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By Jill Dutton, Evolving Magazine

Looking for a quick holiday getaway? Consider a day trip via Amtrak to Jefferson City, Mo.  When you don’t have time for a long train ride and a lengthy vacation, a day trip by rail offers the chance to escape and indulge your wanderlust while enjoying a holiday getaway. And Jefferson City offers small town charm, history, nature, and Midwest values—a great place to explore on a day trip by rail.

If you take the early train (there’s also a daily 4 p.m. train), you’ll depart Kansas City’s Union Station at 8:15 a.m. and arrive in Jefferson City at 11:18 a.m. There’s barely time to settle in, watch the scenery, and maybe journal or read for a bit before you arrive. The train station is centrally located in this scenic, walkable town, so you’ll detrain right in downtown Jeff City where you can enjoy a day—or overnight stay—before boarding the train and returning back to Kansas City. 

While you can buy food in the lounge car, on a trip to Jefferson City recently, my friend Pete and I brought our own coffee and muffins to enjoy during the ride.  We detrained in Jefferson City and spent some time exploring this quaint small town. Luckily, we took a back alley and wound up discovering an off-the-beaten-path place for lunch called Bones Lounge & Restaurant (also known as Bones in the Alley). This friendly venue has a small bar and dining area downstairs, with another bar and a roof-top patio upstairs. It was a perfect quick meal before heading to the Missouri State Penitentiary for a guided tour.

After touring the penitentiary (they also have haunted tours at night) we went to check in at the Capitol Plaza Hotel. The hotel is just a few blocks from the train station, but still, we were glad we wore comfortable shoes as the hills in Jefferson City are tremendous. 

Once checked in, and with only a day to explore, we had to choose between several historical sites and decided on the Missouri State Capitol. Inside the Capitol is the Missouri State Museum, plus there’s a Capitol tour. In addition, there is artwork throughout including pieces by such notable artists as Thomas Hart Benton and Sir Frank Brangwyn. 

Pete and I built up an appetite walking all day and decided to try Paddy Malone’s Irish Pub for dinner. A historical brick building houses Paddy Malone’s, an Irish Pub showing off Jefferson City’s Irish Heritage with delicious, traditional Irish menu items and an extensive beer selection. 

After dinner, we were ready to explore Jefferson City’s nightlife. For such a small town, there are an abundance of entertainment venues. Each within walking distance, we took the time to stop by Spectator’s Sports Bar, J. Pfenney’s Sports Grill, and Gumbo Bottoms Ale House. It’s a friendly town and we made friends at each place we visited. My favorite was Gumbo Bottoms. Owned by a young Irish man ,Gumbo’s is a small dark venue with chalkboards listing specialty beers and spirits. As soon as I would say, “What’s a habanero beer?” there was a shot glass with a sample in front of me. We tasted several of the specialty beers as well as learned the art of drinking fine bourbon (Add one ice cube. Swirl and taste before adding another).  

Back at the hotel, Pete and I enjoyed a relaxing evening in our King Suite at the Capitol Plaza Hotel. The next morning, we indulged in the breakfast buffet at the hotel, then trekked back to the train station for our 11:36 a.m. departure (there’s a second train at 6:22 p.m. for a later departure) back to Kansas City.

With so much to do and see in our short visit, we were tired but fulfilled as we boarded the train to return home.