For too long travelers have looked at Springfield, Missouri as the last rest stop before Branson. We decided to schedule a trip to showcase some of the “hidden gems” in this Oasis. The plan was to fill a three day weekend with as many places as possible, without total exhaustion. Come along as we highlight some of wonders we found in the “Gateway to the Ozarks”.
Loads of Attractions
Springfield is home to a wide array of attractions. Our itinerary attempted to contain most of the larger items. Dickerson Park Zoo is certainly a must for visitors of all ages. Wander the newly renovated Boardwalk, watch the spider monkeys frolic and play, listen to the lions roar or feed a giraffe at this accredited mid-sized zoological park. Be sure to save time for a train ride before leaving.
Just north of town you will find Fantastic Caverns. We loved the idea that we could ride through this immense cave system. The guide gave a thorough history, and peppered it with some amusing anecdotes. Afterwards, you can stretch your well rested legs on the nature walk down to the nearby river.
Travelers with kids or grand-kids will find hours of educational entertainment at Discovery Center. With four floors of scientific exhibits, children of all ages will see and learn new things. Even without any kids, we still found it hard to leave this place. This certainly ranked highly on our “Hidden Gem” scale. Be sure to get there early to make the most of your visit.
A visit to Creative Escape Glass will offer you a chance to slow down the pace a little. Here guests can create their own fused glass masterpiece under the guidance of a professional glass worker. For those visiting from out of town, finished pieces can be mailed to your home after final firing. This was truly a novelty that we have not seen in other cities.
Main Street of America
The memories of the Mother Road (Route 66) have slowly decayed and been removed. Here and there you still find references to the old highway system, which is a draw all on its own. Running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, this historic thoroughfare ran right through Springfield. Along the route, travelers would find many unique structures and oddities on their journeys. In Springfield, visitors can stay in what was one time the largest Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in the nation. We were honored that they hosted our stay, and found the retro decor to be fun. These days the name has changed to Oasis Hotel and Convention Center.
Springfield Special Features
We found that Springfield embraces their Route 66 legacy. As we wandered around the downtown Park Central Square area, we found ourselves strolling the historic highway. The downtown section is a vibrant shopping, dining, and entertainment district. We wandered through an assortment of shops that seemed focused on providing an artistic twist on the products they offered. Springfield Hot Glass caught our attention, as a glass-maker was working on a piece in full view of customers. Another staff member described the action, and was on hand to answer any questions.
The History Museum on the Square was occupying its temporary home, while the new state-of-the-art museum is being built. Currently they are housed in the historic Fox Theater, which limits their display space. The main focus of their exhibits during our visit was Springfield’s participation in World War 1. Loads of pictures, posters, memorabilia, and even newsreels make up the current displays.
At Fun Acre guests can experience miniature golf like it was in its heyday. Loads of cheesy statues join unique, and challenging obstacles to make for a healthy, and entertaining activity. With an admission charge of only $2.50 per person, you may want to visit more than once during your stay in Springfield.
A Foodie City
Someone told us that Springfield has the distinction of being an incubator for many new restaurant ideas. This certainly makes sense when you see the wide range of restaurant options available. In the downtown area we savored the offerings at two of the many choices at hand. Black Sheep Burger serves up some of the most picturesque burgers we have ever seen. Take your selfies quickly, because the flavors will soon have you tearing into your meals.
Nearby is Gailey’s Breakfast Cafe, which is located in an old pharmacy building. We had an early morning breakfast here, and enjoyed watching the playful interactions of the open galley kitchen. Be sure to check out the Freedom Waffle for a delightfully photogenic breakfast meal. It is certainly picture worthy, and the taste is amazing.
In the northern section of Springfield we found Cafe Cusco. Located on Commercial, or as they call it C-Street, this revitalized railroad headquarters now houses a Peruvian restaurant. Our first foray into this cuisine couldn’t have been better, and we became raving fans by the end of our meal. Be sure to save some time in your itinerary for a stroll through this historic section of the city.
Fire & Ice is located inside of the Oasis Hotel. The restaurant serves a wide range of meals, and the Ice Bar is a unique conversation starter. While sitting at the bar, guests can watch the action in the open-air kitchen, while their drink stays perfectly chilled in the long ice trough built into the bar. There is something to be said for getting a show with your meal.
It’s hard to imagine a vacation itinerary that didn’t include some sweet delights. While we were on C-Street we stopped in Askinosie Chocolate for a tasting. This bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer has some of the most unique flavor combinations around. Their business model has created an atmosphere of excellence from farmer to distributor, and it shines through in the delivered products.
At Elle’s Patisserie we found pastry perfection during an early morning visit. This dainty, yet bountiful sweets shop will have you imagining yourself in a European setting, as you savor the sights and scents of the experience. Be sure to ask Elle to package some of the macarons up for later. They make an eye-catching present for that special someone back home.
If you need a quick sugar fix, then Hurts Donut may be calling your name. Open 25 hours a day, and 8 days a week (according to them), this place serves up sugary creations in the round. If you have never visited before, be prepared to take some time picking which variations you want to taste. An assortment may be needed to get a true feel, and taste, of this place.
For those looking for some adult sweet treats, perhaps a visit to OOVDA Winery is in the cards. This local winery offers dry and sweet varieties of grape and fruit based wines. Stop in for a tasting, and then enjoy your purchase in their outdoor seating area. By the way, if you like a nice sweet wine, we would recommend the “Happy Birthday” variety. It is definitely a reason to celebrate.
Still More To See & Do
As you can see, we packed a lot into our 2 1/2 days, and still couldn’t see all of the great things Springfield, Missouri has to offer. There were still quite a few things on our original attractions list that we didn’t see, but may be of interest to you. For sports fans, Springfield is home to the Cardinals, a minor league baseball team, as well as the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Those looking for cultural displays can visit the Springfield Art Museum with over 10,000 pieces available for display or take time to see a performance at one the the local theaters. Outdoor adventurers can savor the 114 acre botanical garden/park, before heading over to Lake Springfield Park for a hike. Visitors can also rent a canoe or kayak to better explore the lake. Even all of these still barely scratch the surface of the city’s attraction list. Hopefully we have helped you see that Springfield, Missouri is more than just throwed rolls and fishing supplies. Isn’t it time for you to start planning your own trip to the the “Gateway to the Ozarks”?
*We would like to express our appreciation to the Springfield Visitors Bureau for their assistance and support of our research trip. While we did receive support from some of the places listed in our articles, all of the writing and opinions are our own.