More than eight million visitors go to Branson, Missouri, every year to enjoy the city’s family-friendly music and variety shows – 100 shows in 53 theaters with about 60,000 seats. That’s more seats than Broadway!
Add a variety of other attractions and activities – great drama, seasonal festivals, family parks, museums and caves – and you’ve got yourself a safe haven for moms and dads who want to vacation where the host caters to families – and where Christ is still the centerpiece of Christmas.
But isn’t Branson a small town? you say. With that many tourists, where will we stay? Well, yes, it’s small, but the town is ready for guests. Branson has 200 hotels with some 19,000 guest rooms. Hotelier Chris Myer’s family owns five hotels there. The Myer corporate mission statement declares, “Christian values and ethics guide all of the decisions and efforts at Myer Hotels.” Myer said a part of practicing hospitality is to remember that their guests may come to the hotel looking for a relief from the cares of life at work or home.
“We try to leave the Gideon Bible out and open,” Myer said. “If our guests pick up the Bible in the room and find Christ, what better thing [could happen]?”
And, by the way, don’t worry about finding a restaurant, either. Branson’s 268 restaurants can serve almost 39,000 guests at a time.
There’s another part of Branson that is often overlooked, and that’s the unique retail center east of the entertainment district. From the theaters, Highway 76 threads its way across U.S. 65 and down the hill through historic Branson’s 60 retail shops. Main Street (Hwy. 76) ends at the sparkling new Branson Landing outdoor mall on Lake Taneycomo. These two components – old and new – make a dramatic and pleasant contrast, each a fitting compliment to the other.
Dick’s Five & Dime, at the corner of Main and Commercial, is one of downtown’s authentic pieces of Americana. The old-fashioned variety store stocks more than 50,000 items on shelves that reach to the ceiling. Its narrow aisles are lined with traditional toys, collectibles, kitchen utensils, hardware, World War II prints, novelty items and unique gifts.
“It’s like Disney Land,” said one repeat customer. “It would take a week to really take it all in….When something is hard to find back at home, we make a list and look for it on the next trip to the five and dime in Branson.”
Other shops offer homemade fudge, Ozark mountain crafts and quilts, antiques and more. Horse-drawn carriage rides are available, and the Branson Scenic Railway offers a two-hour excursion through the scenic Ozarks, originating at downtown’s 1905 depot.
The old downtown district dates back to 1888. It boasts 19 historic sites and a Branson History Museum open at no charge. You can chart your own course through the brick-paved sidewalks (my choice) or schedule a guided historic walking tour (maybe later).
I guess it should come as no surprise that Owen’s Theatre, Branson’s first, is downtown, built there in 1935. Its storied history includes stints as a movie house, live playhouse, church, community meeting house, honky tonk and auction house. These days it’s back in the entertainment business, with actors recreating American legends in shows such as “Breakfast with Mark Twain” and “Hank and Patsy Together Again.”
Oh, yeah – I almost forgot the historic district’s restaurants. Clockers and The Farmhouse are two where I’ve found a tasty, home-cooked meal like Mom used to make. And at a good price, too.
Scarcely a block’s distance from comfort food and downtown history, Branson Landing sits chic and contemporary, with its own ideas of comfort for shoppers and strollers alike. It’s a spacious, outdoor, upscale mall bordered on one side by a picturesque boardwalk along Lake Taneycomo.
A Bass Pro Shop anchors the development at one end and Belk’s department store at the other. In between are scores of every kind of specialty shop you can imagine, plus more than 25 restaurants and snack shops.
Two brand new Hilton hotels are there as well. I’ve had the good fortune to stay at both and they measure up to the high expectations we take with us when we go to a classy hotel.
I’m usually singing the praises of Branson’s stellar shows so it’s nice, for a change, to focus on some of the city’s other features that serve guests with equally top-notch hospitality. It probably isn’t too late for a little end-of-year family R&R. The welcome mat is always out in Branson.