Springfield is a treasure trove of outdoor activities and cultural delights. Nestled in America’s heartland, this vibrant southwestern Missouri city offers a unique blend of natural beauty, historical landmarks, and modern attractions. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, history buff, or art lover, these are the best things to do in vibrant Springfield, Missouri.
1. Original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World
The original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Springfield is affectionately nicknamed the “Granddaddy of All Outdoor Stores.” Attracting 4 million families, nature lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts to its 500,000-square-foot venue each year, it has everything you need for fishing, boating, hunting, and camping.
But the Original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World is about more than shopping — it’s a destination. As you wander the store, you’ll encounter stunning waterfalls, impressive aquariums, and even the National Archery Hall of Fame.
2. Johnny Morris’ Wonders Of Wildlife National Museum And Aquarium
Located just north of the Bass Pro Shops, Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium celebrates those who funt, fish, and act as stewards of the land and water. The 350,00-square-foot attraction with over 1.5 miles of trails is broken into two key sections: a museum of wildlife galleries that allows you to experience some of the planet’s most extreme wildlife habitats and an AZA-accredited aquarium featuring creatures from the world’s oceans, lakes, and streams.
3. Springfield Botanical Gardens
When you’re done hanging out with aquatic creatures, head to the Springfield Botanical Gardens. Located in Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, this beautiful oasis of themed gardens showcases beautiful blooms ranging from irises and lilies to ornamental grasses and dwarf conifers.
Don’t miss the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden located in the northeast corner of the park. Established in partnership with Springfield’s sister city Isesaki, it transports visitors to Japan with its traditional landscaping, tranquil koi ponds, and ceremonial tea path. Wind your way through lush greenery, walk over the moon bridge, and just take a few moments to chill in the meditation garden before continuing to explore Springfield.
4. Pythian Castle
Another unique gem in Springfield is the Pythian Castle. This impressive historic landmark was built in 1913 as an orphanage, repurposed as a rehabilitation center for U.S. troops during World War II, and is now open to the public for guided history tours, ghost tours, murder mystery dinners, and more.
Pro Tip: Springfield is a fantastic day trip from Branson.
5. History Museum On The Square
To dive further into Springfield’s fascinating history and understand its role in many significant events throughout American history, visit the History Museum on the Square. Within six permanent galleries, the museum’s interactive exhibits detail the first documented shootout in the Wild West, explain the city’s involvement in the Civil War, allow guests to experience an early 20th-century trolley car, and more.
One museum highlight is the Birthplace of Route 66 exhibit, which explores the origins and history of the iconic American highway. From vintage automobiles to interactive displays, the exhibit provides a fascinating glimpse into the birth of a cultural phenomenon.
6. Route 66 Car Museum
For more “Mother Road” fun, head to the Route 66 Car Museum. This unique museum showcases a collection of more than 75 classic, sports, and vintage cars allowing history lovers and car enthusiasts to walk through 100 years of automotive history. Beyond the beautifully restored classics from Route 66’s heyday, you can also see famous vehicles from your favorite films. Don’t miss the 1991 Ghostbusters Cadillac Wagon or the 1979 Gotham Cruiser.
7. Fantastic Caverns
In the north end of Springfield, Fantastic Caverns allows visitors to explore a vast underground cave via a guided tram tour. While there are undoubtedly many caverns to explore in the U.S., Fantastic Caverns is the only cavern in America to offer a completely ride-through tour. This makes it accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages and abilities.
Aboard a Jeep-drawn tram, your hour-long tour will take you on a fascinating journey into the depths of the underground cave. As you travel through the cavern, your knowledgeable guide will highlight its unique features and share interesting facts. For example, the cave was a speakeasy during the Prohibition era and the cavern was the site of live music concerts during the 1950s and 1960s.
8. Springfield Art Museum
The Springfield Art Museum is the city’s oldest cultural institution focused on appreciating and preserving art. It boasts a permanent collection of over 10,000 works of art, encompassing a wide range of styles, mediums, and time periods. After you’ve admired the paintings, photographs, and other masterpieces inside, head outdoors. The museum’s beautiful grounds are adorned with captivating large-scale sculptures, including Sun Target II, a well-known and loved Springfield landmark.
9. Sculpture Walk Springfield
To see more of Springfield’s collection of sculptures, take a self-guided tour of Sculpture Walk Springfield, designed to be a museum without walls and accessible to all. The collection rotates annually, but you can download a map of the current exhibition from the Sculpture Walk website or pick one up at the Springfield Art Museum or Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau.
10. Missouri Sports Hall Of Fame
Sports fans will enjoy the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, where the achievements of former Missouri athletes are celebrated and their legacies are honored. The museum contains an impressive collection of over 4,000 memorabilia items, including jerseys, trophies, and photographs. As you make your way through the exhibits, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the incredible feats of these athletes and their contributions to the world of sports.
11. Dickerson Park Zoo
With over 450 different animals from around the world, the Dickerson Park Zoo is a must-visit attraction for animal lovers of all ages. See majestic mountain lions, playful river otters, and other magnificent creatures in spacious, natural enclosures. You can also feed the giraffes and animals in the Outback Corral Petting Zoo for an additional fee.
12. Springfield’s Local Flavors
When exploring Springfield makes you hungry, here’s how to fuel up. Whether you’re excited to try the unique chicken dish that bears the city’s name or travel just south of town for a one-of-a-kind experience, you’re sure to delight your taste buds.
Springfield Cashew Chicken
While St. Louis is known for its cracker-crust pizza and Kansas City is famous for its barbecue, in southwestern Missouri, Springfield is home to a Chinese-inspired cashew chicken dish. It consists of deep-fried chicken pieces coated in a flavorful brown sauce and topped with cashews and chopped green onions, typically served over a bed of cooked rice. Try it at Cashew Chef, New Oriental Restaurant, or Bao Bao Chinese Bistro.
14 Mill Market
Located about 25 minutes south of Springfield in Nixa, 14 Mill Market is southwestern Missouri’s first food hall. With unique restaurant concepts that range from pizza to poke bowls, it’s a wonderful place to grab a bite, sip a drink, and relax.
Also a short drive south of Springfield, Lambert’s Cafe is famous for its “throwed rolls,” served by lobbing them at patrons. The restaurant also serves comfort food mains like meatloaf, fried chicken, and roast beef accompanied by “pass-arounds.” These circulating side dishes — like fried potatoes, black-eyed peas, and fried okra — are passed out by servers at no additional charge.
Pro Tip: Want to experience more Show Me State cuisine? These are the ultimate stops on a foodie road trip through Missouri.
With its diverse attractions ranging from the awe-inspiring Fantastic Caverns to the historic Pythian Castle, Springfield offers a unique blend of adventure, culture, and culinary delights. Whether you’re seeking a family-friendly vacation, a romantic getaway, or a solo adventure, Springfield’s charm and character will leave you longing for more Midwestern travels.