50 Things Every 417-Lander Must Do
When do you know you’ve become fully initiated into your home? You can start by trying all the foods that are unique to the area. You can check the best sites off your bucket list. You can immerse yourself in the outdoors. And, let’s be honest, that can take years! This feature is your shortcut—a list of 50 things that every 417-lander should know, do or eat to be really and truly local.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.
Photo by Tim Hawley, Interactive art installation: Matthew Mazzotta, Cloud House © Matthew Mazzotta
1. make it rain on a sunny day
Just steps south of Farmers Park (2144 E. Republic Road, Springfield), the Cloud House beckons visitors to the most relaxing work of interactive public art in the area. Step into the house-like structure with a friend and rock on the creaky wooden chairs. After a few seconds, rain begins to pour down from a marshmallow-fluff cloud and tap the tin rooftop before trickling down outside the windows. You can either spend your time wondering how it works or just sit back and enjoy the peaceful sound. (We recommend the latter.) This whimsical little local treasure that’s half clever engineering and half attractive design was developed during a residency at Farmers Park by designer Matthew Mazzotta.
Photo by Starboard & Port Creative
2. Embrace our hunting culture
In 417-land, hunting is more than just camo and, if you’re lucky, some venison stew later on. The sport is ingrained in our region’s history and culture, and it’s a pastime that’s shared among lifelong friends and generations of family members. It’s as much about the camaraderie and the tradition as it is about the hunt itself. When deer season begins, 417-land’s most avid hunters pull out their gear, set up their stands and make absolutely no other plans—because deer season trumps everything else. If you’re new to the sport, the Missouri Department of Conservation can hook you up with permit information, hunter education and certification classes, shooting skills courses and more.
Missouri Department of Conservation Navigate to “Hunting and Trapping” online at mdc.mo.gov.
3. Search for the Joplin Spook Light
Park your car on a dark road, turn off your headlights and hold your breath. If you’re lucky, you’ll spy an unexplained bright light up ahead. The source of the Joplin Spook Light is debatable (some say ghosts, some say headlights), but the best place to view it isn’t in Joplin at all, but rather just inside the Oklahoma border on Oklahoma East 50 Road looking west.
4. Plunge into Table rock lake
Summertime in 417-land is all about the water. The rivers, the streams, the lakes. All of them are hidden gems to anyone who isn’t from or hasn’t fallen in love with the region. And the king of all the waterways is Table Rock Lake. On a hot day, nothing beats the wind in your hair as you fly across the water on a boat. But the best—the absolute very best—is the moment when you find a quiet cove, stop the boat and jump into the cool, refreshing water. It’s the ultimate “ahhh.”
5. CUT DOWN YOUR OWN CHRISTMAS TREE
Channel your inner Clark Griswold, pile the family into your vehicle and warm up those pipes for a carol-filled road trip to Ozark Valley Christmas Tree Farm. The 417-land farm grows Scotch pine Christmas trees, and they offer up everything you need to cut your own: box saws, carts and even a hand with packing and loading it into your car. As an added scenic bonus, the farm is located on rolling Ozarks hills, so you can take in the rustic scenery while you’re there. You get to soak up some gorgeous bits of southwest Missouri and enjoy a family tradition while you’re at it. There is also a shop with wreaths, holiday decor and snacks.
6. Shake it with lulu
You’re acquainted with Lulu, right? The hip-swiveling siren of summertime sweetness? Lulu is the hula girl perched atop the Pineapple Whip trucks, a Springfield original serving frozen nondairy soft-serve treats in flavors that taste like a 417-land summer: pineapple, orange, strawberry-kiwi, mango-peach, grape, Nana-granate, and the oh-so-rare chocolate. But part of the allure of this treat is its expiration date; the trucks close for the winter, leaving you pining for your next dip of the whip.
Photo Brandon Alms
7.BELLY UP TO THE BAR AT CASPER’S
The chili at Casper’s (601 W. Walnut St., Springfield) is only half of the reason you need to go there. The other half is the atmosphere. Practically every inch of the Quonset hut is covered in kitsch. And this place is absolutely tiny. You might have to wait to get in. You might have to share a spot at the bar with a stranger. That’s all part of the experience. You can start a conversation and make a new friend while you wait for your food to find its way to you. And when your server sets down that little white bowl overflowing with meaty chili and piled high with cheese and chopped onions, you’ll understand why this spot has been slinging chili since 1909.
8. HAVE A STRONG OPINION ABOUT CROSSFIT
It seems like all the women and men (and even some of the kids!) of 417-land fall firmly on one side of the CrossFit debate. Either they can’t stop talking about it, or they roll their eyes when conversing with someone who can’t stop talking about it. It’s an activity that elicits strong opinions, that’s for sure. But be careful when you roll those eyes—they might just land on someone’s impressive bicep. We’re sure they’ll tell you how to get it if you ask.
9. INDULGE IN A Fried pie AT BILLY BOB’S
Here’s the thing about greasy spoons: The nostalgic shtick can only get you so far. If you want to last, you have to offer up something seriously delish. For Branson natives and lake-bound daytrippers alike, Billy Bob’s Dairy Land has long been the little diner that was worth a side trip. The spot sells truly delicious (and enormous!) burgers, crispy crinkle-cut fries, loaded hot dogs and plenty of indulgent milk shakes for that classic old-time diner feel. But it’s the fried pies that you really don’t want to miss. The little half-moons of pie crust are expertly sealed around luscious filling and freshly fried. Every piping hot bite is a sweet little treasure.
Billy Bob’s Dairy Land 1901 West 76 Country Blvd., Branson
10. Find out just how Tasty a pecan can be
At our Springfield-based Andy’s Frozen Custard, everything is pretty darn delicious. But true 417-landers know that there is one little topping that Andy’s does better than any other treats purveyor around: roasted pecans. Outsiders might think, “Oh sure. Pecans on a turtle. That’s what I expected.” And to them we say, “These aren’t just pecans, you nut!” These pecans are roasted until they are perfectly crisp but still buttery rich, with just enough salt to add a savory touch to our favorite Andy’s classics, like the Ozark Turtle sundae or the butter pecan concrete. Want a sweet-and-salty hint? We especially enjoy adding the roasted pecans to our raspberry sundaes.
Photo by Brandon Alms
11. Float the north fork
With so many streams both big and small winding through the Ozarks wilderness, it seems impossible to choose one to represent our floating and fishing culture. But the North Fork fits the bill. This spring-fed tributary of the White River winds through Wright, Douglas and Ozark Counties for 109 miles. A scenic canoe ride down the river includes a little bit of everything we love about Ozarks waterways. There are springs that you can hop out and visit (Althea Spring, for example), scenic old mills (like Dawt Mill with its dining and lodging options), a bit of white water and tons of quality rainbow trout fishing—some of the best rainbow trout fishing in the region, in fact. The water is cold and crystal clear, and spending a day on it is the perfect introduction to river-rat life.
12. order it enchilada-style
Hey, if the Burrito Enchilada Style is good enough to have its own place on one of Mexican Villa’s painted murals, then who are we to argue? There’s a reason this massive dish is a local favorite. You might hear longtime Springfieldians tell you to order it (or the similar Sancho Enchilada Style) to initiate you into the world of Mexican Villa fandom. The massive burritos are filled with beef, beans, cheese and burrito sauce and then smothered with enchilada sauce and yet more cheese. You can tackle the beast in its entirety, or you can order a half-size portion. Either way, the Burrito Enchilada Style is your gateway drug to Mexican Villa’s other signature flavors, like the sweet sauce. It’s a thin, pink and very sweet dipper for your tortilla chips. Just because Mexican Villa offers up this sugary concoction, don’t expect the spicy sauce to be a weak one. Mexican Villa’s hot sauce definitely brings the heat. Depending on your personal taste, you’ll probably douse your Burrito Enchilada Style with one of these two sauces. And once you do, you can say you’re eating like a true 417-lander.
Mexican Villa several locations in Springfield and Ozark
13. Feed the giraffes By hand
When it comes to interactive kid-pleasing features, Springfield’s own Dickerson Park Zoo takes the cake with its Giraffe Deck feeding experience. Guests of the zoo can purchase wafer crackers to feed the giraffes right up at the animals’ eye level. It’s a chance to see just how tall these creatures are and how long those hungry black tongues are as they reach out to grab a bite straight from your hand! The feed costs $4, or it can be purchased with zoo tokens. If you are visiting the zoo with kiddos who just can’t get enough of the fun they have interacting with animals, bring them to the Outback Corral petting zoo after they feed the giraffes. There they can hand-feed smaller critters, like goats, donkeys and more.
14. Cross 16 bridges on the frisco highline trail
If you’re in the mood for a challenge, see if you can walk or ride your bike the entire length of the Frisco Highline Trail, crossing all 16 of its bridges in the process. The trip is no small potatoes. In fact, it’s the longest rail-to-trail path in the state besides the famous Katy Trail. The Frisco Highline Trail winds across two counties and covers a whopping 35 miles, cutting through scenic pastures and across rivers. Find more info about the trail online at ozarkgreenways.org.
15. Brave Outlaw Run...In the Dark!
Even the bravest daredevils will get a thrill from racing down the twisting, looping track of Outlaw Run in the pitch-black darkness. So when Silver Dollar City stays open until 10 p.m. for Moonlight Madness in the summer, you should jump at the chance to experience this unique thrill. The ride is completely different when you can’t see where the cars are headed. Every turn is a surprise. Every loop is a shock. It’s a must-try for thrill-seekers in 417-land.
16. Defend cashew chicken against the haters
You know you’ve been there. You're trying to explain Springfield-style cashew chicken to a newbie, and you’re met with a confused face and furrowed brow. You try to talk about the sauce. (It’s more like a gravy?) You try to explain the chicken. (It’s like the yummiest chicken nugget you’ve ever had.) But no matter how hard you try, it’s just not gelling. You’re singing its praises, and your friend is nothing but dubious. Here’s how you fix it: Take them to try the original recipe and have dinner at Leong’s Asian Diner. It’s a good segue into the dish’s history (invented in the ’60s by David Leong) and the only way to really show your pal what it’s all about.
17. CHANNEL YOUR INNER MOANA ON Stockton LAKE
People are sometimes surprised to learn that canoes and ski boats aren’t the only way to get around on 417-land waterways. Stockton Lake, just an hour north of Springfield, is known for its stellar sailing opportunities. It plays host to recreational sailors, the annual Governor’s Cup Regatta sailboat races, and (lucky for you) sailing lessons. When you decide you’re ready to try your hand at this sport that’s as beautiful as it is fun, get in touch with the folks at Stockton State Park Marina. There you can opt for a handful of knowledge- and skills-based sailing courses, depending on your experience. The Basic Keelboat class is $625 for two days and covers everything you need to get your feet wet, like navigation rules, sailing terminology, helm commands and more. It’s a prerequisite for more advanced courses, like Basic Coastal Cruising, Coastal Navigation Standard and more. Classes are taught by a certified instructor and U.S. Coast Guard Captain. So now that you know, are you ready to feel the wind in your sails?
Sailing School Stockton State Park Marina, stocktonstateparkmarina.com
18. SPOT A work by JULIE BLACKMON
Photographer and native Springfieldian Julie Blackmon is a recognizable name outside the region, yet she still lives and works right here in 417-land. If you are familiar with her work, keep your eye out to spot her distinctive style. You can see her art on the walls at Druff’s in downtown Springfield, and she has had work featured in Time and The New Yorker. Once you fall in love, get your hands on her books Homegrown and Domestic Vacations.
Photos by Adam Williams Photography
19. Snap a hotel vandivort bathroom selfie
You already know good lighting is Instagram gold, right? Well, put that good lighting in a well designed bathroom, slap a clever hashtag on it, and you have one of 417-land’s favorite Friday-night-out trends: the #hotelvandivortbathroomselfie. And here’s the thing, folks. It’s not just about the way the light in that bathroom makes your skin glow and your blemishes disappear. It’s about being out with the cool kids on a weekend night. It’s about being the one who’s enjoying a killer cocktail at Hotel Vandivort’s restaurant, The Order, while somebody else is just sitting around at home, scrolling through Instagram in their jammies. It’s about being there. And it’s fun! Only a hotel that’s having fun could have embraced bathroom selfies with such gusto. So, if you haven’t already, go make one. We promise you’ll be impressed by the social media potential hiding in those potties.
20. NAVIGATE TO secret cove
Every true 417-lander knows where to find the best places to take a dip in our region’s many gorgeous lakes. But there is one extra-special spot that even the most seasoned lake-goers might not know about: Secret Cove on Bull Shoals Lake. The lake itself is a treasure with less development than other waterways and tons of crystal-clear water that you can enjoy without encountering too much boat traffic. But Secret Cove is arguably the best part of the whole lake. Navigate your boat to a narrow cove between points 17 and 18 on the lake, and you’ll wind back half a mile—surrounded on both sides with sheer bluffs—before reaching a spot where you can hike up the hillside to an interesting rock formation. It’s like your own scenic little hideaway on an already hidden-away cove.
Photo courtesy Big Cedar Lodge
21. LISTEN TO Bagpipes At top of the rock
As if the sprawling, scenic vista viewable from Top of the Rock weren’t enough of a reason to visit the attraction, you can also add a little bit of moving music to the mix. The Top of the Rock Signature Sunset Ceremony features live bagpipe music and the firing of a Civil War cannon to accompany the colors of an Ozarks sunset. It’s a bit of pomp, but well deserved. The striking views from the mountaintop preserve are nothing short of breathtaking.
22. GET CULTURED
Once you realize the cultural opportunities available in 417-land, there’s just no turning back. To experience all that the region has to offer, you have to take in as much of that show-stopping culture as possible. Just this month alone, there is so much happening. Springfield Ballet is busy gearing up for its annual performance of The Nutcracker, which starts December 15. The actors with Springfield Little Theatre at the historic Landers Theatre are wrapping up The Miracle Worker (which runs through November 5) and getting ready for the November 24 opening of Elf Jr.: The Musical. Over at the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, the November Salute to Veterans pops concert fits perfectly into the 2017 to 2018 revolution-themed season. Springfield Contemporary Theatre is performing a class: Driving Miss Daisy. The Moxie offers up independent and foreign films all year long. And the Springfield Regional Opera performed Verdi’s Otello as the opening show in the organization’s 37th season in Springfield.
Photo by Chuck Travers
23. Dine on A Farm
One of our very favorite little pieces of community in 417-land is created around the region’s small farm owners, who are all about sharing the farm-to-table love. Several have started hosting regular dinners on the farm, where guests can dine on tasty fare, enjoy a relaxed night in a scenic setting, meet a new friend and get to know the men and women who grow and raise their food. One of the first to crop up was Thursday Night Pizza Club at Millsap Farms. From May through October, the Millsaps sling hot pizza and share their slice of paradise. Since then, other farms have joined the fun with food and cocktail events at Green Thicket Farm, Lavender Falls Farm and downtown’s Urban Roots Farm.
24. ride A BUCKING bULL
When lifelong 417-landers regale you with tales of their youthful escapades about the town, you might hear about their time atop the mechanical bull at Midnight Rodeo (1773 S. Glenstone Ave., Springfield). If you’re really paying attention, you might even conclude that a true 417-lander hasn't come of age unless they’ve been bucked off once or twice. And if all of that bucking weren’t enough to make you feel just a little discombobulated after a few drinks, there’s also this: The bar rotates.
25. WATCH A MOVIE UNDER THE STARS
The bad news is that drive-in theaters are steadily disappearing. The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association counted only 324 of them in the U.S. in 2016. The good news is that 417-land is lucky enough to have four temperate seasons and actual drive-in opportunities. That means cool nights snuggled up in front of a movie screen are a must-do before it’s too late. Get your nostalgic fix at the Sunset Drive-In Theater (1601 E. Church St., Aurora, 417-678-6609).
26. Give into your fomo and spend a day at fmo
If you suffer from fear of missing out, then you need to get up early, drape your favorite floppy market bag over your arm and start your Saturday mornings off at Farmers Market of the Ozarks. The market’s community atmosphere makes it more than just a place to stock up on summer peaches or winter squash. Kids can jump in the fountain or have a balloon animal made for them. Foodies can indulge in a brick-oven pizza or other food truck fare. Fashionistas can shop at Farmers Park boutiques before they run down their grocery lists. And everybody gets a chance to support local growers while they stock their refrigerators.
27. Admit that wow Was worth the wait
Please don't pretend you weren’t among the 417-landers who got more than a little antsy about the fate of Wonders of Wildlife. It was nearly a decade that the museum was closed for renovations, but the newly opened aquarium slash wildlife museum is so incredible, it more than makes up for the grumbling. The immersive displays of saltwater and freshwater fish, rays you can pet and wildlife displays are truly awe-inspiring. If you haven’t been yet, you’re missing out.
Photo by Abby Gust
28. HUNT FOR SUNFLOWERS
If you spent any time scrolling Instagram between the months of July and October, you know that sunflower snaps are the new duck face. Every 417-lander who cares about racking up the likes knows that a well timed photo in a sunflower field (during golden hour, if you can swing it) is pretty much priceless. There are several local farms that plant sunflowers, and many of them can be visited via a quick stop on the side of the road. But one of our favorite places to walk among the flowers is Golden Grove Farms. Last summer, the farm hosted its first sunflower festival, inviting 417-landers to come enjoy the bounty.
Photo by Anne Mauldin
29. Have a beer on the lawn at mother’s brewing co.
Maybe it took 417-land just a minute longer than everybody else to fully jump onto the craft beer bandwagon, but now that we have, we’re living the good life. Our local breweries are more than just beer-makers. They are community centers with fun personalities and plenty of opportunities to connect with other local beer fans. Springfield's Mother’s Brewing Co. does it better than anybody. At the Friday Flix event, you can watch movies while you sip a beer on the brewery lawn. You can join the Mother’s bocce league and taste new brews at the 21-tap tasting room. Sure, it’s about the beer, but it’s about the community, too.
30. FALL IN LOVE WITH COMMERCIAL STREET
Any true 417-lander knows that ever-evolving Commercial Street needs to be on their radar. Mainstays like Askinosie Chocolate, Big Momma’s Coffee and Pizza House have long anchored the growing area, but more businesses keep appearing, each one more exciting than the last. There’s That Lebanese Place, Cafe Cusco, Chabom Tea & Spices, Culture Cafe at Eurasia Coffee & Tea, Q Enoteca for wine and live music, White River Brewing Company and more already established. Plus Indo-Dutch restaurant Van Gogh’s Eeterie is preparing to open in spring while Ophelia’s excavates its building in preparation for a reno and reopening.
31. SEEK OUT OUR BEST ROADSIDE wonders
Next time you find yourself with a free afternoon, hop into the car and see the bits and pieces of 417-land that roadtrippers enjoy from the front seats of their cars. Yup, that’s right: We have our own gaggle of roadside attractions. The World’s Largest Fork is a 35-foot-tall utensil stuck right in a little patch of earth outside The Food Channel Offices at 2215 W. Chesterfield Blvd. in Springfield. Another food-related sculpture is the 20-foot-long yellow elbow noodle with the words “You know you love it” that sits outside the Kraft Heinz plant at 2035 E. Bennett St. and makes passersby hungry for a big bowl of the blue box.
Photo by Brandon Alms
32. SPEND A DAY AT PICKWICK AND CHERRY
Southwest Missouri is not exactly a pedestrian’s paradise. You usually need a car to tote you from A to B as you run errands or socialize. But the corner of Pickwick Avenue and Cherry Street in Springfield is one of the few bastions of car-free joy. Park your vehicle and spend all day bouncing around the quaint little intersection on foot. Start with a Greek Bowl for breakfast at Cherry Picker Package X Fare. Afterward you might need a little pampering, so walk down to Lavare Day Spa or Zen 3 Spa and Bodyworks to get a massage and shop for skincare products from Good Skin Day. Once you’ve had time to rejuvenate, you’ll be ready for lunch. Order a quiche and a glass of secret house recipe ice tea at Tea Bar & Bites, which offers one of the cutest patios around. After that, venture across the street to Elle’s Patisserie, where you can nibble on a salted caramel truffle for dessert or maybe grab a subtly floral lavender iced coffee. If you want an afternoon cocktail, head back to Cherry Picker for a quick drink. Before you go home, hit up B+B Boulangerie and Fair-Weather Cafe for a beautiful loaf of bread to take back for dinner.
33. Cheer for your favorite hometown team
In 417-land, Friday night lights are more than just nostalgia. Heated high school rivalries are alive and well, and many southwest Missourians love spending their Friday nights cheering on the football teams at their hometown high schools. One of the region’s toughest and longest-running rivalries is between Webb City High School and Carthage High School. Watching the Cardinals (that’s Webb City’s team) and the Tigers face off is a must-do for local sports fans.
Photo by Brad Zweerink
34. Sweat off a few pounds at the Ozark empire fair
We don’t know who decided an outdoor fair on hot asphalt needed to happen during the hottest weeks of the year. But they did, and despite our grumbling, we always make time to go. Even with all of the unavoidable sweat, this event is fun. There are carnival games, rides, a petting zoo, grandstand concerts and so much food on a stick you won’t know what to eat first.
35. TRICK OR TREAT In Rountree
There’s something so nice and neighborly about trick-or-treating on your own street, but the Halloween night events in the Rountree neighborhood have to be experienced at least once. Every year, people flock to the scenic street for a massive costume parade, a lot of ghoulish camaraderie and some incredible candy. It’s like how Halloween looks in the movies: full and fun and boisterous and with true community appeal. Everyone gets into it, and we’re here for every second of it.
36. explore all of the Branson strip
Don’t write Branson off as a tourist destination only. It’s here for you, too! Pretend you didn’t grow up with Branson as part of your backdrop, and spend an afternoon exploring The Strip like a tourist. Ride the Branson Ferris Wheel to see the city from above (bransontracks.com). Pop in for a show. Dine on funnel cake. Shop at The Branson Landing and enjoy the choreographed water show at the fountain overlooking Lake Taneycomo. There’s a ton to see and do, and you can plan it by heading to explorebranson.com.
37. Venture beyond the French fries
Springfieldians know a good selfie opportunity when they see one, and the “Sun Target II” sculpture by John Henry is the abstract bright yellow epitome of a stellar social media backdrop. Its prominent placement outside Springfield Art Museum makes it easy to access on foot, especially if you’re already playing around near Phelps Grove Park. But please, don’t stop exploring at the “French Fries,” as they’re fondly nicknamed. Go inside the art museum and see what other works inspire you. The museum is one of the city’s cultural centerpieces and a must-tour for 417-landers. Its impressive permanent art collection and rotating exhibitions are not to be missed, and the museum also offers tons of educational opportunities for kids and adults, too. Learn more online at sgfmuseum.org.
38. Get saved!
If you’re in the market to get saved, then by golly this is the place for you. Located in the Bible Belt, Springfield alone has more than 640* congregations—many of the mega-church variety. No matter your religious preference, especially if it’s a Christian religion, on every corner there are churches where you can find community. Whether you seek a traffic-stopping crowd like the one that pours out of James River Assembly or a more low-key kind of salvation, you’re sure to find it here. *Source: Association of Religion Data Archives
39. Share a nostalgic pie At pizza house
Any pizzeria that has been open for as long as Pizza House is obviously doing something right. This Springfield staple has been in business since 1958—that’s almost 60 years of pie slinging! It’s had a couple of locations over the years, but its current quaint storefront on Commercial Street is the perfect spot for this nostalgic eatery. The menu there is small but tried-and-true. There are just 13 toppings, all of them the basics that you’d expect at a pizza joint. And besides that, two simple salads and a few drinks are all there is. Order the pizza (which is served on thin crust) with bacon. It’s crispy and perfect and piled high. No skimping here!
40. Shop (Or don’t) at bass pro
If you think Bass Pro Shops, the outdoorsy Mecca founded by Springfieldian Johnny Morris, is just a store for hunters and anglers, you’re obviously a newbie. It’s okay! That’s what everybody thinks at first. But the store is actually a full-fledged attraction. There are live fish feedings with jocular, microphoned scuba divers. There are ducks waddling around indoor waterfalls and turtles sunning themselves on indoor rocks. There are even live alligators and more taxidermy bears than you can shake a taxidermy heron at.
41. GAwk at the donut counter at hurts
When Hurts Donut (320 Park Central West, 1111 E. Republic Road, Springfield) opened up shop in downtown Springfield, it brought wild donuts with it. Wild donuts that are available every single day, all day long. That meant you could get a maple-bacon long john at 2 a.m., an Andes mint–encrusted chocolate cake donut at 4 p.m., or an apple fritter the size of your head at 10:45 p.m. It took about four seconds for this spot to become a Springfield staple. Since then they have moved to a bigger downtown location, opened another Springfield store and started Hurts franchises around the country. It’s a go-big-or-go-home kind of place, with enormous cinnamon rolls and mega-sweet donuts coated with candy or filled with Nutella. Hurts is donuts on steroids, and we love it.
42. Explore a cave
Our region’s karst topography creates unseen voids under the earth that can lead to sinkholes (bad news) and carve out caves galore (great news!). And those caves make for incredible exploration. For beginners, a riding tour like Fantastic Caverns or walking tour like Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City is a great way to get introduced to this underground wonderland. More experienced spelunkers can find community in local groups like Springfield Plateau Grotto.
Photo courtesy Missouri CVB
43. GO BACK IN TIME AT WILSON’S CREEK
The first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River took place right here in 417-land at what is now Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. The well maintained park provides tons of opportunities to learn all about the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, and it’s a great stop for kids and adults alike. There’s a 4.9-mile paved road where you can take a self-guided tour. The Ray House offers a peek into what life was like for soldiers in the 1850s. The house was used as a field hospital during the battle. So whether your interests lie in Civil War history or in national park exploration, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield is a must-visit destination.
Photo by Katie Day
44. LAUGH IT UP AT THE MYSTERY HOUR
Jeff Houghton has been hosting The Mystery Hour, Springfield’s only late-night talk show, since 2006. And for the past five years, he’s been doing it from his set on the Gillioz Theatre stage. Houghton has had some seriously hilarious guests over the years (like our favorite, comedian Paul Scheer), won four regional Emmy Awards and given countless 417-landers a chance to see him do his thing in a gorgeous historic theatre. The show airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Fox 5 in Springfield and Saturdays at 11 p.m. on Fox 14 in Joplin, but to get the full effect snag a ticket and see the live tapings. Find tickets online at gillioztheatre.com.
Photo courtesy History Museum on the Square
45. Take a Historical tour of Springfield
For local history buffs, Springfield’s History Museum on the Square is a must-see. We recommend visiting the museum any time of the year to see its exhibits on Route 66, Wild Bill Hickok and more. But when October rolls around, make sure you get tickets for the Haunted Bus Tours. Guests pile into buses for a one-hour tour during which they learn about historic haunted buildings and the stories behind them, the city’s oldest cemetery, a Civil War mass grave and a bunch more.
46. SHOW UP early at City butcher
If the length of the line directly correlates with the quality of the food, you know the smoky meats at City Butcher & Barbecue (36550 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield, 417-720-1113) are pretty damn good. The restaurant serves freshly made Texas-style barbecue. They open at 11 a.m. for lunch, and they have no set closing time. When the barbecue is gone, they close up shop. That means the best time to get lunch if you want to have the meat of your choice is right smack dab at 11 a.m. And what should you order? Anything. Seriously. It is all so delicious. The brisket is juicy and tender and melts in your mouth. The burnt ends are salty and indulgent. The Texas hot link has just the right amount of spicy snap. Even the side dishes follow the restaurant’s methods of creating simple food done right with no fancy stuff to muck it up. Simply delicious potato salad. Savory and indulgent smokehouse beans. We recommend getting a portion of whatever meat suits your fancy, and a side. Easy peasy. But if you’re feeling adventurous, you could order a sandwich. The City Smokestack features brisket, pulled pork, a sausage link and pork belly—perfect for the discerning carnivore who wants to try a little bit of everything.
Photo by Kate Whitney
47. PARTY IN THE STREET
There are two weekends every year when you know you won’t be able to drive down Historic Walnut Street in Springfield. During Artsfest in May and Cider Days in September, that road is reserved for foot traffic only as thousands of people gather under the trees and beside the beautiful late-19th Century homes to peruse booths full of juried art. Among the pottery, paintings and crafts, you can mingle with pups on leashes, exuberant kids and art-savvy grown-ups who are all taking in live music and tasty food. There are plenty of kid-friendly activities at both of these events, too. It’s a fun-for-the-whole-family chance to get out and enjoy the start of summer or the first days of a 417-land fall. Learn more about the festivals at springfieldartsfest.org and ciderdaysonwalnut.com.
48. PLAY musical Chairs at a Springfield Cardinals game
We have to admit, this is a pretty elite club. It’s not every Springfield Cardinals fan who gets to go on the field and take part in that most sacred and solemn of baseball pastimes: musical chairs. The competition is fierce. The music is loud. The chairs are inflatable. As far as on-field promotions go, this one is a favorite. And if you’re able to enter the laurels of musical chairs history at Hammons Field, you should consider yourself fully initiated.
49. Become a Pensmore Conspiracy theorist
In the Highlandville countryside sits one of the biggest homes in the United States with a whopping 72,000 square feet of sprawling space. It has been called Pensmore Mansion, Chateau Pensmore and Pensmore Castle, but the name isn’t as interesting as the conspiracy theories that have popped up around it. Is Steven Huff’s disaster-resistant estate a laboratory for sustainable building materials? Or is it an Armageddon stronghold for the Illuminati? The world may never know.
50. NIBBLE PIZZA AND HOPE FOR A BRAD PITT SIGHTING
Any 417-lander worth their salt knows that Inglourious Basterds star Brad Pitt is a native of Springfield and a Kickapoo High School graduate. And almost as well known is his apparent love for Arris’ Pizza. Whenever the city gets wind that the actor is in the area for a visit, locals in the know set their sights on that little Greek-ish pizza joint on Republic Road. He has popped in for meals on more than one occasion, so it might be your best bet to catch a glimpse of that brooding mug. But if you miss him, don’t worry. All is not lost. Just order up a gyro sandwich or a pizza topped with Greek sausage and feta to sooth your soul after that crushing disappointment.