If you enjoy discovering uncrowded destinations and attractions, eating in one-of-a-kind restaurants and meeting the friendly people living in small towns, consider a minivacation within a few hours of your backyard. Add in a locally owned boutique inn or bed-and-breakfast, and the ingredients for a memorable weekend are all there.

Many such opportunities surround the St. Louis metropolitan area, and we have paired several able to be visited in a two-day weekend. We have included suggestions for where to eat, sleep and some “under-the-radar” attractions at each destination. For a comprehensive list of what to do in each town, visit the website or call the number listed at the end of each section.

Boonville and Rocheport, Mo.

Travel time: About two hours from St. Louis driving west on Interstate 70.

These two adjacent small towns offer plenty of laid-back sightseeing to keep visitors busy over a weekend. Rural highway Missouri 240/U.S. 40 connects the two destinations and offers a pleasant departure from Interstate 70. Rocheport is a tiny, picturesque community of tree-lined streets offers just enough antiques stores and other shops to fill a lazy afternoon of easy walking.

Hannibal, Mo., and Quincy, Ill.

Travel time: One hour and 50 minutes from St. Louis going west on Interstate 64 to U.S. 61 North.

Mark Twain’s hometown attracts tourists from all over the world, but there are plenty of things to see in town that most day visitors miss. Plus, just a half-hour into Illinois over the Mississippi River via the Mark Twain Memorial Bridge, the town of Quincy awaits discovery.

Quilters can be forgiven for skipping the Mark Twain attractions in Hannibal and heading across the street to the Hickory Stick. For 40 years the shop has offered supplies, advice and inspiration to quilters, and is a Better Homes and Gardens Quilt Sampler featured business. “Mark Twain” still visits Hannibal. Inquire at the visitor center to see where and when he will be appearing.

Quincy has the Mississippi Valley Wine Trail, as well as an architectural trail. The town claims 3,664 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and a free brochure maps the most notable. With a selection of 11 museums, visitors are certain to find several that will be of interest.

Steelville and Cuba, Mo.

Travel Time: One hour and 30 minutes from St. Louis southwest on Interstate 44.

For decades a popular day trip for St. Louis metropolitan residents has been to head to the Meramec, Huzzah or Courtois rivers for a summer canoe float trip. Picturesque Highway 19 passes through these two small towns, so why not stick around an extra day and explore what you have been missing?

Paducah, Ky., and Metropolis, Ill.

Travel time: Two hours and 40 minutes from St. Louis via Interstate 64 east, to Interstate 57 south to Interstate 24 East.

If this area is good enough to be the home of Superman, it certainly is worth a visit. Just do not plan on visiting in April when the National Quilt Show in Paducah attracts 30,000-plus quilters and guest rooms are hard to find.

Hidden gem • Plan a visit around the impressive schedule of live performances scheduled at the 1899-seat Carson Center in Paducah.

Where to eat • Visitors can “menu-shop” at a dozen locally owned restaurants in Paducah’s Historic Downtown, and then pick a different eatery for appetizers, dinner and dessert.

Where to stay

The newly opened, 10-room 1857 Hotel is housed in a renovated red-brick antebellum building centrally located in downtown Paducah. Unique furnishings and a rotating art collection, soaring windows and ceilings along with exposed brick define 10 individually designed rooms.

More info • metropolistourism.com or 618-524-5025; www.paducah.travel or call 1-800-723-8224

By Jim Winnerman

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