Reigning over Missouri with plenty of Americana, Springfield is an ideal destination for Midwestern road trips, and it is the birthplace of famous subjects from Chuck Berry to Maya Angelou. Springfield is considered the Gateway to the Ozarks, and there is a lot to do at the region’s natural attractions, like at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. If you haven’t heard much about the Ozarks, Missouri is known as the Cave State, which means it’s even well suited to people living under a rock. Puns aside, many caves here are accessible to those with mobility issues, even featuring the nation’s first drive-through cave. There are also plenty of places that bring nature indoors, for example, the taxidermy and water features found at the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World; the sporting goods chain was founded here in Springfield. Springfield is a quintessential American city, famous as the origin of U.S. Highway 66. The city’s history even extends to the Civil War, and you can sense the war’s impact through museums and monuments; five Black servicemen, known as buffalo soldiers, are buried here. Local history reaches beyond roads and wars, with hotels, a zoo and even a castle, which were all built in the early 20th century. Springfield is a winning destination for families and kids, with animals, aquariums and plenty of interactive museums. Or, sports fans can appreciate the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame or catch a baseball game at Hammons Field. Whatever brings you to the “Show-Me State,” we’re readying to show you around Missouri with our list of the 20 top things to do in and around Springfield.
Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium
Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium bills itself as the largest immersive wildlife attraction in the world. To its credit, Springfield’s museum and aquarium complex houses the Midwest’s only sea turtle rehabilitation center, a full replica of President Theodore Roosevelt’s North Dakota cabin and the opportunity to dive into the sharks and groupers tank wearing a specialized helmet while the fish fed. The complex classifies its collections as aquarium, wildlife or special exhibits. Johnny Morris, who the complex is named after, is the founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops and an American billionaire. Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (closes at 7 p.m. Sunday). General admission tickets vary in price but are generally about $40 for adults and $25 for children, with discounts for locals. Additional passes that bundle families or other nearby attractions for a discounted rate are also available. Recent visitors to the museum and aquarium were impressed by the quality of the displays and suggested putting aside several hours to visit.
Address: 500 W. Sunshine St., Springfield, MO 65807
Catch a Game at Hammons Field
The Springfield Cardinals is the city’s Minor League Baseball team, and visitors can catch a game April through October at Hammons Field. The 8,000-seat stadium opened in 2004 as the home of the Springfield Cardinals, a Minor League Baseball team, as well as the Missouri State Bears collegiate team. The Cardinals play 70 home games each season as part of the Texas League. Fans should reserve tickets online in advance to ensure they get good seats. The Cardinals Kids Club is free to any child 12 and under and includes a certificate for their first Cardinals game, as well as two general admission tickets to three preselected games.
Address: 955 E. Trafficway St., Springfield, MO 65802
Route 66 Car Museum
U.S. Highway 66, known as Route 66, has been immortalized in song and holds a place in the American psyche of the wide, open road. Approximately 317 miles of the highway pass through Missouri, with Springfield considered the birthplace of Route 66. After being decommissioned as a highway, Route 66 was designated a National Scenic Byway. The Route 66 Car Museum pays homage to automobile culture with classic models and rare finds from 1907 through 2005. Perhaps the most impressive fact is that it’s an entirely private collection. Kids might enjoy seeing cars featured in classic films, like “Ghostbusters” and “Transformers.” It takes an hour or two to tour the museum, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission starts at $15, while admission is $5 for kids 10 and under and $13 for seniors and veterans. Free parking is available on-site.
Address: 1634 W. College St., Springfield, MO 65806
Springfield seems an unlikely place for a castle, let alone knights, but Pythian Castle stands in defiance of most travelers’ expectations. The Knights of Pythias, an organization similar to the Freemasons, built the castle in 1913 as an orphanage and retirement home. After the U.S. entered WWII, the government used the castle to house prisoners of war and to rehabilitate U.S. troops. It’s no wonder then that today, with more than 100 years of history, the castle attracts varied visitors. History buffs looking to learn more, amateur ghost hunters embarking on a ghost tour or overnight paranormal investigation, and thrill-seekers searching to be entertained by one of the castle’s escape rooms or murder mystery dinners all enjoy Pythian Castle. Prices vary depending on the tour you select, as well as add-ons ranging from a quick escape room or other games.
Address: 1451 E. Pythian St., Springfield MO 65802
Check Out Branson
Sure, you came to Springfield, but nearby Branson, Missouri — about 45 miles south of Springfield — has more than enough to offer a thrilling daytrip in the Ozarks. Silver Dollar City is a theme park modeled after the 1880s; WonderWorks is a peculiar attraction that looks like an upside-down house and is filled with interactive puzzles and experiments. Visit the Titanic Museum — with a real iceberg — to learn the history of its passengers and follow it with Dolly Parton’s Stampede, a wild rodeo dinner show. Or head to Gettin’ Basted, which claims to have its own style of Ozarks barbecue. Then, there are Branson’s three lakes, which provide numerous hiking, biking and boating activities.
Smallin Civil War Cave
Missouri is known as the Cave State, with more than 6,400 caves to its credit. Smallin Cave’s history spans before the Civil War, and the cave has been designated as a Historic District. It’s one of Missouri’s more accessible caves, and the basic tour is just a half-mile, has no stairs and can accommodate those in wheelchairs. These hourlong guided tours are perfect for families. More adventurous groups where everyone is age 12 and older can book a two-hour expedition wading through water lit only by headlamps. During the fall, Civil War lantern tours are conducted around a campfire and include a Southern meal, storytelling and a trip through the cave by lantern light.
Address: 3575 North Smallin Road, Ozark, MO 65721
Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden at the Springfield Botanical Garden
Located within the Springfield Botanical Garden, the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden is 7.5 acres with a koi lake, a tea house and traditional-style Japanese garden landscaping. Admission to the garden is $4 for adults and $2 for children. Recent visitors have commented that the garden’s serenity and beauty justify the small entrance fee. Kids enjoy the water features and the bullfrogs who call the lake home. The Japanese garden is closed seasonally, November through March.
Address: 2400 S. Scenic Ave., Springfield, MO 65807
The Fantastic Caverns, self-described as America’s ride-through cave, were discovered by an Ozarks farmer named John Knox in 1862, who kept the caves a secret throughout the Civil War. The caverns were first explored about five years later by a dozen all-female volunteers, whose names can still be seen carved on the cavern walls. Ride-through tours have been operating since 1962 and are taken on Jeep-drawn trams that preserve the integrity of the caves. An hourlong tour takes riders through stalactites and other formations made over thousands of years. Fantastic Caverns is open from 8 a.m. to dusk, daily, and tickets cost $30 per adult and $17 per child — children under 5 are free with a parent.
Address: 4872 N. Farm Road, Springfield, MO 65803
Head to Lake of the Ozarks State Park
If you’re spending enough time in Springfield, it’s worth a daytrip out to Lake of the Ozarks State Park, the largest state park in Missouri, about 90 miles northeast of downtown Springfield. Locals love to get outside, and you can follow suit along with one of the state’s largest lakes with 89 miles of shoreline by swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, cycling or camping to your heart’s content. Year-round accommodations on-site include cabins and yurts. Admission to the park is free, but rent a canoe, kayak or even a horse to make the day extra memorable. Pets on a leash are allowed. It wouldn’t be Missouri if there weren’t at least one cave — Ozark Caverns offers regular tours.
Address: 403 Highway 134, Kaiser, MO 65047
Springfield Art Museum
The Springfield Art Museum’s permanent collection started in 1928, making it the city’s oldest cultural institution. The museum has since grown to include nearly 10,000 objects in its permanent collection, with roughly four rotating exhibitions at any time. The museum’s outdoor grounds also showcase large sculptures for anyone visiting during warm weather. Visitors are welcome free of charge (donations welcome) and can expect a variety of globally-sourced collections, from pottery to printmaking. A Family Art Lab offers hands-on interaction, while a Book Nook invites a place to unwind. The museum is open every day but Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Address: 1111 E. Brookside Drive, Springfield, MO 65807
History Museum on the Square
Located on Route 66, History Museum on the Square offers interactive exhibits, including a nostalgic homage to what else but Route 66. Past visitors say that the museum is one of the best along Route 66 because of its multiple floors and varied offerings. Other galleries include exhibits on the Native American experience in and around Springfield and the effect of the Civil War on the city. A recent special showcase focuses on the impact of farming in the local Missouri community. The museum costs $16 per adult with discounts for children, military and seniors. The History Museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Address: 154 Park Central Square, Springfield, MO 65806
Built as a Masonic Temple in 1906, the modern-day Hotel Vandivort provides boutique accommodations that draw from the property’s history in Springfield. The hotel also includes one newer building, though vintage and industrial touches (think, local artwork and artisan metalwork and woodwork) are felt throughout the entire property. The hotel’s rooftop lounge and conservatory, Vantage, provides a stunning lookout where travelers can grab a cocktail. Meanwhile, The Order serves dinner and weekend brunch in an upscale atmosphere. Hotel Vandivort is a great home base to explore downtown, with many visitors praising its central location in Springfield. The hotel’s eateries welcome visitors who aren’t staying on-site — though as one of the best hotels in Springfield, you might want to consider it.
Address: 305 East Walnut St., Springfield, MO 65806
Visit the Original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World
The original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World location offers more gear than you could wrap your head around, but also The National Archery Hall of Fame, a cafe themed after Ernest Hemingway and a conservation education center called the Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility School. It’s a 500,000-square-foot space that attracts roughly 4 million guests each year with its hunter- and angler-centric interpretations of conservationism. Past travelers say that this Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World location is a spectacle worth witnessing, claiming that there is truly something for everyone in the gargantuan store. Outdoor World is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, closing one hour early on Sunday. The NRA National Sporting Arms Museum is located on-site, and the previously mentioned Wonders of Wildlife complex is adjacent.
Address: 1 Bass Pro Drive, Springfield, MO 65807
Missouri Sports Hall of Fame
Sports fans visiting Springfield need to tick this Hall of Fame off their lists; more than 4,000 items of Missouri sports memorabilia line the walls honoring exceptional athletes. Meanwhile, interactive exhibits welcome fans to participate in the action, allowing visitors to bat against an MLB pitcher, race against friends on a NASCAR track and more. The facility hosts various events throughout the year, including celebrity golf tournaments at the adjacent Highland Springs Country Club and luncheons for sports enthusiasts. The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (reduced hours Sunday), and admission is $5 with discounts for kids, seniors and families.
Address: 3861 E. Stan Musial Drive, Springfield, MO 65809
Springfield National Cemetery
Cemeteries have long drawn tourists for their historical significance and peaceful surroundings. Springfield’s National Cemetery was created as a resting place for Union soldiers during the Civil War, including five buffalo soldiers, African American soldiers who served during the Civil War. Today the cemetery’s 18 acres, once known as Kickapoo Prairie, are peppered with gravestones from veterans of various wars, as well as memorials to the Revolutionary War and those who died in the Pearl Harbor attack. The cemetery is open for visitation from dawn to dusk.
Address: 1702 E. Seminole St., Springfield, MO 65804
Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park
The 113-acre Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park should be near the top of anyone’s list of things to do in Springfield. The park is home to the Springfield Botanical Gardens; a native butterfly house, open seasonally from April through October; Lake Drummond; and the aforementioned Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden. The area was originally two parks, with the original Nathanael Greene Park named after a prominent Civil War general. The park was expanded and renamed after a donation from the C.M. Close family. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the park to explore dozens of themed gardens, along with the 1860s era Grey/Campbell farmstead and the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center. The park’s events calendar includes regularly programmed activities like an orchid show, a garden walk hosted by a master gardener and seasonal festivals.
Address: 2400 S. Scenic Ave., Springfield, MO 65807
Discovery Center of Springfield
Recent visitors describe the Discovery Center as a hidden gem. The nonprofit science center aims to reinforce STEM education through entertaining and interactive displays. Three floors mean there are plenty of exhibits to choose between, as the options run the gamut from “Myth or Fact: Vaccine,” which explains how vaccines work, to “Discover Exoplanets,” where visitors can build their own solar systems. More youth-focused exhibits include “Minecraft Adventure,” based on the popular video game and sure to be a hit. Exhibits rotate, so be sure to check what the Discover Center is offering before you visit. The Discovery Center costs $8 for children 3 to 15 and $12 for anyone 16 and older (discounts for seniors and military). It’s open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday through Sunday.
Address: 438 E. St. Louis St., Springfield, MO 65806
Route 66 Springfield Visitor Center
It might sound unconventional to include a city’s visitor center on a list of things to do, but Springfield’s visitor center earns praise from recent travelers for its comprehensive offerings. Open Monday through Friday, the Route 66 Springfield Visitor Center provides walk-ins with information on the area and its attractions and, of course, plenty of stories about the historic Route 66. Free parking is available for visitors just west of the entrance. Anyone looking for a nifty souvenir can also peruse the visitor center’s small selection of Springfield-themed merchandise.
Address: 815 E. St. Louis St., Springfield, MO 65806
Dickerson Park Zoo
Bring the family to meet more than 450 different animals from all around the globe while you’re visiting Springfield. The Dickerson Park Zoo has been in operation for nearly a century, founded in 1923. Since 1986, the zoo has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is part of a number of conservation efforts. A roughly 1-mile trail takes visitors by most of the animal enclosures, which include lions, tigers and bears. Take the opportunity to feed a giraffe for an additional $4.
There is a playground as well as a miniature train on-site — weather permitting, the train runs March through October for $2 per passenger aged 2 and older (younger children ride free). Admission to the zoo is $16 for adults or $11 for kids 3 to 12. The zoo is open daily, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March through October and until 4 p.m. other months (closed if there is snow or ice).
Address: 1401 W. Norton Road, Springfield, MO 65803
Whether you were born in the ’80s, grew up playing arcade games or just have nostalgia for the era, Springfield’s 1984 Arcade is worth a stop. The arcade is like something out of a time capsule, featuring roughly about 70 video games from the 1980s and more than 15 pinball machines. Visitors will be sure to appreciate the throwback pricing: admission to 1984 Arcade costs $10 per person and includes unlimited video games, with patrons free to come and go as they please. Pinball games cost a quarter to 50 cents. Fun events and kids-play-free nights add to the neighborhood arcade’s charm. The 1984 Arcade is open Wednesday through Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m.
Address: 400 S. Jefferson Ave., Springfield, MO 65806
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