Branson, Missouri. Have you been?? Heading there soon? Never thought you’d want to go? Here are a bunch of fun things to do in Branson that might just change your mind.
What have you heard about Branson, Missouri? That it’s a popular destination for seniors? That country music performers, and comedy shows like The Baldknobbers, have been entertaining tourists there for generations? That several episodes of the television show Beverly Hillbillies were filmed in the area? If you have heard any of these tidbits, you may have some preconceived notions about the city, as I did when we visited for the first time. But Branson turned out to be full of surprises; a city jam-packed with entertainment options for visitors of all ages (not just the gray-haired variety).
Branson has been a tourist destination since long before the city incorporated 101 years ago. Nestled in the Ozarks, early visitors were attracted to the area’s natural beauty, inspiring the urban elite to flock to the region for cave exploration and float fishing trips. These days, more than eight million tourists visit the small town each year, and the overwhelming amount of attractions keep them coming back again and again. From zip-lines, to amusement and water parks, to an amazing array of theatrical productions, you’d be hard pressed to be bored in this town.
When Branson AirExpress began offering direct flights from Austin, I jumped at the chance to whisk my three eldest children away for a whirlwind adventure in the Ozarks. What we discovered was that four days was not nearly enough time to scratch the surface of all that Branson has to offer. We could have easily filled another week with activities!
Shows, Shows, and More Shows
The television show 60 Minutes once referred to Branson as the “live music capital of the entire universe.” The show also dubbed the city “hillbilly Las Vegas,” which is perhaps less flattering, but it certainly captures the imagination. Many of Branson’s music acts have been around for decades, but the town’s nightlife is not limited to musical entertainment. Branson boasts more than 50 theatres with 64,057 seats (more theatre seats than Broadway). During our brief visit, we saw Kirby VanBurch perform The World’s Largest Magic Show, the Acrobats of China featuring the New Shanghai Circus’ dynamic production The Legend of Kung Fu, and a full-scale musical production, Joseph.
Silver Dollar City was easily the highlight of our trip. From the moment we entered the front gates of the rustic mountain wilderness theme park, we felt transported back in time to a land of locomotives, train robbers, water wheels, one-room schoolhouses, and swinging wooden bridges. Set in a densely wooded 2,000-acre Ozark forest, Silver Dollar City is an amusement park with rides and roller coasters aplenty, but at its heart is an 1880s frontier village, bustling with working craftsmen, pickin’ parties, and old timey treats like fruit turnovers and homemade ice cream made with a four-bucket churn.
A dinner cruise aboard the three-tiered Showboat Branson Belle gave us a lovely evening tour of the beautiful Table Rock Lake. We enjoyed a night of family-friendly musical entertainment, comedy, and magic, over a nice meal. It’s not every day you get to dine on a showboat, while watching an upside-down violin-playing, singing aerialist!
To add some education to your vacation, check out the Titanic Museum Attraction and discover what it was like to be aboard Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912. As you enter the giant ship-shaped building in Branson, you are given a Boarding Pass, listing the identity of a real Titanic passenger, and a first-person account of his or her background. As you journey through the 90-minute self-guided audio tour, you are linked to that passenger, and will not discover if he or she survived until the very end. It’s a bit nerve wracking, but effective for immersing guests in the story. I am thankful to report that the person on my Boarding Pass did make it off of Titanic alive, but the experience made me feel for those passengers who did not.
That was five things, if you’re keeping track, but I can’t write about Branson without mentioning Billy Gail’s Cafe. It was our staple. Besides having crazy delicious food, Billy Gail’s has toys. When kids arrive at the restaurant, they are invited to fill a bucket with toys, which they can play with at the table. After eating, each child may select one toy to keep, for free. My boys could hardly believe their luck. They begged to go back each morning and I was happy to oblige.
For more information on all that Branson has to offer, visit the Explore Branson website. Explore Branson is also very active on Facebook. I’m already daydreaming about returning to Branson with my entire family. On our next visit, I hope to experience Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. And eat more Billy Gail’s.
Heidi Gollub can be found writing about her adventures with five kids in the other Music City, Austin, at Free Fun in Austin.