12 Awesome Things to do in Jefferson City with Kids

Looking for things to do in Jefferson City with kids? You’ve found the right place!

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We have visited Missouri a few times thanks to having family in the area. This past time we visited, we decided to drive so we could have the chance at making some stops along the way.

We enjoyed a few hours in Jefferson City, Missouri with the kids, though if time allowed we would have loved to stay longer.

So from the few hours we spent plus the research of other activities we would have liked to do if we had more time, here is a list of the best things to do in Jefferson City with kids!

pinnable image that says "What to do in Jefferson City Missouri". 4 images: a wide, shallow aqua colored fountain with black mythological statue coming out of it at the capitol in Jefferson City, MO; Large room with arched ceilings. Center is a large exhibit with pictures of historical people. On top reads "Missouri State Museum- Resources Hall"; looking over a vertical slat fence from a bridge onto a large park area below. The front of the park has a red metal frame in the shape of Missouri. There is a cement sidewalk that goes around the perimeter of the park and a river on the very left edge, plenty of trees in the back and to the right; large capitol building in Jefferson City, MO. Outside of building, with greyish white exterior, symmetrical with a large dome atop in the middle. Large green lawn in from, clear blue sky

Where to Stay in Jefferson City

We simply passed through as we made our way from Denver to St. Louis and enjoyed a day in Jefferson City. But if you have plans to stay overnight, I recommend staying at Best Western Plus. While many hotels in the area have a pool OR free breakfast, this one includes both!

You can also request connecting rooms if your family need multiple rooms.

Our Pick
Best Western Plus hotel entrance with purple sky at sunset.  "Best Western Plus" is lit up and there are lights on the front pillars of the drive through section for check-in

Best Western- Jefferson City

  • Indoor Pool
  • Free Breakfast
  • Connecting Rooms (per request)
  • Fitness Center
  • 4 Minute Drive to Capitol
  • Highly Rated!

Where is Jefferson City, MO?

Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri, is located almost right in the middle of Missouri. The city is located right along I-70, making it an easy and convenient place to stop on a road trip.

The city is beautiful and located right along the Missouri River, making it an old central transportation hub in the 1800’s. This helped move the capital from the previous St. Charles to Jefferson City in 1821.

With plenty of historic sites and nature activities, Jefferson City is a great place for families to visit.

Best Things to do in Jefferson City, MO with kids!

large capitol building in Jefferson City, MO.  Outside of building, with greyish white exterior, symmetrical with a large dome atop in the middle.  Large green lawn in from, clear blue sky

1. Tour the Missouri State Capitol

This is definitely the coolest thing to do in Jefferson City with kids. The Missouri State Capitol is absolutely gorgeous, both inside and out.

While you have access to parking for 360 degrees around the building, you’ll enter through the front. When we visited, the alternate entrance was in the front just to the left of the center.

As you enter, you’ll go through security and then come to the information desk. I suggest stopping here to ask any questions and get a map. You should especially grab a map for the self-guided outdoor walk, as there is so much to see around the property.

Within the capitol, you’ll find the galleries for the house and senate, a stunning rotunda, and beautiful staircases.

If you want a little more information, you can take one of the free guided tours that the capitol offers. You need to reserve your tour in advance. Check schedules here.

a wide, shallow aqua colored fountain with black mythological statue coming out of it at the capitol in Jefferson City, MO

2. Exterior of the Missouri State Capitol

Honestly, the outside of the capitol is stunning and just as interesting to walk around.

Around the entire building are monuments, memorials, fountains, and statues that represent both Missouri and the USA’s past.

You can show the kids a replica of both the Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty.

Check out the statue of Thomas Jefferson or mythological centaurs meant to represent the wildness of the west.

And of course don’t miss the incredible fountains.

Large room with arched ceilings.  Center is a large exhibit with pictures of historical people.  On top reads "Missouri State Museum- Resources Hall"

3. Missouri State Museum

One of the most popular places amid the capitol is the Missouri State Museum. It’s located right inside the capitol and is free to wander through.

Visitors will encounter exhibits showing the states history. Jefferson City, as it is located along the Missouri River, was an important stop for commerce and steamboats in the 1800’s.

looking over a vertical slat fence from a bridge onto a large park area below.  The front of the park has a red metal frame in the shape of Missouri.  There is a cement sidewalk that goes around the perimeter of the park and a river on the very left edge, plenty of trees in the back and to the right.

4. Walk the Bicentennial Bridge to Adrian’s Island

This was one of the most fun things to do in Jefferson City thanks to this unique experience.

While you are in the back of the capitol, head to the right and look for the memorial that reads “A Tribute to Gold Star Families and Relatives”. It’s a large black plaque with gold writing.

Just to the left and beyond that is the entrance to the Bicentennial Bridge to Adrian’s Island. Walk less than a quarter mile down to the Deborah Cooper Park on Adrian’s Island where the kids can run around, try a game of giant chess, lay in a hammock, or take a few photo ops.

While it may not appear to be a typical island, the land is part of the riverbank.

MISSOURI STATE PENITENTIARY-PRISON AND GAS CHAMBER TOUR -JEFFERSON CITY, MO-EP27

5. Missouri State Penitentiary

Visiting the State Penitentiary is a popular thing to do in Jefferson City for families.

This penitentiary, which operated 168 years before closing in 2004, was the oldest, continuously running jail in the west.

Guests can take a history tour or a ghost tour. Either will guide you through the housing units, gas chamber, and courtyard. You’ll also learn about attempted escapes and famous prisoners.

Wander the winding staircases and long rows of cells to see what conditions were like just up till a couple decades ago.

For those who are braver (and perhaps have much older children), you can try finding explanations among the paranormal during one of the evening ghost tours.

Touring prisons like this can make some people a bit uneasy. I recommend, especially if you have little kids, taking a peek at this youtube video first of another couple walking through. While this is a very popular tourist attraction, you wouldn’t want your kids to feel uneasy. Some stuff can be hard to see.

6. Missouri State Penitentiary Museum

After the tour of the penitentiary, head to the museum that shows a little more about the history and what life as a prisoner was like. It’s located at the historic Marmaduke House where the warden lived.

The atmosphere is a little more welcoming, though you’ll still see jail cell replicas and witness stories of time in the penitentiary.

7. Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City

Built in 1871, this governor’s mansion is one of the oldest in the US. It was built by prisoners from the penitentiary and originally had 13 bedrooms, but no bathrooms. It sits on 10 acres and overlooks both the Missouri River and the State Capitol.

While it’s been improved over the years, it still has plenty of original work remaining. It is stunning in both architecture and decor. As one of the few executive residences in the US available to the public for an inside look, you can tour it on certain days.

Request your tour at least 24 hours in advance.

Carnahan Memoria Garden

The beautiful gardens are available for the public and are located at the Governor’s Mansion outside property.

By the early to mid-1900s, the first lady at the governor’s mansion decided to improve the outdoor property. Thousands of plants were added, plus a rose garden.

Later, another first lady (First Lady Donnelly) could be seen doing manual labor with the prisoners to improve the garden further in an area left undone. This area became known as the Governor’s Gardens.

8. Runge Conservation Nature Center

330 Commerce Dr.

The Runge Nature Center in Jefferson City is a fun little escape from city to nature. Here you’ll find indoor exhibits of the habitats of Missouri. Explore habitats through behind-glass encounters of live animals and an aquarium of river life.

Then check out some of the nature trails around the center, totaling around 2.5 miles of outdoor fun.

Missouri has a few of these awesome nature centers, like the Powder Valley one closer to St. Louis. They are a fun, free way to explore the area.

Check hours ahead of time. Trails are open everyday, but building hours vary.

9. Play at the Park with Kids in Jefferson City

Community Park at 725 Marshall Street provides plenty of structures for climbing in a ropes-style playground. Climb to the top of the pyramid and take the slide back down. Or if it’s too hot, cool off at the spray pad.

McKay Park and Lake at 1700 Southridge Street is a beautiful spot to try out some fishing. Families can also launch their SUP board or other non-motorized water toys.

Not in the mood for water? Walk or chase the kids around the .6 mile loop around the lake or check out the huge playgrounds and jungle gyms.

Memorial Park at 111 Memorial Road provides a shaded 1+ mile loop to walk, treehouse-style playgrounds, and plenty of space to play.

But the kids favorite part will be the aquatic center. Swim, splash, play at the structures, or glide down all 5 slides. This will be the highlight of the day.

10. Katy Trail State Park

The Katy Trail is a lonnnng trail that connects St. Charles to Clifton in a stretch of 240 miles. While you probably don’t want to make this your transportation to another city, it is a great opportunity to grab some bikes and enjoy the trail.

This popular trail is built along the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad and has 26 trailheads. You’ll also find 4 restored railroad depots on the trail.

11. Sk8 Zone

301 Flora Dr

Sk8 Zone is great if you want to turn back the clock to the days you were a kid and enjoy a night at the roller rink.

Take the kids for a fun, evening activity during the public skate hours. Bring your own roller skates or rent some and roll with it all night!

Make sure to check the public skate schedule before you go.

12. Grab Some Famous Ice Cream

610 Madison St

When the day is over and you’ve all worn yourselves out, wind down with a delicious cone of ice cream.

Central Dairy is a long running local favorite. You’ll find all sorts of basic and creative flavors, including plenty of no-sugar-added varieties.

Their ice cream has been around over 100 years, and tourists from all over make a point of stopping to try the popular dessert.

FAQ About Jefferson City, MO

What is Jefferson City Known For?

Jefferson City is well known for its state prison that opened up in 1836. It ran until 2004 when it closed its doors. The Missouri State Penitentiary is now open to the public for tours to learn about life as a prisoner.

Is Jefferson City Close to St. Louis?

Jefferson City is about 2 hours west of St. Louis at around 130 miles away.

Why is Jefferson City called Jefferson City?

Jefferson City, MO was named after president Thomas Jefferson who served from 1801-1809, though the town was not established until 1825.

Best Things to do in Jefferson City with Kids!

Whether you are spending the night or just passing through, there are plenty of great things to do in Jefferson City with kids. I highly recommend touring the capitol and going down to Adrian’s Island. This is a unique experience for sure! Beyond that, check out beautiful gardens at the governor’s and get some great outside time at local parks and trails in Jefferson City.

This place has something to offer the whole family, and now you don’t have to wonder what to do in Jefferson City, Missouri.

pinnable image that says "What to do in Jefferson City Missouri".  4 images:  a wide, shallow aqua colored fountain with black mythological statue coming out of it at the capitol in Jefferson City, MO; Large room with arched ceilings. Center is a large exhibit with pictures of historical people. On top reads "Missouri State Museum- Resources Hall"; looking over a vertical slat fence from a bridge onto a large park area below. The front of the park has a red metal frame in the shape of Missouri. There is a cement sidewalk that goes around the perimeter of the park and a river on the very left edge, plenty of trees in the back and to the right; large capitol building in Jefferson City, MO. Outside of building, with greyish white exterior, symmetrical with a large dome atop in the middle. Large green lawn in from, clear blue sky

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