This entertainment capital in the Ozark Mountains is the place to go if you’re one of those people who can’t get enough Christmas. For starters, the celebration lasts two full months, beginning November 1 when millions of multicolored lights are switched on all over town and ending with New Year’s Eve concerts, cruises and family-friendly celebrations. In between, there’s plenty to keep you busy indoors and out.
More than 1,500 Christmas trees can be found throughout Branson, from traditional evergreens festooned in ornaments and lights to whimsical trees constructed of wine bottles, go-kart tires and other creative materials. Reserve an evening to drive along the two-and-a-half-mile Trail of Lights at Shepherd of the Hills Homestead—a 29-year tradition. Be sure to take in the trail’s newest attraction: North Pole Adventure, a walk-through experience featuring lights, artisan crafts and hot chocolate.
Silver Dollar City theme park shines brightly most nights between November 2 and December 20 with more than 6.5 million lights. Near the entrance, an 80-foot-tall special-effects Christmas tree is adorned with lights synchronized to music, while 30 miles of lights lead to the park’s newest ride: Time Traveler. Other holiday attractions at Silver Dollar City include an evening light parade and original musical productions of A Dickens’ Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life.
A Dicken's Christmas Carol, Photo Courtesy of Silver Dollar City
Many of Branson’s live-performance venues host Christmas-themed shows. Longtime favorites include Sight & Sound Theatre’s biennial performance of the biblically based Miracle of Christmas as well as variety shows such as A Brett Family Christmas, the Hughes Brothers Christmas Show and Andy Williams Ozark Mountain Christmas Show.
On most evenings from November 1 to December 23, Branson Scenic Railway dresses itself up for the season as The Polar Express, allowing passengers young and old to experience a magical adventure inspired by the children’s book and film. Character reenactments, story time and a visit with Santa are all part of the fun.
Amid all the revelry in Branson, you’ll be humming Christmas tunes from morning till night.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
If a trip to New York City isn’t in the plans this year but you’d love to see a show, set your sights on Minneapolis/St. Paul. The Twin Cities regularly appear on lists of the country’s top cities for regional theater.
One result of Minneapolis’ $500 million investment in the arts in 2006, marketed at the time as “The Arts Explosion,” was the construction of a new home for the Guthrie Theater. Lauded by TIME magazine as “a 21st century dream factory,” the Guthrie is known for performances on its three stages as well as for its breathtaking views. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouveau, the deep-blue metal and glass clad building offers unique vistas of downtown and the Mississippi River from vantage points that include a cantilevered platform called the Endless Bridge and the ninth-floor’s projecting lobby space, the Amber Box. The Guthrie’s winter shows include Steel Magnolias (through December 15), A Christmas Carol (November 12–December 29), Twelfth Night (February 8–March 22) and The Bacchae (February 29–April 5).
Anastasia, Courtesy of Hennepin Theater Trust
Downtown Minneapolis’ theater district on Hennepin Avenue is home to three historic theaters—the Orpheum Theatre, State Theatre and Pantages Theatre—that host touring plays, musicals, concerts and comedy acts. This seasons’ Broadway on Hennepin at The Orpheum features The Phantom of the Opera (November 20–December 1), Jesus Christ Superstar (January 21–26), My Fair Lady (March 3–8), Anastasia (March 24–April 5) and more.
Not only does St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts produce its own musicals, but it also hosts performances by the Minnesota Opera and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra as well as touring shows. Other theaters and companies of note in the Twin Cities include the regional Tony Award-winning Children’s Theatre Company, Theater Latté Da, Jungle Theater, Theater Mu, Penumbra Theatre and—20 miles southwest of Minneapolis—Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, among the longest-running dinner theaters in the country, with a pedigree dating to the late 1960s.
Snow and Sports
The Black Hills of South Dakota
When there’s snow on the ground, there’s outdoor fun to be had in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The region best known as home to Mount Rushmore National Memorial boasts an average of 150 inches of snow annually—with white stuff on the ground as early as Thanksgiving and as late as early April.
For those who want to whip downhill on skis or snowboards, Terry Peak Ski Area beckons with a top elevation of 7,100 feet and the highest lift service between the Rockies and the Alps. Five lifts provide access to 29 trails ranging from beginner to advanced. There’s a freestyle terrain park, too.
Terry Peak Ski, Photo Courtesy of South Dakota Tourism
The Black Hills Snowmobile Trail System, a 350-mile network of maintained, marked and groomed trails, gives snowmobilers easy access to the beauty of Black Hills National Forest, a ponderosa pine forest in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming that is punctuated by canyons and summit lookouts. Warming shelters, gas stops and the availability of local guides enhance the ride.
The national forest has groomed and natural trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, as do many of South Dakota’s state parks. In the Black Hills region, those include Custer State Park, famous for its bison herds and other wildlife, and the 109-mile gently sloping George S. Mickelson Trail. Spearfish Canyon Nature area, known for its dramatic waterfalls, allows snowshoeing. All three of the parks lend out snowshoes free for a day or a weekend.
Continue communing with nature by overnighting in a lodge or cabin at Custer State Park. Or, combine your sporting days with lively nights in the town of Deadwood, with its abundance of restaurants, casinos and nightlife.
Miles of Music
What do Broadway sensation Kristin Chenoweth and country music star Carrie Underwood have in common—apart from great musical chops? Harder still, what common characteristic can you find between pop-rock band All-American Rejects and folk legend Woody Guthrie?
If you’re a proud Oklahoman, you know that these musicians were either born or got their start in the Sooner State. Leon Russell, Blake Shelton, Patti Page and Reba McEntire all claim Oklahoma roots, too, as do many other notable musicians in genres from blues to rockabilly and from funk to opera. And thanks to the Rhythm and Routes Oklahoma Music Trail, fans can follow predefined routes or style their own journeys through the state’s music history.
Fans of the Singing Cowboy, for example, can follow a five-stop Gene Autry itinerary that begins in Chelsea, where, according to legend, a compliment on Autry’s singing and guitar-playing from Will Rogers inspired then telegraph operator to pursue a music career. Other Autry destinations include the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and the Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum in the town that was renamed for him.
In addition to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in Tulsa, a jazz itinerary will take aficionados to Oklahoma City’s American Banjo Museum and to Deep Deuce, a once predominantly African American neighborhood where the jazz was hopping in the 1940s at nightclubs, supper clubs and a dance hall. While in Oklahoma City, trail-goers can enjoy cocktails in the Prohibition speakeasy-themed Stag Lounge and dine on N’awlins cuisine at Bourbon Street Café in Bricktown, which hosts live music every weekend.
Oklahoma’s Music Trail comprises 59 itineraries and hundreds of destinations, giving music aficionados enough inspiration for the entire winter. For details, go to travelok.com/music-trail.