Branson in 3 DaysThree 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: MorningSpend 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 Farmhouse Restaurant , 119 W. Main St. Don't expect upscale décor, 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 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.
The historic 1905 train depot at the foot of Main Street is your next stop. Make arrangements for the 11:30 departure aboard the Branson Scenic Railway , a vintage passenger train that embarks on a 40-mile round-trip excursion through the Ozarks foothills. Traveling along a working commercial line operated by the Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad, it heads either north or south (the direction is determined just prior to departure). The route crosses deep valleys and negotiates damp tunnels that were blasted through walls of solid rock during the line's 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: AfternoonThe 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 geysers 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 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. 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 Historic Owen Theatre & Branson's House of Comedy, 205 S. Commercial St., is an intimate 250-seat venue built in 1935 by a former mayor. It presents tribute shows to Neil Diamond, The Carpenters, Hank Williams and bands that appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Tickets are normally available at the door on the day of the show; phone (417) 464-8497 for the box office.
Day 1: EveningReserve your evenings for a show, since the choices are so plentiful. We suggest catching “Legends in Concert” at Dick Clark's American Bandstand Theater (on SR 76 about 2 miles west of downtown). You'll see celebrity impersonators who really sing (no lip syncs here), and the illusion is often pretty accurate. The lineup changes seasonally, but you can count on at least one country star (crowd-pleasing performers like Alan Jackson or Toby Keith) and usually Elvis. The theater is also a venue for concerts by mainstream country and '60s artists. For schedule and ticket information phone the box office at (417) 339-3003.
Day 2: MorningMost 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.
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 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: AfternoonHave lunch at Uptown Cafe (285 SR 165), a 1950s-style diner, before taking in a show. Most afternoon performances at Branson theaters begin at 3 p.m.
flickr/Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau
For sheer spectacle, our recommendation is the perennially popular Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai show at the Grand Shanghai Theatre (3455 SR 76W). Extraordinarily gifted young athletes exhibit breathtaking agility, strength and flexibility as well as unflappable showmanship in this nonstop parade of flamboyant costumes and acrobatic thrills; phone (417) 336-0888.
From the Grand Shanghai Theatre, head east to the Grand Country hotel/entertainment complex and Grand Country Square (1945 SR 76W). 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. Hard-core browsers will want to spend the entire afternoon here.
Day 2: EveningAward-winning, Ozarks-style barbecue awaits nearby at Gettin' Basted . Start off with the fresh, house-made pimento cheese before digging into a sandwich or barbecue plate featuring brisket, chicken, pork, ribs or sausages.
After dinner, get ready for a foot-stompin' good time at the Branson Famous Theatre (home of Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers) or the 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 (gospel standards to current country), 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.
Day 3: MorningIf 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 the morning at one of two longtime Branson attractions. The Shepherd of the Hills Homestead is a tribute to “The Shepherd of the Hills,” a novel by traveling preacher Harold Bell Wright that told an inspirational tale about the citizens of fictional Mutton Hollow in the Ozark Mountains. 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.
Silver Dollar City 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: AfternoonOne 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: EveningTo 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 ). The food is expertly prepared, and 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 theater seats to the ladies' powder room and gentlemen's lounge, which are bedecked with crystal chandeliers and fresh orchids (worth a look even if you don't need to use the facilities). For schedule and ticket information phone (417) 334-7469.
AAA’s in-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. To pass inspection, all hotels must meet the same rigorous standards for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality. These hotels receive a AAA Diamond designation that tells members what type of experience to expect.
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.
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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.
269 SR 248 Branson, MO 65615. Phone:(417)334-4084 or (800)214-3661
(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.
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.
Gray Line Branson
Cab companies include Jerry’s Shuttle, (417) 348-1419; and Checker Cab, City Cabs and Yellow Cab, all of which can be reached at (417) 332-2227 (Branson Cab Service).
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 12 stops in the historic downtown area, including two stops at Branson Landing. It operates daily 9-6, Mar.-Dec.; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. Trolley maps are available at downtown retail locations and at the Downtown Branson Betterment Association, 112 W. College St.; phone (417) 334-1548 or (866) 523-1190.