A replica of the Titanic
Photograph: Courtesy of the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau

Everything in Branson seems larger than life.

Nearer Than Ever

With Southwest Airlines offering new, super cheap direct flights to Branson, Missouri (starting at $80, one way from Midway), now is the time to check out the show capital of the Show Me State’s myriad attractions. The city of about 10,000 residents annually draws upward of 7 million visitors, who come for the dozens of performance options available on any given night—ranging from Acrobats of China to the Twelve Irish Tenors. But there are things to do in and around Branson besides sitting in a darkened theatre. Here, the highlights among the off-the-strip attractions:

  • Remember the children of the Titanic:
    Of the more than 2,000 passengers aboard the doomed Titanic, 133 were children. Working with the 50-year-old Titanic Historical Society, the Titanic Museum (3235 76 Country Blvd. and Highway 165, 800-381-7670, titanicbranson.com), has established a new gallery dedicated to the youngest travelers on the ship. The museum also boasts more than $4.5 million worth of Titanic artifacts and a replica of the ship’s grand staircase. Admission is $21.51 plus tax.
  • Take in the tigers:
    Ten minutes north of Branson, the non-profit National Tiger Sanctuary (518 State Highway BB, Saddlebrooke, 417-587-3633, nationaltigersanctuary.org) provides a haven for 18 big cats, many of them confiscated from circuses and private owners. Since the sanctuary was founded in 2000, it has also taken in more than a dozen abandoned dogs and cats (who live separately from the lions and tigers). You can see the animals via a 75-minute guided tour ($20). Or, take the feeding tour ($30), during which you can watch from three feet away as the cats rip into dinner. For $50, you can feed them yourself.
  • Explore outdoors:
    Physically near but aesthetically far from Branson’s commercial strip, the 1.5-million-acre Mark Twain National Forest covers a swath of Stone and Taney Counties. Here, you’ll find trails leading through the Piney Creek and Hercules Glades Wilderness areas in the massive forest’s Ava/Cassville/Willow Springs Ranger District (1103 S. Jefferson, Ava, 417-683-4428, fs.usda.gov/mtnf). A dozen day hikes with trails wind through the Ozarks past scenic glades of oaks, sweet gum, sugar maples and along the White River. For a detailed list of day hikes, click here.

Where to Stay: The Chateau on the Lake (415 N. State Hwy. 265, 888-333-5253, chateauonthelake.com) has guest rooms, suites, and a full-service spa with Ozark Mountain and lake views; rates range from $129 to $259 a night. The White River Lodge Bed and Breakfast (738 Ozark Hollow Rd., Blue Eye, 800-544-0257, whiteriverlodgebb.com) has four guest rooms and a two-bedroom suite nestled on 40 acres, overlooking Table Rock Lake; rates range from $139 to $209.

Where to Eat: Table 22 (114 E. Main St., 417-973-0022, table22branson.com) features a changing menu of locally sourced entrees and sides including venison pate, lamb with black quinoa, and duck with kiwi gel. Black Oak Grill (601 Branson Landing, 417-239-0063, blackoakgrill.com) isn’t fancy, but the menu offers substantial staples including Angus burgers, fried goat cheese, and seasonal soups.