JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The holidays are a time for thankfulness, joy, family and sometimes an overwhelmingly long "to do" list.
Put the shopping and holiday tasks on hold for a while and spend an afternoon enjoying one of Missouri's relaxing getaways. Better yet, check an item or two off of the holiday list during a getaway, such as picking up a gift basket from the Missouri winery you toured or a spa certificate for a friend as you leave your massage appointment. You soon find yourself refreshed for the season and a favorite among those on the receiving end of your gift list.
Missouri bed and breakfast inns -- A Missouri bed and breakfast gift certificate is the perfect gift for loved ones who deserve a getaway of their own. While many offer the opportunity to order certificates online, we recommend actually visiting the inn. For more information on Missouri bed and breakfast inns, check out www.VisitMO.com. For information on inns registered with Bed and Breakfasts Inns of Missouri, visit www.bbim.org.
Missouri wineries -- Recognized internationally for award-winning vintages, Missouri's 52 wineries offer a taste of Missouri's best and a relaxing quick getaway. Tours of many of the wineries provide a glimpse into Missouri's fascinating winemaking history. Taste the wines that have brought so many awards to the state, including Norton, made from Missouri's official state grape, Vignoles and Vidal Blanc. For information on winery tours, tastings and Missouri wine gifts, visit www.missouriwine.org or www.VisitMO.com.
Missouri dining -- If you sampled too much cookie dough while baking those holiday treats, find a more substantial meal at one of Missouri's tempting restaurants. Visit the Italian neighborhood in St. Louis, popularly known as "The Hill," for authentic Italian fare from sandwich shops to AAA-rated Four Diamond gourmet cuisine. If you can persuade the chef to reveal his favorite ingredients, pick them up at one of the nearby Italian grocery stores or bakeries on the way home and impress your holiday guests with authentic Italian creations.
For something tangier, head to Kansas City for world-famous barbecue. Whether you choose Arthur Bryant's, Gates, Fiorellas Jack Stack Barbecue or one of the many other restaurants serving mouth-watering meals, your taste buds will thank you. Crave that taste at home? Many ship right to your door and are a welcome gift for the meat-lovers on your list.
Of course, no holiday season is complete without the ubiquitous fruitcake. Many of you know it very well indeed, especially that re-gifted treasure that's been in your freezer for years. But before you start boxing it up for your holiday office party, consider a getaway to Assumption Abbey Monastery near Ava in southwest Missouri.
The Cistercian Monks follow an Old English recipe that is popular at gourmet food stores nationwide. A visit to the monastery allows you to taste one fresh from the oven and experience a unique Missouri treat that will disappear long before the holidays are over. For more information on restaurants in Missouri, visit www.VisitMO.com.
Missouri Music -- After you've wined, dined and are all but completely relaxed, let your last remaining cares float away on the notes of Kansas City jazz, St. Louis blues, or one of the many concert venues throughout the state. Visit the Blue Room in Kansas City's historic 18th and Vine District -- part of the American Jazz Museum by day and a working jazz club four nights each week featuring local and national artists. The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra offers a fantastic line-up of concerts at Powell Symphony Hall this season, including a New Year's celebration promising an affair to remember. To learn more about holiday events, concerts and entertainment, check out www.VisitMO.com.
Missouri sports -- If holiday stress makes you want to scream, rechannel that energy to cheer on your favorite Missouri sports team instead. After a thrilling baseball season where the St. Louis Cardinals brought home the 2004 National League Championship, football is now in full swing, and Missouri's two NFL teams continue to make fans proud. With Priest Holmes, the Kansas City Chiefs possess one of the best running backs in the AFC. In St. Louis, fans have cheered the Rams to two Super Bowls in the last five seasons. Visitors will also get caught up in the excitement of watching the Big Twelve Mizzou Tigers in Columbia or the Division I SMSU Bears at Southwest Missouri State University. For more information on Missouri sport teams and venues, visit www.VisitMO.com.
Missouri caves -- For a true escape from your holiday list, go underground. One of the many wonderful features of the Show-Me State is the more than 5,500 caves tunneling underneath. With good reason, Missouri is known as the Cave State.
More than a dozen of these caverns are open to visitors and offer a unique glimpse into the world of grotto salamanders, cave fish and stunning mineral formations carved into the Missouri limestone drop by drop. Several Missouri caves offer tours year-round, including Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, America's only ride-through cave where visitors explore from a comfortable Jeep-drawn tram. For more information, call (417) 833-2010 or visit www.fantastic-caverns.com.
Meramec Caverns in Stanton also offers year-round tours. The lighted and paved pathways guide visitors past some of the rarest and largest cave formations in the world, including a limestone Wine Table and a seven-story mansion. A gift shop in the cave is a great place to tackle your shopping list, featuring rocks, minerals, books, clocks and more. For more information, call (800) 676-6105 or visit www.americascave.com.
For an added bonus, cave temperatures average between 50 and 60 degrees each year, providing an easy getaway from December's winter chill. For more information on Missouri caves, check out www.VisitMO.com.
Missouri spas -- Has all that wrapping left an ache in your shoulders? Loosen the kinks at a Missouri spa. For a secluded experience, visit Aquaest Retreat in Willow Springs and experience their signature treatment, WaterJourneys, a specially choreographed combination of massage and mobilization in warm water, often enhanced with music. The retreat also includes a lawn labyrinth, which guests may walk daily for inner reflection. For more information, visit www.aquaest.com.
Missouri's central region also offers several spas, including Natural Connections in Jefferson City. Fantastic views enhance your experience as you relax with a hot stone massage, aqua facial or manicure. On your way out, pick up a gift certificate for a friend -- it may be the hint they need to return the favor next year. For information on spas across the state, visit www.VisitMO.com.
Silver Dollar City, Branson -- Silver Dollar City welcomes visitors to explore 1880s America at a theme park that combines the adventure of the past with the excitement and thrills of the present. This unique getaway offers a world-class holiday festival each year, an Old Time Christmas. This year the festival runs Nov. 6 - Dec. 30 and features a holiday light parade showcasing more than 80,000 lights and a five-story special effects Christmas tree covered in more than 250,000 dazzling lights coordinated to Christmas music. The festival also features the park's largest show ever, with "A Dickens' Christmas Carol," as well as a dramatic production of the Living Nativity and more than 4 million twinkling lights. With more than 60 unique shops and restaurants as well as on-site craftsmen, you are sure to find some one-of-a-kind items for your holiday shopping. For more information, call (800) 831-4FUN or visit www.silverdollarcity.com
Missouri outdoors -- Although the fire may indeed be delightful, Missouri winters are not usually all that frightful. If cabin fever sets in over holiday breaks and weather allows, grab your coat and escape to a nearby hiking trail. Missouri state parks are open year-round and offer trails of varying lengths and difficulty. The Ozark Trail in southeast Missouri offers more than 350 miles of trail for explorers to tromp and is also available for equestrian use. The winter months are an excellent time to view Missouri wildlife, especially bald eagles. Many cities host eagle-watching events, such as Clarksville, Louisiana and St. Louis. For more information on Missouri trails and outdoor activities, visit www.VisitMO.com.
Missouri art -- With 50 miles of fine art and crafts in northeast Missouri, you will find something for everyone on your list and enjoy a unique getaway as well. From glassblowing and weaving to clay sculpting and watercolor, The Provenance Project artists' corridor has resulted in 50 miles of tempting treasures along Scenic Byway 79. The corridor runs through historic towns such as Hannibal, Clarksville and Louisiana. In addition to shopping, you'll see many of the artists performing their trade.
Art enthusiasts won't want to miss the Precious Moments Chapel and Fountain of Angels in Carthage. Precious Moments creator and artist Samuel J. Butcher showcases more than 5,000 square feet of murals in the chapel portraying stories from the Old and New Testaments. The nearby Fountain of Angels displays more than 250 bronze Precious Moments sculptures, including 120 angels. The fountain is enclosed in a 10-story building and features two breathtaking shows coordinating water, music and light. For more information, visit www.VisitMO.com.