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Tank Trip: What to do in Springfield, Missouri

Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium Adventure The 1.5-million-gallon Aquarium Adventure at Wonders of Wildlife features 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Photo courtesy Wonders of Wildlife

What is said to be the nation's first quick-draw gunfight didn't occur in the Wild West, but in southwest Missouri. That deadly 1865 Wild Bill Hickok duel is among Springfield’s host of fascinations, which include Route 66 lore, an immersive wildlife museum, and a diverse culinary scene. Here’s what to do, what to eat, and where to stay in Springfield.

What to do in Springfield

Billed as the birthplace of Route 66 because federal planners named the route here, Springfield is a must for Mother Road enthusiasts. Learn about Route 66 history on wall displays at the Springfield Visitors Center, then head to the Route 66 Car Museum to admire more than 100 classic cars, including models from the route’s early years. Adults, $15.

At the History Museum on the Square, a gallery devoted to the highway joins others that expound on Native Americans, pioneers, Hickok’s gunfight, and the Civil War. Adults, $16.

Delve deeper into the conflict’s history at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, site of the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River. Take a self-guided driving tour with interpretive stops, and view an extensive collection of artifacts and interactive exhibits in the museum. $20 per vehicle.

Springfield is also home to Bass Pro Shops’ original location, where you can shop for gear and attire in a nearly 500,000-square-foot store.

Woman and 3 children looking into at fish inside an aquarium tank

Families can enjoy up-close encounters with fish and other creatures at Wonders of Wildlife. Photo courtesy Springfield, Missouri, Convention & Visitors Bureau

Don’t miss the adjoining Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium. Roam galleries of taxidermied animals in life-size diorama settings. About 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians inhabit the Aquarium Adventure area, with its centerpiece 3-story circular tank. You can go underwater in a shark tank, safely protected within a metal cage, of course. Museum admission, $32.50 and up.

Stalactites and stalagmites inside Fantastic Caverns

Tram tours through Fantastic Caverns reveal spectacular otherworldly natural features. Photo courtesy Springfield, Missouri, Convention & Visitors Bureau

This region is honeycombed with caves, but only one features a ride-through experience. Discovered in 1862 by an Ozarks farmer, Fantastic Caverns offers a tram tour through a subterranean landscape of stalactites, stalagmites, and more. Adults, $30.

Connect with aboveground nature at the nearly 80-acre Springfield Conservation Nature Center. Stroll 3 miles of trails and examine exhibits in the visitors center.

In early spring, blooms will begin emerging at the Springfield Botanical Gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, which is home to a botanical center and dozens of themed gardens.

Where to shop in Springfield

Shoppers browing jewelry at Ms. Gilmore's

Peruse jewelry, apparel, and more at Ms. Gilmore’s, which also features a charming tearoom. Photo courtesy Springfield, Missouri, Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • In the Commercial Street Historic District, Ms. Gilmore’s combines vintage and contemporary apparel and decor with a tearoom that exudes an Alice in Wonderland vibe.
  • Chocoholics flock to Askinosie Chocolate for small-batch chocolate ethically sourced from cocoa farmers around the world.

What to eat in Springfield

A plate of cashew chicken at Leong's Asian Diner

Leong’s Asian Diner puts a spin on traditional cashew chicken with Southern-fried chicken chunks. Photo courtesy Springfield, Missouri, Convention & Visitors Bureau

  • Sample what’s arguably the most famous local dish, Springfield-style cashew chicken, at Leong’s Asian Diner, which put its spin on the traditional Chinese dish by using Southern-fried chicken chunks.

Where to stay in Springfield

An evening view of the city from the Hotel Vandivort Vantage rooftop lounge

Vantage, a rooftop bar at the contemporary Hotel Vandivort, offers views of downtown Springfield. Photo courtesy Hotel Vandivort

  • Spanning 2 buildings, including a repurposed 1906 Masonic Temple, Hotel Vandivort boasts sleek decor and a rooftop lounge. Rates start at $169.
  • For an elegant bed-and-breakfast experience, the historic Walnut Street Inn features a main house, a carriage house, and a cottage. Rates start at $142.

Learn more about Springfield

For more information, call the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 678-8767 or visit their website.

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