It’s easy to get sucked into Netflix’s addictive guilty pleasure series Ozark. With all the underworld business deals and political manipulations in the show, you might think its setting in Lake of the Ozarks is full of dark and scary secrets. We want to set the record straight by shattering some of the illusions in the show. To begin with, much of Ozark is actually filmed in the state of Georgia, not in the Lake of the Ozarks, the real-life Central Missouri resort haven designated in the title. The real location is filled with important history, beautiful scenery, diverse attractions, local treasures, and fun things to see and do. To show you more of the real Ozark, we pull back the curtain and reveal some of our favorite experiences in this fun and multifaceted vacation destination.
Disclaimer: Some of our Lake of the Ozarks activities were hosted by the Beenders-Walker Group. All opinions are our own based on our experience.
1. Stewart’s Killer Cinnamon Roll
While the Ozark series has huge knives sticking out of unexpected places, it hasn’t shown you what we consider the best one yet. Stewart’s Restaurant is one of the most famous spots in the Ozarks. And the star of the Stewart’s show is its unbelievably huge cinnamon roll. We know people can exaggerate. But when we say this cinnamon roll is as big as your head, we are not exaggerating. You could easily enjoy it with your whole family. And, not only is it ginormous, but it’s also really good. Butter, cinnamon, and gobs of delicious sweet glaze poured over the top make this the best way to start your day. Just don’t be surprised by the big knife sticking out of the center. You’ll need it to cut through this wicked awesome breakfast treat.
2. Dream Castle Ruins In The Park
While Ozark portrays a dark and moody environment, the real Lake of the Ozarks is a naturally beautiful area. Beaches, parks, and lush forests throughout the area make it a great place to explore outdoors. One of the best spots for nature lovers is the beautiful Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Many different trails provide scenic routes for hikers and walkers of all levels. A large rock bridge is one of the interesting natural attractions. But one of the most unique attractions is actually manmade. If you take an easy stroll to the top of the bluff, you’ll discover the ruins of Ha Ha Tonka Castle, originally the vision of Kansas City industrialist Robert Snyder. Snyder wanted to create a beautiful European-style mansion and estate on top of a cliff overlooking the water. But he never saw his dream come to life because he was killed in a tragic car accident. Caves, bluffs, springs, and lots of woodsy landscape make this a great place to enjoy the outdoors.
3. Bagnell Dam
Bagnell Dam was the last major dam to be built in the United States with private investment money. It was also the largest, and at the time it was considered an amazing engineering feat, receiving visitors from all over the world. Bagnell Dam rises the equivalent of 12 stories high and is seven blocks long, holding 600 billion gallons of water back in the Lake of the Ozarks -- one of the largest manmade lakes in the world. The natural energy of the falling water saves the equivalent of about one million barrels of oil each year. So it’s no wonder that with all the interest in this wonderful dam that a hub of activity developed around it so visitors could marvel at the dam and also eat, play, and stay in the area. The Bagnell Dam Strip is full of gift shops, restaurants, arcades, bars, and vintage Ozarks memorabilia.
4. Willmore Lodge/Bagnell Dam History Museum
A local treasure of significance that also has some gorgeous lakeside views is the historic log Willmore Lodge, which is also home to the Bagnell Dam Museum. The lodge, which once served as luxurious accommodations, is on the National Register of Historic Places and retains its rustic charm with an Adirondack style of architecture and furniture. It is now home to the Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and the Bagnell Damn History Museum and Visitor Center. The museum does a great job explaining the geological factors at play, the building of the dam, how it works, and the area wildlife. Once inside you’ll also want to walk through the gardens and catch the spectacular lake views.
5. Alhonna Resort (Also Known As The Blue Cat Lodge)
Arguably one of the most important characters in Netflix’s Ozark is the Blue Cat Lodge where much nefarious activity takes place. While the Blue Cat itself is fictional, it is modeled after the Alhonna Resort and Marina, a small rustic lodge and waterside playground in Lake of the Ozarks. Turns out the show’s creator and writer had worked there helping out around the docks and listening more carefully than anyone at the time could ever know. The resort’s Bobber’s Restaurant and Lounge sparked not only the writer’s imagination but also fit the mood that the show’s team wanted to create. A visit to this hidden treasure will feel like being in the show because it’s one location that is. Alhonna offers other fun like swimming pools, sandy beaches, and fishing. We cannot guarantee that there are millions of dollars stashed behind any walls.
6. Osage National Golf Resort
Golf is so much fun because it is both relaxing and challenging at the same time. Being outside on a beautiful course is part of the relaxing part. When that course was actually designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer, that can be the challenging part. Osage National Golf Resort has 27 holes and 18 of them were designed by Arnold Palmer himself. If you’re up for the challenge, you can take in all 27 holes. If you want to give it a try but don’t have time to spend so long on the course, you can play nine or 18. The choice is yours. And although this is a membership club, there are plenty of public tee times available. You can practice your drive on the range or focus on your putting and chipping at two short game facilities, all included with your green fees. The course encompasses beautifully forested areas and rolling slopes with lakes, creeks, and bluffs along the Osage River all around. Top-flight amenities make this beautiful course a golfer’s delight.
7. Lake Ozark Helicopters
With all the history, attractions, and beautiful scenery to take in, you might just want to get a bird’s-eye view of it all. That’s where Lake Ozark Helicopters can help. Taking a helicopter tour of the area is fun and really gives you some perspective. There are several different options depending upon your time and your budget. We took the Bagnell Dam Special, a 20-minute ride over the Lake of the Ozarks with 360-degree views of Bagnell Dam, Million Dollar Row, the Grand Glaize Bridge, golf courses, and other great highlights of the area. Our pilot was personable, informative, and a fantastic flyer. The views are breathtaking and give you a strong sense of the beautiful terrain all around you.
8. Great Food
Eating is high on our list of activities, and Lake of the Ozarks doesn’t disappoint. One of our favorite spots for a delicious and filling meal is Wobbly Boots Roadhouse. The name might make you smile a little, but the food will make you smile a lot. If you’ve got a hankering for some serious barbecue with all the fixings, Wobbly Boots has lots to offer: ribs, wings, burnt ends, brisket, sausage, turkey breast, pulled pork, and so much more. The sides are just as tempting. Bring your appetite and wash it all down with a great local brew on tap. There’s fun as well as great pizza at Pappo’s Pizzeria. Their thin crust is crispy and the sauce tastes truly homemade. They show their sense of humor with specialty pizza names like Mamma Mia Meatball and Nick The Greek. They have some great fresh salads too. And if you want a little more upscale dining, the atmosphere at JB Hook’s Restaurant is bound to please. They serve high-quality steak and seafood in a relaxed but stylish setting with beautiful panoramic views of the water.
9. Seven Springs Winery
Head a little off the beaten path with a few minutes’ drive to Seven Springs Winery and Vineyard for a breath of fresh air, a lovely bite to eat, and some local Missouri wine. This relaxing spot sits on 160 green acres with rolling hills, gorgeous views, and even some trails for wandering if you like. A popular wedding venue, this picturesque winery is a great place to “wine down” and enjoy a relaxing repast, do a wine tasting, and take in the spectacular countryside views.
While it might be fun to watch the twisted tales told on Ozark, the reality is you’ll have a great time in this fun and friendly destination. We’ve touched on a few of the wonderful experiences available, but there are plenty more for you to discover on your own. Continue your adventure on our Ozark mountains road trip: Osage Beach to Eureka Hot Springs.