Next time, you’re considering a Midwest vacation destination for your family, think Springfield, Missouri! Springfield is almost 8 hours from Rockford or a 60-minute flight from O’Hare (ORD) to Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF). It’s also located about thirty minutes from Branson, Missouri. You could easily visit both places within a week-long vacation.

Springfield is called the Queen City of the Ozarks and is famous for being the origin of Route 66, a decommissioned highway that spanned from Missouri to Los Angeles. The city has the feel of a mid-sized city, like Milwaukee, yet has an easy-to-navigate highway system that runs through the downtown and surrounding areas.

I had a chance to visit Springfield, Missouri on a solo trip in June and really enjoyed my time there. The city was lovely and had many things to do. I plan to bring my entire family on the next visit for an affordable, relaxing vacation. Thank you to the Springfield, MO Convention & Visitors Bureau for hosting me on this fantastic trip.

Where to Stay in Springfield, MO

While in Springfield, MO, I stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton in north Springfield. This hotel was modern and funky with rooms located on hallways around the perimeter of the building. You were able to get a view of all 10 floors from the glass elevator which only worked if you scanned your room card.

Inside the hotel is a fitness center, indoor / outdoor pool, meeting rooms, and two restaurants – Gracie’s which serves breakfast (not included in your stay) and Houlihan’s. We ate at Houlihan’s the first night we were in town and I had So. Cal fish tacos and gooey butter cake. Both were fantastic. I found out later that you could order Houlihan’s as room service – which I did later on the trip!

The only issue that families with kids may want to consider before staying there is that the rooms did not include the fridge / microwave combo that I’m used to seeing in most hotels. However, I was able to get a fridge brought up to my room along with a box fan after a quick call to the lobby.

The location of the DoubleTree is great; it’s only 15 minutes away from SGF airport, and directly across the street from Echelon Coffee, Walmart, Freddy’s, Whataburger, and more. I’d definitely stay here again!

Where to Explore in Springfield, MO

Springfield has so many fun places to explore, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few! These are two places that I would visit again on a trip to Springfield, either with kids or without. You can spend as much or as little time exploring these areas as you’d like.

Springfield Art Museum

The Springfield Art Museum is the oldest cultural institution in the city, founded in 1928. The museum houses a permanent collection that includes more than 10,000 pieces. There is American art from the 19th century to present, Asian art, textiles, watercolors and more. The museum is quite large and I spent over an hour looking at everything. In upcoming years, the museum has plans to expand both its interior and grounds.

One of the most interesting collections I saw in the museum was the current exhibit entitled “Holding Space: Contemporary Enamel Vessels.” There were some very unique and ornate details on these pieces. Another interesting area was a section on movement with different works of art that changed how they appeared when you approached them from different angles.

My personal favorite was the watercolor paintings. There are some really impressive works of art here! The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday and admission is free.

C-Street Shops and Restaurants

There’s an area in downtown Springfield that’s called C-Street and I’m pretty sure the C stands for cute! C-Street is Springfield’s first historic district and the original downtown of North Springfield. The street is six blocks of local fun including shops, restaurants, a dance studio, tea room, and more. There is also some fantastic public art on C-Street including murals and sidewalk decorations.

While visiting C-Street, we stopped at a few great places. Askinosie is a high-end craft chocolate shop specializing in small batch ethically made chocolate. There are so many Askinosie Chocolate varieties of dark chocolate to choose from!

Soozeezbeez is an adorable shop filled with bee-themed items, dozens of kinds of honey, and great gifts like adorable dryer balls made to look like bees.

Chabom Tea and Spices has a huge variety of teas as well as bulk spices for sale. I also saw some beautiful tea sets there.

We had lunch at Cafe Cusco which is a Peruvian restaurant set in a beautiful historic building with a great outdoor eating space. I had never had Peruvian food before and was pleasantly surprised to find that the spices were mild and the food was delicious. The owner of Cafe Cusco also owns the beautiful Van Gogh’s Eeterie that we peeked into on our way to our next stop.

While we visited, Gilmore’s Tea Room was not open, but I would definitely want to come back when it was! There were delicious looking treats in the display case and the setting would be absolutely adorable for a mommy and me tea date!

One of the most interesting stops we made on C-Street was visiting the Pedalers Bicycle Museum. This museum is only by appointment only, but the owner James happened to be driving by while we were admiring the bikes in the window and let us in for a look!

There were so many cool bicycles from different time periods including one of only three existing “lamp lighter” bicycles from New York City. These tall bikes were used by lamplighters to get to each lamp post quickly and light them before electricity.

The collection was quite impressive and very fun to walk around and look at! Make sure to make an appointment to stop by on your C-Street visit!

What To Do With Kids In Springfield, MO

Springfield is a great place to visit all year round, but it’s especially fun during the summer months where you can take advantage of all of the beautiful outdoor spaces that the city has to offer. One of the coolest things you can do (literally!) while in Springfield is visit a cave! 

Fantastic Caverns

Did you know that Missouri is called the Cave State? There are more than 6,400 caves located in Missouri. I had the chance to tour the Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, Missouri and let me tell you – it lived up to its name!

In 1862, the cave was discovered by a dog! Five years later, the first group of explorers made their way through a manhole-sized opening to explore the caverns. These 12 explorers, called the Springfield Athletic Club, were all women who braved the pitch-dark cave with only candle lanterns. During the tour, you see a section of the cave where they all signed their names.

You will also ride through the caverns in a jeep pulling a trailer, similar to a hayride. The tour is 55 minutes and very entertaining. If you get a chance to go, ask for Larry to be your tour guide. He was a hoot!

The caverns are 60°F all year long providing a nice break from the humid weather in the summer. Throughout the tour, you’ll see so many cool things, including stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, cave pearls, and more. You’ll also get a demonstration of what the cave looked like by candlelight, with Edison bulbs, and indirect lighting.

This experience was a ton of fun and I learned a lot on the tour! The caves are absolutely gorgeous to see. I would recommend this activity for kids 6-7 years old and up as you do need to remain seated the entire time and listen to a presentation during the tour.

Dickerson Park Zoo

The second place I’d highly recommend for families traveling to Springfield, MO is the zoo! Dickerson Park Zoo is an Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoo that is committed to conservation, protection, and eventually releasing animals into the wild. Something I didn’t know before our tour was that AZA zoos are a big reason why some species such as Malaysian tigers are still in existence. The zoos work with each other to breed the healthiest animals, when needed, and release them back into the wild, when possible.

This year, Dickerson Park Zoo is celebrating its 100th birthday! There is only one animal that has been there since almost the beginning of the zoo’s creation and that is their 85-year-old tortoise!

Dickerson Park Zoo is extremely family friendly with tons for kids to see and do. There is a reptile house, animal exhibits organized by the countries the animals are from, a free splash pad, on-site concessions, and lots more.

One of the most unique features of the zoo was an area to feed the giraffes! If you come as a guest, you can feed the giraffes lettuce from the top of an observation deck. I got a behind-the-scenes chance to feed them crackers through a fence. Their tongues are insane!

Plan to spend a whole day here if you visit and be sure to bring swimsuits and towels for the splash pad!

Wonders of Wildlife

If you’re only going to go to one place in Springfield, MO with your kids, Wonders of Wildlife inside Bass Pro Shops has the most bang for your buck!

It’s hard to describe exactly what Wonders of Wildlife is because there’s so much under one roof! It’s part natural history museum, part fishing and hunting museum, part aquarium, and a lot more.

The museum was set up by local billionaire Johnny Morris who created Bass Pro Shops in 1972. Johnny is very well known in the community as someone who gives back to the area and champions conservation efforts for wildlife and land. The Wonders of Wildlife is attached to one of the country’s largest Bass Pro Shops. Not only does the building house the museum and store, but there are also three places to eat. The museum is huge with over 1.5 miles of trails inside. Your family will easily spend hours, or even the entire day, exploring.

You can choose whether you start in the Wildlife Gallery, Nature’s Best Photography, or Aquarium. Admission will cover admission for all three places and ranges from $45 per adult and $25 per child depending on the date you choose to visit.

It would take hours to talk about all of the things that I saw during my time at the museum, but every exhibit is thoughtful and well done. There are places to sit throughout the museum, as well as bathrooms, and water fountains.

My favorite section is definitely the aquarium. I love a good aquarium, and this one is definitely something special! The aquarium has a shark tank where you can watch the sharks feed on selected days, a jellyfish area, stingray petting zoo, and a very cool “tank” screen where the fish you color and scan can swim around.

If you decide to check out Wonders of Wildlife during your visit to Springfield, you will not be disappointed

Nathanael Greene / Close Memorial Park

If you can only visit one park while you’re in Springfield, MO, make it Nathanael Greene / Close Memorial Park! This is one of the nicest FREE parks I’ve ever been to. It’s comparable to Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin.

The park has several garden sections, all of which are free to explore, except for the Japanese garden. The free gardens include a very cool all-white garden, English gardens, and a hosta garden. I was surprised to see a hosta garden because it’s a plant that I don’t often see praised! The area was lovely and had a beautiful fountain in it as well.

Not only are there beautiful gardens to check out, but also a path that goes around the entire 112 acre park where people skateboard, bike, and walk.

Kids would also love the huge playground with sections for both little kids and bigger kids as well as a merry-go-round and swings.

My favorite part of the gardens was the butterfly house. Inside you can find dozens of butterfly varieties. There are also caterpillars and chrysalises on the plants that fill the house. It was quite cool to see the butterflies! If you go with kids, make sure to plan a stop at the butterfly house.

If you want to spend a few hours doing something outdoors for free, Nathanael Greene / Close Memorial Park should be on your list!

The Missouri Institute of Natural Science

If you’re looking for a place to spend an hour or so, The Missouri Institute of Natural Science is a little gem! This small museum has free admission and houses some really cool stuff!

The museum has plant, animal, and mineral specimens as well as Henry, the largest triceratops discovered to date. Henry is about 40% complete and you can see him being worked on if you visit.

The gems and rocks collections are where MINS really shines. They have hundreds of gemstones, rocks, and fossils on site.

You are also welcome to go outside to their grounds and hunt for fossils yourself! You are allowed to take home anything you find. There are forest trails to walk as well.

Keep your kids entertained at the museum by doing a scavenger hunt. Kids can look for triceratops skulls taped to surfaces around the museum. Challenge your kids to find them all!

Be sure to check out Wayne Taylor’s fantastic paintings around the museum and say hi if you see him working!

Where to Eat in Springfield, MO

Springfield, Missouri has some excellent places to eat! One of my favorite things about traveling is trying new food so when I heard that Springfield, MO has a world-famous dish, I had to sample it!

Leong’s Asian Diner

Leong’s Asian Diner is the home of Springfield-style Cashew Chicken. This dish has been featured in big publications including the New York Times. The owner, David Leong immigrated to the US in 1940 then served in WWII as an American before opening his restaurant in the 1960s. The diner has been a staple in the community since and was quite busy for a Sunday afternoon when I visited.

The Springfield style cashew chicken has a fried breading (like fried chicken) with a savory gravy-like sauce. My traveling buddies and I ordered three different entrees and split them into thirds so we could try more of the menu. We had the sweet and sour chicken, cashew chicken, and honey walnut shrimp. We also had some absolutely divine crab rangoon. Each of the dishes had an unexpected freshness and lightness to it. The chicken was high quality – all white meat, no gristle or chewy bits. The sauces were portioned just right and not too sticky or overly sweet. I was impressed with everything and thought it was the best Chinese food I’d ever had!

The atmosphere is casual and comfortable. We were seated within 20 minutes and had food on the table in another 15. Leong’s is high on my list of places to return to when I’m back in Springfield!

Springfield Brewing Company

Brewhouses have gained popularity in the last 15 years, but Springfield Brewing Company was ahead of the game! They’ve been in business since 1997.

Springfield Brewing Company is located in a beautiful downtown building built in 1910 that was formerly a grain company. Not only does SBC offer more than 15 locally crafted brews, but they also have a distillery where they make small-batch spirits. Besides the drinks, SBC offers a menu full of tasty American staples like burgers, pizza, Mac and cheese, wings, and nachos – elevated with locally sourced ingredients.

I had the Caprese pizza which was delicious and fresh and tried Poutine for the first time. The poutine was savory with tasty chunks of fresh cheese. During our visit, there was a duo playing music from the 60s through present day which gave the place a great atmosphere. If you go, be sure to check out the outdoor seating!

Finley Farms

One place I wish I could pick up and bring to Rockford is Finley Farms! This Ozark, MO destination is so gorgeous! Finley Farms is located on the banks of the Finley River and was previously an Ozark Mill. The space includes a breathtaking wedding chapel overlooking the river and waterfall.

On Thursdays, Finley Farms holds the Ozark Farmers Market which offers local produce, meats, snacks, cocktails and more.

The Ozark Mill Restaurant is the real star of the show. The space is beautiful with a modern farmhouse vibe. And the food, oh my, the food was some of the best I’ve ever had! Everything was made with high-quality ingredients, some of them from the gardens located on the premises. We had a lovely farewell dinner that was the perfect way to close out our Springfield trip. I’ll be dreaming about their cornbread and green tomato cake for a long time!

Andy’s Frozen Custard

For a sweet treat, Andy’s Frozen Custard is a Springfield, MO must-visit! They offer two flavors of custard (vanilla and chocolate) and hundreds of toppings to make your perfect dessert. I got the chocolate custard with marshmallow creme, caramel creme, Oreo, and cookie dough. It was delish! The custard reminded me of my midwest favorite, Culver’s, but the variety of options was much more extensive. There are seven Andy’s in the Springfield area so one is always close by.

Beef a Roo

Believe it or not, Rockford original, Beef a Roo has TWO locations in Springfield! I was just as surprised as you might be to see it as we drove down the street. Beef a Roo is a Rockford classic that serves up burgers, shakes, wraps, chicken strips, and their most popular item – the cheddar fry. If you’re feeling homesick during your visit to Springfield, a taste of Rockford is right around the corner!

Springfield, Missouri may not have been on your radar for a future family trip, but it should be! The city is adorable, surrounded by green space and caves, and is easy to navigate. Families can enjoy a reasonably priced vacation to an interesting and fun place!

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