The lighter side of real estate

These Are The 10 Most Exciting Places In Missouri

If you’re thinking about moving to the Show Me State, we’ve got some solid proof that Missouri is an exciting place to live—especially in these 10 cities.

Natalie Grigson

Staff Writer

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Have you ever wondered what Missouri’s nickname, “The Show Me State,” actually means? Show Me… what, exactly? The money? The way to the bathroom? Where the party at? Of course, it doesn’t mean any of these things—it actually comes from the idea that Missouri residents are somewhat skeptical, derived from a famous speech by Missouri Congressman Willard Vandiver in the late 1800s.

The Movoto Real Estate Blog is starting to think it should mean something more like “Show me the excitement,” because, as it turns out, this state is simply full of it. Of course, some places in the state are more exciting than others—and if you don’t believe us, just take a look at the list below. These are the 10 most exciting places in the Show Me State, starting with our winner, St. Louis.

1. City of St. Louis
2. City of Rolla
3. City of Columbia
4. City of Kansas City
5. City of Branson
6. City of Fulton
7. City of Jefferson City
8. City of Clayton
9. City of Warrensburg
10. City of Springfield

Find out just what makes them so exciting in the following paragraphs, along with an explanation of how we got this ranking.

How We Created This Ranking

Just like Missourians, we need proof before we’ll believe anything. That’s why, when we create a Big Deal List, we rely on the facts and figures. We start by gathering up a list of places; in this case, all of the places in Missouri with a population of 10,000 or more, which ended up being a total of 77. Then we used the U.S. Census and business listings to get the relevant data for seven different criteria:

  • Nightlife per capita (bars, clubs, comedy, etc.)
  • Live music venues per capita
  • Active life options per capita (parks, outdoor activities, etc.)
  • Arts and Entertainment per capita (movie theaters, festivals, galleries, theaters, etc.)
  • Fast Food restaurants per capita (the fewer the better)
  • Percentage of restaurants that are not fast food (the higher the better)
  • Percentage of young residents ages 18 to 34 (the higher the better)

We ranked each of the 77 places according to these categories, with a score from 1 to 77; the lower the score, the better. We averaged these rankings into an overall Big Deal Score, again, the lowest being the most exciting. In this case, the honor went to St. Louis, home of the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the St. Louis Zoo, museums, and even a Magic House. More on all of that in just a moment.

If you can’t handle the excitement, you can head down to the bottom of the post where we have a table of the top 50 most exciting places in the state. If you still need some convincing of just how exciting our top 10 are, though, we can Show You the following paragraphs about our winners, starting with the STL.

1. St. Louis

St. Louis, MO

Source: Flickr user Missouri Division of Tourism

It’s funny; St. Louis may be best known for the Gateway Arch, but it definitely isn’t the most exciting thing about the city. In fact, as our analysis points out, the most exciting thing going on in St. Louis is the nightlife.

For the number of music venues and nightlife per capita, St. Louis ranked second overall. It also ranked second in the category of arts and entertainment, which includes everything from the Missouri Civil War Museum to the Fox Theater, and all the events and festivals in between. To top it off, the STL also ranked as the third-best in terms of activity options such as outdoor sports, and, of course, places like Forest Park.

2. Rolla

Rolla, MO

Source: Flickr user Mike Tigas

Not only is Rolla part of the Ozark Highlands American Viticultural Area, its vineyards established by the first Italian immigrants to the area, but it also came in as one of the 15 best in our analysis for its number of non-fast food restaurants per capita. Rolla residents know that the only thing better than local wine is local wine with some homemade pizza from Alex Pizza Palace.

This city also ranked well for its number of music venues per capita, but where it really shined was in its young population. Because this city is home to Missouri University of Science and Technology, 43 percent of its residents are between the ages of 18 and 34; the fifth youngest place on our overall list.

3. Columbia

Columbia, MO

Source: Flickr user Mark Schoneveld

Columbia has a reputation as the center for education, culture, and athletic competition in Missouri. It’s the largest city in Mid-Missouri, home to the University of Missouri, Stephens College, and Columbia College, and is a progressive center for politics, journalism, and art. So really, it’s no wonder it ranked so well in our list.

Specifically, Columbia earned points for its number of nightlife and music venues per capita, plus a whopping 44 percent of its residents are between the ages of 18 and 34. Columbia is a good place to bar hop, or, if that’s not your cup of excitement, hop to a local ice creamery like Sparky’s, where, trust us, the lavender honey is all the excitement you’ll need.

4. Kansas City

Kansas City, MO

Source: Flickr user Sid Sowder

With almost 460,000 residents, Kansas City is easily the largest place not just in our top 10, but in the state, so—perhaps not surprisingly—it has a lot going on. Specifically, Kansas City ranked well for its number of nightlife and music venues per capita; places like the Green Lady Lounge, Manifesto, and RecordBar.

It also had one of the best scores in the arts category, for places like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, several galleries, and events like First Fridays. So, if you’re looking to visit Kansas City for some excitement, be sure you head to the one this side of the state line.

5. Branson

Branson, MO

Source: Flickr user Missouri Division of Tourism

Branson may be a city of just over 10,000, the smallest in our top 10, but as our analysis shows, size certainly doesn’t matter. Not only is Branson a nature lover’s paradise, located in the beautiful Ozark Mountains, but it’s also a veritable smorgasbord of nightlife.

All along 76 Country Boulevard and Shepherd of the Hills Expressway are clubs, restaurants, theaters, and various little gems for entertainment. Branson isn’t just a great stop for nightlife, music, and arts—it’s the stop. In our analysis, it ranked No. 1 in all three of these categories, and for its active lifestyle options, making this little city one hopping spot.

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6. Fulton

Fulton, MO

Source: Flickr user David Cohen

Fulton ranked slightly better than Jefferson City for a couple of reasons, but mostly due to the fact that it is home to both Westminster College and William Woods University. Because of this, Fulton has one of the highest concentrations of young people on our list (37 percent between the ages of 18 and 34).

What do young people like? Whoa now, before you go overgeneralizing and say “bars,” “booze,” or “partying,” take a look at how Fulton ranked in the nightlife category: 32nd place. It would seem as though the folks in Fulton are slightly more sophisticated than your average college kid, instead preferring the arts (where it ranked 10th) or fine cuisine (it ranked 15th in non-fast food).

7. Jefferson City

Jefferson City, MO

Source: Flickr user Missouri River Regional Library Jefferson City MO

Even though it’s the capital, Jefferson City is still relatively small, with just over 43,000 residents, and smaller still is its population of residents between the ages of 18 and 34: just 25 percent. But as our analysis showed, that certainly doesn’t mean that Jefferson City is lacking in excitement.

Just look at its nightlife rank: 10th out of all 77 places we looked at. And with a variety of sporting goods stores, gyms, and places like Runge Nature Center, Jefferson City ranked ninth best in terms of active life options. As if that wasn’t enough excitement for you, the capital city also ranked well for its amount of arts and entertainment per capita, like movie theaters, art galleries, and the Missouri State Museum, just to name a few.

8. Clayton

Clayton, MO

Source: Flickr user John

As our analysis showed, Clayton is anything but boring. First of all, with Fontbonne University, Concordia Seminary, and part of Washington University St. Louis, 33 percent of this city’s residents are between the ages of 18 and 34.

It also ranked well for its restaurant options; specifically for its lack of fast food rank (15th) and for its number of actual restaurants (as in, non-fast food) per capita. Just a few examples of said restaurants include Niche, Almond’s, BARcelona Tapas, Crushed Red, the Libertine… okay, we could go on like this for a while. The point is, Clayton has a variety of delicious original fare.

9. Warrensburg

Warrensburg, MO

Source: Old Barney’s Facebook

Home to the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg is a true college town. As in, with just over 18,000 residents, nearly half of them (49 percent) are between the ages of 18 and 34.

Because of this, Warrensburg is dotted with places like Old Barney’s, making Warrensburg one of the top 15 places for both its nightlife and music venues per capita.

While this college town didn’t exactly wow us with its number of restaurants per capita, it did at least rank within the top 25 in this category.

10. Springfield

Springfield, MO

Source: Flickr user Missouri Division of Tourism

Springfield came in at No. 10 for a number of reasons, starting with its high percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 34 (34 percent). That’s because Springfield is the home to several universities, including Missouri State—which probably also explains the high number of nightlife, music venues, and arts and entertainment per capita.

Famous among these are the Grotto, Mud Lounge, Ernie Biggs, and of course, the Ozarks Beerfest. And even though Springfield didn’t rank as one of the best for its number of non-chain restaurants per capita, we feel the offerings it does have really help make up for this.

Show Me The Excitement!

As our analysis showed us, Missouri’s excitement certainly wasn’t hard to find, especially in these 10 cities. From the festivals and events in St. Louis to famously delicious crepes in Springfield, these places proved that you don’t have to be big to be exciting. After all, just look at Independence—this large city didn’t even make the top 50. Perhaps it’s time to take a vacation in Branson?

Most Exciting Places In Missouri

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posted on: May 19, 2014
[views], 10 comments


  1. MO Boiler

    Clayton at #8 is a suburb of St. Louis. It has a disproportionately large number of bars and restaurants because as the county seat with a large central business district, its daytime population is roughly four times its overnight population. All of the fast food restaurants have closed in the past 10-15 years and have been replaced with fast casual due to the increased affluence of the area and weekday workforce.

  2. Rolla native

    Rolla is #2?? The town is dead besides the university. Except the drug dealers. How could it beat out KC and Columbia?

  3. Bill

    Please tell me how the lake of the ozarks isn’t on this list. Haha

  4. Miq

    I understand how you came to your Big Deal score but I must disagree with your Kansas City scoring. STL deserves the top spot but only using 1/2 of the population and data from the KC metro area is misleading. I understand the list was Top 10 Missouri cities but even though I am a KCMO resident and most of the nightlife is on my side of the state, the resteraunt and activity options on the Kansas side of town more than double the data and would place KC 2nd to STL, as it should be. Although St Louis is also a border town, most people would agree the East St Louis area offers very little of the traits you measured…so the Missouri only data for STL is more accurate.

  5. S&T Grad

    Somebody has CLEARLY never been to Rolla. It’s a place where dreams go to die. You forgot that Missouri S&T is exclusively an engineering and science school. Your 18-34 population is super nerdcore and – how shall we put this – doesn’t get out much.

    Drunken debauchery is Columbia or Springfield. Rolla is where you get drunk at a house party and then hide in the basement and cry.

  6. Brian

    Hello, I’m from Rolla and if Rolla is # 2 I’m glad I left Missouri.

  7. ememcee

    It seems as though you have never even been to Missouri based off of the way you have rated these places. Let me first say that KC should absolutely be 2nd to STL, followed by Columbia. Just because a place has fast food restaurants does not mean it should be discarded as an exciting town. Not to mention, the majority of your facts are completely inaccurate. Starlight is an attraction to Kansas City, not Warrensburg. Being born and raised in KC, I can tell you there is much more to it than what your “data” has informed you. I now attend UCM in Warrensburg where the school population is 12000. There is practically nothing to do there- none of the attractions you mentioned even exist anymore. The nightlife is nothing in comparison to Springfield. There is one bar that has stayed in business in the three short years I have been there. Plus, there are zero music venues. ZERO. You are literally making things up. I don’t even need to mention how flawed Rolla’s placement is, seeing as everyone else has already torn you apart on that one. This article is ridiculously misinformed. What a joke.

  8. Andalyn Claire

    I think a regional viewpoint of these cities is smart – especially for realtors. When people move into a new area, they don’t hit a wall at the city limits. They explore the communities around them. Does Rolla have vineyards? No. Are there vineyards just 15 minutes away? Yes. I live in Rolla and can drive to fantastic wineries in St. James faster than I can reach the southern city limits of Rolla. We have lots of good stuff close by!

  9. Herman Page

    Crazy that you write about the 10 Most exciting places in Missouri and don’t mention Lake of the Ozarks or list any of the cites that makeup the Lake in your list of cities! Get a real job! What a joke!

  10. Cindy

    How could they leave HANNIBAL off of this list? That’s just crazy! For years I traveled to Missouri on repeated visits with the sole purpose of visiting Hannibal. Just Hannibal. This is a list not worth sharing. Home to America’s greatest writer, the town he fictionalized in his most famous work, etc. and it’s left off this silly list.


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