Over 200 years of proud American history is woven throughout the patriotic tapestry of Jefferson City. In Missouri's capital city, one can find celebrated architecture, stories of yesteryear told through comprehensive exhibits and monuments to both legendary events and notable historical figures.

Over 200 years of proud American history is woven throughout the patriotic tapestry of Jefferson City. In Missouri's capital city, one can find celebrated architecture, stories of yesteryear told through comprehensive exhibits and monuments to both legendary events and notable historical figures.

The art of state government

Murals, paintings, statuary, fountains and more await visitors to Missouri's State Capitol — the art museum that's not really an art museum. Ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today as the capitol building with the most beautiful interior, Missouri's Capitol covers three acres in downtown Jefferson City. A wealth of artwork fills and surrounds the classic, domed building.

Best known is Thomas Hart Benton's mural — the colorful, controversial "A Social History of the State of Missouri," wrapping around all four walls of the House Lounge. Visitors on a guided (or self-guided) tour also will wander past busts of famous Missourians, paintings, carvings, statuary, stained glass and other artwork accumulated since the Capitol's completion in 1917. Outside, on the Capitol grounds, they will find a heroic 13-ft. statue of Thomas Jefferson, the Fountain of Centaurs, bronze figures symbolizing the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and much more, all within easy walking distance.

Continuing on with a self-guided walking tour of Jefferson City's rich and storied downtown area, there are other sites that are worth visiting or exploring, including the Governor's Mansion, Carnahan Memorial Garden, Cole County Historical Museum, Supreme Court Building, Lewis and Clark Monument at the Katy Trailhead Plaza and the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site.

For information about these historical sites or for more about events and other attractions in and around Jefferson City, contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-769-4183. You can also visit the CVB online at VisitJeffersonCity.com or at the Bureau's Facebook and Twitter pages.

Missouri State Pen Posts Record-Breaking Season in 2012; MSP Museum to open in 2013

In 2012, the historic MSP hit another record-breaking mark in tour attendance with a final figure of 19,121 visitors. The prison's History Tours were again the most popular tour option, accounting for more than half of the record tour attendance. The guided history tour takes visitors through the 176-year old decommissioned prison that once held gangster "Pretty Boy" Floyd, boxing champion Sonny Liston and assassin James Earl Ray.

The MSP's Ghost Tours were bolstered in 2012 by a featured spot on SyFy's Ghost Hunters. The Ghost Tours and the Ghost Hunts have continued to show significant growth in popularity due to an ever-increasing interest and intrigue in the paranormal.

The ghost-themed tours accounted for 25% of the total visits to the prison in 2012 and are up 5% from 2011. Since the tours first began in 2009, more than 50,000 total visitors have toured this historic prison. The Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau recently announced that a Missouri State Penitentiary Prison Museum will open in the spring of 2013. This museum will be located on the second floor of the building that houses the CVB's office at 100 E. High Street.

The MSP Prison Museum will allow visitors to learn even more about the prison's past through historical exhibits and artifacts. MSP History Tours and Ghost Tours begin again in the spring of 2013. For more information about the Missouri State Penitentiary or Pen Tours, please visit MissouriPenTours.com, call 866-998-6998 or email sheila@visitjeffersoncity.com.

Museum After Hours

If you'd like to walk through the Missouri State Museum at night or if you work during the day and can't visit during normal hours, benefit from the fun and convenience of free monthly "Museum After Hours" events. During these events, the Museum will be open for special evening hours from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. Special interpretive programs will also be offered at 7 p.m. during these nights. These interpretive programs will occur in the Museum classroom located in the East Wing History Hall.

Upcoming interpretive program topics will include presentations on the Meskers and the Iron Works (Jan. 2), "A Fight For Freedom and Union - African-American Response to the Civil War in Missouri" (Feb. 6) and "Vincent Marmaduke - The Confederacy's James Bond" (March 6). Evening entry to the Museum for all after-hours events will be through the carriage entrance on the south side of the Capitol, underneath the grand staircase.

The Missouri State Museum, which is part of the Missouri State Park system, is located on the first floor of the Missouri State Capitol. For more information, contact the Museum at 573-751-2854. For more information about state parks and historic sites, visit MoStateParks.com/Park/Missouri-State-Museum.

Downtown and Old Munichburg Open New Eateries

Relax and enjoy cuisine in a casual café, dine al fresco or meet up with friends and family for reservations at a gourmet restaurant. Whatever your taste, there's a dish waiting for you to sample at one of Jefferson City's cafes or restaurants. Here are a few of Jefferson City's newly-opened eateries:

The Grand Cafe (107 E. High Street) offers casual, upscale dining in an intimate and classic upscale atmosphere in the heart of downtown Jefferson City. Gourmet dishes such as roasted duck breast, Ahi tuna steak, potato-crusted salmon and grilled lamb chops are on the menu, along with other favorites such as salads, sandwiches and pasta. The Grand Café also has a wine list with over 25 selections of domestic and imported red, white and sparking wines. Hours for The Grand Café are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. To find out more about The Grand Café, please call 573-635-7842 or visit their Facebook page.

Vitality (700 E. High Street) allows diners to explore the refreshing taste of vegan and vegetarian fare in the comfort of a home-like atmosphere located within a 10-minute walking distance from the Capitol. Vitality's seasonal menus rely heavily on fresh, local seasonal produce and the healthy benefits of excluding animal ingredients from its dishes, without sacrificing taste.

The restaurant serves daily specials, "Soups of the Day," salads and entrees such as the "Neatloaf" - a meatloaf substitute made from grains and vegan ricotta - as well as delicious "natural" desserts. Vitality is open from Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Take-out is also available by calling 573-353-7438 or 573-694-3089 between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. For more information and a full menu, visit Vitality-Cafe.com.

Shep's Southside (112 E. Dunklin) is a family-owned and operated restaurant located in the Old Munichburg district, just a short walk from downtown, serving American food wrapped in an old-school diner motif. Burgers, pastas, seafood, grilled meats and custom lunch sandwiches are on the menu and antique bikes, classic signs, photographs and other objects hang on the wall to amp up the surroundings that evoke nostalgia.

A full kids menu is also available. Shep's is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and from 4 p.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4p.m.-10 p.m. and Saturdays from 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Contact Shep's Southside at 573-893-8600, or visit their Facebook page for more information.