Springfield, Missouri is often recognized as the birthplace of Route 66, the two-lane ribbon highway that eventually became known as the iconic “Mother Road.” On April 30, 1926 at the Colonial Hotel via telegram, Springfield businessman John T. Woodruff and Oklahoma businessman Cyrus Avery first proposed U.S. 66 as the name of the new Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway hence the “birthplace” designation.
Our 50-day Route 66 road trip is what led us to Springfield, but we immediately figured out there are heaps more to discover in Missouri’s third largest city.
Let’s take a look at the best things to do in Springfield.
1. Explore Route 66, America’s Main Street
It’s why we are here so of course number one is going to be about Route 66! Start your day exploring at the Springfield Visitor Center to pick up information on the area, free souvenirs like the postcard and wooden nickel we received, maps, and tips from the helpful staff. The center is chock-full of history and many photo opportunities. Another place to stop is the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven. It has been welcoming travelers for over 75 years and has made the National List of Historic Places. Even if you are not sleeping at the motel, make sure to stop by and check it out. The fairly new Route 66 Car Museum is an interesting exhibit, with over 60 cars in the collection, the museum houses seven Jaguars, two Rolls Royces, a couple of Brass-Era cars that predate 1910 and several celebrity and movie cars.
2. Visit the ORIGINAL Bass Pro Shop
Even if Bass Pro isn’t your thing, this megastore is worth a visit. Coined the “Grandaddy of All Outdoor Stores,” it is HUMUNGOUS at 500,000 square feet. You can spend hours shopping the astounding assortment of outdoor gear, browsing the precise details of every display, looking for wildlife such as gators and fish, eating lunch or dinner at Hemingway’s Blue Water Café, grabbing a coffee and piece of fudge, or visiting both of the free museums inside. Johnny Morris is a genius when it comes to anything he puts together so I was not surprised that I enjoyed walking through both museums. The NRA National Sporting Arms Museum displays the progression of sporting arms throughout the years. It also has a few guns once owned by famous people such as Jesse James and Annie Oakley, totally fitting in with our “heading-out-West” theme of the road trip. The Archery Hall of Fame was an entertaining stroll as well that takes a historical glimpse into the archery world in the United States.
*Opening in September 2017, the new Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium will be one of the largest, most immersive conservation attractions in the world.*
3. Toast to the Craft Beer Craze at Four Local Breweries
The craft beer boom has hit the Ozarks, Springfield is home to four local breweries. Springfield Brewing Company has been around for twenty years and focuses on true to tradition English, German and American style ales and lagers. The food is a major draw as well. We had a local tell us it’s the best breakfast place around. Breakfast at a brewery? Okay, table for two please! Mother’s Brewing Company, another local favorite, is on the path of where the original Route 66 meandered. They not only have a taproom for sampling but an awesome outdoor patio with a stage, picnic tables and bean bags as well. We didn’t get a chance to visit White River Brewing Company but word on the street is that they specialize in traditional European beers, particularly styles from Belgium, Great Britain, and Germany, all with an Ozark’s twist. And last but not least, the latest newcomer, Lost Signal Brewing Company, the second brewery on Springfield’s Route 66. They opened up in a building that once housed the KICK radio station, hence the name, and is now a popular hangout for beer and barbecue.
4. Learn about the Second Major Battle of the Civil War
The Battle at Wilson’s Creek in 1861 was not only the second major battle of the Civil War but the first major one west of the Mississippi River. Watch a well done 27-minute film about the battle and tour the museum at the Visitor Center, then drive the 5-mile loop to see where it all unfolded. Make sure to walk the short trail to the Ray House where you can see the actual Civil War-era house that eventually turned into a makeshift hospital for the wounded and dying.
5. Stand Next to the World’s Largest Fork
Holy fork! At a whopping 35 feet tall and 11 tons, the world’s largest fork is a fun stop. It’s a little off the beaten path, behind an ad agency, not readily visible from the street but worth the detour if you like quirky stops like me.
6. Tour the Only Ride-Through Cave in North America
Besides Fantastic Caverns being the only ride-through cave in North America, it’s also only one in four in the world. A Jeep-drawn tram takes you into the depths of an Ozark cave originally discovered by a farmer back in 1862. He kept it a secret for years and it wasn’t explored until 1867 when twelve women answered his newspaper ad “seeking explorers.” We saw the women’s names etched into the rock along with beautiful formations and untouched chambers on our tour.
7. Pedal and Drink your way Around Downtown
It’s a party on wheels with The Trolley Bike! We had a blast pedaling around on the illuminated open air 14-passenger quadricycle. We began and ended our night at Lost Signal Brewery but stopped at a few establishments in between. My cheeks hurt at the end of our two-hour extravaganza from laughing and smiling so much.
8. Eat a Wild and Crazy Donut
Hurts Donuts has many locations now but first gained momentum in downtown Springfield circa 1999. I have never seen so many over-the-top donut creations! From cereal-themed like Fruit Loop killer to candy-themed like Twix toppings, there are so many options it’ll make your head spin. Then there are the basic you-know-they-will-taste-good donuts like S’mores, Nutella, Oreo Cheesecake, German Chocolate, and Cookies ‘n Cream. Oh and let’s not forget the shakes where they grind up a donut with ice cream and plant one on top around your straw. Oh the joy…
9. Take the BEST Selfie Ever
Apparently Springfield’s Hotel Vandivort, a luxury boutique hotel, is THE place to be for selfies. To be exact, the bathroom at the Hotel Vandivort is the place to be. I thought the people who told us this were pulling our leg too, but nope it’s the real deal. There is even a hashtag designated for such an event, #HotelVandivortBathroomSelfie. When we walked in to the upscale and swanky hotel, I felt I needed to immediately go full-on incognito mode, but the grinning hotel staff just pointed us in the right direction. It’s something with the lighting that supposedly transforms us to our better selves. I have to admit we were impressed with the results. We took this after an 8-hour day of exploring Springfield (for me that was) including being on the bike tour for an hour pedaling up hills and down streets so I’ll take it!
10. Shop at Missouri’s Largest Antique Mall
We are not typically antique shoppers, but we noticed many of them along Route 66 and decided to see what they were all about. So why not stop at Missouri’s largest one? The Relics Antique Mall is lined with booths full of antiques and one-of-a-kind collectibles. We had a snack break in the adorable tea room with their specialty Apricot Mango Tea and a slice of Lemon Berry Mascarpone Cake that was absolutely marvelous!
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*Thank you Springfield CVB and it’s associates for providing me with some attraction tickets to explore the city. All thoughts and opinions, however, are my own.*
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