Branson Missouri Travel Guide | AAA.com
 
 
 
Branson Travel Guide | Flights | Cars | Hotels | Attractions | Restaurants | Campgrounds | Events
Branson
Entertaining with a capital “E.” That's Branson, which started out small as a vacation destination roughly half a century ago. Beginning with a couple of caves, some local fishing spots and a little show put on for tourists by the four musical Mabe brothers, Branson has grown into a full-fledged phenomenon...
Editors' Top Picks
THE ESSENTIAL THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Play
AAA EDITORS' TOP PICKS PLUS DETAILS ON ALL AREA ATTRACTIONS
Dine
AAA EDITORS' TOP PICKS PLUS DETAILS ON ALL AREA RESTAURANTS
1 to 3 Day Plan
Recommended Itineraries
 
Things to Do
Nightlife and other things to do
 
Events
Upcoming events
 
Join AAA
Enjoy the benifits of AAA
-->
1 to 3 Day Plan
Recommended Itineraries
 
Things to Do
Nightlife and other things to do
 
Events
Upcoming events
 
Vicinity
Places in the Vicinity
 
Activities
Activities
Good to Know
GETTING THERE
GETTING AROUND
INFORMED TRAVELER
VISITOR INFORMATION OFFICES
Meet Our Editors
MEET AAA's TEAM OF PROFESSIONAL TRAVEL EDITORS

close
Introduction
Entertaining with a capital “E.” That's Branson, which started out small as a vacation destination roughly half a century ago. Beginning with a couple of caves, some local fishing spots and a little show put on for tourists by the four musical Mabe brothers, Branson has grown into a full-fledged phenomenon while embodying—to a rather remarkable degree—the essence of small-town America. One key difference: This small town is packed to the gills with things to see and do.

Branson is best known for its live performances, with more than 100 different shows in venues ranging from intimate theaters to a grand 4,000-seat palace. But if you spend all your time indoors you'll be missing out on the delightful natural setting that makes the Tri-Lakes area so appealing. The blue lakes and green hills of Ozarks country are an open invitation to take a walk along a grassy riverbank, hike a dogwood-lined trail, nose a boat through a secluded inlet or cast a line for trout in a cool, rushing stream.


You'll have no trouble filling up a day: In addition to loads of shows and all kinds of outdoor activities, Branson has theme parks, craft villages, all-you-can-eat buffets and special events galore. You can watch woodcarvers, basket weavers and folk artists at work. You can shop at factory outlets or country stores. You can ride a duck or a sightseeing train. But what keeps lots of people coming back is the genuine hospitality, which shines through in every warm welcome. All those smiles are reason enough to visit, don't you think?

In Depth
Monster cinnamon buns. A half-scale replica of the Titanic. Heartfelt displays of patriotic pride. Dale Evans, Lawrence Welk and Yakov Smirnoff. Sausage gravy and biscuits. Theme parks, showboats and Ride the Ducks. Branson unashamedly revels in maximum Americana. It's the kind of place where a total stranger will greet you with a smile, a handshake and a heartfelt “Welcome to the heart of the Ozarks!” Anywhere else it would sound scripted or ring false, but friendliness Branson style feels neither forced nor fabricated.

Little more than 25 years after it was proclaimed “the live country music capital of the universe” in a feature profile on “60 Minutes,” this town's enormous popularity is still something of a shocker. A small southwestern Missouri burg with a population of about 10,000 being visited by millions of people a year is unlikely enough. The fact that it's tucked deep into the hills and hollows of the Ozarks, relatively isolated from big cities and major interstates, makes this an even more impressive success story.

Country is no longer the only game in town. Not when you've got popular headliner Shoji Tabuchi—a Japanese-born, classically trained musician who learned how to play the violin at age 7 and performs fleet-fingered versions of standards like “Orange Blossom Special” on fiddle in a glitzy, gaudy theater that's straight outa Vegas.

The Baldknobbers Jamboree Show has been packin' 'em in for more than half a century, back when brothers Bill, Jim, Lyle and Bob Mabe set up folding chairs in Branson's City Hall and played banjo, dobro and washtub bass. It's still a show where grown men dressed in suspenders, loud shirts and funny hats engage in bawdy comedy routines guaranteed to make you laugh. Oh, and there's plenty of music, too.

A key catalyst in Branson's beginnings was the 1907 publication of Harold Bell Wright's second novel “The Shepherd of the Hills.” Said to be the first American novel to sell a million copies, it told the inspirational story of an itinerant former pastor who chose to stay and live his life with the citizens of rural Mutton Hollow, offering a spiritual message based on simple values. The story's Ozark Mountains setting was what sparked an initial interest in Branson as a place to visit.

Tourism began on a small scale, with humble attractions like summer lakeside cottages on man-made Lake Taneycomo, an underground cave tour and lavish Christmastime lighting ceremonies. In 1959 the play “The Shepherd of the Hills” was first presented in the Old Mill Theater on the Shepherd of the Hills Farm, perched high on a ridge just west of Dewey Bald. The farm became a tourist attraction, as did Silver Dollar City, a replica of an Ozark frontier town that has morphed into a major theme park complete with thrill rides, but at the same time maintains a dedicated commitment to the preservation of Ozarks artistic heritage. The loyal Branson fans keep coming back for these wholesome, family-friendly pleasures and the natural beauty of the area.


 
About the City


City Population
10, 520

Elevation
722 ft.

Money


Sales Tax
The Branson/Lakes area levies general retail sales, tourism sales and food and beverage sales taxes based on three different jurisdictions: Branson Landing/downtown, citywide and Branson Hills. General retail sales taxes range from 8.6 to 9.6 percent; sales that include a tourism sales tax range from 11.6 to 12.6 percent; food and beverage sales taxes range from 8.975 to 9.975 percent.

Whom To Call


Emergency
911

Police (non-emergency)
(417) 334-3300

Time and Temperature
(417) 336-5000

Hospitals
Skaggs Regional Medical Center, (417) 335-7000; CoxHealth Cox North (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 269-3000; CoxHealth Cox South (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 269-6000; Mercy Hospital (Springfield, Mo.), (417) 820-2000.

Where To Look and Listen


Newspapers
Branson is served by the Branson Tri-Lakes News, a biweekly newspaper, and The Branson Independent, a free newspaper published four times a week.

Radio
Branson radio station KRZK (106.3 FM) is a news/talk station; KSMU (90.5 FM), affiliated with Missouri State University in Springfield, is a member of National Public Radio.

Visitor Information

Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB

269 SR 248 BRANSON, MO 65615. Phone:(417)334-4084 or (800)214-3661


Branson Chamber of Commerce and CVB Welcome Center

269 SR 248 BRANSON, MO 65616. Phone:(417)334-4136 The Welcome Center is open Mon.-Fri. 8-5 with extended hours during peak seasons.


Transportation


Air Travel
Branson Airport (BKG), 1 mile south of the Hollister exit off US 65, east on Branson Creek Boulevard, then following signs to 4000 Branson Airport Blvd., is served by Buzz Airways and Frontier and handles commercial and general aviation; phone (417) 334-7813. Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF), 5000 W. Kearney St. in Springfield, is about 45 miles north of Branson via US 65. The drive takes 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. Domestic airlines serving the airport include Allegiant Air, American, Delta and United; (417) 868-0500.

Several shuttle and limousine services transport passengers to and from Branson and the Springfield-Branson National Airport, including Branson Gray Line, (417) 335-4466 or (800) 542-6768; Fisk Limousines, (417) 862-2900; and Branson Coach/Tri-Lakes Shuttle, (417) 339-4888 or (800) 841-2313. At Branson Airport, only Branson Gray Line transports passengers from the airport; the other companies may only drop off passengers.

Rental Cars
Hertz, which only operates out of Springfield-Branson National Airport, offers discounts to AAA members; phone (417) 597-5313, (800) 654-3131 or (800) 654-3080. Rental cars are available at Branson Airport.

Buses
Gray Line Branson/Springfield , (800) 327-4466, provides chartered motor coach service to Branson and one-way transfers to and from Branson Airport and Springfield-Branson National Airport.

Taxis
Cab companies include Jerry's Shuttle Service & Taxi, (417) 348-1419; and Checker Cab, City Cabs and Yellow Cab, all of which can be reached at (417) 336-6769.

Public Transportation
Unless you're part of a motor coach tour, getting around Branson is much easier if you have your own vehicle. One convenient alternative to driving is a free ride aboard the Downtown Trolley. The red-and-gold, hop-on and hop-off trolley makes four stops in the historic downtown area and two stops at Branson Landing. It operates daily 10-6; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Trolley maps are available at downtown retail locations and at the Downtown Branson Main Street Association, 119 W. Pacific St.; phone (417) 334-1548 or (866) 523-1190.

 
Visitor Information

Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB

269 SR 248 BRANSON, MO 65615. Phone:(417)334-4084 or (800)214-3661


 
Getting There


By Car
Branson receives an estimated 8 million visitors annually, and more than 90 percent of them drive. This can present a challenge to the existing road network, which was never meant to accommodate the number of vehicles that arrive throughout the year. More than $200 million spent on new highway construction has, however, helped lessen the bottleneck conditions that can occur in summer, the busiest season.

I-44 funnels traffic to Springfield from St. Louis and points east, and from Tulsa, Oklahoma City and points west. South from Springfield or north from Little Rock and Harrison, Ark., the main approach is via US 65, which is four lanes from Springfield south to Branson, facilitating access into town. US 65 has been widened to four lanes from Hollister, just across Lake Taneycomo from Branson, south to the Arkansas border.

More locally, the Ozark Mountain Highroad (SR 465) runs east-west for 8 miles between US 65 and SR 76 just west of the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, offering a relaxed and less-traveled route to Table Rock Lake, the Silver Dollar City theme park and other attractions on the west side of town. North-south SR 13, which branches off SR 76, and east-west SR 86, which branches off US 65 south of Hollister, are other easy ways to get to Table Rock Lake. For a delightfully scenic day trip from Branson to popular Eureka Springs, Ark., take US 65 south to US 62, then US 62 west.

 
Getting Around


Street System
Historic downtown Branson, just east of US 65 via US 65 Business Route/Veterans Boulevard, forms a small, compact grid of streets running about six blocks north-south and east-west. East-west Main Street, the eastward extension of SR 76, and north-south Commercial Street are the main thoroughfares. Main Street runs into Branson Landing Boulevard, which fronts Branson Landing and beyond, Lake Taneycomo.

Branson's main drag is, of course, SR 76W, sometimes known as Country Music Boulevard and widely named simply “the Strip.” The 5-mile stretch within the city limits, a two-lane highway with a center turning lane, is the heart of many Branson activities, winding past a seemingly endless procession of music theaters, attractions, shopping centers, hotels, motels and restaurants.

The other major roads are SR 248/Shepherd of the Hills Expressway, Gretna Road and Green Mountain Drive. SR 248 branches west off US 65, providing a northerly route that eventually intersects with SR 265 west of SR 76 via Shepherd of the Hills Expressway. Several popular theaters and attractions are along this stretch. Gretna Road, between SR 248 and SR 76, is lined with shopping complexes. Green Mountain Drive runs south of and parallel to SR 76.

Traffic is frequently congested along much of SR 76, particularly so before and after evening performances at the theaters, and major intersections—for example, SR 76 and Gretna Road—can become gridlocked at times. But fortunately, driving the Strip is a choice and not a necessity, thanks to three east-west color-coded “relief routes” that can be timesaving options.

Two routes are north of SR 76, and one is south. The Red Route is SR 248 from US 65 west to Shepherd of the Hills Expressway and Shepherd of the Hills Expressway west to SR 265. The Blue Route is Roark Valley Road from SR 76 to Gretna Road and Gretna Road back to SR 76. The Yellow Route is Fall Creek Road to Wildwood Drive, Wildwood Drive to Green Mountain Drive and Green Mountain Drive to SR 76.

Red, blue and yellow route signs are posted regularly along the respective roads. The Yellow Route is the most crowded of the three, so consider using the Blue or Red routes instead. Once you become familiar with these routes, however, getting around Branson is pretty much a snap. You can pick up a Time-Saver road map (created by the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB) showing these routes as well as the location of many theaters and attractions from just about any local hotel or restaurant.

Parking
Finding a place to park in Branson is rarely a problem. Almost all of the theaters have their own large lots, and parking for most shopping centers and restaurants is plentiful. Although you may have to hunt for a space downtown on weekends, there are two parking garages and four lots serving the historic downtown and Branson Landing areas.


close
Essentials
http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/original/220518 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/preview/220518 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/thumbnail/220518
• Spend the day at Silver Dollar City (399 Silver Dollar City Pkwy.). This 1880s village-themed park preserves Ozarks heritage with its working crafters and a bevy of festivals devoted to holidays, music and folk culture. It also has some pretty awesome thrill rides and downright tasty theme park eats.


• With so much live entertainment on the Branson Strip, what (or who) should you see? Put the Baldknobbers Jamboree Show at the Baldknobbers Country Music Theatre (2835 SR 76W Country Blvd.) and the Presleys' Country Jubilee (2920 SR 76W) near the top of your list—both of these down-home music and comedy shows are pure family fun.


• See how small a third-class cabin actually was, feel the icy ocean water and clamber into a lifeboat at Titanic—World's Largest Museum Attraction (3235 SR 76W). It's not only a total immersion experience; you'll relive James Cameron's 1997 movie blockbuster all over again.

• Handpicked by Louise Harrison (George's big sister), the Liverpool Legends are the ultimate Beatles experience. They perform songs from the time of the band's first U.S. appearance on the Ed Sullivan show to the music of the Sgt. Pepper's album at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre (2500 W. 76 Country Blvd.).

• Have breakfast at the Farmhouse Restaurant (119 W. Main St.) and then amble the downtown streets, which still conjure up small-town charm in an age of iPhone apps. Dick's Old Time 5 & 10 (103 W. Main St.) has everything from coconut incense to Lucy and Ethel lunch boxes; it's certain to stir up some nostalgia.

• “See you at the Landing!” The 2006 opening of Branson Landing (100 Branson Landing) was the biggest thing to hit town since the early days of music theaters. This village-style shopping and entertainment complex spreads out along the shore of winding Lake Taneycomo. Non-shoppers won't want to miss the daily dancing fountain water show.

• Branson shopping isn't all about T-shirts and souvenirs. Explore Branson Mill Craft Village (3300 Gretna Rd.), where local artists sell a wide array of high-quality crafts.

• Watch contortionists, acrobats and jugglers perform astounding (and in a few cases, death-defying) feats at the New Shanghai Theatre (645 SR 165). This mesmerizing show by the Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai is a dazzling display of bravura skill.

• With its Ozark Mountains setting, Harold Bell Wright's 1907 novel “The Shepherd of the Hills” sparked initial interest in Branson as a place to visit. The Shepherd of the Hills Homestead (5586 SR 76W) re-creates the farm at the center of Wright's inspirational story, which also is dramatized at The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theatre .

• Once upon a time Branson was a speck of a town in the middle of the Ozarks, and you can still appreciate the region's natural beauty on a relaxing cruise around Table Rock Lake aboard the Showboat Branson Belle (4800 SR 165).

http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/original/220516 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/preview/220516 http://tdr.aaa.com/tdr-images/thumbnail/220516
• Indulge yourself at the Spa Chateau. This luxurious retreat at the Chateau on the Lake Resort & Spa (415 N. SR 265) offers deep massages, salt scrubs, mud baths, facials and other treatments, with pampering touches like chamomile-infused towels added for good measure.




close
Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

By Inspector 15

as told to Greg Weekes

Pan-fried chicken. Barbecued ribs. Sausage-studded cream gravy. Just-like-Mom-makes mashed potatoes. Heaping bowls of garden vegetables. Hot rolls with real butter. Fruit cobblers and fresh-baked pies. Branson has traditionally been a bastion of both American country cooking and the all-you-can-eat buffet—the kind of down-home fare that might inspire Andy Griffith to enthusiastically opine, “Boy, that's good!” If you like to go back for seconds, this is your kind of place.


But Branson isn't just about plates piled high with food; there also are restaurants that will please the most discriminating of diners. Take, for example, the Chateau Grille at Chateau on the Lake, at the Chateau on the Lake Resort & Spa. The kitchen's creative talent shines in such entrees as Amish chicken with sun-dried tomato polenta and roasted vegetables and appetizers like seared crab cakes with sauteed spinach. This is a restaurant where seasonal ingredients dictate the changing menu selections. The fine-dining experience is enhanced by lovely views of Table Rock Lake and a carefully chosen wine list that is among the most extensive in Branson.

For a taste of Mexican, try the guacamole that's prepared tableside at Cantina Laredo . It's the perfect starter for the authentic entrees to follow. They also offer vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.

Rocky's Italiano Ristorante is one of downtown's best-kept secrets: a real locals' hangout that manages to make tourists feel right at home. Housed in a restored turn-of-the-20th-century feed store a block off Main Street, it has a convivial bar and walls decorated with local artwork. You can't go wrong with standards like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, prime rib, fettuccine carbonara or chicken piccata. Finish with a piece of homemade cheesecake.

Roll a leisurely lunch and a shopping excursion into one delightful downtown outing at Ruby Lena's Tea Room & Antiques. The restaurant occupies an old historic house on Main Street, with a dining room that practically defines cozy. Start with chilled strawberry soup followed by chicken salad or quiche accompanied by fresh-baked bread. Dawdle over one of their flavored teas before browsing through the antiques and home accessories in the shop off the front entrance, where temptations abound.

College of the Ozarks, across Lake Taneycomo from downtown Branson, is known as “Hard Work U.” for its can-do ethic—students help earn their education by getting involved in more than 80 different campus work programs. This is what makes a visit to The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks more than just a meal. Located in the college's Keeter Center complex, the restaurant is graced with beautiful building details that were created almost entirely by students (note in particular the lobby's stunning rock fireplace). Students also prepare and serve the food—solidly satisfying dishes like chicken and dumplings or pork tenderloin in a garlic cream sauce—and many menu items are grown or raised on the student farm. Musical entertainment is provided Thursday through Saturday evenings, and there's a popular Sunday brunch.

Danna's Bar B Que and Burger Shop specializes in smoked meats—ribs, pulled pork and beef, chicken and sausage marinated, coated with a secret-recipe rub and then slow-cooked to bring out the tenderness. Their “Pit Plate” special, a sampler that comes with fries, slaw, baked beans and a Memphis roll (crisp on the outside, buttery inside), is more than enough for two starving people. The burgers aren't afterthoughts, either. The original Danna's is on SR 165 just north of the junction with Fall Creek Road, and there are several other branches, including one in Branson West (on SR 13 half a mile south of SR 76) and at Table Rock State Park and Marina (open Memorial Day-Labor Day).

McFarlain's Family Restaurant, in the Branson's IMAX Entertainment Complex on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway, makes a convenient post-movie pit stop. The “traditional Ozark cooking”—chicken pot pie, pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, “Ma Hewlett's” meatloaf, barbecue beef on a bun, Belgian waffles—is really just familiar comfort food, but do try the fried green tomatoes (referred to as “fried green 'maters”) and the addictive honey cornbread. All the variety makes this a great place to take kids. Hint: Ask to be seated at one of the “special” tables in the center of the dining room for a fun little surprise.

Last but certainly not least are Branson's buffet spreads, a real magnet for anyone with a hearty appetite. They're all over town, but if you're looking for one that's a cut above an all-you-can-eat food trough, try the Grand Country Buffet, on the Strip in the Grand Country Square complex. It has “scatter bars” that are chock-full of items at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nothing has been overlooked, from “sweet corn pops” (corn kernels breaded and fried) to fresh fruit and salads, hand-carved roast beef and ham, and yummy frozen custard. This isn't haute cuisine, but it sure does cover the five major food groups. Parents with finicky youngsters will give thanks for the pizza buffet.

See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.



close
Attractions
In a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

By Greg Weekes

Branson had a thriving grassroots tourism industry long before it became nationally known as one of the top places to see a country music show. One of the early success stories was Silver Dollar City, a AAA GEM attraction that has managed to retain a remarkable sense of time and place. Tucked into the leafy White River hills that surround Branson, it's a delightfully shady park where squirrels and chipmunks scamper through the crowds and antique wheelbarrows serve as planters for mounds of colorful flowers. Silver Dollar City has thrills aplenty, including roller coasters, a steam train and the Grand Exposition, an area with rides reminiscent of a turn-of-the-20th-century world's fair. What you'll probably remember most, though, are the lovely heirloom keepsakes created by the park's resident crafters and the aroma of chicken, ribs and calico potatoes wafting through the air as they sizzle on big outdoor grills.


Silver Dollar City grew up around the entrance to Marvel Cave, another AAA GEM that first opened to the public in 1894. The Osage Indians called it the Devil's Den, a reference to the strange howling noises emanating from its depths. Canadian entrepreneur William Henry Lynch bought the cave and hired naturalist and artist S. Fred Prince to survey it, a task that took two years. The most impressive features of this wet limestone cavern are the phantasmagorical shapes in the Cathedral Room, reached by a daunting series of stairs and ramps. (The tour is not recommended for those with heart or lung conditions, bad backs or weak knees.) A cable train hauls you 1,070 feet back to the surface.

Cave fanciers also should check out Talking Rocks Cavern. Formed over eons of time by dripping water, the massive crystal draperies have an otherworldly, alien look. A brief sound-and-light presentation illuminates different sections of the cavern. You'll experience a few seconds of total darkness just after the spotlights are turned off and the colored lights are turned on—a creepy realization that utter blackness is the natural environment 150 feet underground. Note: The cave is cool, damp and claustrophobic, and footing can be slippery; watch your step. Also heed the guide's advice to use restroom facilities if necessary before the tour begins.

Titanic—World's Largest Museum Attraction made a big splash when it opened in 2006, and it's easy to see why. You can't miss the half-scale re-creation of this mighty ocean liner, complete with smokestacks, looming above the Strip. Mournful theme music from the movie plays as you enter the building—through an iceberg. From actual artifacts (a menu from the dining room) to exacting replicas (an 18-foot model ship) to interactive areas for kids, this AAA GEM attraction is a museum that fully engages you in its subject. Did you know, for example, that 23 women worked onboard the Titanic, and that crewmen shoveled 650 tons of coal in a day?

Going back further in time is one of Branson's oldest attractions. The AAA GEM Shepherd of the Hills Homestead brings to life the people and events chronicled in Harold Bell Wright's inspirational novel. You can walk around the homestead visiting various sites associated with the book, observe crafters at work or take a ride in a canopied jitney pulled by Clydesdale horses. Inspiration Point is where Wright once pitched a tent and gathered, well, inspiration for his story; there are great views from the top of the tower that stands on the hill.

The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theatre, another AAA GEM, presents a re-enactment of “The Shepherd of the Hills” under the stars in a large oval amphitheater. The story of hero and heroine Young Matt and Samantha “Sammy” Lane, villain Wash Gibbs and the mysterious figure who arrives in the Ozark town of Mutton Hollow combines drama, romance, music and action scenes, including a horse stampede and a cabin fire. The outdoor setting is a big plus, lending an appropriate natural backdrop as twilight deepens to darkness, lightning bugs appear and the sound of chirping crickets fills the air.

Relive the days of riverboat travel aboard the Showboat Branson Belle, a paddlewheeler docked at Table Rock Lake. Explore the decks of this meticulously restored vessel or simply sit back and enjoy the lake's blue waters, set against a backdrop of lush green hills. It wouldn't be Branson without a show, of course, and the Belle offers Showstoppers!, a song-and-dance revue complete with Broadway hits, adagio dancers and talking dogs Lucy, Irving and Elvis (voiced by comedian and ventriloquist Todd Oliver).

One of the most enjoyable ways to see Branson is aboard the amphibious vehicle known as a “Stretch Duck.” Ride the Ducks takes passengers down the Strip and out to Table Rock Lake for a splashdown into the water and a 20-minute cruise. Making this more than just another sightseeing tour is the personalized narration provided by the captains; they tell funny stories, divulge informative bits of history and serve as all-around local ambassadors. By the way, you'll receive a “quacker” when you board, and there will be plenty of opportunities to use it.

For a more extensive tour that gets you out of Branson proper, hop on the Branson Scenic Railway. The depot is conveniently located downtown at the foot of Main Street. The shiny red and silver train rolls through delightfully scenic Ozark foothills country—across valleys, through thick woodland and over elevated trestles bridging deep ravines—all viewed from the comfort of a domed observation car. For a special treat have an elegant four-course, candlelit dinner aboard the train, just as well-to-do rail passengers did more than half a century ago.

Both food and thrills are dished up at Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner and Show. Kids will love all the animal action, which includes ostrich racing, stunt riding and a thunderous buffalo stampede. Audience participation is encouraged, as you'll be rooting for either the North or the South. You also can stroll through the open-air stables for an up-close look at the show's equine stars.

Last but certainly not least are the music theaters. It would literally take a couple of months to see every single show offered in Branson. That's not feasible, of course, so most folks pick and choose based on their own personal preferences. If you're a newcomer to the show scene, following are a few general (and by no means inclusive) guidelines.

“All-around family entertainment” could describe many shows in town: a little dancing, a helping of comedy and plenty of music and singing, all rolled up into one fun variety package that appeals to young and old alike. You can't go wrong with the family shows at the Baldknobbers Country Music Theatre, the Dutton Family Theater, the Hughes Brothers Theatre or the Presleys' Country Jubilee.

Some shows put the music front and center, even though you'll still find yourself chuckling at the bits of funny business that are sure to crop up. Musical headliners entertain at the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre; Legends in Concert at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater; RFD-TV, The Theater; the Mickey Gilley Theatre; and the Welk Resort Theatre.

If you're in the mood for out-and-out comedy, head to the Yakov Smirnoff Theatre. Smirnoff's show also features music, but his shenanigans are the main event. If you want to see big names in concert, they appear regularly at The Oak Ridge Boys Theatre.

Looking for spectacle? The feats of skill and daring performed by the Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai at the New Shanghai Theatre will blow your mind. And the Remington Theatre serves up “Cirque,” a journey to a colorfully imaginative fantasy world.

If you want it all—from virtuoso musicianship to really cool special effects—the razzle-dazzle show at the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre delivers. But when it comes to live entertainment, Branson pretty much covers all the bases.

See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.



close
Branson in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Branson.

By Greg Weekes

Day 1: Morning
We'll say it right off the bat: You could spend three weeks here doing nothing but seeing shows. With some 45 venues offering more than 100 different performances, the choices are daunting. But there's more to Branson than simply music, as you'll discover over the course of this suggested itinerary.

Spend the morning strolling around downtown, a compact area just a couple of blocks square. (Parking—or a lack of it—can be a problem, so you may need to park in one of the nearby Branson Landing parking lots or use their free parking garage.) Have breakfast at the Shack Cafe or the Farmhouse Restaurant , 119 W. Main St. Don't expect upscale decor, an extensive menu or fancy preparation at either establishment; what you'll get is a basic lineup of eggs, bacon, pancakes, home fries and such, plus a friendly “hon” when your coffee cup is refilled.


More than a touch of 1960s Mayberry lives on in these striped awnings and homey storefronts. The time warp really kicks in at Dick's Old Time 5 & 10 , 103 W. Main St. It's a must see: narrow aisles packed to the rafters with everything from clothing to housewares to wooden back scratchers to horehound candy. There are loads of ceramic figurines and knickknacks, model airplanes and trains, toys, Christmas ornaments—you name it. Branson Bill's Emporium, 110 W. Main St., has more of the same. Hunting down a pair of Western boot salt and pepper shakers, a frog bird feeder or a special collectible doll? Branson Bill's got 'em. The store also carries an impressive lineup of homemade jams, jellies and preserves.

The historic 1905 train depot at the foot of Main Street is your next stop. Board the 11:30 departure of the Branson Scenic Railway , a vintage passenger train that embarks on a 40-mile round-trip excursion through the green foothills of the Ozarks. Traveling along a working commercial line operated by the Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad, the train will travel either north or south (the direction is determined just prior to departure). It crosses deep valleys and negotiates damp tunnels that were blasted through walls of solid rock during the line's arduous construction in the early 1900s. Three dome cars with big windows offer panoramic views of Crest Tunnel, Barren Fork Trestle, Tharp's Grade and other landmarks along the route.

Day 1: Afternoon
The Branson Scenic Railway depot is just steps from Branson Landing, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex with a backdrop of wooded slopes and serpentine Lake Taneycomo—it's a much more scenic setting than your average mall. Have lunch at Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que or Joe's Crab Shack, both popular franchises with outdoor seating, and hang around for the fountain show, which takes place on the hour beginning at noon. Water fountains shoot 120-foot geysers of H20 accompanied by fire, fancy lights and rousing music, a spectacle you can watch from the terraced “town square” or while ambling along the lakeshore boardwalk.

The Bass Pro Shops outlet at Branson Landing's south end is worth checking out even if you're not an outdoor person. It's an A-to-Z assemblage of everything related to hunting, fishing, camping and other recreation activities, all displayed with a painstaking attention to rustic detail that extends right down to the wildlife tracks etched into the concrete floor. Big, handcrafted chandeliers hang from the gabled ceiling and there are wildlife exhibits galore, including a diorama of deer running down a hillside. There's also a freshwater aquarium stocked with some of the game species—brown and rainbow trout, large and small-mouth bass, blue gill—that contribute to this region's considerable sport-fishing reputation.

Shoppers could easily spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the landing. If you’re not one of those people (or you skipped the train trip), you'll have time to head back downtown and catch a matinee show. The Owen's Theatre, 205 S. Commercial St., is an intimate 200-seat venue built in 1935 by a former mayor. It presents “Hank & Patsy Together Again,” a musical tribute to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, daily at 2 p.m. from early March through late November.

Branson's reputation may rest on country music, but the King of Rock 'n Roll gets almost as much attention. Elvis fans will want to catch the Dueling Elvis Contest, which takes place at the theater the fourth Saturday of every month from late April through December. Elvis impersonators channeling the iconic performer's different eras hit the stage, with the audience deciding on the winner. Another popular show at the theater is “Elvis and the Superstars,” with multitalented impressionist Dave Ehlert not only taking on the King but also Liberace, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson and even Shania Twain. Phone (417) 336-2112 or (800) 358-4795 for details and reservations.

Day 1: Evening
This town is all about celebrating the past, and one place where you can revisit your youth is Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater (on SR 76 about 2 miles west of downtown). From Wango Tango nachos and chunky baked potato soup to chicken finger sandwiches, country fried steak and the chocolate brownie orgy for dessert, haute cuisine this isn't—but it comes with a background soundtrack of irresistibly familiar '60s hits. After dinner head downstairs to Club '57, one of the few places in town that has a 21 and up admission policy. There's karaoke on Wednesdays and live music Thursday through Saturday, along with a full selection of draft beers and nightly drink specials.

Day 2: Morning
Most of Branson's action centers on the Strip, a 5-mile stretch of SR 76 some refer to as Country Music Boulevard. Start the day by filling up on the full breakfast spread at the Grand Country Buffet. Quantity is a given but quality also is high, so wise choices can keep you going most of the day.

One way to get a feel for the area is to Ride the Ducks. The amphibious vehicles tool down a portion of the Strip and climb to the top of Baird Mountain for a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside before making a splash-filled entry into Table Rock Lake for a short cruise. When boarding you're given a duck whistle, and the captain will encourage you to make noise with it. (There's another Ride the Ducks at Branson Landing.)

A vessel on an entirely different scale, Titanic—World's Largest Museum Attraction is a complete immersion experience. From the moment you enter this half-scale reproduction of the ill-fated ocean liner—to the mournful strains of the theme music from the 1997 film—you'll be taken to another time and place as the doomed maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic unfolds. The exhibits are fascinating (those third-class rooms were indeed tiny), and the galleries are designed to approximate the sensation of being an actual passenger. There's also a gallery that pays tribute to James Cameron's mega-popular movie.

Day 2: Afternoon
For lunch, step back in time at the at the 1950s-style diner Uptown Cafe , at 285 SR 165 before heading to an afternoon matinee. Most afternoon performances begin at 3 p.m.

For sheer spectacle, our recommendation is the perennially popular Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai show at the New Shanghai Theatre (on SR 165 just south of Green Mountain Drive). These extraordinarily gifted young athletes exhibit breathtaking agility, strength and flexibility as they spin plates, balance by one hand atop precariously stacked chairs and execute myriad other feats with unflappable showmanship. It's a nonstop parade of flamboyant costumes and acrobatic thrills; phone (417) 336-8888 or (877) 212-4462.

From the New Shanghai Theatre, backtrack to the Strip and head east to the Grand Country hotel/entertainment complex and Grand Country Square (1945 SR 76). This is Branson shopping at its most head-spinning: endless gifts, souvenirs, novelties and home accessories. The collectible lines encompass everything from Beanie Babies to Seraphim angels. Whether it's garden statues or Elvis memorabilia, you'll find it; in fact hard-core browsers will want to spend the entire afternoon here.

Day 2: Evening
It's a little tricky to fit a relaxed meal and a show into one evening, since almost all performances begin promptly at 8 p.m. If you're feeling a bit tuckered out—or don't feel like seeing two shows in one day—opt for a leisurely dinner at Buckingham's Prime Rib & Steakhouse , in the Clarion Hotel . It's casual, but the food is a cut above most local eateries. Prime rib is the specialty; pair it with a Caesar salad assembled at your table. Another tableside preparation is seafood pasta—lobster, shrimp, crab and fresh veggies tossed with linguine, garlic and butter and flambéed with a flourish. For a before-dinner libation, the lounge offers a variety of martinis.

You also could grab a quick bite to eat (there are all kinds of choices along the Strip) and then get ready for a foot-stompin' good time at the Baldknobbers Country Music Theatre or Presleys' Country Jubilee. Two of the oldest shows in town, they feature several generations of the Mabe and Presley families, respectively. This is the Branson blueprint that still pulls in crowds: music (fancy fiddling, a crack house band), songs (everything from gospel standards to Rascal Flatts), comedy routines (mostly of the cornpone variety) and a proudly patriotic closing number. Phone (417) 334-4528 or (800) 998-8908 for the Baldknobbers, (417) 334-4874 or (800) 335-4874 for the Presleys.

Just up the road is another longtime Branson entertainer. Mickey Gilley plays on his “Urban Cowboy”-era fame with a reprise of his signature song from the popular John Travolta film, a cover of the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me.” Phone (417) 334-3210 or (800) 334-1936 for the Mickey Gilley Theatre.

Day 3: Morning
If you're a fan of big country breakfasts try McFarlain's Family Restaurant, in the Branson's IMAX Entertainment Complex on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway. The caloric offerings include Belgian waffles, biscuits and sausage gravy and Granny's cinnamon roll, an extra large one anointed with maple cream cheese frosting (you may want to save part of this beast for later).

Spend part of the morning at the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, one of Branson's oldest attractions. “The Shepherd of the Hills,” the second novel by traveling preacher Harold Bell Wright, told an inspirational tale about the citizens of fictional Mutton Hollow in the Ozark Mountains that was loosely based on summers Wright spent camping in the hills of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. A guided tour will introduce you to the story's characters and themes, and the countryside (best viewed from the top of Inspiration Tower) is lovely.

From the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, take SR 76 west to Indian Point Road and Silver Dollar City. This theme park is dedicated to preserving Ozarks heritage, and that commitment is evident everywhere you look. You can watch resident craftsmen and women as they carve a candle, work a potter's wheel, fashion a knife blade or weave a basket. Listen to the Horsecreek Band as they tear into a bluegrass number. Or experience 1880s Ozark living at McHaffie's Homestead.

Of course Silver Dollar City also offers plenty of thrill rides and other amusements, including a giant swing that launches riders a dizzying seven stories into the air. Go underground and explore Marvel Cave, which was an Ozark tourist attraction long before Silver Dollar City opened. The highlight of Missouri's deepest cave is the otherworldly beauty of the Cathedral Room and its living limestone formations. Note: The guided tour involves climbing some 600 stairs, so it's only suitable for those in reasonably good shape.

Day 3: Afternoon
One of the best things about Silver Dollar City is the food (yes, you heard right), so you'll definitely want to have lunch here. Mollie's Mill, the park's first restaurant, has an all-you-can-eat buffet that's one of the best in Branson; the fried chicken, pot roast, macaroni and cheese, green beans, fried okra and hot rolls are classic country cookin'. If that's too much to digest, stop by Hatfield's Tater Patch for some calico potatoes—spuds, onions, peppers, smoked sausage and seasonings cooked up in a giant 5-foot skillet. Just follow your nose; the aroma is mouthwatering.

You could easily spend the rest of the day here, particularly if you have kids. If you don't (or if theme park fatigue sets in), backtrack to SR 76 and head east to the junction with SR 265. Take SR 265 south to Table Rock Lake. This deep-blue lake is Branson's outdoor recreation headquarters; it teems with bass, bluegill and other game fish and is very popular for boating. At the south end of Table Rock Dam is Table Rock State Park; a walk along the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail, which begins at the park visitor center and runs along the lake for just over 2 miles, is a nice respite from the tourist bustle.

Day 3: Evening
To keep the mood relaxed and also enjoy one of Branson's best fine dining experiences, dine at the Chateau Grille at Chateau on the Lake (in the Chateau on the Lake Resort & Spa ). Start with a wild mushroom tart or oysters baked with brie and then move on to rack of spring lamb or lavender-dusted ahi tuna with a tomato caper relish. The wine list is extensive and well chosen. In season, the veranda offers a stunning view of Table Rock Lake.

Showtime! One of the flashier extravaganzas in town takes place at the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre, 3260 Shepherd of the Hills Expwy. (near the Branson's IMAX complex). Tabuchi, a classically trained, Japanese-born violinist, serves up a musical menu that includes country fiddling (often a blazing rendition of “Orange Blossom Special”) as well as Broadway hits. Lavish is the word, from costumes to the plusher-than-usual seats. And the ladies' powder room and gentlemen's lounge must be seen to be believed. Onyx and marble, crystal chandeliers, stained glass, fresh orchids, black leather chairs, a hand-carved mahogany billiard table—take a look even if you don't need to use the facilities.



close
Branson in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Branson.

By Greg Weekes

Day 1: Morning
We'll say it right off the bat: You could spend three weeks here doing nothing but seeing shows. With some 45 venues offering more than 100 different performances, the choices are daunting. But there's more to Branson than simply music, as you'll discover over the course of this suggested itinerary.

Spend the morning strolling around downtown, a compact area just a couple of blocks square. (Parking—or a lack of it—can be a problem, so you may need to park in one of the nearby Branson Landing parking lots or use their free parking garage.) Have breakfast at the Shack Cafe or the Farmhouse Restaurant , 119 W. Main St. Don't expect upscale decor, an extensive menu or fancy preparation at either establishment; what you'll get is a basic lineup of eggs, bacon, pancakes, home fries and such, plus a friendly “hon” when your coffee cup is refilled.


More than a touch of 1960s Mayberry lives on in these striped awnings and homey storefronts. The time warp really kicks in at Dick's Old Time 5 & 10 , 103 W. Main St. It's a must see: narrow aisles packed to the rafters with everything from clothing to housewares to wooden back scratchers to horehound candy. There are loads of ceramic figurines and knickknacks, model airplanes and trains, toys, Christmas ornaments—you name it. Branson Bill's Emporium, 110 W. Main St., has more of the same. Hunting down a pair of Western boot salt and pepper shakers, a frog bird feeder or a special collectible doll? Branson Bill's got 'em. The store also carries an impressive lineup of homemade jams, jellies and preserves.

The historic 1905 train depot at the foot of Main Street is your next stop. Board the 11:30 departure of the Branson Scenic Railway , a vintage passenger train that embarks on a 40-mile round-trip excursion through the green foothills of the Ozarks. Traveling along a working commercial line operated by the Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad, the train will travel either north or south (the direction is determined just prior to departure). It crosses deep valleys and negotiates damp tunnels that were blasted through walls of solid rock during the line's arduous construction in the early 1900s. Three dome cars with big windows offer panoramic views of Crest Tunnel, Barren Fork Trestle, Tharp's Grade and other landmarks along the route.

Day 1: Afternoon
The Branson Scenic Railway depot is just steps from Branson Landing, a shopping, dining and entertainment complex with a backdrop of wooded slopes and serpentine Lake Taneycomo—it's a much more scenic setting than your average mall. Have lunch at Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que or Joe's Crab Shack, both popular franchises with outdoor seating, and hang around for the fountain show, which takes place on the hour beginning at noon. Water fountains shoot 120-foot geysers of H20 accompanied by fire, fancy lights and rousing music, a spectacle you can watch from the terraced “town square” or while ambling along the lakeshore boardwalk.

The Bass Pro Shops outlet at Branson Landing's south end is worth checking out even if you're not an outdoor person. It's an A-to-Z assemblage of everything related to hunting, fishing, camping and other recreation activities, all displayed with a painstaking attention to rustic detail that extends right down to the wildlife tracks etched into the concrete floor. Big, handcrafted chandeliers hang from the gabled ceiling and there are wildlife exhibits galore, including a diorama of deer running down a hillside. There's also a freshwater aquarium stocked with some of the game species—brown and rainbow trout, large and small-mouth bass, blue gill—that contribute to this region's considerable sport-fishing reputation.

Shoppers could easily spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the landing. If you’re not one of those people (or you skipped the train trip), you'll have time to head back downtown and catch a matinee show. The Owen's Theatre, 205 S. Commercial St., is an intimate 200-seat venue built in 1935 by a former mayor. It presents “Hank & Patsy Together Again,” a musical tribute to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, daily at 2 p.m. from early March through late November.

Branson's reputation may rest on country music, but the King of Rock 'n Roll gets almost as much attention. Elvis fans will want to catch the Dueling Elvis Contest, which takes place at the theater the fourth Saturday of every month from late April through December. Elvis impersonators channeling the iconic performer's different eras hit the stage, with the audience deciding on the winner. Another popular show at the theater is “Elvis and the Superstars,” with multitalented impressionist Dave Ehlert not only taking on the King but also Liberace, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson and even Shania Twain. Phone (417) 336-2112 or (800) 358-4795 for details and reservations.

Day 1: Evening
This town is all about celebrating the past, and one place where you can revisit your youth is Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater (on SR 76 about 2 miles west of downtown). From Wango Tango nachos and chunky baked potato soup to chicken finger sandwiches, country fried steak and the chocolate brownie orgy for dessert, haute cuisine this isn't—but it comes with a background soundtrack of irresistibly familiar '60s hits. After dinner head downstairs to Club '57, one of the few places in town that has a 21 and up admission policy. There's karaoke on Wednesdays and live music Thursday through Saturday, along with a full selection of draft beers and nightly drink specials.

Day 2: Morning
Most of Branson's action centers on the Strip, a 5-mile stretch of SR 76 some refer to as Country Music Boulevard. Start the day by filling up on the full breakfast spread at the Grand Country Buffet. Quantity is a given but quality also is high, so wise choices can keep you going most of the day.

One way to get a feel for the area is to Ride the Ducks. The amphibious vehicles tool down a portion of the Strip and climb to the top of Baird Mountain for a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside before making a splash-filled entry into Table Rock Lake for a short cruise. When boarding you're given a duck whistle, and the captain will encourage you to make noise with it. (There's another Ride the Ducks at Branson Landing.)

A vessel on an entirely different scale, Titanic—World's Largest Museum Attraction is a complete immersion experience. From the moment you enter this half-scale reproduction of the ill-fated ocean liner—to the mournful strains of the theme music from the 1997 film—you'll be taken to another time and place as the doomed maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic unfolds. The exhibits are fascinating (those third-class rooms were indeed tiny), and the galleries are designed to approximate the sensation of being an actual passenger. There's also a gallery that pays tribute to James Cameron's mega-popular movie.

Day 2: Afternoon
For lunch, step back in time at the at the 1950s-style diner Uptown Cafe , at 285 SR 165 before heading to an afternoon matinee. Most afternoon performances begin at 3 p.m.

For sheer spectacle, our recommendation is the perennially popular Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai show at the New Shanghai Theatre (on SR 165 just south of Green Mountain Drive). These extraordinarily gifted young athletes exhibit breathtaking agility, strength and flexibility as they spin plates, balance by one hand atop precariously stacked chairs and execute myriad other feats with unflappable showmanship. It's a nonstop parade of flamboyant costumes and acrobatic thrills; phone (417) 336-8888 or (877) 212-4462.

From the New Shanghai Theatre, backtrack to the Strip and head east to the Grand Country hotel/entertainment complex and Grand Country Square (1945 SR 76). This is Branson shopping at its most head-spinning: endless gifts, souvenirs, novelties and home accessories. The collectible lines encompass everything from Beanie Babies to Seraphim angels. Whether it's garden statues or Elvis memorabilia, you'll find it; in fact hard-core browsers will want to spend the entire afternoon here.

Day 2: Evening
It's a little tricky to fit a relaxed meal and a show into one evening, since almost all performances begin promptly at 8 p.m. If you're feeling a bit tuckered out—or don't feel like seeing two shows in one day—opt for a leisurely dinner at Buckingham's Prime Rib & Steakhouse , in the Clarion Hotel . It's casual, but the food is a cut above most local eateries. Prime rib is the specialty; pair it with a Caesar salad assembled at your table. Another tableside preparation is seafood pasta—lobster, shrimp, crab and fresh veggies tossed with linguine, garlic and butter and flambéed with a flourish. For a before-dinner libation, the lounge offers a variety of martinis.

You also could grab a quick bite to eat (there are all kinds of choices along the Strip) and then get ready for a foot-stompin' good time at the Baldknobbers Country Music Theatre or Presleys' Country Jubilee. Two of the oldest shows in town, they feature several generations of the Mabe and Presley families, respectively. This is the Branson blueprint that still pulls in crowds: music (fancy fiddling, a crack house band), songs (everything from gospel standards to Rascal Flatts), comedy routines (mostly of the cornpone variety) and a proudly patriotic closing number. Phone (417) 334-4528 or (800) 998-8908 for the Baldknobbers, (417) 334-4874 or (800) 335-4874 for the Presleys.

Just up the road is another longtime Branson entertainer. Mickey Gilley plays on his “Urban Cowboy”-era fame with a reprise of his signature song from the popular John Travolta film, a cover of the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me.” Phone (417) 334-3210 or (800) 334-1936 for the Mickey Gilley Theatre.

Day 3: Morning
If you're a fan of big country breakfasts try McFarlain's Family Restaurant, in the Branson's IMAX Entertainment Complex on Shepherd of the Hills Expressway. The caloric offerings include Belgian waffles, biscuits and sausage gravy and Granny's cinnamon roll, an extra large one anointed with maple cream cheese frosting (you may want to save part of this beast for later).

Spend part of the morning at the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, one of Branson's oldest attractions. “The Shepherd of the Hills,” the second novel by traveling preacher Harold Bell Wright, told an inspirational tale about the citizens of fictional Mutton Hollow in the Ozark Mountains that was loosely based on summers Wright spent camping in the hills of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. A guided tour will introduce you to the story's characters and themes, and the countryside (best viewed from the top of Inspiration Tower) is lovely.

From the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, take SR 76 west to Indian Point Road and Silver Dollar City. This theme park is dedicated to preserving Ozarks heritage, and that commitment is evident everywhere you look. You can watch resident craftsmen and women as they carve a candle, work a potter's wheel, fashion a knife blade or weave a basket. Listen to the Horsecreek Band as they tear into a bluegrass number. Or experience 1880s Ozark living at McHaffie's Homestead.

Of course Silver Dollar City also offers plenty of thrill rides and other amusements, including a giant swing that launches riders a dizzying seven stories into the air. Go underground and explore Marvel Cave, which was an Ozark tourist attraction long before Silver Dollar City opened. The highlight of Missouri's deepest cave is the otherworldly beauty of the Cathedral Room and its living limestone formations. Note: The guided tour involves climbing some 600 stairs, so it's only suitable for those in reasonably good shape.

Day 3: Afternoon
One of the best things about Silver Dollar City is the food (yes, you heard right), so you'll definitely want to have lunch here. Mollie's Mill, the park's first restaurant, has an all-you-can-eat buffet that's one of the best in Branson; the fried chicken, pot roast, macaroni and cheese, green beans, fried okra and hot rolls are classic country cookin'. If that's too much to digest, stop by Hatfield's Tater Patch for some calico potatoes—spuds, onions, peppers, smoked sausage and seasonings cooked up in a giant 5-foot skillet. Just follow your nose; the aroma is mouthwatering.

You could easily spend the rest of the day here, particularly if you have kids. If you don't (or if theme park fatigue sets in), backtrack to SR 76 and head east to the junction with SR 265. Take SR 265 south to Table Rock Lake. This deep-blue lake is Branson's outdoor recreation headquarters; it teems with bass, bluegill and other game fish and is very popular for boating. At the south end of Table Rock Dam is Table Rock State Park; a walk along the Table Rock Lakeshore Trail, which begins at the park visitor center and runs along the lake for just over 2 miles, is a nice respite from the tourist bustle.

Day 3: Evening
To keep the mood relaxed and also enjoy one of Branson's best fine dining experiences, dine at the Chateau Grille at Chateau on the Lake (in the Chateau on the Lake Resort & Spa ). Start with a wild mushroom tart or oysters baked with brie and then move on to rack of spring lamb or lavender-dusted ahi tuna with a tomato caper relish. The wine list is extensive and well chosen. In season, the veranda offers a stunning view of Table Rock Lake.

Showtime! One of the flashier extravaganzas in town takes place at the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre, 3260 Shepherd of the Hills Expwy. (near the Branson's IMAX complex). Tabuchi, a classically trained, Japanese-born violinist, serves up a musical menu that includes country fiddling (often a blazing rendition of “Orange Blossom Special”) as well as Broadway hits. Lavish is the word, from costumes to the plusher-than-usual seats. And the ladies' powder room and gentlemen's lounge must be seen to be believed. Onyx and marble, crystal chandeliers, stained glass, fresh orchids, black leather chairs, a hand-carved mahogany billiard table—take a look even if you don't need to use the facilities.



close


close