dorothy Worman. Located in Big Cedar Lodge on Table Rock Lake, the Tudor-style building was constructed of local materials, creating a rustic ambience of stone and stucco. Rumor has it Dorothy mysteriously died in Mexico City after the Wormans got a divorce in the mid-1930s. Her ashes were spread close to the home, and it is said that her spirit still walks the grounds.
America's Center Convention Complex, St. Louis
Why we love it: This westernmost eastern city has long served as a legendary “meet me” spot for travelers from both coasts. St. Louis’ famous Gateway Arch—the tallest man-made monument in the U.S.—towers 630 feet over the city, representing one of the country’s first meeting points as citizens journeyed westward.
Standout feature: Forest Park. What once served as the site of the 1904 World’s Fair and Summer Olympics is now one of the largest urban parks in the country (500 acres larger than New York City’s Central Park). It’s home to the St. Louis art museum, science center, zoo, Missouri History Museum and a wealth of outdoor activities, including golfing at Forest Park Golf Course.
Convene here: America’s Center Convention Complex. Finishing up a roughly $48 million renovation this month, the center features 502,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, a 28,000-square-foot ballroom, the 67,000-seat Edward Jones Dome and 1,400-seat Ferrara Theatre. The complex hosted ASAE’s annual trade show, as well as dozens of educational programs and meals, when the event came to the city in August 2011.
Stay here: Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark. The 670-room property added the $7 million Three Sixty Rooftop Bar last summer; it has quickly become one of the new hot spots in town, with its panoramic views of the arch and Busch Stadium (home of the St. Louis Cardinals). Filmed in the movie Up in the Air (with George Clooney), it offers 40,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.
Book here: Grant’s Farm. Named after President Ulysses S. Grant, who founded the farm, the 281-acre homestead is now owned by the Busch family and operated by St. Louis-headquartered Anheuser-Busch, Inc. More than 900 animals, including 25 Budweiser Clydesdale horses, live at the property, where the family honors its commitment to wildlife conservation and preservation. Groups of up to 200 can gather on the Cedar Grove patio for a picnic, in between sampling Anheuser-Busch products in the Bauernhof building.
Main image: Kansas City skyline, courtesy of Kansas City CVA
–Capital city: Jefferson City
–Total area: 69,709 square miles
–Highest point: Taum Sauk Mountain, 1,772 feet
–Major rivers: Mississippi and Missouri rivers, which converge about 20 miles north of St. Louis
–Flower: White hawthorn
–Tree: Flowering dogwood
–Fish: Channel catfish
–Animal: Missouri mule
–Song: “Missouri Waltz”
–Nickname: The Show Me State
–Motto: Salus populi suprema lex esto; The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law
–Origin of the name: Missouri was named after an Algonquin Indian word that means “river of the big canoes.”
–Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau: explorebranson.com
–Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association: visitkc.com
–The Missouri Division of Tourism: visitmo.com
–St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission: explorestlouis.com
A Piece of Germany
Situated in central Missouri, about 90 minutes west of St. Louis and three hours east of Kansas City, the historic town of Hermann still takes pride in its German roots, with more than 110 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. German settlers first colonized here in 1837, and the city continues to host German-themed festivals—the biggest are Maifest and Oktoberfest—that include traditional dancing, bratwurst and, of course, beer.
Hermann has also become widely known for its Weinstrasse (German for “wine road”), with seven wineries within a 15-mile radius of the old-world town. Stone Hill Winery has been operating for more than 160 years and was once the second largest winery in the world before Prohibition took hold. In between tastings, up to 200 people can meet in the open-air pavilion. Groups can also gather at the soon-to-debut Hermann Farm & Museum, a 160-plus acre working farm. The property’s Hofgarten will be able to host a variety of outdoor events.