Attracting visitors for more than five decades, Branson is often described as a "family-friendly Las Vegas" for its abundance of kid-approved attractions. This southwest Missouri city, which is nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, was named after Reuben Branson, the postmaster and the proprietor of the area's general store in the late 19th century.
More than a century later, Branson retains some of its old-timey charm, especially in its Silver Dollar City amusement park, which was modeled after a mining town in the 1880s. Even the Branson Strip, which glows with neon lights and is lined with dozens of theaters performing shows that range from country western family acts to comedy routines, possesses a yesteryear ambiance. That's not to say that Branson is a sleepy Midwestern city – amusement parks, shopping centers, museums and natural attractions like Table Rock Lake pepper the area, giving visitors more than enough things to do to fill a weeklong vacation. In fact, many of Branson's visitors find themselves coming back year after year.
The best time to visit Branson is in November and December when the entire town gets into the holiday spirit and transforms into a winter wonderland. The months between June and August are another peak season for this family-friendly destination, and as such, the city is inundated with crowds (and heat). To get the best deals on hotel rates, travelers should come in January and February but should be warned that some of the top things to do, such as Silver Dollar City and White Water Branson, are closed for the season. The months between September and October and March through May are shoulder seasons; consider these periods if you want to beat the crowds and the extreme temperatures of summer and winter. Luckily, many of Branson's hotels offer affordable rates year-round.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
Most of the dining in Branson has a similar theme to the rest of the city: family-friendly. If you don't plan on packing your own picnic while at Silver Dollar City, take the family to Molly's Mill in the park on Main Street, which has been serving a hearty buffet for more than four decades. Plus, kids 3 and younger eat for free. Billy Bob's Dairyland earns great reviews for its diner fare, milkshakes and homemade pies, and the Keeter Center – located on the College of the Ozarks campus – receives high marks for its delicious, locally sourced menu (many of the ingredients are grown right on campus). When you and your taste buds are ready for something a bit more adventurous, try India Clay Oven – a favorite among recent visitors.
And if you're looking for something a bit more sophisticated, plan a daytrip to Mount Pleasant Winery for a light lunch and wine tasting. If you're flying in or out of the St. Louis airport, this may be a good first or last stop since the winery is located about 50 miles west of St. Louis. If you're coming from Branson, expect the drive to take you nearly four hours.
The best way to get around Branson is by car since there are no public transportation options that link all of the top attractions with local restaurants and accommodations. There is a free trolley that connects downtown Branson with Branson Landing, but its limited reach and seasonal hours mean travelers will still need to rely on their own wheels.
The closest airport, Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF), is about 52 miles north of Branson. Travelers will find less expensive airfares if they choose to fly into the state's larger airports – Kansas City International Airport (MCI) and Lambert-St Louis International Airport (STL) – but the drive to Branson will be about two to three hours longer than it is from Springfield. Though there are no shuttles provided by the Springfield airport to Branson, some accommodations may offer a shuttle; check with your individual hotel to see if it provides transportation.See details for Getting Around
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