It's no secret that Branson, Missouri, offers enough live shows to entertain you every day for the next three months, and they become more spectacular during the holidays. Attend a few, then focus on Christmas lights flickering like a jillion fireflies against the Ozark hills, shops filled with must-haves, and away-from-it-all lodging on Table Rock Lake. Add a few snowflakes, and you have the perfect winter getaway.
If you want to be in the middle of everything, Branson offers plenty of accommodations near the theaters and restaurants. But I like it quiet and scenic, preferably in a cabin at Big Cedar Lodge. Wrapped around a finger of Table Rock Lake, the resort sits 10 miles south of Branson―near enough for you to take in all the attractions, yet far enough away so that you may enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Low-key holiday activities here include creating a gingerbread house and making s'mores.
For digs closer to town, rent a lakeside condo at The Village At Indian Point, just down the road from Silver Dollar City. Or reserve a room at Chateau on the Lake Resort & Spa, set atop a hill near the theater district. One of the newest hotels, Hilton Promenade, puts you at Branson Landing, a downtown entertainment and retail area.
Silver Dollar Nights
Spend at least one evening at Silver Dollar City. Carols fill the air, and the 4 million twinkling lights that outline trees, bushes, and buildings present an awesome display now through December 30.
The aroma of fresh baked goods from the plentiful vendors makes it impossible to walk around without something to munch on. So go for a cinnamon pastry and a cup of hot chocolate with a candy cane in it to warm your hands and heart.
Pop into The Basket Shop to peruse the selection of white oak beauties, or peek into the blacksmith shop to watch artisans pound metal into decorative forms. Be careful of the time, though, and don't miss The Living Nativity and the musical A Dickens' Christmas Carol.
Stroll and Shop
Take your gift list downtown to Branson Landing, a 95-acre smorgasbord of shops and restaurants. Bass Pro Shops anchors one end of the pedestrian street that flows through the area. One of my favorite stops is The Fudgery, where I watched as delicious fudge was made. Baseball fans will want to browse Cardinal's Clubhouse.
Dick's Oldtime 5 & 10 has anchored its corner of Main and Commercial for nearly 35 years. It carries everything from pots and pans to stationery, but the best reason to step inside is the inexpensive toys―they make perfect stocking stuffers.
Another favorite shop, Round Tree Pottery, is a few miles away―but worth the drive. It's a treasure trove of local and regional art.
Steaks and Stuff
I love beef, and both the Devil's Pool restaurant and Worman Steakhouse at Big Cedar Lodge get a thumbs-up for their prime rib. Worman, with lovely views of Table Rock Lake, also wins in the romance department. For sunset dining go to Candlestick Inn, which overlooks Branson Landing and Lake Taneycomo. My favorite dish here is the starter of grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon ($13).
Although Cantina Laredo at Branson Landing is part of a chain, it garners praise for the guacamole made fresh tableside ($8.99) and the delicious house margarita ($8).
The Shack, on Commercial Street, enjoys a loyal following at breakfast and lunch. Food and prices rate high ($3.25 for a pancake and sausage or bacon), but when it's time for a coffee refill, your server may be off chatting with the locals.
With more than 100 live performances to choose from, it's hard to offer just a few recommendations―although Andy Williams always packs them in, and Jim Stafford puts on a fabulous show. But whatever you choose, prepare yourself for a fun evening because this is one of the best times to visit.
Just the Facts
- Big Cedar Lodge: www.bigcedar.com or 1-800-225-6343; rates range from $159 (lodge) to $319 (cabin).
- Chateau on the Lake Resort & Spa: www.chateauonthelake.com or 1-888-333-5253; rates start at $174.
- Hilton Promenade: www.bransonlanding.com/stay.html or  336-5500; rates start at $129.
- The Village At Indian Point: www.thevillageatindianpoint.com or 1-800-984-7847; rates from $115.
- Silver Dollar City: www.silverdollarcity.com or 1-800-831-4386.
- For more information: www.explorebranson.com or 1-800-272-6766.
"Fun Times, Cozy Places" is from the December 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.