Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Springfield, Missouri

Written by Lisa Waterman Gray

November 13, 2023
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Headed to Missouri? Springfield, MO, the Queen City of the Ozarks, is an ideal stopover for fun and outdoor recreation. Read on for what to see if you have 2 days in Springfield, MO.

With more than 1,000 restaurants and approximately 170,000 residents, Springfield, Missouri, was long ago nicknamed Queen City of the Ozarks. The moniker is a holdover from the 1870s when the arrival of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway caused a local boom in the city’s popularity and growth. Today, choosing what to do while visiting Springfield can be tough.

Ready to try a signature Chinese dish that eventually swept the nation, totally decadent scratch-made custard, or bean-to-bar chocolate that has received multiple national awards? Savor them here. Want to marvel at one-of-a-kind natural beauty? Springfield has just the spot for you. Intrigued by the idea of feeding a giraffe or admiring a rehabilitating eagle? We’ve got you covered. Here are some must-visit spots during your 2-day tour of this Missouri city.

Playing Outdoors

In June 2023, I jumped at visiting Springfield, Missouri’s Fantastic Caverns (also called ‘America’s Ride-Thru Cave’). It was a beautiful, natural choice for this one-time elementary school kid who often foraged pretty rocks on the playground.

I loved this tour, which took less than an hour. The guide aboard our Jeep-drawn wagon—with bench seating along both sides—told us stories about the cave’s discovery and exploration during the late 1800s while educating us regarding past and ongoing cave formations. Throughout the tour, dramatically lit, otherworldly rock structures rose from the ground and hung above us as tiny water droplets occasionally hit our heads.

Our guide said that after these caves were discovered around the start of the Civil War, 12 women from the Springfield Athletic Club investigated the space. Considered the first explorers of the Ozarks cave, their names remain visible on one rock wall. We also learned that locals made moonshine here during Prohibition. Following our tour, I purchased several small geodes as souvenirs.

Fantastic Caverns was just that – fantastic! Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

If you love beautiful outdoor spaces, consider visiting Springfield Botanical Gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. It’s home to dozens of volunteer-maintained gardens, including the serene and meditative Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden.

Must-See Animals in Springfield 

Feeding giraffes and meeting a rehabilitating bald eagle during a behind-the-scenes visit to Dickerson Park Zoo were two highlights of our trip. We also saw an enormous turtle basking in the sun, kept our distance as we entered a kangaroo enclosure, and admired the scaley patterns on several large reptiles. Accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums since 1986, this lovely facility celebrated its centennial in 2023.

Feeding giraffes was a highlight of our behind-the-scenes zoo tour. Photo courtesy of Lisa Waterman Gray

No Springfield trip is complete without touring the world’s largest wildlife attraction. Housed in a 350,000-square-foot building, Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium was the brainchild of Johnny Morris, whose Bass Pro Shops headquarters is nearby. Whether you visit the Wildlife Galleries, the Aquarium, or both, exhibits inside this gargantuan space mesmerize everyone. USA Today readers christened this the nation’s Best New Aquarium and Attraction after its 2017 opening.

Structural logs decorate the museum lobby. View natural-looking wildlife and plants from the escalator, including at least a dozen bison. You’ll see life-sized animal dioramas in the Wildlife Galleries and history exhibits depicting Native American Tribal Council leaders. Tour Teddy Roosevelt’s Cabin, with its stone fireplace and rough-hewn wood walls.

The two-story aquarium is full of deep blue light and winding walkways. It’s a stunning showcase for more than 30,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, and bird species from across the globe. Massive tanks protect them as you marvel at their natural beauty.

Blue light accentuates watery tanks inside the nationally-ranked Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Springfield Food & Drink

On the day of our zoo adventure, we also savored nationally renowned Springfield-style Cashew Chicken at Leong’s Asian Diner, alongside other delectable dishes. Invented by founder David Leong in 1963, this original Cashew Chicken features fried chicken chunks covered in oyster sauce, green onions, and cashews. Today, Leong’s family carries on the tradition of this chef, who passed away three years ago after his 100th birthday.

David Leong started a nationwide food ‘trend’ with his Cashew Chicken dish. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

We did save room for another tasty afternoon stop. Headquartered in Springfield, Andy’s Frozen Custard crafts swoon-worthy handcrafted custard inside a vintage-vibe building. Despite its massive size, I happily ate an enormous amount of my whipped-cream-topped chocolatey dessert.

Yummy custard from a flagship Springfield restaurant. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

One evening, we dined at 25-year-old Springfield Brewing Company inside a beautifully restored vintage brick building. A musical duo performed as we quaffed house-made brews and craft cocktails. We also chowed on gravy-laden poutine, long, house-made pretzels, spicy Smokehouse Nachos, and thin-crust personal pizza.

Our table shared a generous serving of soft, warm pretzels at Springfield Brewing Company. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

On our final evening, we traveled about 19 miles from Springfield to Finley Farms on the historic Ozark Mill property. This high-yield urban farm supplies on-property restaurants with fresh, organic ingredients year-round. It’s a must-do dining experience if you love exquisite farm-to-table cuisine, with gorgeous views of a nearby waterfall and other rural beauty.

At nearby Finley Farms, this Green Tomato Cake was absolutely delicious. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray.

At nearby Finley Farms, this Green Tomato Cake was delicious. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

A Brief Tour of Historic C-Street

Within the six-block historic C Street  (Commercial Street) neighborhood, there’s a growing number of enticing dining and shopping spots. At Café Cusco, our small group shared plates of classic Peruvian food on a tiny patio beside the cozy vintage building. Several favorite dishes included Fried Guacamole with mango sauce and Fritas Huancaina, featuring sweet potato, yucca, and fries in yellow pepper cheese sauce.

We enjoyed delicious Peruvian food on the patio of this tiny Springfield restaurant. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Sister restaurant Van Gogh’s Eeterie serves Dutch breakfast all day, from Opa’s Meat Scramble (egg scramble with ham, bacon, smoked sausage, and cheese, with skillet crisps and toast) to Liege Wafels (Belgian-style waffles topped with blueberry, strawberry, and powdered sugar (eggs and bacon on the side). Not a breakfast fan? Order a De Pier Cod Sandwich or an Amsterdam Meatball Sub.

After our C Street meal, we visited several other neighborhood businesses. Nationally recognized Askinosie Chocolate opened here after Shawn Askinosie left his criminal defense law practice behind. Cacao farmers who work with Askinosie receive above-market pay for cacao beans, plus 10% of net profits from related products. The flavors are clean and delicious, from single-origin bars to roasted cocoa nibs.

On Springfield's historic 'C-Street,' chocolate lovers must visit Askinosie Chocolate. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray.

On Springfield’s historic ‘C-Street,’ chocolate lovers must visit Askinosie Chocolate. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Chabom Tea + Spices (Chabom means ‘good tea’ in Portuguese) was another of my favorite neighborhood stops. And it’s no wonder. The owner of this jam-packed yet compact retail shop also owns Café Cusco and Van Gogh’s Eeterie. It’s a great place to stock up on loose-leaf teas, premium herbs, and spices. Gourmet sugars and finishing salts also appeal to cooking enthusiasts.

And if you’ve never experienced a High Tea, check out Gilmore’s Tea Room & Vintage Suitcase Emporium. Finger sandwiches and petite desserts are only a couple of accompaniments to your hot beverage. Lunch items include sandwiches, salads, soups, quiche, crepes, and luscious homemade baked goods.

Other Places to Eat & Drink in Springfield

Funky and fun Hurts Donut Company began in and is headquartered here. It’s open 24/7 with flavors from Blueberry Streusel to Cotton Candy or Bubblegum.

At The Press Coffee & Juice Bar, you can enjoy a surprising blend of Korean and Mexican flavors, from custom juices with a choice of base to street tacos and specialty items.

Once a pop-up, Progress Restaurant is now a fine dining restaurant known for its high-quality service, extensive bar menu, and seasonal dishes.

Articles Related to Visiting Missouri

Why You Should Schedule Two Days in Springfield, Missouri

Springfield-Branson National Airport operates inside the city; larger airports in Kansas City, Missouri, or St. Louis are approximately a 3.25-hour drive. A personal vehicle is a must once you reach the Springfield area. If you’ve got some extra time, explore Branson, too. Less than an hour away, the city is nationally known for its live music shows, outdoor activities, and Silver Dollar City amusement park.

During the holiday season, Springfield offers special activities, too. Visitors can enjoy performances of White Christmas or The Nutcracker at the historic Landers Theatre. Strap on some ice skates and enjoy the only indoor ice skating park in the Ozarks region, or craft a holiday gift at Springfield Hot Glass Studio.

This ultimate guide to two days in Springfield only scratches the surface of what the southern Missouri city offers. Treat yourself to plenty of unexpected fun in this laid-back urban destination. We invite you to check out Wander With Wonder for more to see during your time in Missouri. We also have more 2-day guides to help you plan those long weekend getaways.

Headed to Missouri? Springfield, MO, the Queen City of the Ozarks, is an ideal stopover for fun and outdoor recreation. Read the Wander With Wonder article for what to see if you have 2 days in Springfield, MO. | What to do in Springfield | Things to See in Missouri | Family Travel in the Midwest


Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Springfield, Missouri

Written by Lisa Waterman Gray

A Kansas City-area resident, Lisa Waterman Gray has savored Quebec’s finest cuisine, ridden in a pickup before a Kansas buffalo herd, and toured natural Arizona landmarks with Native American guides. In June 2011, 18 months of driving, research, and writing ended with national publication of Lisa’s book, An Explorer’s Guide: Kansas. During October 2014, she was a U.S. delegate for Terre Madre and Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy – a conference for Slow Food International. Lisa has written for Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle (a Canadian magazine), USA Today.com, Midwest Living, four AAA magazines, and other clients. Visit her online at http://www.lisawatermangray.com/.