Millions of people spend time in Branson every year, enjoying shows, museums, shopping, Silver Dollar City and other excellent attractions, lake activities, and cruising along Branson’s famous Highway 76, affectionately known as “The Strip.” Maybe you count yourself among these millions, so we’ll ask you - did you know about Branson’s vibrant and historic downtown district? We understand if you’ve missed it; many people think that The Strip is the “city” of Branson, and haven’t yet discovered that just a couple of minutes in the other direction from the main highway into Branson - US 65 - lies the wonderful area known as Historic Downtown Branson! Although it’s considered part of the Downtown area, people sometimes make their way to Branson Landing without gazing uphill to discover downtown.
We’re not saying that Historic Downtown Branson gets completely missed; it delights scores of guests every day with its many independent shops, cozy diners, fascinating flea markets and second hand shops, and fun attractions. But for other visitors, it’s a ‘best kept secret’ and they’ve yet to have someone whisper it to them! So, here we are whispering out loud that you simply must experience one of the very best things Branson has to offer! (For some good information on Downtown shopping, as well as other stores and shopping centers around town, take a peek at this holiday post - it includes great shopping opportunities available year-round: “Christmas in Branson - It’s Time to Go Shopping!”)
Obviously, there are way more great things about Downtown, but we’ll give you a manageable list of ten, in no particular order, to discover on your next visit:
1. Dick’s 5 & 10: If you’ve been following our regular posts, you’ve heard us talk about this Downtown landmark many times, but we can’t say enough about how neat and nostalgic it is to experience Dick’s! Packed, but neatly organized, shelves and aisles, cool toys you haven’t seen since childhood, fun displays at every turn...it’s like going back to those delightful 50s era small town five and dimes that no longer exist...unless you visit Branson!
Find it here: 103 West Main Street
2. Historic Owen Theatre: Branson’s oldest theater was built in the mid-1930s and was once a movie house; it’s since been home to live music shows for years. The historic Owen Theatre now houses the Branson Regional Arts Council, an ideal use for this treasured landmark. The Council sponsors a variety of theatrical productions (Chicago The Musical and South Pacific are just a couple productions this year) and occasional live music and comedy shows, including the brilliant ventriloquism and comedy of Arts Council Executive Director, Jim Barber.
Find it here: 205 West Commercial Street
3. Branson Cafe: It’s been serving up homestyle, filling meals for many years and continues to be a favorite among visitors to Branson and locals alike. It can get pretty busy, but it you catch it off schedule from the typical meal times, the waitstaff might have a few minutes to chat with you about the several decades they’ve been serving at the Branson Cafe! Hint: Don’t leave without taking some of their sweet rolls with you!
Find it here: 120 West Main Street
4. Peter Engler Designs: He made a national name for himself in the art of woodcarving many years ago, establishing a presence in Branson in the early 60s - collectors have been coveting his work ever since! Engler passed away in 2013, but his legacy endures in this delightful shop, filled with everything from carved Christmas ornaments to pottery. The shop also offers classes in wood carving, glass painting, and more.
Find it here: 110 West Pacific Street
5. Branson Centennial Museum: This free Downtown attraction was established during Branson’s centennial year, and then relocated to the former home of a long-time retailer that returning visitors may remember - Reish’s Shoe Store. Rotating exhibits feature the many aspects of fascinating local history, as well as other vintage items popular during the eras covered in the displays. The museum is operated by volunteers and receives a significant portion of its funding through donations, so enter and enjoy at no cost, but if you can, make a donation on your way out to make sure this neat little museum will be here for future generations!
Find it here: 120 South Commercial Street
6. Plum Bazaar: This quirky, adorable little shop is housed in one of Branson’s oldest buildings - it survived major flooding in the 1920s, and a 1960s era fire that decimated the Downtown. The shop is painted a perfect “plum” purple, has a neat little greenery and artwork-filled courtyard, and is filled with tons of beads for jewelry making, unique jewelry items designed in-house, classes in jewelry and decor making, and more.
Find it here: 123 East Main Street
7. Hot Hits Theatre: Downtown Branson’s only full-time music show venue, you’ll find talented artists performing in Motown Downtown Tribute, Doo Wop & The Drifters, Music from Across the Tracks, and All Crazy ‘bout Patsy at the Hot Hits Theatre. It’s a small, intimate venue, which means every performance is up-close-and-personal, encouraging guests to sing and dance along!
Find it here: 206 South Commercial Street
8. Branson Scenic Railway: An honest-to-goodness vintage train ride experience that takes you on a 40-mile round trip through the beautiful Ozarks! Your train departs from a depot that dates back to 1905, and includes a gift shop stocked with fun reminders of your excursion. Make sure you check out the railway’s dome car!
Find it here: 206 East Main Street
9. Liberty Plaza: Probably the most significant addition to Historic Downtown’s recent revitalization project, this beautiful park area replaced an aging parking lot. The Plaza includes clean, climate-controlled public restrooms, a covered stage for live performances, a pretty water feature, a statue that honors our nation’s veterans, and picnic tables that make it easy to bring your takeout meal and relax outside. There’s even a stop for Branson’s trolley service!
Find it here: 221 US Business Highway 65 (across from City Hall)
10. Sparky The Trolley: If you’ve ventured near the area or visited Branson Landing, you might have seen the cute trolleys toting folks around downtown, to the Landing, and even up to the fast food spots on the hill. Kids love “Sparky” the Trolley, but best of all, it’s absolutely free transportation around the Historic Downtown area and Branson Landing!
Find it here: Sparky makes 13 stops - it runs an Orange and Green route - and a route/stop map can be found at ridesparky.com.
As we mentioned before, there’s so much to do here year-round, so check back for future posts on more things you can enjoy in Historic Downtown Branson!