Categorically, Silver Dollar City is a theme park, but it’s so much more than thrill rides and sticky snack foods. It’s an old-timey cultural center with two Broadway-style theaters, nonstop live music, a colony of resident artisans, a culinary school and natural wonders packed into a setting reminiscent of an 1880s mountain village. Everyone is dressed in period costume.
And, yes, there are thrill rides and sticky snack foods.
Silver Dollar City, located on the outskirts of Branson, Mo., is a wholesome, family-friendly entertainment venue with fun for all ages. They call themselves “America’s Celebration of Family.” Bring the kids. Bring Great-Grandma. You’ll all have a good time.
Here are some of the things you can do while you’re there:
Explore Marvel Cave. At 505 feet deep, it’s Missouri’s largest cave and a National Natural Landmark.
Hop aboard the 1930s Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train for a ride through the Ozark countryside.
Watch a candy-making demonstration at Brown’s Candy Shop. Master candy-maker June Ward has been working here since 1968. She passes out samples. “I keep smiling because I have the sweetest job in town,” she says. (Pamela McKuen photo)
Meander the artisan shops where glass-blowers, woodworkers, potters, candlemakers, blacksmiths and more perform their handiwork. Be amazed by the rare pure-red glazes created by master potter Jeff Walker. (Pamela McKuen photo)
Join in on a hymn sing-along at the Wilderness Church, a log chapel built in 1849 and moved to Silver Dollar City. (Pamela McKuen photo)
Take a cooking lesson at the Midwest Living Culinary and Craft School. (Pamela McKuen photo)
Visit the one-room schoolhouse where the school marm will lead you through penmanship lessons and share 1880s lore and humor.
Gulp a refreshing root beer–the strongest beverage onsite–at the Silver Dollar Saloon.
Ride Outlaw Run, the world’s first and only double-barrel wood roller coaster and the steepest with a first drop of 162 feet at 81 degrees.
Music, theater and comedy go on all day and evening. Silver Dollar City has 12 performance venues. Check out the top-flight productions at Red Gold Heritage Hall and the Opera House, and the (modestly dressed) dance hall girls at the Silver Dollar Saloon. And don’t be surprised if you happen to walk into an impromptu skit or chorale taking place along the winding, tree-lined streets.
One must-see show is the Homestead Pickers, a quartet of grizzled, warm-hearted string musicians, play bluegrass, country and gospel favorites. Look for them at the McHaffie Homestead, an authentic saddlebag (two separate rooms sharing a single hearth and chimney) cabin. (Pamela McKuen photo)
Silver Dollar City cuisine is fabulous and made from scratch. Three sit-down restaurants serve hearty buffets featuring down-home recipes, and dozens of kiosks hawk burgers, pizza, pastries, popcorn and candy. For a true taste of mountain fare, look to the big-skillet tradition: Five-foot skillets on open grills are loaded with seasonal meats and vegetables and stir-fried into a savory one-dish meal. Succotash is a local fave.
A bit of history: Marvel Cave opened as a tourist attraction in 1894. The next generation of owners (and still the current owners), the Herschend family, expanded the property with a handful of rustic buildings to simulate an Ozarks village of the 1880s. They added artisans, shops, food purveyors, and in 1960 opened as Silver Dollar City. At that time, change was given in silver dollars; hence, the name.
In 1967, the park gained national exposure when several episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies” were filmed here. Candy queen June Ward was a stand-in for Elly May. The number of visitors exploded.
Branson tourism has only grown bigger and bolder over the years, and so has Silver Dollar City. Every year brings new events and new attractions.
(Thank you to the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for inviting me to spend a day at the park–and for the use of your photography. All photos theirs unless credited otherwise.)