by Carmel L. Mooney
Springfield, Missouri offers families the best of everything a vacationing family could ask for, all wrapped up in one affordable package, with hospitality, friendly faces, captivating history, and beautiful scenery thrown into the mix.
At least a half-day must be planned for a visit to the Dickerson Park Zoo where residents and leisure travelers to the Ozarks region have enjoyed this beautiful display of animals for generations. With its South American exhibits, Asian species, African wonders, Australian inhabitants, birds, reptiles, and Missouri habitats, to name a few, this zoo is top-notch through and through. Specializing in conservation education and research while offering lots of special events throughout the year, there is always something of interest to see at this beautiful and educational zoo where elephant baths are a daily treat for both the pachyderms and the guests and where visitors can hand-feed the giraffes.
Bet you never thought chocolate could be an educational and emotionally moving experience! Well, you’ll see chocolate in a whole new way after you visit Askinosie Chocolate. Be sure to stop in for a tour where you’ll catch a vision of how chocolate is changing the world with one man’s dream to create chocolate that’s good for the planet, good for your body, and good for the farmers. That’s right; you’ll learn how their chocolate is even healthier than broccoli but you’ll have to see for yourself to fully appreciate the impact this company is making on their community and the world— one bite at a time.
Springfield is an artistic community, so you’ll want to check out one of many artsy tours or festivals, or events while you’re visiting. From art walks to blues festivals to art fests, symphony orchestras, and galleries, there are great opportunities to see the community’s arts come alive so check it out.
The Discovery Center is a hands-on museum that inspires to help people to learn about the world and our place in it. With educational displays, exhibits, craft projects, toys, games, mysteries, and more the whole family will enjoy and learn something new each time you stop in.
Every outdoor enthusiast and even those who don’t like the great outdoors but who just enjoy wonderful dining and interesting gadgets will love the Granddaddy of all Outdoor Stores at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. Animal dioramas, native aquariums with daily feeding shows, rifle tubes, shooting galleries, boat showrooms, enormous retail space, and Hemingway’s Blue Water Café will captivate your senses and make an impact no matter how you spend your time (or money) at this must-see spectacle.
Fantastic Caverns should have been renamed “Magnificent Caverns” or “Amazing Caverns” but since the name isn’t changing, neither is the wonderful experience you can count on at this timeless beauty. There are only four caverns of its kind in the world and in Springfield you can experience giant columns from floor to ceiling, glistening minerals, limestone stalagmites, and stalactites all from a Jeep-drawn tram.
If you work up an appetite, you may want to try something at Leong’s Tea House where Chef David Leong invented cashew chicken in 1963. Or, for a delightful light lunch or brunch, try Honey Heaven where you can eat and shop in the Vineyard Tea Room while savoring homemade soups, sandwiches, and quiches.
Save room for dinner because although Springfield is known for lots of great dining, you’ll have to try Kai Restaurant for an eclectic upscale dining experience that offers the best of steaks and sushi and a wonderfully bright and fun ambiance.
Gailey’s Breakfast Café is a must-try as is Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co.
And while we’re talking food, you’ll want to try Andy’s, Frozen Custard. There’s nothing like it.
A trip to Springfield wouldn’t be the same without a jaunt out to nearby Mansfield to see the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Historic Home. Located one mile east of the town square, this is the magical spot where the Little House books were written.
Allow time to stop along the way on Route 66 when you’re in Springfield. With all the quaint historic buildings, historical markers, funky shops, and restaurants, you’ll get your kicks on Route 66 but allow some unrushed time to just drive through the area on the old byway soaking up the sights and history.
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, Candy House Gourmet Chocolates, Animal Paradise Family Fun Park Drive-Thru, and Osceola Cheese are all area gems that warrant some extra time if you don’t want to miss the fun in the Springfield area.
Springfield is full of its glory but it’s also close to many other favorite destinations such as Branson only thirty minutes away, and Kansas City just a half day’s drive as well. So a family could easily plan a week or more and only touch on the highlights.
There are plenty of great lodging options in Springfield but Red Roof Inn is one centrally located hub from which to do your exploring. It has a pool for the kids, and breakfasts on-site, the staff is outstanding, the property is immaculate, and the hospitality is almost too good to be true.
If your family is looking for an all-around travel destination with the flavor of small-town Americana and the culture, history, and amenities of a metropolitan area, Springfield is the place to visit this year!
Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist, author, and radio talk show host. She is the editor of Road Trips for Couples