In exchange for a little over a two hour drive, a weekend packed full of activities awaits you in Springfield, Missouri! A destination that boasts the best aquarium in the United States (USA Today), also has a litany of other impressive attractions, restaurants, and family forward attractions for those seeking an adventure without the commitment of a cross-country drive.
Mostly known to my family of five as a pit stop during frequent trips to Northwest Arkansas, we recently decided to make Springfield the endpoint as a treat for finishing out a successful school year. What a pleasant and jam-packed visit, trying to fit in all of the possibilities for fun in only a few days.
Springfield, Mo. Attractions
Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium
My husband and I quip anytime we visit Springfield or the Branson area, that when Johnny Morris does something, he does it right. The Wonder of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium is a true testament to the saying. In fact, if you only have a few hours, or one day to visit, this should be the priority. Having visited four separate times, it never ceases to amaze. It is expansive with over 350,000 square feet to explore, all of which is packed with marvel and delight for those who love the outdoors and conservation, or those who love to be entertained and wowed.
Divided in to two sections, Wildlife Galleries and Aquarium Adventure, this attraction can be an all-day event, or broken in to digestible outings suited to your family’s needs. Designed for all ages, it is an attractions adults and kids of will all enjoy. In the galleries, you will see 4D dioramas of animals from around the world, a museum or Native American artifacts, beautiful artwork and big game trophies. The aquarium presents river and sea creatures from around the world, displayed in awe-inspiring settings.
Tips for Parents
- Appropriate for children and adults of all ages.
- Plan to dedicate at least a half day to visit both the wildlife galleries and the aquarium.
- Strollers are welcome, but a side-by-side double stroller may struggle to fit in some areas.
- Wear comfortable shoes, as it’s a huge space.
- Plan to visit Bass Pro Outdoor World, the company’s flagship store, attached to the museums, as it is an attraction itself. Pick up a souvenir, shop, watch the turtles or grab a snack.
As someone who has spent a large number of vacations passing through southern Missouri, I have seen the abundance of Fantastic Caverns billboards, but never had the time to stop. Our weekend away was the perfect chance to break the streak. A ride-thru experience, the activity is an excuse to escape the summer heat and give nature lovers a look at an ancient wonder in the Cave State.
The ride via a propane powered Jeep and wagon, took approximately 60 minutes with narrated stops along the way, showing the impressive stalactites, stalagmites and columns of rock formations.
Tips for Parents
- Children 5 and under are free.
- All ages are welcome, but sweet spot for kids seems to be about 7-14.
- Patrons ride on an open-air wagon, so wiggly toddlers might be tough to wrangle for an hour sitting still.
- Located on the outskirts of town, so best to stop on the way in or out of town.
- Handicap accessible ramps make the tour accessible for everyone.
Discovery Center of Springfield
STEM loving and curious minded kids will find an abundance of learning opportunities at the Discovery Center of Springfield. Three different floors offer various experiments, displays and hands-on activities. While accompanying my three boys around the building, they gravitated toward the Minecraft Adventure Exhibiit (large block stacking), the water play (especially for my 3 year old) and the ChromoZone Lab exploring DNA with the use of microscopes.
Tips for Parents
- Plan to dedicate around two hours for a visit.
- Appropriate for all ages, but sweet spot seemed to be about 4-10.
- Watch the calendar on the website for special events and exhibits.
Dickerson Park Zoo
A smaller in scale zoo, in comparison to Kansas City, the Dickerson Park Zoo is a great spot to fill a morning’s worth of animal watching. A family favorite was the opportunity to feed lettuce to giraffes ($4), and the extra cost for this experience is worth it! As is the train ride and the small amount it takes to buy food for the petting zoo full of goats, a donkey and alpaca.
As we perused the exhibits, stopped for a slush at the shaded playground and walked along the paths, peacocks could also be found meandering. It brought much delight as we watched them display their beautiful fans, squack at the passersby and scoot under the slides as children played.
Tips for Parents
- Strollers welcome, and can also be rented at guest services.
- Plan to spend at least two to three hours walking.
- The extra experiences are worth purchasing.
- Suitable for all ages.
Where to Stay in Springfield, Mo.
We sought out Bass Pro Shop’s Angler’s Lodge (Springfield location) because of its affordability, cleanliness and close proximity (across the street) to the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium. The free parking, included continental breakfast and indoor pool were added bonuses. At the end of the day, if a vacation includes an indoor pool, kids are happy. And parents are happy when they sleep well at night!
Where to Eat in Springfield, Mo.
Thanks to the provided breakfast at the hotel, we were able to limit an abundance of restaurant outings. Not that we don’t love seeking out new places to dine, but dragging three tired kids in to restaurants multiple times a day and expecting them to be well behaved can really wear on parents.
Luckily, the times we did seek out local establishments, they were all winners! Friday’s dinner at The Rock at Quarry Town was great! The cauliflower crust pizzas, gourmet sandwiches and healthy options satisfied everyone’s taste. We arrived during the dinner rush, but were directed upstairs to an outdoor/indoor brewery, Great Escape Beer Works, where the kids played shuffleboard, and the parents were able to share a flight of locally brewed beer.
Saturday, when some hangry kids demanded a meal, we zipped over to Springfield Brewing Company to rest our legs from aquarium going. Make sure to order the beer pretzels! The mac and cheese and wedge salad are also winners.
A few hours at a park called for something cold and sweet, and Pineapple Whip was the refreshing and light treat we all were craving!
On the way out of town, we hit up a late brunch at the popular Gailey’s Breakfast Café. The large number of patrons will clue you to its quality of food, but despite the crowd, the wait was short. The avocado toast was great, as was the eggs benedict and wrap.
Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden is an expansive park with walking trails, picnic areas and playgrounds.
Sequoita Park is worth a stop after eating at the Rock at Quarry Town. A quaint stream, cool cave, climbing structures and playground equipment wore my kids out before we drove back to the hotel at bedtime.
For an expansive list of all the Springfield area has to offer, visit this link to plan your next easy, weekend getaway!