Long before the big-name entertainers opened up theaters and Highway 76 became known as The Strip, there was the town of Branson, Missouri, incorporated in 1912 and centered on its small commercial district. Today, historic downtown Branson, with its preserved buildings, more than 80 mom-and-pop stores, old-timey cafes and free trolley, is still a big draw. Parking is free for two hours on the main streets, but if you want to stay for a meal, shop and partake of the diversions in Branson Landing, you should look for one of the longer-term parking lots (like the ones at both ends of Branson Landing) or simply park a couple blocks off the main streets. This Branson downtown walking tour takes you to the area’s major shops, sights and restaurants.
Start your morning on Main Street, with a hearty breakfast at one of downtown’s famous restaurants, with Branson Café and the Farmhouse Restaurant two of the most long-established favorites. Down the street is Dick’s 5 & 10, a throwback to dime stores of yore and one of Branson’s most visited “attractions.” On Main Street are also several antique stores worth perusing, including Cadwell’s Downtown Flea Market and Main Street Flea Market, both with an ever-changing roster of inventory from their 120-plus combined vendors. If you have a sweet tooth or are looking for a typical Branson souvenir, head straight to The Fudge Shop, open since 1969 for its handmade fudge, salt-water taffy and other temptations. For lunch, head west on Main Street to Ruby Lena’s Tea Room, open only for lunch and offering quiche, soups and sandwiches in addition to a room filled with antiques for sale. And if you still have time to kill, drop by the Branson Centennial Museum, which tells you not only about the city’s past but also about local businesses and celebrities.
Although most of Branson’s theaters are located along The Strip, downtown has two that are decidedly more low-key, both on Commercial Street across from each other and both with day-time shows. Historic Owen Theatre is Branson’s oldest, open since 1934 and offering shows morning, afternoon and night, including tributes to Neil Diamond and The Carpenters. Across the street is Hot Hits Theatre, the only place in town that showcases Motown, Doo-Wop and other hits from the ‘50s to ‘70s, from the Temptations to Marvin Gaye.
Walking east on Main Street soon brings you to the town’s renovated 1905 train depot, where the Branson Scenic Railway departs for 40-minute trips through the Missouri Ozarks two to four times a day March through December.
Beyond the depot is Branson Landing, a shopping, dining and entertainment destination spread along Lake Taneycomo. At its center is Branson Landing Fountains, a dancing water, light and music extravaganza that takes place every hour on the hour. Of the more than 100 specialty stores and restaurants here, Bass Pro Shops is among the most-visited, where hunters and fishing enthusiasts can gear up for their next outing.
There are diversions at Branson Landing, too, including sightseeing cruises on Lake Taneycomo aboard a paddlewheeler or modern vessel. Newer attractions include Parakeet Pete’s Waterfront Zipline, which sends participants careening out over the lake, and Parakeet Pete’s Steampunk Balloon, which takes riders 188 feet above ground. There are plenty of options for dinner, too, including White River Fish House floating restaurant and Black Oak Grill, serving a variety of sandwiches, sliders and main dishes like steak or trout. Or, come for Black Oak’s happy hour, weekdays from 3 to 6pm and Saturday from 11am to 6pm, a good way to end a jaunt through downtown.