Imagine a miniature Vegas without the gambling or showgirls, a G-rated destination where families outnumber swinging singles 10-to-1. Cue up the banjo-picking ambiance of the Grand Ole Opry, throw in mini-golf, assorted wax museums and theme parks, and you have Branson, Missouri, as unpretentious a place as any you'll find in the good ol' U.S.A. Now a century removed from its small-town roots as a general store/post office, Branson has mushroomed into a tourist-filled, flag-waving, live-entertainment center in the heart of Arkansas's Ozark Plateau.
Things to Do
Fasten your seatbelts: Branson is an amusement-park-lover's paradise. Silver Dollar City is the thrill junkie's mecca, replete with a hair-raising roller coaster, the PowderKeg, and a barnyard full of rides. Break the summer heat with a drenching on the slides, sprays, geysers and wave pools at White Water water park.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Entertainment here is strictly mainstream and emphatically red-white-and-blue. Think light dinner theater, not Wagnerian opera. Expect toe-tapping bluegrass, gospel sing-a-longs, and Neil Diamond and John Denver tributes. At Presley's Country Jubilee, Branson's "First Family of Entertainment" pulls out all the stops with country-music classics and cornball gags.
Restaurants and Dining
Prepare for a real schooling in quintessential down-home Southern cuisine. Loosen your belt -- the breaded and fried abound. The Branson Cafe is a greet-the-regulars-by-their-first name place -- and one bite of the fried chicken will put you in a swoon. The breakfast at McFarlain's Family Restaurant is monumental -- scrambled eggs with bacon, sausage and cheese topped with an avalanche of gravy. The down-homes sides include supple cornbread and tangy fried green tomatoes.
Take in the limestone cliffs, lush forests and tumbling meadows of the Ozark region. Unearth your inner frontiersman: Dig a coonskin cap out of your closet and take a canoe trip down the James River. Trout and bass abound in nearby waters: Hire a guide to take you to Bull Shoals, Table Rock and Taneycomo lakes for an afternoon of meditative fishing.