Branson gets a bum rap, almost exclusively from people who’ve never been. Yes, the main drag in town is a classic stretch of American kitsch, complete with celebrity tribute artist shows, a museum constructed to look like the Titanic, and plenty of neon. But give up the pretension and Branson is one of the best places in America to go for raw silly fun.
For starters, Table Rock Lake is a serene, family-friendly alternative to the rowdy Lake of the Ozarks. But the real fun here isn’t just relaxing in the quiet hills -- it’s in all those cheap tourist thrills you think you’re too good for. Branson is home to Silver Dollar City, which this year opened the world’s biggest spinning roller coaster, in the Time Traveler. Outside the park, the single-car alpine coaster at Runaway Mountain -- and the original Branson coaster -- are as close to taking a go-kart down a winding mountain road as you’ll ever experience. There’s also the towering Bigfoot, a 200-foot free fall ride that lifts you for a stunning view out over the town and the lake before dropping you. To calm down, hit the 150-foot Branson Ferris Wheel, which boasts the same views without the stomach drop.
That Titanic ship in the middle of the strip is actually a Titanic museum, the most comprehensive one outside of Belfast, complete with a scale model of the grand staircase. And the charming downtown’s home to Dicks 5 & 10, a massive, quirky general store with such an unusual array of items the Osmond family is said to rent it out every year to do their Christmas shopping. It’ll make you smile like the coasters make you scream. -- Matt Meltzer