Things to Do
Your Guide to Summer Nights in the Ozarks
This summer, focus on the seemingly neverending nights. There's something for everyone, from the community feeling of pizza night on the farm to the thrill of the bright lights of the Branson Ferris Wheel or Ozark Empire Fair and so much more.
By Katie Pollock Estes
Every year we dedicate time to highlighting activities that are a must-do if you want to have the best summer possible in southwest Missouri. Usually there’s a lot of swimming, a little hiking and a ton of time spent outside. This year, we wanted to focus specifically on the magical, twinkling hours between dusk and bedtime, when the heavy heat of the day has lightened a bit, the blazing sun has softened or gone away entirely, and the vibe is more “relaxing under the stars” than “melting under the sun.” Scroll on for all of the best ideas and activities to make the most of your summer nights.
Farm to Table Dinner Dining
The past few years have brought us an abundance of opportunities to dine at twilight on the serene and idyllic setting of a local family farm. Each with its own theme and cuisine, southwest Missouri’s farm-to-table dinners let you enjoy the long summer days in a place filled with that magical combination of great food and a neighborly community atmosphere. Reservations are a must for all of these.
Cafe at Lavender Falls Farm
Lavender Falls Farm, 3016 State Highway M, Clever, 417-350-7570
The season at Lavender Falls Farm is a little shorter. Dinners, lunches and brunches run during May and June. The farm is filled with the scent of lavender, and there is often live music. Below the cafe is a creek and an area perfect for letting the kids run around (there is even a tire swing). Besides small plates, visitors can order beef medallions, cedar plank salmon or strip steak. Most items incorporate lavender in creative ways. One of our favorites: lavender Prosecco. Make reservations online to secure your night.
Thursday Night Pizza Club
Millsap Farms, 6593 N. Emu Lane, Springfield, 417-839-8847
From May through October, Millsap Farms opens up their idylic property for anyone who wants to partake in wood-fired pizzas made with seasonal, fresh produce in fun flavor combinations. There’s live music and tons of room for kids to explore and play. Plus, you can take a little tour of the farm while you’re there. You can even grab some produce at the self-service farmstand while you’re between pizza slices. These dinners sell out quickly, so be sure to get tickets online early (click on “Pizza Night Tickets” to make reservations). Don’t forget to bring your lawn chairs or picnic blankets. Tables are available but fill up fast.
Dinner @ the Thicket
Green Thicket Farms, 1008 E. Farm Road 54, Springfield, 417-593-2335
Products from Green Thicket Farms, other nearby farms and local businesses are used to create each lovely three-hour, five-course tasting dinner right on the farm. Ingredients are seasonal, so the menu is a surprise up until the week of the dinner. Bonus: You can take a farm tour during the night. With only a handful of dinner events per year, you’ll want to jump on the chance to get a meal at Green Thicket Farms. The reserve spots early by visiting them online. Space won't last long!
Cheese Night on the Farm
Terrell Creek Farm, 508 Fordland Hills Drive, Fordland, 417-209-0021
Terrell Creek Farm is known for its stellar goats milk cheeses, and this farm dinner experience puts you right there on the green grass with those adorable goats nearby and live music wafting through the air. These all-you-care-to-eat meals are a fun and casual affair, where you can BYOB and snuggle down on a picnic blanket to eat seasonal local cheese, veggies, fruit, meat, nuts, bread and more—even desserts. Call for reservations.
Ladies Cocktail Night
Urban Roots Farm, 823 W. State, Springfield, 417-597-4858
On June 21, a ladies-only event at Urban Roots Farm gives guests a chance to hang out on the farm while they learn how to make (and also, of course, taste) some truly delicious cocktails while enjoying an evening around the fire on this residential farm. (We’re always amazed by what Urban Roots can create in their small space!) There are three craft cocktails and one mocktail on the menu, alongside food prepared by Katie Baker of The Gracious Plate.
Dine Outdoors on a Local Restaurant Patio
Sometimes, during the doggiest days of summer, it’s just too damn hot outside to cook for yourself, and you need a restaurant patio to save the day. (Honestly it might even be too hot to eat, in which case we recommend you simply drink.) We have so many great patios in Springfield, MO, from the laid-back trailside patio at Galloway Grill to the bustling street corner patio at Cherry Picker Package x Fare. While there, you don’t have to worry about sweating over the stove or the grill to prep dinner. Your only job is to lean back in that (probably wrought iron) chair, swipe the condensation off your glass of beer and bask in the fresh air. And then, say yes to the refill because you know you’ll want to stay a while.
Springfield's Best Patios
When it's patio season, you must take full advantage. Check our our full list of the best spots for outdoor dining.
Get Sticky with a Sweet Treat
If it doesn’t drip down the cone and onto your fingers while you’re eating it, is it really even a summertime ice cream cone? When the heat of the day has gotten the best of you, find a local frozen sweet treats purveyor and enjoy it outside. You can sit on the curb, a bench, a picnic table or the bumper of the car to slurp away under a rising moon. Just watch out for bees. They like sticky sweets, too.
Play Games at Local Breweries
Nights spent at our local breweries aren’t just for sampling refreshing locally made beers. Several of them also offer evening entertainment. At 4 By 4 Brewing Company, a large room that’s open to the patio features interactive group games that get you off your feet and goofing off with your brewery compatriots. At Mother’s Brewing Company, the activities are a bit more structured. The brewery’s 3-acre backyard is a grassy oasis in the middle of downtown Springfield where car shows, festivals and even outdoor movie nights make the brewery experience feel more like a hang-out at a friend’s house.
Visit All of Springfield's Craft Breweries
Each of our breweries offers a different vibe and experience. Get to know each brewery personality and go order yourself a pint. Cheers!
Ode to Fireflys
Even if you’re a stickler for bedtime, you just have to loosen up in the summer and let your kids stay up to look for fireflies. You remember what that felt like when you were a kid, right? You probably felt so free back then—up a little late (so scandalous!), romping through the grass with magical, twinkling fairy bugs. Have a jar handy with a few holes poked in the top, and let your kids enjoy their newly caught friends for a little bit. Then let them go and take your yawning babes to bed.
Bask in the Glow of Hot Air Balloons
Every summer for more than a decade, the Hot Air Balloon Glow in Ozark has lit up the night in a delightfully colorful way. The orange flames that illuminate brightly colored hot air balloons from the inside out also create a whooshing heat that rushes up into the balloons. As a result, the event ignites your senses in all sorts of ways. Guests at the Hot Air Balloon Glow get closer to the balloons than they might have ever had a chance to before, including hopping into the baskets. And although there will be no balloons launching (they aren’t allowed to do so after dark), the real-life art they create as they glow together in the field is a sight to behold. While you’re there, you can munch on some tasty vending, listen to live music and take your little ones to try some kid-friendly activities.
Where to Watch a Sunset
How can we have a list of the best ways to wind down the day without at least one sunset? With just the right vista stretching out in front of you (and just the right mix of sun, clouds and atmosphere), the bright brushstrokes of an Ozarks sunset are a sight to behold. Here are just a few of the best places to watch a sunset in southwest Missouri and spy a pink-and-orange sky. We love the contrast of the serene sky and the roiling waters at Grand Falls, the truly magnificent 360-degree view of Ozarks beauty at Top of the Rock, the skyline mixed with sunset tones at Jordan Valley Park and the peaceful stillness of Fellows Lake.
How to Watch for Shooting Stars
Every August as Earth spins through the dusty space debris (known as the Perseid Cloud) left by comet Swift-Tuttle’s orbit, the Perseid Meteor Shower lights up the night for all of Earth’s aspiring astronomers. Teensy little bits of that debris enter our atmosphere and burn up, creating “shooting stars.” Keep your eyes on the sky from July 17 to August 24, with the shower’s peak falling the night of August 12 to 13. Although a nearly full moon during this year’s meteor shower could hinder the show a little bit, you can still see meteors in action if you find a good spot and time your observation just right. You’ll want to find a dark location (think: far from city lights) with a good view of the sky (so, being beneath a thick tree canopy probably isn’t going to help you), ideally between 10 p.m. and dawn when visibility is usually highest. Eagle-eyed viewers could even catch a glimpse of both Mars and Saturn in the night sky around that time.
Paddleboard on the Lake at Dusk
Believe it or not, your favorite daytime water sports can be pretty darn enchanting during the quieter moonlit hours when there are fewer people on the lake. Ozarks SUP Yoga regularly has sunset paddleboard yoga classes that put all that stretchy goodness on a little floating platform as the day winds down to an end. How magical is that? If simply paddleboarding (no yoga, please) is more your style, Kayak Branson (5403 State Highway 165, Branson, 417-336-2811) rents out stand up paddleboards. You don’t even need to own one to embark on your next adventure, but you might want to practice a bit before the sun goes down.
Try Your Luck at Ozark Empire Fair
Step right up to the midway games at the Ozark Empire Fair and win a coveted giant stuffed animal as you compete against the odds under the twinkling fair lights. You might not really want that giant stuffed animal. You might even regret winning it when you get to the car and realize you have to find a place for it to live at your house somewhere among your more carefully curated decor. But that simply doesn’t matter in the moment when you can hear the scream of kids rounding a corner on nearby carnival rides, the ding of the games and the trill of the vendor egging you on to try just one more shot. It’s just one of many nostalgic fair activities that feels oh-so-right after the heat of the day has finally started to burn off. As always, you can expect perennial fair favorites as well, like livestock exhibitions, the Life & Arts competition and all the food-on-a-stick you can handle. (Okay, actually, there will definitely be more than you can handle.) While you’re there, make sure you check out the shows at the KY3 Grandstand, too. For example, there are concerts by Kansas (with local favorite Shaun Munday opening), Michael Ray and King & Country as well as a demolition derby, a monster truck show and more. Find dates and more info at ozarkempirefair.com.
Head to Branson for Night Rides at Silver Dollar City or White Water
There’s something extra-special about being at Silver Dollar City or White Water after normal park hours have ended. It feels like you’re someplace you’re not supposed to be, like an insider getting a backstage tour. You’re used to spending summer days at either of those places sweating under a hot sun while you’re strangled by heavy humidity and barely tolerating it all because you’re there for the thrilling payoff. Being there in the evening for Moonlight Madness or Night Water feels just a little bit rebellious. Explore the 13 wet-and-wild acres at White Water (including a trip down the insane KaPau Plummet) or ride the more than 40 rides and attractions that stay open late at Silver Dollar City. At White Water, the extended hours end with quite a show on Saturday nights with a 9:45 p.m. fireworks display.
Ode to the Backyard Serenade
When days last longer and twilight comes slowly, few things feel more relaxing than finding the comfiest spot in your backyard (Your favorite porch chair? A deep hammock? That cool Adirondack?), settling in with a glass of wine and listening to the cicadas, crickets and chirping frogs start their evening serenade. When summer’s at its peak, those musicians’ tunes can swell into a boisterous serenade. It’s the perfect time to close your eyes and just listen. Just be in the moment. Just enjoy that this is what summertime sounds like in southwest Missouri.
See Tigers by Twilight
Although you probably know you can visit National Tiger Sanctuary (518 State Highway BB, Saddlebrooke) for a number of different daytime tours, you might not realize the spot stays open late into the evening for special after-dark Tigers by Twilight tours, too. It’s an entirely different experience. You can hear the animals making all sorts of interesting evening sounds (grunting leopards and caroling lions), as you learn about why they are such stellar nighttime hunters. Tigers by Twilight tickets are $20 for kids, $35 for seniors and $40 for adults for this 60- to 75-minute tour. Find more info and purchase tickets online at nationaltigersanctuary.org.
Ride a Glowing Branson Ferris Wheel
Ferris Wheels are so romantic. You and your sweetie step into a private gondola for what feels like your very own ride to the top. Sure, there are tons of other people up there with you, but when the ride is as big as the 150-foot-tall Branson Ferris Wheel (which lived quite famously on Chicago’s Navy Pier before coming to Branson’s strip), you barely notice your neighbors. After the sun goes down, it glows with 16,000 LED lights—and Branson’s strip below you glows with countless more. Although you won’t really be riding straight up to the moon, on a clear night it might feel that way—just a little bit, anyway.
Take Your Best Shot at Bowfishing
You might think of fishing as an early morning activity—one you do in silence as you make yourself as invisible as possible, listen to nature waking up and attempt to reel in a big one. Bowfishing is another animal altogether. It’s a sport done under the cover of night. You use special archery equipment that allows you to snag your catch without casting a line. While just about everybody knows how to fish off a dock with a rod and reel, not everyone is as up to speed on the ins and outs of bowfishing. The good news: You don’t have to be a pro to try it out. Through Big Cedar Lodge’s Bent Hook Marina, one or two guests can join a guide on Table Rock Lake for an evening of bowfishing for $300, plus the cost of your fishing license.
Go Camping and Sleep Under the Stars
There’s nothing quite as enchanting as falling asleep to the sound of tree frogs chirping and no electricity buzzing anywhere within earshot. Cool evening air drifting in through mesh tent windows and a hint of wood smoke from a smoldering bonfire are the icing on the cake. (We won’t talk about that whole waking-up-in-a-nylon-oven-being-baked-by-the-blazing-sun-and-Missouri-humidity part.) There are countless places to pitch a tent in the Ozarks, so finding a campsite is easy. Just peruse our Missouri State Parks website to find a spot that speaks to you. Find all the gear you need at homegrown stores including Ozark Adventures (1111 E. Republic Road, Springfield) or Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World (1935 S. Campbell Ave., Springfield).
Locally Sourced S'mores
When you pack your cooler full of easy-to-cook items for your camping trip make sure you bring the gear to make locally inspired s’mores using bars from Askinosie Chocolate and homemade marshmallows from B&B Boulangerie. Try pairing the dark chocolate and peanut butter Askinosie bar with B&B’s handmade honey marshmallows.
Pack Your BagsPick your camping destination and plan out the details. Use each of the stories below to prep yourself for a great trip.
Ode to Backyard Campouts
Even if you live in suburbia, your backyard can become an enchanting wilderness if you have a little camping equipment and a big imagination. As you and the kids hunker down for the night (maybe slapping away the mosquitoes at the same time), you can tell spooky stories, indulge in some s’mores and stay up way too late. The moon can light your bedtime tales. The rustle of a passing squirrel can inspire your imagination, and the rising sun can warm you awake in the morning. You don’t have to take a vacation or trek out into the true wilderness to enjoy summer’s long nights, sleeping outside under the stars.
Root on the Springfield Cardinals at Hammons Field
A sunburn coupled with a little heat-of-the-summer exhaustion is the price you pay to be a baseball fan in hot, sticky Missouri. But the Springfield Cardinals give you some good reasons to snag tickets to night games at Hammons Field. There are bunch of fun promotions happening this summer (the St. Louis Cardinals embroidered jersey giveaway on July 11 or the St. Louis Cardinals ticket-for-two giveaway on August 29). We’re partial to the games that offer up a poppin’ fireworks show and on-field dance party to end the night. Throngs of fans are actually invited to leave their seats and pile into the outfield to see those colorful explosions in the sky and show off their best dance moves. This on-field fun happens throughout the season (including at the June 14 game against the Corpus Christi Hooks), so check online to view the full schedule and to buy tickets.
Enjoy the Nostalgia of a Drive-In Movie
Southwest Missouri is home to plenty of movie-going options, but there are none more nostalgia-inducing or more perfect for a summer night than a drive-in theater. We sent one staffer out to experience the magic for himself.
The first time I attended a drive-in movie theater was in Dayton, Ohio, while visiting grandparents. In doing so, they showed me a place they frequented when they were my age. I wanted to capture that magic, to rekindle the same wonder I felt that 2005 Ohio summer day. According to the most recent survey taken by United Drive-In Theaters Association and its administrative secretary D. Vogel, as of August 2018, there are eight drive-in theaters across Missouri. In southwest Missouri, three of those are within driving distance of Springfield, and, as I found, the spirit, nostalgic ambience and camaraderie only a drive-in can foster still lives on today.
Sunset Drive-In Theatre
1601 E. Church St., Aurora; Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day; Friday and Saturday pre-Memorial Day and post-Labor Day. Free for kids 5 and younger, $8 for older kids and adults.
It’s mid-August, the time of year when summer enters its late stages, and the humidity has become a bit of an afterthought. Cars lined inside, around and outside the Sunset Drive-In Theatre are here to watch Jason Statham fight a killer Megalodon shark.
Owner Larry Marks’s first stint with this 68-year-old theater began as a high school graduate in 1965. In 1977, Marks’s family bought the drive-in, and he’s been the owner ever since.
I get to the theater fairly early to take it all in—this is my first stop on my drive-in tour, and it had been a while since I had visited one. I walk around a bit, taking in the enveloping humidity that comes with the territory of an August night. I take note of the candy sharks swimming in the specialty drinks prepared for the night—part of the theatre’s niche is to stylize each weekend around the movies it shows. This was Jared Evans’ idea. Evans is the defacto creative director of the theater, patrolling along with his father Ron. Both have been a part of the theater for a large part of their lives—Ron has been coming to the theater since he was 4 years old. “It’s an atmosphere you really can’t explain,” he says.
66 Drive-In Theatre
17231 Old 66 Blvd., Carthage; Open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from Memorial Day to the beginning of school and Friday, Saturday and Sunday early spring and late fall. Free for kids 5 and younger, $4 for kids 6–12, $8 for adults.
There is a palpable irony in a drive-in theater getting its namesake from perhaps the most American of highways, one that has long been symbolic for America’s openness and endless possibilities. But 66 Drive-In Theatre, recognized on the National Register of Historic Places, wears its Americana on its sleeves. The original neon sign from 1949 still stands. There is also a red sign painted onto the back of the single screen, loudly announcing the name of the theater. If you’re driving by, it’s unlikely you’ll miss it. Taken together—the drive-in, the neon sign, the two-lane road the theater sits just off of—it’s a country song waiting to be written.
The promise of something either different or familiar is what keeps people coming to Nathan and Amy McDonald’s theater. The McDonalds have owned the theater since 2017. Before taking over, Nathan used to work security during showings to supplement his job as a policeman.
66 Drive-In Theatre is also open four nights a week for a large part of its open season instead of the typical three nights. Nathan made this changes to help customers who planned their night around a movie. Even in the age of Netflix and air-conditioned movie theaters, 66 Drive-In is thriving. Its success is in part thanks to its creative and flexible owner who isn’t afraid to make tweaks to the formula to keep things fresh. If he sees a need or a new opportunity, he takes action. “We’ve been able to bypass [streaming] because of the experience that we give,” Nathan says. “You just want to be a part of it. In the scope of drive-ins, ours is the one on Route 66, so it adds that piece of that historical landmark.”
Phoenix Drive-In Theater
16657 Highway B, Houston; Open Friday and Saturday, April through October. $5.50 for kids 12 and younger, $6.50 for adults.
It’s important to emphasize that those who attend drive-ins truly want to be there. There’s no half-embracing the quirks of the experience; you know what you’re getting into. In the case of Phoenix Drive-In Theater, you have a choice between inside and out. The theater is a hybrid— the traditional indoor space has been open since the 1950s. Its theaters are full of seats pulled from an era when people still had dial-up. Improvements have and are being made, but if it’s recliners the people of Houston seek, they’ll have to drive about 50 miles to Rolla to get them. Since this is the only theater within considerable distance, if they want to see a movie, this is the place to do it.
Behind the indoor facility is the drive-in, which has been in operation since the 1970s. It has different summits for cars to perch on. This creates a unique viewing experience—imagine what it’d be like to watch a movie about a fourth of the way up a ski lift. It’s a Friday in mid-October, and turnout is not what it might have been a month ago. This is a high school football town, and when weighing a rainy night of movie-watching and football under the lights, it’s not going to be much of a contest. Jen Shelton doesn’t mind all that much, acknowledging that such are the spoils of small-town life. Shelton and her husband, Josh, purchased the theater in June of 2018, so 2019 will mark their first full summer at the helm. “We love the theater,” says Jen, whose family helps out on show nights. “It’s not just a job. We’ve wanted to buy it for a while, and we just waited until the time was right.”
Shelton added arcade games and air hockey, though she acknowledges that the improvements she’d like to make are a work in progress. It could be argued, however, that the theater being mostly untouched adds to its authenticity and creates a portal to the past.—Evan Greenberg
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