25 Ways to Fall in Love with Southwest Missouri

This year, 417 Magazine celebrates our 25th anniversary. That’s 25 years of writing about the best stuff in Springfield, Missouri and sharing it with you. Here are 25 ways to fall head over heels for this place we call home.

by Katie Pollock Estes

Jan 2023

Image by Grace Chipley

This year, 417 Magazine celebrates our 25th anniversary. That’s 25 years of writing about the best stuff in and around Springfield, Missouri and sharing it with you. We knew the only way to honor this big birthday is to honor the whole entire reason we exist in the first place: We seriously love 417-land. And you probably do too. But just in case you need a reminder of why this region is so wonderful, we put together a list of 25 ways to fall head over heels for this place we call home.

Kids jumping into a lake at Table Rock Lake, Missouri
Photo by Sheri Holloway Photography

1. Relax on Table Rock Lake

There’s just something about this lake. It’s hard to describe it in words because, honestly, it’s mostly a feeling. Table Rock Lake feels like friends and family, like a lazy day in the Ozarks, like the best kind of summer fun. It’s popular enough to provide loads of marinas and places to rent boats and fun toys like wakeboards. But it’s quiet enough that you can enjoy those water sports or relax with a cove swim without sweating the boat traffic. The scenery at Table Rock Lake is unbeatable, and those sparkling waters and surrounding Ozarks hills are gorgeous when viewed from the deck of a boat. The sprawling green-and-blue vistas still take our breath away after all these years. We love bringing out-of-town visitors to Table Rock Lake for the day because, without a doubt, it’s the quickest way for them to fall in love with this place too.

We can't get enough of our local lakes, springs and waterways. Whether you're looking for swimming holes, springs, waterfalls or outdoor adventures on the water, we've probably written about it.

Statue against a sunset in Top of the Rock, Ridgedale, MO
Photo courtesy Shutterstock

2. Take in the Sunset at Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock is like an Ozarks beauty gateway drug. You might not think you’re all that into the Ozarks mountains or the outdoors, but then you find yourself at Top of the Rock and are immediately wowed. It’s like all of the region’s natural quirks, all in one place: There’s a cave (with a bar inside, might we add), a sinkhole (hello, karst topography), a scenic golf course and the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum featuring Native American artifacts from the region. But the icing on the cake is the sunset view. Grab a seat on the Buffalo Bar patio or near the tall windows at Osage Restaurant, and watch the sun go down over Table Rock Lake. It’s a heart-swelling scene of natural beauty that we can’t get enough of.

Speaking of picturesque patios, we have a whole guide dedicated to the best spots to sit outdoors and relax on a patio.

People paddling on a river in southwest Missouri
Photo by Chuck Travers

3. Float Down a Southwest Missouri Stream

We don’t want to say this too loudly because it’s better for us all if the rest of the Midwest isn’t in on the secret: But we have the best rivers here in the Ozarks. Spring-fed streams wind around the hills and valleys past thick forest, rocky bluffs and plenty of beautiful flora and fauna. As you kayak along, you’re almost certain to spot a blue heron stopping to catch a fish or some turtles sunning themselves on a log. And hopping off your kayak or canoe to plunge into the cold, crystal-clear water is like a baptism on a hot summer day. You’ll feel brand new. One of our favorites is the North Fork of the White River, with its quiet little rapids and its abundance of naturally breeding rainbow trout. For a setting that feels wild and remote, we recommend the Eleven Point River. And for something super-easy to access from Springfield, the James River is always a sure bet. But those are just three of our favorite options. There are truly so many streams to explore.

For more of our favorite float trips, take a look at our full guide to floating in the Ozarks.

4. Have Dinner with Your Neighbors at a Millsap Pizza Night

When people explain why they love living in Springfield, they often say it’s because of the small-town feel with big-city amenities. And we think Millsap Farm’s Pizza Night fits the bill. It’s just a short few minutes north of the city bustle of Springfield, but it feels like you’re in a quieter place from another time. A sweet little clearing in the trees features string lights and a stage for live music, and guests can relax with a plate of freshly made wood-fired pizza as the night gets dark and the fireflies start to come out. It feels like community and country, all at once. Our recommendation: Bring a bottle of wine and your favorite friends, and let yourself slow down a little while you’re there. If you bring the kids, there’s even an area where they can run and play while you sip your malbec and listen to some tunes in the fresh air. Does it get any better than that?

Millsap Farms isn't the only place that offers great pizza. Take a look at our guide to the best pizza in southwest Missouri.

Route 66 festival in Springfield, MO
Photo by Chris Akins

5. Party in the Street

It feels so good to experience Springfield with the community all around, which is why we love all of the annual events that are essentially great big parties in the street. Every year on the first weekend in May, ArtsFest brings together booth after booth of juried artists’ work along Historic Walnut Street, along with live performances from local talent and some tasty street food. In September, a similar juried art exhibition takes place in the same spot, but Cider Days has a distinct fall vibe, tons of pumpkins and opportunities to indulge in the event’s namesake drink. Summertime brings Taste of SOMO to Springfield’s Park Central Square, featuring food samples from local restaurants, a biergarten and live music. The annual Birthplace of Route 66 Festival in August is an outdoor blast from the past, with tons of classic cars on display and an overall vibe that pays homage to the Mother Road’s connection to Springfield. 

Art gallery in Springfield MO
Photo courtesy Springfield Art Museum

6. Stroll Through the Springfield Art Museum

A Springfield mainstay that’s getting better every year, Springfield Art Museum is a true treasure. Open since 1928 with a focus on art appreciation, education and preservation, the museum features a permanent collection of more than 10,000 works of fine art, plus temporary and traveling exhibitions. And it’s a true fixture in the community, offering kids summer camps, adult education, chic events like the annual 99X fundraiser and more. Right now, the museum is in the middle of a long improvements campaign that has already resulted in the naturalization of Fassnight Creek and will continue with extensive building renovations and expansions in the next few years.

White tiger at the National Tiger Sanctuary in southwest Missouri
Photo courtesy National Tiger Sanctuary

7. Plan a Day of Fun with Your Kids

If you’re a parent, you probably already know that the abundance of kid-friendly attractions in Springfield makes this an awesome place to live for anybody with kiddos. We love to combine a few kid-friendly favorites into one big day o’fun. Start the day off at Dickerson Park Zoo, where you can feed a giraffe, pet a few goats and see wildlife from all across the globe, all hanging out right here in Springfield. Then, take the kid party downtown to visit Discovery Center of Springfield, where they can get their science on by interacting with hands-on educational exhibits about everything from dinosaur bones to the hair-raising experience of touching a Tesla coil. Then, head to another nearby animal-centric spot: National Tiger Sanctuary. There you can take a tour where kids will learn about a variety of great big cats and what their lives are like at the sanctuary.

The Blue Room Comedy Club in Springfield MO
Photo courtesy Blue Room Comedy Club

8. See a Live Show

How awesome is it to watch art come to life, up on stage and right in front of you? Snagging a ticket to one of the many performing arts shows in Springfield will awaken a new appreciation of our city’s cultural gusto. You can see a Broadway Series show (like this season’s Hamilton run) at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts, see talented actors in live plays from both Springfield Little Theatre and Springfield Contemporary Theatre, listen to beautiful music from Springfield Symphony Orchestra, marvel at the leaping dancers from Springfield Ballet, see Missouri State theatre students perform at the John Goodman Amphitheatre, hear incredible voices through Ozarks Lyric Opera, watch national touring comedians at the Blue Room Comedy Club and so much more.

Andy's Frozen Custard
Photo by Kylie Wright

9. Try Some Favorite Local Flavors

If you’ve made southwest Missouri your home but didn’t grow up here: You know you’ve become a true 417-lander when Springfield-style cashew chicken evolves from “What the heck?” to a go-to comfort food in your mind. We opt for the original for this dish: Leong’s Asian Diner, run by Wing Yee Leong, who is the son of Springfield-style cashew chicken inventor, David Leong. But that’s not the only unique-to-here flavor that 417-landers love. There’s the massive and saucy Sancho Enchilada Style and the sweet chip dipping sauce from Mexican Villa. There’s the summery sweetness of a bowl of Pineapple Whip (especially the grape-pineapple swirl). There’s the perennial joy of dipping your spoon into an Ozarks Turtle from Andy’s Frozen Custard and fishing out the perfect pecan-loaded bite. And there’s the warm and sloppy-in-the-best-way comfort of a bowl of chili from Casper’s.

Don't know where to search for great local eats? 417 Magazine's annual Best of 417 list can help.

Hammons Field in Springfield MO
Photo courtesy Matt Turer, Springfield Cardinals

10. Root for the Home Team

Attending any sporting event is an exercise in community spirit. When you hear the crack of the bat right before a crowd of thousands all leaps up to cheer at the same moment, it really doesn’t get much better than that. We especially love experiencing that sporting feeling at a Springfield Cardinals game. Hammons Field is big enough to make you feel like you’re part of something significant when you go there for a game, but small enough that you can explore without feeling overwhelmed. A great family-friendly activity, Springfield Cardinals games feature fun on-field games, fun promotions, Kids Corner activities, visits from Louie, interesting eats (and people get pretty serious about those $1 brat nights) and some seriously good post-game fireworks during weekend games in the summer.

11. Stop and Smell the Roses at Nathaniel Greene Park

We’re lucky in here in Springfield: We have a pretty long growing season, and a whole lot of gorgeous plants thrive here. And one spot in Springfield is the aspiring gardener or flower admirer’s dream: Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. Start at the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden, where winding foot paths, water features, manicured gardens and darling structures combine for a truly serene experience. Then, make your way along the sidewalk that takes you all the way around the rest of the 113-acre park. You’ll walk past dozens of themed gardens, like a little grove of redbud trees that is absolutely on fire in the spring, the Roston Butterfly House, the ornamental grasses garden (which feels a little otherworldly in the best way if you venture deep inside), the pretty little dwarf conifer garden with its curved wood footbridge, and (our favorite) the shady and expansive hosta garden located right beside Lake Drummond. If flowers are your thing, there are gardens filled with roses, irises, peonies and more. And those are just a few of the pretty little spots where you can take in the sights and smells of these lovely gardens.

Aerial photo of lake in southwest Missouri
Photo by Zach Shermer

12. Admire the Unique Landscape of Southwest Missouri

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: There’s no place like 417-land. Hiking, mountain biking and walking trails weave through the region’s varying vistas. There are gently rolling hills, deciduous forests and rocky dolomite glades. Alongside our sparkling rivers, rushing springs and sprawling lakes you can spot limestone bluffs and other interesting rocky features. Thanks to karst topography, Missouri is speckled with more than 7,300 caves both big and small, and here in 417-land you can visit several of them for tours that let you get an up-close look at how these natural wonders were formed over millions of years. So whether you’re casually strolling one of the Ozark Greenway trails, touring Fantastic Caverns or exploring trails through the more remote reaches of the Ozarks, you’ll never run out of reasons to keep your eyes wide open so you don’t miss a single beautiful scene.

13. Laze Away an Afternoon at a Springfield, Missouri Brewery

The brewery scene in Springfield has exploded in recent years—and it’s still growing, with at least two big brewery expansions already underway. We love this trend. What’s better than gathering a few favorite friends to relax outside at one of these spots with a locally brewed beer and some live music. Each brewery shares an easygoing community vibe, but each location has its own personality too. At Tie & Timber, it’s all about the spacious tiered patio that’s a little oasis in the city. At Wire Road Brewing, it’s the sloping tree-filled gathering space with tons of room to spread out. At Mother’s Brewing Company, it’s the wide grassy lawn where community events take place throughout the year. At Piney River, it’s the big red barn where you can have a beer or a fresh pizza. The list goes on and on, but one thing’s for sure across the board: These are exceptional places to gather for that 417 feeling.

14. Take in the View from the Branson Ferris Wheel

Like so many 417-landers, the Branson Ferris Wheel wasn’t born here. It is a native Chicagoan, spending 20 years at the city’s Navy Pier and lifting tourists high above Lake Michigan for that perfect view. Now, this historic Ferris wheel is a Bransonite through-and-through. Its new home is on the Highway 76 strip at The Track Family Fun Parks’ Track 4. Instead of lifting those 40 gondolas over Lake Michigan, it now lifts them over Branson, offering views of the city’s funky attractions and the surrounding wooded Ozarks hillsides. It’s the perfect way to get the lay of the land.

15. Watch Springfield's Art Scene Grow

Spotting fine art out in the wild is a pretty awesome experience. And in recent years, it’s been easier than ever to do that here. From the influx of building-side murals scattered around Springfield to ongoing events like Springfield Sculpture Walk and the annual Overlay Festival, it’s practically an art explosion around here! The murals, like the “Do Good” mural on Commercial Street or the “Springfield” mural on the side of the Discovery Center building, provide little photo ops and colorful bursts of local pride. The sculptures, some of which are permanent and some of which change each year, give you the perfect excuse to head out on a walk through the city to admire the sometimes super-funky freestanding artwork that adds interest to busy street corners. And Overlay Festival (which you might have attended last fall when it was called MidXMdwst) brings art to life with large-scale installations and live mural painting along with musical performances and other events. So what does all of this mean to the average 417-lander? It means that there are people here working to make our region more beautiful, colorful and quirky every day.

We love seeing the arts and culture scene in Springfield grow and have covered everything from new gallery spaces to Q&A's with local artists.

Fish in aquarium at Wonders of Wildlife in Springfield MO
Photo courtesy Wonders of Wildlife

16. Follow the Path of a Great Big Fish at Wonders of Wildlife

At Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium, the under-the-sea exhibits and natural wildlife dioramas are expansive and immersive, so there are loads of opportunities to see something spectacular and learn something new. Our absolute favorite: following the path of fish both big and small as they float through the water in the Open Ocean area. The circular tank is like a sea creature highway, with the coolest critters swimming past as you watch. And we aren’t the only ones who think this magical attraction is something to be proud of. Wonders of Wildlife earned an accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and has won numerous awards, including America’s Best Aquarium and America’s Best New Attraction (both courtesy of USA Today readers).

Christmas lights in Silver Dollar City, Branson MO
Photo courtesy TGC Photography

17. Surround Yourself with Christmas Lights

Silver Dollar City is a blast for both tourists and locals at any time of year, but you can’t help falling in love with it during Christmas. The park’s An Old Time Christmas festival includes the biggest holiday lights display we’ve ever seen, with a whopping 6.5 million lights covering practically every building and even strung across walkways to make sparkly overhead displays. There are festive holiday shows and plenty of seasonal treats to eat too. The Christmas celebration is so popular, it has won USA Today’s readers’ poll for Best Theme Park Holiday Event five times! As if the sensory experience of taking in all those lights weren’t enough, the rides are open too, of course. So you can spin yourself right back to reality on the wild Time Traveler or blast yourself into roller coaster heaven on PowderKeg while you are there too.

Silver Dollar City isn't the only great place to see Christmas lights. Take a look at our roundup of holiday light displays around southwest Missouri.

Payne's Valley Golf Course in southwest Missouri
Photo courtesy Big Cedar Lodge

18. Practice Your Swing at World-Class Golf Courses

When Johnny Morris teamed up with Tiger Woods to design the uniquely beautiful Payne’s Valley Golf Course, we knew we’d hit the big time when it comes to golf. It solidified something that had been evolving for a long time: southwest Missouri’s rolling Ozark Mountains are a prime spot for top-notch destination golf. While the sport brings plenty of tourists to the area to play at numerous award-winning and super-scenic courses (like Payne’s Valley, Top of the Rock, Buffalo Ridge and more), it’s a boon for locals as well. We can reserve a tee time and take in those incredible views too, right?

There are plenty of places to go golfing in southwest Missouri, from putt-putt to professional links.

Finley Farms in Ozark MO
Photo courtesy Finley Farms

19. Dine at a Preserved Historic Mill

Finley Farms in Ozark has succeeded in taking something old and creating something new while still preserving the local history that is so important to the folks who live nearby. And right along the Finley River at Finley Farms, you’ll find the best example of that: The Ozark Mill Restaurant. This upscale farm-to-table spot is housed inside the preserved mill, which still features original hardwood flooring and millworks alongside comfy seating and huge windows overlooking the river. Your whole family can munch on tasty meals prepared using ingredients grown at Finley Farms—adding to the modern-meets-traditional vibe. Read our full review of The Ozark Mill Restaurant.

Hunting in fields
Photo by Jessica Kennon Spencer

20. Fish and Hunt in Southwest Missouri's Wilderness

When deer season opens in southwest Missouri, it’s practically a holiday for a lot of families who gather up their gear to spend the weekend chilling in hunting blinds and hanging out in cozy cabins. Fishing is a family favorite here too, with local waterways that are rife with a variety of fish. There’s rainbow trout and brown trout in Lake Taneycomo and in many local rivers, muskie in places like Fellows Lake and more. These outdoor sports result in the thrill of conquest and the practical benefit of stocking your freezer with venison or trout—but they are also great ways to enjoy the outdoors in southwest Missouri as you patiently wait for that perfect buck or a little bite.

Couple in bed at Hotel Vandivort in Springfield MO
Photo by Brandon Alms

21. Indulge in a Springfield, Missouri Staycation

Sometimes the best way to experience and fall in love with your hometown is to step outside your day-to-day grind and try being a tourist for a bit instead. Lucky for us, there are some stellar lodging options if staycationing in the region is on your to-do list. Hotel Vandivort has a super-chic mid-century modern vibe, great dining options and a rooftop bar atop V2 just across the alley. It’s the perfect home base for getting out and exploring the city. If you want more of a stay-in-one-spot staycation, then Big Cedar Lodge is a great upscale option that has a vibe best described as rustic cabin in the woods meets luxe getaway. There you’ll find walking trails, lake access, a bowling alley, a clay shooting school, golf courses, fishing lessons, dining, activity schedules and a bunch more.

Plan your Springfield staycation with our guide.

Assorted fruit arranged on pastry
Photo courtesy Van Gogh's Eeterie

22. Dine Your Way Around the World

There is an array of cuisines available at great restaurants all throughout southwest Missouri, but Springfield’s Commercial Street houses a curious combination of worldly flavors we can’t find anywhere else. There are Lebanese offerings at That Lebanese Place, Peruvian eats at Café Cusco, Indo-Dutch options at Van Gogh’s Eeterie, a variety of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine touches at Eurasia Coffee—and even good old American food with the killer burgers at Lindberg’s Tavern. We love that this one street has become its own friendly little hub of international cuisines in Springfield. 

23. Stroll Through Springfield's Unique Neighborhoods

A few of Springfield’s residential neighborhoods make great places to take a walk with your family because each one has its own unique vibe. In Rountree, the houses range from adorable bungalows to sprawling colonials, stately tudors and everything in between on streets that are lined with tall trees and deep front yards. It’s known for its Halloween parade and block after block of spookily decorated houses that bring trick or treaters so much glee. In Phelps Grove, you can walk past charming architecture before ending at Phelps Grove Park. Lovers of mid-century modern homes will enjoy trekking through Southern Hills, but they aren’t kidding about the hills! This spot connects to the Galloway Creek Greenway, so you can extend your walk all the way to Sequiota Park and beyond. In Midtown, the streets are lined with beautiful Victorian and other historic home styles, many of which have been or are being lovingly restored by neighbors who can’t get enough of that old-house charm. No matter which spot you pick, you’re in for a walk with plenty to see.

Festival goer in southwest Missouri fall festival
Photo by Brad Zweerink

24. Celebrate the Changing Seasons at a Local Fall Festival

A full calendar of fall festivals is one of the best benefits of Springfield’s location among southwest Missouri’s many smaller towns. In fact, there is so much quirky fall fun in southwest Missouri, there’s no way you could do it all in one season! The best part is that each festival has a different theme and personality. Hollister celebrates with the Grape & Fall Festival. In Mount Vernon, Apple Butter Makin’ Days festival steaming copper pots filled with the makings of some delicious apple butter. Up in Stockton, the annual Black Walnut Festival celebrates that earthy-funky nut that’s native to our state (and adds a perfect bitter-ish bite to a super-sweet chocolate chip cookie). Over in Republic, the art of growing massive gourds is at the forefront of Pumpkin Daze, where the biggest pumpkin takes home the glory. And of course, fall’s favorite fruit has several local events dedicated to it each year, including Seymour’s Apple Festival where the corn dogs are long and the baking contests are fierce.

Want the whole scoop? Take a look at our guide to fall festivals in southwest Missouri.

Culture Counter on Cherry and Pickwick in Springfield MO
Photo courtesy Culture Counter

25. Make a Day of It at Cherry and Pickwick

This beloved intersection is one of Springfield’s favorite hangouts, and it’s the perfect example of an area that seamlessly blends both residential and commercial buildings. There’s the Spanish revival vibe of the Tea Bar & Bites courtyard, which also connects to great vintage home goods shopping at Goldenrod. Down the block a little is Culture Counter for locally grown groceries and fresh ice cream, Cherry Picker Package x Fare for wine and coffee plus a small menu of great eats, and Pickwick & Cherry bakery for breads that can’t be beat. Also at that intersection you’ll find a brewery (Tie & Timber), a taco joint (Team Taco), a ramen slinger (Skully’s) and a sweet little spot that houses a breakfast café in the morning and a bar at night (Dani’s Flour Pot Bakery and The Royal, respectively). Visitors can hop into Artistree to paint pottery or Heritage to pour their own candle. Hey, now that I think of it… maybe we need to make it a weekend, not just a day.