From St. Louis’ Gateway Arch to the jazz joints of Kansas City, the state of Missouri is a lively and vibrant place to live. Missourians are known for their barbeque, beer and gooey butter cake, though the Show-Me State is also a vital economic engine and cultural resource in the Midwest and beyond.
The state is home to many Fortune 500 companies, and entrepreneurs and tech start-ups are increasingly finding affinity for cities on both sides of the state.
Missouri is now home to over 6.1 million people, and the population of the state has grown by nearly 200,000 in the last decade. It’s not surprising, really. Many are drawn to the state’s low cost of living and friendly communities. Others come for opportunities at top universities, like Washington University in St. Louis. Then there’s the thriving arts and music scene.
However, the simplest reason to move to Missouri is the natural surroundings. From the limestone bluffs overlooking the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to the rolling hills of the Ozarks, the Show-Me State is one that’s more than happy to show you a reason to call it home.
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Living in Missouri
Missouri is one of the most affordable and accessible places to live in the U.S. Its cost-of-living index is only 90.1 — lower than most other Midwestern states — and it ranks in the top 10 for overall value, nationally. But where you’ll really save is on housing, where it scores an 80.4. Certainly, there are luxury accommodations to be had, but the median home value in this Midwestern state is only $171,800, and the housing crunch has not affected Missouri the way it has other states.
Plus, unemployment in Missouri is only at 2.7%, and it’s stayed below the national average for five years running. Leading industries include trade/transportation/utilities, education/health services and professional/business services.
Small businesses in the state remain the dominant form of employer: Nearly 80% of Missouri businesses employ 10 people or less. The average wage in 2021 was $56,108. The job market in the state is relatively strong, with non-farm payroll employment totaling 2,940,300 — an increase of 72,800 from November 2021 to November 2022.
The largest gains were seen in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and mining/logging/construction. In addition to the numerous small businesses, the state has a number of Fortune 500 companies, with Centene, Emerson Electric and Reinsurance Group of America (RGA) being the largest in the state.
The state of Missouri also has a number of important academic institutions, including Washington University in St. Louis, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri system and the Kansas City Art Institute, all of which draw researchers and students from around the globe and bring essential economic and cultural resources to the state.
Weather in Missouri
If you move to Missouri, one of the selling points, sadly, is not its climate. Situated in the pathway of arctic blasts from Canada and hot and humid air from the Gulf of Mexico, the state experiences the extremes of all seasons — hot and humid summers and frigid, icy winters, with sometimes only a brief spring and fall in between.
While the western half of the state generally sees higher winds and heavier snow blowing in from the Rockies, the southeastern half experiences more rain — up to 50 inches per year.
Across the state, January temperatures can range from lows in the teens to highs in the low forties, and the mercury usually dips below zero once or twice a season. Ice, sleet, freezing rain and even thundersnow can occur.
Because Missouri is part of Tornado Alley, its residents have to take care in the spring and early summer months, where rapid changes in temperature can spawn high winds and dramatic rain fronts that you can see and feel sweeping across the landscape.
In July and August, expect muggy air and scorching temps — sometimes rising above 100°F — especially in the heat islands created by urban areas. Autumn is a welcome respite from the heat, and the rolling hillsides are vibrant with fall foliage.
The best time to move to Missouri is during the early fall — temperatures in September and October are generally mild and storms are seldom.
Best Places to Live in Missouri
Missouri has four major metropolitan centers, all of which have a relatively low cost of living compared to national standards. If you’re not yet sure where you’re moving to Missouri, here are some things to consider.
Located in the heart of the Ozarks, Springfield is a fast-growing city with a small-town feel. The city alone has a population of 169,724, but it’s part of a larger metropolitan area in southwest Missouri of over 450,000.
Springfield has gained over 10,000 new residents in the last 10 years, and it’s easy to see why: The low cost of living and the scenic surroundings.
Housing costs in Springfield are far below the state and national averages. The median home value is $127,800 and rent averages $799 a month. That said, the average household income in Springfield is also lower — just $39,991. Springfield’s location provides easy connectivity to neighboring Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
The city’s primary industries include distribution and logistics, advanced manufacturing, and information technology.
Families are drawn to the close-knit community and year-round events, like Artsfest, Cider Days, the Sertoma Chili Cook Off, Taste of Springfield and Apple Butter Makin’ Days. Springfield also has its own aquarium, zoo and history museum.
Parks and lakes also abound in this nature-rich area. One of the more unusual attractions in Springfield is Fantastic Caverns —the only “ride-through” cave in the U.S., and one of over 7,000 caves in the state of Missouri.
Home of the University of Missouri, familiarly known as MIZZOU, Columbia is a big college town in between the state’s biggest cities. The population of Springfield — now 126,853 — has grown rapidly over the last ten years, gaining nearly 20,000 new residents.
As part of the SEC, MIZZOU certainly makes Columbia a huge football town (go, Tigers!), but athletics aren’t the only draw. The University also has its own museum of art and archaeology and botanical gardens.
This laid-back, cosmopolitan area is also filled with fun restaurants, breweries and wineries. Its Public Art Tour is a great way to get to know the city and its history — each work has a unique tie to Columbia.
On the African American Heritage Trail, you can learn about the city’s historic Black business district, Sharp End and other notable sites. At the State Historical Society of Missouri, you have access to important collections of photographs, manuscripts, newspapers, editorial cartoons and artworks by George Caleb Bingham and Thomas Hart Benton.
The cost of living in Springfield is slightly higher than elsewhere in the state. The median home value is $215,300 and the median gross rent is $935. Here, the median household income is $57,463.
One of the state’s two largest cities, Kansas City has seen a significant increase in population over the last 10 years. Now at 508,394, the city proper has gained nearly 50,000 residents since 2010, while the greater metro area now has nearly 2.2 million residents.
Housing is modestly priced in Kansas City, with a median home value of $175,400 and median gross rent of $1,040. But those prices can increase substantially in the metro area suburbs on both sides of the state line.
Several industries drive Kansas City’s economy, including transportation/distribution, eCommerce, manufacturing and technology. Both Ford and General Motors have major production plants in Kansas City. Meanwhile, the Brookings Institute named it the #2 auto industry trading hub in North America.
Adding to its appeal, the area is known for its work in biosciences, including animal health and drug development.
It’s also important to note Kansas City has deep musical roots, particularly in jazz, with plentiful music joints and clubs dotting the town. To that end, you’ll find the American Jazz Museum and the monumental Charlie Parker Memorial. Just like the 33rd president, the recently renovated Truman Presidential Library and Museum calls Kansas City home.
Other major sites of interest include the National WWII Memorial, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and (perhaps the most fun) the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. Because it’s home to the Kansas City Art Institute, the city has a thriving arts scene, with indie galleries showcasing cutting-edge works by contemporary practitioners. Not to be overlooked is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which has an incredible sculpture garden.
One of the smartest things about the city, though, is its streetcar, which makes navigating the unique districts fun and easy without a car.
Missouri’s other major city is St. Louis, which, like its counterpart on the Kansas border, has a rich and vibrant history and an arts-driven culture.
Washington University in St. Louis, the state’s top academic institution, makes it a hub for research, science and medicine. St. Louis is also home to seven Fortune 500 companies, including Centene, Emerson Electric, RGA (Reinsurance Group of America), Graybar and Olin. It’s also a major base for Purina and Anheuser-Busch, which were founded here.
One of the city’s unexpected draws is its architecture. Famous for its signature red brick, you’ll find everything from Prairie-style bungalows to Victorian mansions and 19th-century warehouses-turned-lofts.
St. Louis’ population, which currently sits at 293,310, has seen a decline of nearly 20,000 over the last decade. Some of these residents have traded St. Louis city addresses for those in St. Louis County, the large suburban area which envelops the city to the north, west and south.
The St. Louis County population has remained relatively stable in the last 10 years, reaching nearly 1 million residents. The combined metro area population is just under three million.
Housing is generally far less expensive in the city than within the county. In St. Louis City, the median home value is $153,200 and rent averages $873 per month. In St. Louis County, the median home value jumps to over $220,000, with rent topping $1,000 a month.
It’s not hyperbole to say the St. Louis region has much to offer its residents. All its major cultural institutions are free — the only city to offer more is Washington, D.C. This includes the Saint Louis Art Museum, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the Saint Louis Zoo and the Missouri History Museum.
St. Louis loves its parks. There are more than 100 in the city alone, including Forest Park. Even larger than Central Park in New York City, it has many of the aforementioned museums along with a boatable waterway and a public golf course. Tower Grove Park is one of the best sites in the city. Families love to shop at the huge farmer’s market there on weekends, as well as rent out the charming, historic pavilions.
While you’re in the neighborhood, check out the Missouri Botanical Gardens, considered one of the finest in the nation. And, if your kids are on the fence about moving here, take them to the City Museum — they will start packing their things. Located in the old garment district downtown in a former shoe factory, this is a spectacular, artist-built playground that repurposes scrap materials and objects (like a bus and a plane) into one of the weirdest, wildest and most wonderful destinations in the U.S. Even teenagers love it.
Things You Can Only See and Do in Missouri
If you’re moving to Kansas City or St. Louis, be warned that sports loyalties run deep. Kansas Citians’ blood runs blue when it comes to the Kansas City Royals, but football fans are still singing Hail to the Chiefs since the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2021 Super Bowl LIV victory over the 49ers. But the city perhaps takes the most pride in the other kind of football: Kansas City has actually named itself the Soccer Capital of America — Sporting Kansas City is the city’s MLS team.
St. Louis — also known as Cardinal Nation — takes baseball fandom to another level. If you aren’t wearing red on game day, you will at best feel outnumbered, and at worst, shunned. The city has reason to be so spirited — the St. Louis Cardinals have won 11 World Series titles — more than any other team except the Yankees.
Hockey also has a nearly religious following in St. Louis. If you move here, you’d better know all the words to “Gloria” so you can sing along whenever the St. Louis Blues score. (That tradition began in 2019 when the Blues took home their first Stanley Cup.)
It’s best never to mention football here, since the Rams were lured away to Los Angeles, and no one has forgiven or forgotten. Except for soccer fans. And they are too excited to care about lost causes with the arrival of the St. Louis City SC, who will play at the recently completed 22,500-seat stadium in the heart of Midtown.
In between sports seasons, there are many other things to see and do in Missouri. One resource the state is richest in is history. A trip to the state capital, Jefferson City, is a great place to start. The Missouri State Capitol is an impressive classical revival overlooking the Missouri River, but most remarkable are its scale and its holdings. The building encompasses three full acres and features a mural by acclaimed artist Thomas Hart Benton, natural history exhibits and dioramas, a history museum and more.
Nearby, find the Lewis & Clark Monument at Lewis & Clark Trailhead Plaza. The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail passes through more than a dozen states, several significant ones within Missouri. The Trail of Tears State Park memorializes the brutal outcome of the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which evicted members of the Cherokee Nation from their homelands and forcibly relocated them to reservations in Oklahoma.
Then, in St. Charles, a western suburb of St. Louis, you can visit the Lewis & Clark Boat House and Museum, which has a full-size replica keelboat and two pirogues of the expedition. It offers living history tours.
Another historic must-see is in Hannibal, site of the boyhood home of Mark Twain. While there, take a guided tour of the Mark Twain Cave, winding your way through the labyrinthine passageways a la Tom Sawyer. The Mark Twain Riverboat cruise is a great way to see the area and learn about its history. It’s also a bit more comfortable than Huck Finn’s raft.
One site you absolutely must see in the state is Gateway Arch National Park. The grounds and the museum went through an extensive and impressive renovation in the last 10 years, ensuring the tourist trap does not disappoint. At 630 feet, the arch is the nation’s tallest monument. You can take a tram ride inside to the very top of this sculptural marvel, designed by Eero Saarinen.
Outdoorsy types will rejoice since Missouri has an incredible state park system. The Katy Trail State Park is one of Missouri’s favorite recreation destinations. The longest developed “rail-trail” in the U.S., the 240-mile-long pathway follows the scenic Missouri River across nearly the entire width of the state. The trail welcomes hikers and bikers and most of the path is also wheelchair accessible.
Another favorite spot is Elephant Rocks State Park, its giant granite boulders draw visitors from far and wide to Belleview, about two hours south of St. Louis. In the summertime, everyone’s favorite swimming hole — Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park — fills up fast with families eager to try out the natural waterslides created by the smooth rock formations.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Camdenton has family-friendly hiking (if you can handle a lot of stairs!), along with lots of unusual things to explore, including the ruins of a turn-of-the-last-century castle, an impressive natural bridge, caves, bluffs and sinkholes.
The other favorite watering hole in the state is Lake of the Ozarks. Despite what you may have binge-watched over the last four years, the Ozark Mountains are an ideal spot for families, especially Lake of the Ozarks State Park, where you can swim, fish, hike, rappel and spelunk to your heart’s content. Truth: The only Byrds — ahem, birds — you’ll have to contend with here are robins and warblers and the like.
One of the truly unique outdoor attractions in the state, however, is the Bonne Terre Mine — the world’s largest freshwater dive resort, which offers the scuba-venturous sort an underwater journey through the sunken city of Billion Gallon Lake, a chance to see oar carts, staircases, mine pillars and even the remnants of an old elevator shaft.
What to Eat in Missouri
Missouri is a Midwestern state with a Southern appetite, which is why you can find such excellent BBQ across it. Kansas City is typically known for its sweet sauce, while St. Louis has a reputation for more tang. You’ll find the smoking and finishing processes here vary from restaurant to restaurant, some influenced more by Memphis techniques like dry rub, others find
ing kinship with South Carolina’s mustard sauce. It’s probably best just to talk less about, and eat more of, it.
In Kansas City, you’d be remiss if you didn’t hit Arthur Bryant’s — the proprietor known as the King of Ribs. We’re not arguing. Though the digs are humble, the meat is royal, and the 3 B Sandwich is a thing of beauty.
In St. Louis, Pappy’s Smokehouse has been serving hungry midtowners Memphis-style dry-rubbed barbeque for 15 years. Its wood-fired imagination was too much for just one restaurant, so it has expanded its Southern empire to five other outfits — even one in Germany.
Notably, St. Louis is also famous for two Italian American treats: toasted ravioli and St. Louis-style pizza. Toasted ravs, as they’re colloquially called, typically consist of meat-filled ravioli that have been coated in seasoned breadcrumbs, baked or fried until golden, and served with marinara for dipping. Score these delicious, ubiquitous treats at most pubs and bars around town.
St. Louis’ signature pizza has a cracker-thin crust topped, with red sauce and shredded provolone-like “Provel” cheese, cut into small square pieces. The primary proprietor of this pie is Imo’s Pizza — the “Square beyond compare.” Some folks swear by it and others swear it off completely. St. Louis does have some truly fine pizza, though, such as the Neapolitan-style pie at Pastaria. (Get the Roman with crispy pancetta and chili oil.) Another winner? The ones at The Hill’s Pizzeria da Gloria (get the Bonci), are in STL’s historic Italian neighborhood.
Across the Missouri countryside, appealing vineyards abound, like Stone Hill Winery in Hermann. Come hungry for the elegant lunch and dinner menu, specializing in German fare, like spaetzle and schweineschnitzel.
In southeastern Missouri, seek out Lambert’s Café, the “home of throwed rolls.” The 80-year-old establishment earned this unlikely moniker on an unusually busy day in 1976, when an impatient, roll-hungry customer told the owner to just “throw the damn thing” when he could not make his way through the crowd to serve the table properly. Its menu is full of country favorites, including pork steak — a true Missouri treasure and the decadent cousin of the dryer chop.
If you’re looking for dessert, head to the capital. With its signature red and white-stripe awning and mint green tile, Central Dairy ice cream parlor in Jefferson City is a throwback in time. The establishment has been in operation since 1934 and scoops all the classic flavors — butter pecan, cherry vanilla and rainbow sherbet among them.
Speaking of old-timey, Crown Candy Kitchen is St. Louis’ oldest soda fountain and a beloved institution in the historic Old North neighborhood. It serves house-made ice cream, malts and shakes and has a great sandwich menu, too.
Another of St. Louis’ culinary contributions is gooey butter cake. Part pie, part pudding, part cookie bar, part OMG-give-me-another-slice, this concoction is believed to have been accidentally invented by a German emigree.
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