It may not be the Springfield that’s the setting for “The Simpsons,” but be assured Springfield, Missouri, has many claims to fame. The Queen City of the Ozarks, in reference to its location within the Ozark Plateau, is also known as the Cultural Center of the Ozarks. The destination also claims to be the birthplace of the famous Route 66, now East St. Louis Street, a main thoroughfare through a walkable downtown. Where there legend has it the world’s first drive-thru restaurant, Red’s Giant Hamburg, once stood, you will now find an abundance of restaurants, breweries, wineries and spirit tastings for attendees who are more than passing through.
Castles might not jump to mind when you consider Missouri, but the limestone Pythian Castle is less than 2 miles from town. Its ballroom and lobby are available for rental. The castle was formerly owned by the U.S. military, and during World War II, German and Italian prisoners of war were assigned here for medical treatment and as laborers. It is supposedly haunted, and one can imagine the basement jail cells’ concrete walls have many stories to tell.
Historic Walnut Street
Attendees who’d like to get out can stroll among lovely, historic Victorian homes along Walnut Street, within walking distance of Springfield Expo Center and the city’s largest hotel, University Plaza Hotel. Pick up a walking guide from the Route 66 Springfield Visitor Center (next to the convention center) for an illustrative guide to each house and a valuable glossary of architectural terms.
Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife
Opened in September 2017, Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium provides a trip around the world. Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, spent nine years building WOW as his personal crusade to conservation adjacent to Bass Pro Shops’ national headquarters and the original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World location.
WOW features 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds totaling 700 species, a 1.5 million-gallon aquarium and dioramas offering a tour of natural habitats of the animal kingdom. Live inhabitants include playful river otters, beavers, black bears, a bald eagle, owls and crocodiles, to name a few. Guests can feel horseshoe crabs, rays, sharks and starfish in two touch tanks.
Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes to cover more than 1.5 miles of trails and exhibits spanning 350,000 square feet. Save time for the Archery Hall of Fame & Museum and full-service restaurant Hemingway’s Blue Water Cafe. The on-site meeting facility, White River Conference Center, has the feel of a large mountain cabin and can accommodate groups of up to 1,000 theater-style in a ballroom and meeting rooms decked out with stone fireplaces, wood beams and iron-and-deerskin chandeliers. The Grand Ballroom features a floor-to-ceiling realistic woodland-scene diorama spanning an entire wall.
Just outside the immediate city center sits many of Springfield’s attractions, including Fantastic Caverns, America’s only ride-through cave. According to PR Director Hubert Heck, the caverns are “a small family-owned business discovered in 1862 by an Ozarks farmer—or rather, by his dog who crawled through an entrance.” Teambuilding groups will experience underground eeriness of massive stalactites and stalagmites for nearly an hour, with the comfort of a seat on a Jeep-drawn tram and constant 60-degree temperatures.