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Jefferson City

Taking a road trip for a day can be a great way to learn more about the communities surrounding your home, and my first suggestion for a day trip outside of Columbia is to our state capitol, Jefferson City. My dad and his brothers grew up in Jefferson City and many of my family members still live in the area so I’m excited to talk about a place I have fond memories of.

Distance: 30 miles south of Columbia

How to get there: Take Highway 63 South and exit to merge onto Highway 54 West

fountain at the Missouri State capitol, statues in the water of children holding fish which have the water sprouting from their mouthsPhoto from the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau

Jefferson City was commissioned to be the capitol of Missouri in 1821, and members of the general assembly officially moved in 1826. The city holds quite a bit of history within its roots and continues to grow. Built along the Missouri River, and a stop along the Pacific Railroad line, it has been a hub for transportation and progress.

Columbia and Jefferson City are so close that many families commute to work in the other city depending on industry and family structure. Only a 30 minute drive apart, Columbia and Jefferson City share a love for coffee shops, local foods, and Missouri history.

Must-Try and Must-See:


I’m told from the locals that the best place to find a coffee in Jefferson City is Three Story Coffee in Millbottom, though they have two locations in Jefferson City so you can be the judge of that. Less than a 5 minute walk from the Missouri State Capitol building, it is a small shop with a huge passion for change in the coffee industry. Not only is the best quality beverage something they strive for but they also want to connect the consumer with the stories and faces behind the bean, the farmer. They feature their farmers and stories to go beyond fair trade to showcase a community of love put into the process.

Left, Three Story Coffee Instagram; Right, Benjamin Bommel at Three Story Coffee – Millbottom

History to Explore

With a fresh drink in your hand, take that quick walk over to the Missouri State Capitol and Missouri State Museum. The capitol grounds are beautiful to explore and feature a great deal of statues, fountains, and memorials. Some favorites are the Lewis and Clark monument, the Missouri Law Enforcement memorial, the Missouri Veterans Memorial, and the Fountain of Centaurs. For a tour of the inside of the capitol building, visit the tour desk on the first floor between 9am-11am and 1pm-4pm at the top of the hour.

state capitol on a sunny day with yellow and red tulips in frontPhoto from Missouri State Capitol Commission Facebook

Another short walk and you can find the Governor’s Mansion and Garden. Home of Missouri’s first family and a beautiful piece of architecture, the site is a must see when visiting. Guided tours can range from 15-45 minutes depending on the time of year and require a 24-hour advance reservation that can be made online.

Two photos - one of the governor's mansion at dusk with the fountain in front, and the other is a black and white the governor's mansionPhotos from the Friends of the Missouri Governor’s Mansion Facebook

Now you’re in the heart of Downtown Jefferson City so if you have the time to keep exploring, I’d highly recommend it. Don’t forget that some of the best treasures are the ones you find while wandering aimlessly.

Outdoor Adventures

box turtle on the overlook at Clark's HillPhoto from Will Haenni – IG @willkrcg13

If you’re not tired of walking just yet, take time to visit Clark’s Hill/Norton State Historic Site. The area features the short, half-mile Osage trail that leads to an overlook and features several items William Clark wrote about in his journal during the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Sweet Treats

hand holding a cup of ice cream in front of the Central Dairy sign with the red and white striped awning

When it comes to a good dessert, my favorites are the frozen kind. From ice cream to frozen yogurt, there is no way to go wrong with these two classics. Central Dairy is a historic business in Jefferson City and the setting for many a story from my childhood and my father’s. Originally from Columbia in the 1920s, the Jefferson City location was opened in 1934 where it remains today. Caramel Caribou is a personal favorite of mine, and I would strongly suggest bringing cash to pay.

For frozen yogurt, check out Yo Yums. They are located downtown near the Governor’s Mansion and the State Capitol Building. Family-owned with a variety of flavor and topping options, this is a sweet treat you won’t want to miss.

Bites to Eat

The older brother of a downtown favorite in Columbia is West Main Pizza. Hand-tossed pizzas and a local Italian restaurant feel makes patrons feel welcome when they arrive and satisfied when they leave.

burger from Prison Brews with cheese and avacadoPhoto from Prison Brews Facebook

If burgers are what you’re craving then head to Prison Brews, a microbrewery sporting what I’m told are the best burgers in town.

Nighttime Entertainment

Your first option for evening entertainment is a stop by Capitol City CORK & Provisions. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00 to 9:00 pm, CORK features a seasonal menu to pair with its wines.

3 photos from CORK - breakfast dish, bagel sandwich with salmon, and mimosaPhotos from Capitol City CORK and Provisions Facebook

For the lovers of the theater, stop by Capital City Productions to catch a show with the Capital City Players. This summer and fall they will be putting on two different productions: Beauty & the Beast (August) and Sweeny Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (October). Check out their website for updated showtimes.

Spooky photo at the Missouri Penitentiary of the welcome sign and a barred gate

My final suggestion for a late night thrill is a stop at the Missouri State Penitentiary for a ghost tour. The penitentiary was built in the 1830s to ensure that Jefferson City remained the best option for the state capitol and remained in operation until 2004, the Missouri State Penitentiary was home to several infamous convicts. History tours are held in the afternoons and early evenings, and ghost tours are held in evenings and late into the night. You can choose the tour that is just right for you or reserve a time for a private tour for your group.

the exterior of the Missouri Penitentiary on a cloudy dayIt’s a lot to take in but a day (or two) in Jefferson City can be full of good eats and a variety of entertainment to brush up on your history or even give you a good scare. For more information on where to stay or what to do in Jefferson City during your visit check out our friends at Visit Jefferson City.

Blog written by Convention and Visitors Bureau intern, Grace Bommel

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Columbia is fortunate enough to be only 30 minutes away from Missouri’s state capital, opens in a new windowJefferson City. A distinct and historic town on the Missouri River, Jefferson City is an easy drive down Highway 63 and is ideal for a day’s side trip during your Columbia visit.

Tour the Capitol

Missouri’s beautiful state capitol building was completed in 1917 and sits on the picturesque Missouri River. The dome, topped by a bronze statue of Ceres, the goddess of vegetation, is the first view of Jefferson City for travelers arriving from every direction. Modeled after the nation’s capitol, the building came in under budget during construction, so the remainder of the funds was spent on art for the facility.

The 45-minute guided Capitol tour is the best way to experience the historic and decorative features of the building. It will provide you with an excellent education on the State of Missouri and the structure that represents its home. The capitol also features the Missouri State Museum, which is home to incredible art by Thomas Hart Benton depicting the history of Missouri. During general assembly sessions, step into the galleries to watch the Senate and House of Representatives in action.

Stop for Lunch

After you soak up the history of the capitol building, take a break for lunch at one of Jefferson City’s opens in a new windowrestaurants. Get saucy at the famous opens in a new window Lutz’s BBQ, enjoy a casual yet elegant meal at Madison’s Cafe, or get geared up for your next stop at Prison Brews.

Go Behind Bars

Decommissioned in 2004, the opens in a new windowMissouri State Penitentiary is now open to the public for hard hat tours. Before it closed, MSP was the oldest continually operating penitentiary west of the Mississippi. The prison was 100 years old when Alcatraz began taking inmates.

The tour showcases cells including those of famous inmates such as heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, who learned to box during his time in the big house, and James Earl Ray. Other stops on the tour are the gas chamber where 40 men and women were executed, the buried cells, several housing units and the upper yard. In 1967 the Missouri State Penitentiary was infamously named the “bloodiest 47 acres in America” by Time magazine because of the incredibly high number of serious assaults on the grounds between 1963-1964.

MSP is open for a variety of opens in a new windowtours ranging from historical to paranormal. Tours are conducted by former wardens, guards and others who had a role with MSP while it was open. Each tour is a unique experience that makes it one of the most visited attractions in the state.

Make an Ice Cream Stop

After your tour of the state penitentiary, step back in time at opens in a new windowCentral Dairy. Open seven days a week, Central Dairy offers up dozens of flavors ranging from traditional chocolate and vanilla to fun flavors like moose tracks and muddy river. If you’re really really hungry, order the banana split! It’s a massive creation that’s enough for two! Central Dairy is a Jefferson City tradition not to be missed.

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