101 Fun Things to Do: Out of Town

Friday, June 1, 2012
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis. (Associated Press photo)

Sometimes, you just want to head out of town. Luckily, there are cities and towns just a short drive away that are suitable for day trips or long weekends, family fun or getaways with your special someone. Check out our city guides for a sampling of what these destinations have to offer.

95. Whether it's for a family day trip or romantic weekend, St. Louis, just up Interstate 55, offers an abundance of activities. Long regarded as one of the best baseball towns in the country, St. Louis is passionate about the Cardinals, the reigning World Champion. That support spills over to the other professional teams in town: The Rams of the NFL and the NHL's Blues. If sports aren't your thing, catch a show at the magnificent Fox Theater or drop by the City Museum. For grown-ups-only fun, Laclede's Landing is the place to be with its bevy of restaurants, bars and riverboat casino. Head to Forest Park to visit the animals at the St. Louis Zoo (one of the best in the country and it's free!), catch an outdoor performance at The Muny or take the kids to explore the St. Louis Science Center. The Magic House and Missouri Botanical Gardens are also popular stops for families. The city is home to many art and history museums, including the Museum of Westward Expansion below the Gateway Arch. Speaking of the city's iconic landmark: Take a ride to the top of the 630-foot-tall arch for a birds-eye view of St. Louis and the Illinois flood plain. On your way back south, stop by the Anheuser Busch Brewery for a tour (the property contains several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places) and learn the history of beer making and the role it played in St. Louis' development.

96. Poplar Bluff is an entertainment hub for Southern Missouri. The city's Black River Coliseum is a state-of-the-art multipurpose facility that hosts everything from concerts with big-name rock and country acts to world champion rodeo riders and bridal expos. For those looking for a more intimate concert experience, the historic Rodgers Theater is the place for you -- the old movie house has been transformed into a music venue. If you're a connoisseur of the visual arts, head to the Margaret Harwell Art Museum. One of only five city art museums in the state, it offers a comprehensive program of traveling exhibits, art classes, educational programs for children and a growing permanent collection of works by contemporary Missouri artists. There's also plenty for history lovers to explore in Poplar Bluff. The Moark Regional Railroad Museum gives visitors a look at the early railroading days, highlighted by a train room with a model train that takes visitors on an imaginary ride past farms, cities, mountains, desert, rivers and more. The Bloodworth House, which once belonged to TV producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's grandparents, is open for guided tours. The home has been renovated in the style of an early 18th century manor home, right down to the antique furnishings. For outdoor lovers, nearby Wappapello Lake offers swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and more. Poplar Bluff is also the gateway to Missouri's southern Ozarks, including the Mark Twain National Forest.

Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn. (Associated Press photo)

97. Memphis is the home of the blues (and Elvis) and the birthplace of rock 'n' roll, so it's no surprise music is the pulse of the city. And it isn't felt anywhere stronger than on Beale Street, where music flows from places like B.B. King's Blues Club and Rum Boogie Cafe. If a bar isn't your scene, head to The Pavilion at W.C. Handy Park for performances by street musicians. You can explore the history of rock 'n' roll at Sun Studio, where Elvis Presley recorded along with the likes of Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, and the Gibson Guitar Museum. Then head to Graceland to see where The King lived, partied and died. If you're looking for fun family activities, look no further than the Memphis Zoo, which has been ranked the No. 1 zoo in the country by two independent surveys. It's one of only four zoos in the U.S. that is home to a pair of great pandas. You can also take the kiddos to Mud Island, which features an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River flowing from its confluence with the Ohio River at Cairo, Ill., 954 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico. Before you head out of town, be sure to feast on some of the city's famous barbecue at local favorites like the Rendevous or Corky's.

98. Ste. Genevieve, Mo., settled in 1735 and thought to be the oldest town west of the Mississippi River, is a well-preserved relic of French American history. The village is 60 miles north of Cape Girardeau on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi. You could easily make a weekend of all the wineries, bed and breakfasts, shops and special events here. Stroll downtown for antique stores, art galleries, craft shops, restaurants and Ste. Genevieve Winery. While you're there, tour homes dating to 1792 and explore Ste. Genevieve Memorial Cemetery, the oldest in Missouri. When it comes to fairs and festivals, Ste. Genevieve has you covered. The June 9 French Festival will have traditional music and folk dancing, French food, wine tastings, a gumbo cook-off, street dance, parades and more. The 45th annual Jour de Fete, set for Aug. 11 and 12, features a giant arts and crafts fair, historic tours and displays, live music, a fried chicken dinner and a 5K. A few more events for your calendar: Ste. Genevieve County Fair in July, Autumn Festival in October, La Guiannee (New Year's Eve), the King's Ball in February and Spring Garden Walk in May. For outdoorsy types, there's Pickle Springs Natural Area, known for its sandstone structures, clear streams, canyons, bluffs and foot bridges, and Magnolia Hollow, a 1,740-acre area bordered by Establishment Creek, Schmidt's Island and the Mississippi River and known for its river views and eagle sightings. Hawn State Park is great for hiking and camping, and Pere Marquette Park has baseball and soccer fields, tennis courts, playgrounds and plenty of open space.

99. Paducah, Ky., is 80 miles east of Cape Girardeau and has a ton of fun to offer. The Lowertown Arts District, in Paducah's oldest neighborhood, is home to the award-winning Artist Relocation Program. The neighborhood shows off each May with the Lower Town Arts and Music Festival, which focuses on spotlighting regional talent. Street artists, live music and food from local restaurants are highlights of the festival. More visual arts can be found at Yeiser Art Center, Maiden Alley Cinema and other downtown venues. The Carson Center brings theater productions and big-name acts to town: Still on tap for 2012 are performances of "Mamma Mia!" and shows by Jerry Seinfeld and Crosby, Still and Nash. Kids will enjoy the Challenger Learning Center. Since its inaugural mission in 2002, the center has flown more than 1,200 missions and added summer camps, scouting workshops and e-Missions. Paducah is also home to the National Quilt Museum, a not-for-profit institution established to educate, promote and honor today's quiltmaker. The museum features rotating exhibits of new and antique quilts and offers workshops for adults and students throughout the year.

100. Carbondale, Ill., offers something for everyone. Love nature? The Southern Illinois city is a gateway to the Shawnee National Forest and is centrally located to a number of state parks, wildlife areas and lakes. One of the highlights is the Pomona Stone Bridge, one of only a handful of natural bridges in the United States, which spans 90 feet and is between six and nine feet wide. Maybe you want to take in a show; that's no problem. Shryock Auditorium on the campus of Southern Illinois University is equipped to handle almost any type of event and is often home to Southern Lights Entertainment events featuring national and international touring performers and events. It's smaller on-campus companion, the Kleinau Theatre, is a 110-seat venue with state-of-the-art light and sound systems. Each year the theater hosts active performance seasons that include both solo and group performances in the areas of creative adaptations of literature, original scripts, performance art and ethnographic studies, among others. Carbondale and nearby Makanda, Ill., are also home to a number of art galleries. If history is your thing, the Fountain Bluff Petroglyphs date back 800 to 1,500 years. Carbondale's Woodlawn Cemetery was one of the first in the country to establish a memorial for Civil War soldiers in 1866. A statue and museum honor native son and Civil War hero John A. Logan.

Downtown Nashville, Tenn. (Associated Press photo)

101. Memphis claims rock 'n'roll, but Nashville IS country music. Tennessee's capital city, about 200 miles southeast of Cape Girardeau, is home to the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame. Some of today's biggest country stars got their big break at music joints that line lower Broadway and Second Avenue. Up-and-coming musicians take the stage at places like Tootsies, the Bluebird Cafe and Wild Horse Saloon, hoping to be discovered. Nashville has been dubbed the "Athens of the South," so fittingly, a replica of the Parthenon is the centerpiece of Centennial Park. The state capitol stands tall over Bicentennial Park on the shores of the Cumberland River. One of the park's main features is a series of geyser fountains that are popular with children. (Note: The fountains were damaged in the flood of 2010 but are expected to be reopened by August.) For more grown-up fun, head to the trendy Hillsboro neighborhood near the campuses of Vanderbilt and Belmont universities. It's an enclave of trendy shops, boutiques and restaurants.

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