Branson is a city that I have known about and heard stories about but never really thought to visit personally. Since my aunt lives less than an hour's drive from the popular vacation spot, we decided to take a day trip down there so I could see what all the fuss is about. It's kind of the Midwest's version of Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. It's definitely a vacation destination with similar attractions to Vegas with big, obnoxious sites like King Kong that kids just love, trendy restaurants with interesting themes, entertainment shows, boat cruises, shopping and more. But you know what? It was fun! We didn't do a whole ton because it was just a mini day trip but I felt like I got to experience the heart of the city properly.
Our first stop was Downtown Branson which has a charming, Old West feel to it. There are specialty shops and restaurants on a very hilly piece of land. Thankfully I was not the one driving but that did not make being in the passenger seat any more comforting. I had the same fear as in San Francisco that the car was about to tumble down a hill or not make it up one. Me + Cars + Hills = one terrified nightmare. We walked from Downtown Branson to the Branson Landing which is just at the end of the street and did some fun shopping. The landing itself is absolutely gorgeous. It's designed beautifully from the "streets" to the fountains and just the clean, simple architecture.
A few of the shops I particularly loved were Don't 4Get About Me, The Spice & Tea Exchange and Versona. Don't 4Get About Me is a pet shop with treats, toys and other items for pet owners. I picked up quite a few treats for my pups at this store and wish that I could return monthly for more. They have several sizes of mason jars you can fill with any flavor you'd like. You could even mix and match. When the jar is empty, all you need to do is stop in the store and refill it. No need to buy a new jar if you don't want to and you won't have a collection of mason jars build up over time. If you're not local, like me, you can email them to have a restock of treats mailed to you. The have several different flavors, both sweet and savory, and in different sizes as well. Lou Lou loved them, so did Dalles. I still have some of the baby treats left that I give them once in a while. The Spice & Tea Exchange is exactly what it sounds like, a specialty food store that serves spices of all kinds and teas. My favorite item they sell are these packets of spice ingredients for recipes. I have one for a Mexican Chicken Tortilla Soup I'm waiting to use until fall. I whipped up their recipe for Mediterranean Orzo Salad while visiting my aunt. We paired it with a steak recipe from The Tucci Table, Stanley Tucci's second cookbook, and it was quite tasty. Finally, Versona is a women's clothing and accessory store that I am OBSESSED with. I really wish that we had one in the Chicago area because the style it carries is exact to my tastes. I bought a few things while there including one of my current favorites shirts. I swear that I wear it weekly.
A restaurant that we heard of, although I can't remember how, is Pasghetti's. I think it has something to do with the enormous meatball outside of the restaurant. It is the largest fork and meatball in the world, or claims to be at least. Anyway, we felt like this was a must during our visit, even if it were just for the experience. The main restaurant is designed, I'm guessing, like Little Italy in NYC. I wouldn't know since I've never been to NYC but I can tell you it doesn't look like Chicago's Little Italy. The space also has a ton of entertainment for the kids like a Ferris wheel, game room, themed rooms and more. The food, although tasty, is about average. There's nothing spectacular about the menu, it's really more about the experience than anything. I wouldn't knock it from your list though. If you want to go for the experience, you're going to get one and it's fun.
There are a few other things to do I'd be interested in experiencing if and when I were to return. For example, my obsession with history is really intrigued by the Titanic Museum. I remember an exhibit came to the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry when I was a kid and I loved it. I also had a grade school teacher who's mom was a historian and did a lot of work with the Titanic. I've always been interested in it, probably because of her. I'd also love to go on a Cave and Cavern Tour. Missouri has beautiful rock formations everywhere so this is bound to be a fantastic opportunity to grab some incredible photos. Finally, a dinner cruise is always something I'm interested in. I love being on the water (not in it). There's something magical about the experience.
Have you been to Branson? It's a great vacation spot for families with plenty to do. I'd love to spend more time in the historic downtown area, do more shopping at Branson Landing and check out some kind of boat activity. What are your recommendations for the city?