I recently was given the opportunity to spend a weekend in Springfield, MO. While I have been there a few times, I never stayed long enough to see everything the city had to offer. It was always while I was passing through or staying just one night to catch a game at Missouri State. In the few days that I stayed this most recent trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the city had MANY things to offer, especially for families. They have tons of restaurants, a bowling alley, a zoo, parks, and much more! It’s all set in the beautiful rolling hills of the Ozarks. A perfect setting!
The first place we went to was the Dickerson Park Zoo. The first thing I noticed were all of the birds waiting to greet us at the entrance. They weren’t caged, so you could see them pretty close without any difficulty. As we walked through the zoo, the next thing I noticed was how large it was. I live in St. Louis, MO. We have one of the top rated zoos in the country. You could walk around an entire day and not see everything. To say the bar was set high would be an understatement.
I was pleasantly surprised by this zoo. While it isn’t as large as the St. Louis Zoo, it’s still very large. It took us a couple of hours to walk around and see everything. They had a large variety of animals and beautiful landscaping. The thing I really enjoyed is that it seemed like the perfect size for little ones. It was just big enough to get in a visit in the morning so they can nap in the afternoon and not have the dreaded 4pm meltdown. In addition, most exhibits had a raised platform or glass/wire windows cut into the fencing so that little ones can easily see all of the animals without parents having to constantly lift them up.
The zoo even had a train you could ride on. There was also a cafe and a learning center. It was great to learn all that it had to offer, and I know kids would have a great time here! Go here to plan your trip to the Dickerson Park Zoo now.
If you want your little ones to learn while they play, make sure you stop by the Discovery Center! Not only is it filled with all kinds of fun things for kids to do, it’s all science-based activities. They’ve got interact exhibits on aviation, the human body, gravity, even balancing a budget!
The famous water fountain made out of a toilet is a big draw. It was entertaining to watch the kids clamoring to drink from it while their parents looked on squeamishly. This toilet has never been used as a toilet. It’s always been a water fountain. It’s perfectly sanitary, and it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about emotional associations with objects. To some people, this is disgusting because they can only see a toilet as something you use the bathroom in. Even though this toilet is a perfectly hygienic water fountain, some people just cannot drink out of it.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the Discovery Center is the high wire bike. Kids can get strapped in and ride this bike on a high wire! The bike hangs on a wire overlooking the first story of the facility, so you can see everyone around and below you. Everything was completely safe: each person who rode was securely strapped in and there was a net hanging underneath for any accidents. For the kids that like to be risk-takers, this would be a very fun ride! Go here to plan your visit to the Discovery Center now.
We also stopped at the Askinosie Chocolate Company. Not only did the inside smell incredible, but we learned that they’re doing amazing things to run their company in a responsible way, both for their cocoa bean growers and the environment. They pay their growers above fair trade wages and package everything in environmentally friendly materials. In addition, they’re the only small batch chocolate factory in the country that does everything in-house, from roasting the beans to the packaging of the finished product.
I loved that everything in this place was transparent. You could walk in and see the beans being being ground. You could see the packaging and machinery. You can even take a free tour every Tuesday! Above you can see the machine creating white chocolate. It was right behind the sales table!
In a show of yet more transparency, you can see employees packaging chocolate right from the front window. It was very neat to see the process! The employee that assisted us was very knowledgeable, as well. She told us about the entire chocolate making process, as well as how the region that each chocolate bean is grown in affects the flavor of the finished product. We got to try free samples and my mom, who has always maintained that she does NOT like chocolate, tried and liked many of these. That means it must be GREAT chocolate! This is the highest quality chocolate; they’ve even been featured in Oprah’s “O” Magazine! Go here to plan your visit to Askinosie Chocolate now.
We also stopped by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. They had everythign from motor sports to fishing to high school legends and even professional ball players! There were exhibits every time you turned around.
Stan Musial was a big draw here. He was a baseball player that played for the St. Louis Cardinals for 22 seasons! He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Cardinals Hall of Fame and is generally seen as a Missouri legend. He was known not only for his incredible talent, but for his kind and giving spirit. “Stan The Man” always had time to shake a fan’s hand, sign a baseball and smile for a picture. Former baseball commissioner Ford Frick described him as saying, “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”
Any sports fan would love to spend an afternoon strolling through all of the exhibits and memorabiliaThe Missouri Sports Hall of Fame has to offer. Go here to plan your visit to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame now.
A big highlight of the trip was taking a tram tour through the Fantastic Caverns. This was especially great because you rode through the whole thing. This made it safe and easy on little legs that might get tired. This historic cave was absolutely beautiful and teeming with wildlife. The caverns are a family-owned business and they work hard to conserve the beauty of the cave in it’s natural state.
Over the years, the cavern served as a space for concerts, gatherings and more. But it started with very first explorers and they were women! In 1867, a group of women crawled through a small hole on an Ozark farmer’s land and were the first recorded people to explore the caverns. Can you imagine the clothing they wore and how difficult it must have been? The tour drove us by the wall where the women recorded the date and their name. It was amazing to see writing this old so perfectly preserved!
The caverns were beautiful, and a nice cool 60 degrees. This was a good break after the heat of the day!Go here to plan your visit to the Fantastic Caverns now.
We also stopped by another cave: The Smallin Civil War Cave. This was possibly the most educational place that we visited through the entire trip. It was about an hour long walking tour, and our tour guide was the staff archaeologist of the site. This cave was also a family-owned business.
During the Civil War, soldiers from a nearby camp used this cave to cool off from the heat of the day. The spring flowing through was cool and refreshing for the overworked men. Additionally, it was used as a hiding place and a local man even used it to help spy during the war!
The tour spoke about the natural history of the cave, but focused primarily upon the human history of the cave. It started with the native peoples of the area, the Osage Indians. They regarded this cave as a mystical place in which they could meet their God. It’s also very likely that the Cherokee peoples used this cave at one point. It’s documented that a family of Cherokee escaped the Trail of Tears and used this cave as their home for many years.
In more recent history, the cave served as a meeting spot for town groups, churches and even a summer camp! The many layers of graffiti carved into this rock show the history of humanity in the cave. Everything from an ancient Osage sun symbol to the love message shown above were inscribed into the many faces of this rock in the cave.
The cave has a spring flowing through and out of it. As you can see from the image above, the mouth of the cave was alive and vibrant with water flow and moss. It was absolutely beautiful. From the setting to the educational aspect of the tour, this would be a great place for you to visit with older children (upper middle school and above). Go here to plan your visit to Small Civil War Cave now.
The Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield is the final educational attraction we visited. This is now a national park that serves both as a historical and recreational destination. This is the spot where the second major battle of the Civil War occurred. With a 5 mile driving tour and over 17 miles of walking trails, you can spend an hour or a day exploring everything this park has to offer. When you’re finished exploring, stop into the Visitor Center to see a half hour video about the site and explore the exhibits located inside.
One very fascinating stop on the tour was the home of the Ray family. John Ray and his wife had nine children, as well as “Aunt Rhoda” (their slave) and her three children and Julius Short (their farm hand) living on the property. It was located so close to the battle that before it took place, a soldier approached the young children and told them to run and hide. They all took shelter in their cellar during the fight. Afterwards, they emerged to find injured Confederate soldiers all around them. The house turned into a field hospital in the blink of an eye.
This was a great educational point for the kids, as it is pretty easily relatable to them. A park ranger on site explained that kids will always have the same answers as the Ray children at the time. If a soldier approaches you and tells you a fight is coming, what would you do? Hide of course! Because this site and the story involves children, it’s a great way to get them interested and involved in history.
This is the location of the Edwards cabin, where General Sterling “Old Pap” Price, the commander of the Missouri State Guard set his headquarters prior to the battle. Just a quick stroll from a stop on the driving tour, it was an interesting stop set among beautiful greenery in a field. While this isn’t the same cabin, it stands in the same spot that the original did. It was historic and lovely, making me understand why this is both a recreational and historic site. Overall, I highly recommend this stop. It’s easily something you could make an hour or a complete day trip! Go here to plan your visit to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield now.
Our very last tourism stop was the original Bass Pro Shops. The Springfield location is the first and largest in the world! While it is a store, it is so much more than that. It’s the size of a small shopping mall all on it’s own, and it’s filled with amazing things! Eat at a delicious restaurant, stop and see all the wildlife, enjoy the natural design of the inner store. Even though I do not consider myself a hunter or a sportsman, this was a really fun stop to stroll through. Little ones, especially, would love walking through to see all of the animals and fish tanks. They even had an alligator! Go here to plan your visit to Bass Pro Shops now.
So, where did we eat while we were there? One place we ate at was the Springfield Incredible Pizza Company. To be honest, I was not excited about this stop at first. I’ve even at an Incredible Pizza once before and it was less than delicious. However, this Incredible Pizza was clean and bright. And to be honest, the food was a huge pleasant surprise! Not just pizza, they had salad, soup, chicken tenders, veggies, chicken pot pie, pasta, tacos with all the fixings, desserts and more. It was really tasty and I was glad there was pizza available for the little ones and more options for the adults. Plus, there’s an entire arcade so the kids can run around and enjoy game play. So fun! Go here to plan your visit to Springfield Incredible Pizza Company now.
The last place we stopped at was Andy B’s. This is a combination bowling alley, arcade, laser tag and restaurant facility. I was really impressed with the food, for one. I got a spaghetti bolognese and my mom got a french dip. It was really tasty! And when is the last time you were able to get that kind of food at the bowling alley? The entire facility was clean and the staff was very pleasant. They’ll bring you whatever you want right at your bowling lane! Plus, kids will love the arcade area. And everyone loves a fun game of laser tag! Go here to plan your visit to Andy B’s now.
All in all, our family trip to Springfield, MO was so much fun! Everything was reasonably priced and there was more than enough for everyone in the family to do. From fun attractions like bowling and arcade games to historical sites like caverns and national parks, you’ll find a trip to Springfield is a great decision to make. If you’re still planning your summer vacation, do not bypass considering this beautiful city! Go here to plan your visit to Springfield, MO now.
Disclaimer: I was given free access to all of these locations in order to provide a fair and honest review of the experience. All opinions remain my own.