What to do in Branson
This Ozark town truly epitomizes the definition of a family vacation destination, with amusement parks, Wild-West–themed attractions and wide-open wilderness areas.
Where to go in Branson
Want to mix high-tech thrills with historical sites? Spend a day at the Silver Dollar City amusement park, known for having one of the world's fastest roller coasters (the cars also spin), and the Marvel Cave, one of the state's deepest limestone caverns. Designed to look like an 1880s mining village, the park also has authentic 19th-century buildings like a church and a log cabin, a firefighter-themed play area and several water rides. Branson is home to one of three nationwide locations for the rollicking show known as Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner Attraction. As you eat a hearty, four-course chicken dinner you'll watch the cast (including 32 horses) move through wagon and pig races, thrilling stunts (that ring of fire leap!) and graceful dances, finishing with a firework finale. Cool, crisp and clear (you can sometimes see 30 feet below), Table Rock Lake is known as a great place to swim, fish or rent a pontoon boat and sample tubing or water skiing.
Where to stay in Branson
All the cabins at Silver Dollar City's Wilderness Campground have private bathrooms, but vary in terms of other perks—the fancier ones also have kitchenettes, fireplaces and kids' sleeping lofts. They all have refrigerators, grills and fire pits, so you can cook dinner like a homesteader under the stars. There's also a pool, game room and shuttle service to the amusement park. Mabee Lodge, located at College of the Ozarks, is run by conscientious hotel management and culinary work-study students at the school's Keeter Center. Complimentary breakfast is delivered to your room, and turndown service will likely be the highlight of your stay: The students leave freshly baked cookies and milk from the campus dairy, fragrant bath salts, and robes laid out ready to go. At check in, kids are given a bracelet that says "Hard Work U." (the school's nickname), which entitles them to free ice cream from Nettie Marie's College Creamery.
Where to eat in Branson
Even if it didn't have a central downtown location near the Titanic museum, you'd be guaranteed to find Pasghetti's—just look for the building-size fork spearing a giant meatball. Inside, the restaurant is cleverly designed to look like a streetscape, and kids can ride a Ferris wheel while waiting for their pasta and meatballs to show up. Chili, reubens, burgers and fried green beans are on the menu at Mel's Hard Luck Diner, and this is one meal where you won't need the iPad: At this 1950s-inspired spot, the servers serenade the crowds with their favorite pop, country and opera tunes.