f you think of Branson in terms of its “Strip” — tacky, glittering and bustling with live theater, tourist traps and traffic — you may be surprised to discover that there is a great deal more to the town and the area than you ever suspected.
First of all, especially if you are from the arid Southwest of the USA, including most of California, you will be surprised and gratified by the green visual beauty of the Ozark Mountains, by the genuine friendliness of the people and the sweet fragrance of the air.
Do you really like to drive? The excellent roads leading through nearby small towns wind tantalizingly through magnificent scenery, and they are graded at just the perfect angle to make those curves a lot of fun to drive and put a smile on your face.
Are you a fall-color nut? Come to the Ozarks when the hardwood forests begin to flame; you will find it easily rivals the best that the New England states can offer.
Sure, if the entertainment is what you are coming for there is plenty of it in this resort town known as “The Live Entertainment Capital of America” (about a 50 minute drive south of Springfield on four-lane U.S. 65.)
Dozens of theaters seating more than 50,000 people line Missouri Highway 76 (called both “The Strip” and “Country Music Boulevard”), offering live entertainment by some of the most-loved names in American music. The Strip has more than shows, though – there’s miniature golfing, a water park, go carts, an IMAX theater, a Titanic Museum, helicopter rides, even an opportunity to “Ride the Ducks” — World War II amphibious vehicles that tour the Strip and nearby Table Rock Lake. Throughout the immediate area, theme parks, historical attractions and many other lively family amusements provide exciting vacation fun. Spring, summer, winter and fall, you’ll find attractions and festivals that celebrate the season– like Branson’s famous Ozark Mountain Christmas.
There’s plenty of shopping, too, if that’s your thing. Besides the ubiquitous souvenir and gift shops you can have a fine shopping time at 2 major factory outlet malls: Tanger Factory Outlet Center, located on Highway 76, with more than 65 stores; and the Shoppes at Branson Meadows, on Gretna Rd., with more than 40 stores housed in Victorian-style architecture. In fact, Branson is the favorite shopping area of the southeastern United States.
And then there’s Branson Landing, a popular shopping destination where you’ll find about 100 stores and several restaurants. Check out the huge waterfront fountain in the central square where every 30 minutes you can see choreographed fire, water, and light shows set to music. The Bass Pro Shop is a must-see, even if you’re not the outdoors type.
Away from the neon and the traffic of the Strip, you will find a Branson that might surprise you: sleepy, green, quiet, with charming neighborhoods tucked quietly away on side streets, and the historic part of town that is a pure delight to explore. In historic Downtown Branson you step back in time to the 1950s and beyond. Old Town has been the commercial center of Branson since the turn of the last century, sitting on the top of a steep little hill above Lake Taneycomo. It’s easy to get there — instead of heading west off Missouri 76 to the Strip/Country Music Boulevard, go east on 76. The road signs will point the direction to Downtown.
In Old Town, ducks rule the streets in the early morning before the stores open, preening themselves and snuggling down for a snooze on the warm pavement. (When is the last time you had to brake for ducks on a main thoroughfare?)
With over 80 unique quaint shops, businesses and restaurants, downtown is the home of Branson’s first theatre, Branson’s oldest commercial building, and the spot where Branson’s first show, the Baldknobbers Jamboree, “started it all.” Its architecture, brick facades, Victorian lampposts and old buildings are yet another reminder of just how steeped in Branson history Downtown Branson is.
This is a place to drive to, park, and get out and walk the four or five blocks that comprise the area. At the base of Main Street in the early morning you can see the mist rising on Lake Taneycomo, a narrow lake that looks like a river. This is where Branson Landing begins and also where you will find the historic train station where the Branson Scenic Railway takes daily trips on a 40-mile roundtrip excursion thru Ozark foothills and tunnels using vintage train engines and cars from the 1930’s through 1960’s. They also offer nightly dinner trips and a Polar Express tour during November and December.
Or you can park in any of several convenient spots and ride the free discovery Trolley that makes a loop through Historic Downtown and the Branson Landing. The trolley operates March-December daily, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In February the schedule is Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. The trolley route is on a constant loop – meaning pick up and drop off is generally every 15 minutes.
Give yourself time to walk around, explore, and eat – the street is filled with an assortment of small, homey restaurants like the Branson Cafe (touted as the oldest dining establishment in Taney County, with the best lemon meringue pie anywhere).
The biggest attraction downtown is probably Dick’s Oldtime 5 & 10, a must-visit old-fashioned “dime store” the likes of which you haven’t seen in a long time. In fact, if you’re under 50 years old you’ve probably never seen anything like it. Dick’s 5 & 10 has some 50,000 items in stock, including an impressive toy section. If it exists, you can find it at Dick’s. Need old fashioned paper dolls, die cast car models of the 50s, silk flowers, any kind of candy in the world, arrowheads, cloth handkerchiefs, Kewpie Doll books…? Yep; it’s at Dick’s Oldtime 5 & 10!
Every year Old Town hosts the annual Adoration Parade and Lighting Ceremony, which draws nearly 50,000 visitors in December. The parade, which started in 1948, bans any commercial floats ?that promote business, keeping the focus on the religious aspect of the season. You haven’t seen Christmas decorations until you’ve seen Branson decked out for the holidays!
Downtown Branson has more than 20 historic sites and through a self-guided tour, you can discover Branson’s beginnings. Pick up a map from the Downtown Branson Main Street Association at 119 West Pacific Street.
Silver Dollar City: On the unlikely chance that you find yourself with nothing to do, a visit to nearby Silver Dollar City will cure your boredom. Silver Dollar City is an 1800s-style theme park and campground located on 2,000 wooded acres atop Marvel Cave, a natural wonder that’s been drawing tourists since the late 1800s. To quote from their website (http://www.silverdollarcity.com/): “Nearly 100 craftsmen are on park demonstrating glass blowing, basket weaving, blacksmithing, pottery, candy making, candle making, and many other turn-of-century crafts. With 17 rides and attractions, 4 major festivals, 60 unique shops and restaurants, and 50 dazzling shows a day, Silver Dollar City truly appeals to kids of all ages.” And you won’t want to miss their Old Time Christmas celebrations at the end of the year!
Besides the above-mentioned things, there are numerous other sights and fun things to do.
Are you an avid golfer? Branson golf offers seven of the highest quality golf courses, with one on the way, which test golfers of any level. The golf courses have been cut out of the Ozark mountains and give a unique feel that is unexpected in the Mid West. Many of the best views of the Branson area can be experienced at Branson golf courses. Thousand Hills, LedgeStone, Branson Creek, Holiday Hills, Murder Rock, Payne Stewart Golf Club, The Pointe at Pointe Royale Golf Village and Top of the Rock are the Branson Golf Courses.
And then there are the famous lakes, ready and waiting to provide your whole family with water sports and fishing. There are 3 lakes in the area: Lake Taneycomo, Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals Lake. Together these three lakes offer a combination of fishing, boating, and water activities that is unsurpassed.
If you are into fishing you can choose between “warm water” fish such as Large Mouth Bass or “cold water” fish such as Rainbow and Brown Trout. The lakes also provide swimming, boating, water skiing, dinner and entertainment cruises, pontoon rentals, a cruise of Table Rock Lake aboard the Showboat Branson Belle, a relaxing stroll on a nature trail or along the lake front in historic downtown Branson or a quiet picnic along the shores somewhere.
You just have to go there and see it all for yourself. Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera and plan on taking lots of pictures. There is a photo opportunity every five seconds no matter where you look!
“On the Road” is a compilation of destination ideas, resort reviews, videos and more gathered from a variety of sources that includes our readers.
The purpose of “On the Road” is to showcase some of the magnificent places in the world to visit, to give you an idea for someplace to go that you might previously not have thought of or known about. In most cases, but not all, we have provided a brief overview of a timeshare resort in the spotlighted area. Most of those resorts are either RCI Gold Crown or I.I. Premier quality. However, these resorts are not usually the only timeshare resorts in the area; be sure to check in your exchange catalog for a complete listing of available resorts. Check it out— enjoy yourself, go somewhere new this year!
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