Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Explore West Plains. All opinions and photos are mine with the exception of one courtesy photo.
People often ask me the location of hidden gems, and West Plains, Missouri, meets the criteria.
Tucked away in the south-central region of the Show-Me State, a town of over 12,000 people, West Plains offers visitors and residents a multitude of things to do, from Ozark outdoor adventures to shopping and dining indoors.
OZARK HERITAGE WELCOME CENTER
When visiting West Plains, your first stop should be Ozark Heritage Welcome Center (2999 Portor Wagoner Blvd).
Like me, you may be the kind of traveler who likes to get their bearings and learn about a town before exploring it, and this is the place to do it.
The staff is eager to direct you to places to explore in the area, plus the center houses display cases showcasing the town’s history. Nestled in the Ozark Mountains, West Plains is steeped in history.
Some celebrities from the area include county music singer and songwriter Porter Wagoner, baseball players Bill Virdon, Tedd Galluc, Elwin “Preacher” Roe, actor Dick Van Dyke, and country music songstress Jan Howard to name a few.
I was impressed with the well-stocked inventory of regionally made products ranging from honey to home decor items.
Displays of brochures, books, maps, and event information make the center a must-stop before exploring the area.
The fun continues outside, where you can take photos with a 16-foot vintage postcard and an 8-foot mural of butterfly wings. A nearby historical marker explains how the town was founded while noting its growth as a trade center.
PRO TIP: If traveling by RV, you’ll love the center’s expansive parking lot, water fill, and dump station. Visitors with dogs will love the shaded grassy areas to take a stroll.
An artistic movement is taking place across West Plains, evident by the growing number of beautiful murals painted on buildings throughout the town.
I sought out as many as possible during the visit, starting with a self-guided tour of the downtown area.
While some artistic creations are new, others, like the Coca-Cola mural at Ozark Small Business Incubator, are refurbished.
Each artist’s massive painting references the town’s history or businesses. Unique in their way, the paintings range in style from spray paint art to impressionism.
The largest of the downtown street paintings, “The Protector” is based on a portrait painted by late local artist Charles E. Kimberlin II. In 2022, the large-scale painting was added by Nigerian artist, Dr. Bolaji Ogunwo.
Kimberlin was a 1936 West Plains High School graduate and a business owner.
A short walk from Ogunwo’s mural on the same side of the courthouse square, “Neighbors Mural” (4 Court Square) adorns the side of Evans Arcade. To me, each friendly face emerging from the windows communicates the welcoming feeling of West Plains.
After exploring the downtown area, we drove to spots around town, seeking out other permanent paintings.
Commissioned by the Board of City Pride, the mural pictured below is found at Drago Hall at Missouri State University-West Plains where are classes are held.
Other murals, like those painted on the side of an ice cream store pictured below, use vibrant colors and whimsical symbols to generate visitors’ enthusiasm before ordering an ice cream treat.
My self-guided tour of murals only scratched the surface of a long list of artistic creations worth checking out while you’re in town.
It’s well worth the experience. View a comprehensive list here.
JOHNNY HATCHET’S AXE THROWING & COFFEE HOUSE
I’ve never experienced a business as unique and fun as Johnny Hatchet’s Axe Throwing & Coffee House (47 Court Square).
We entered the front door (the owner’s barber shop) and walked to the rear of the building under an archway of antique hatchets.
A larger space revealed three bays for axe throwing and a coffee counter where visitors can fuel up on caffeinated drinks before heaving sharp items at targets.
We sipped ice-cold lattés while listening to the staff give instructions on throwing techniques and the rules of play. Despite my best efforts, the hatchets and Ninja stars I threw toppled off the target, coming to rest on the ground.
Watching others take turns throwing sharp weapons at the wood wall with better success was fun, and the coffee drinks made it a delightful experience.
One of the best parts of visiting the family-run business is their pride in selling locally sourced baked goods, coffee beans, and gifts.
A glass display case at the coffee bar showcases cookies and muffins made fresh daily, and the refrigerated case usually has a tempt-worthy cheesecake inside.
PRO TIP: Look at the framed photographs on the wall for a few minutes. Each one captures historical moments when Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton visited West Plains. The building is where Wagoner launched his famous career.
WEST PLAINS DANCE HALL EXPLOSION SITE
On April 13, 1928, an explosion erupted at Bond Hall on the 100 Block East of Main Street. According to Lin Waterhouse’s book “The West Plains Dance Hall Explosion,” 60 people gathered that rainy evening to socialize and dance. The cause was not determined.
Bond Hall was home to numerous social gatherings. Today, the site remains as a visual reminder of the horrific incident that destroyed a block of buildings behind West Plains Bank.
As the book states, “Sometimes a bottle or flask was handed around from person to person, and some people complained about the loud, rowdy behavior exhibited by some of the dance’s inebriated patrons.”
Did a prohibitionist cause the explosion? Did J. M. Weiser, found dead behind the building with a door knob in his hand, cause the accident that killed 39 people and injured 23 others?
It remains a mystery.
WEST PLAINS CIVIC CENTER ART GALLERY
A short drive from downtown, West Plains Civic Center (110 St. Louis St.) is where the community gathers these days for sporting events, concerts, and to use as a theater, fitness center, and exhibit hall. The second floor’s mezzanine serves as an art gallery.
Photographer Joyce McMurtrey’s work “King of The Ozarks” was on display on the day of our visit. The native Missourian captured portraits of family members and neighbors of H. King Davis while interviewing them.
His multi-generational family has farmed in southern Missouri since the Homestead Act. A detailed caption accompanies each image, telling the personal story of those photographed.
HISTORICAL MARKERS AT OAK LAWN CEMETERY
POLLY THE PARROT
Not every day, you are sent on a mission to Oak Lawn Cemetery (1101 Amyx St.) to find a historical marker of a famous bird, but that’s what makes West Plains extra unique.
As the story goes, Polly the Parrot was Dr. Thomas Bradford’s talking bird who originally spoke only Spanish.
Because the bird missed Mr. Bradford, it incessantly wailed, “Ma, where’s Pa?” which made Mrs. Bradford so sad that she eventually relocated Polly to her daughter’s home in West Plains, where it lived as a nationally known talking and singing bird.
DANCE HALL EXPLOSION MEMORIAL
While visiting Oak Lawn Cemetery, I encourage you to view the Dance Hall Explosion Memorial. It’s a good opportunity to honor those who perished in the tragedy while completing the historical story journey.
According to Explore West Plains, services were held in every church in town on April 19, 1928. This memorial remembers the 19 unidentified people laid to rest along with 20 identified people.
KC’S SPORTS BISTRO
At dinnertime, I recommend grabbing a table at KC’s Sports Bistro (409 Washington Ave.), where the food is delicious, and the TVs are constantly airing the game. One look at the menu, and your mouth will begin to water.
During our visit, locals gathered around the bar during Happy Hour. Nearby, a father and son played a game of pool while arcade games like Big Buck and Golden Tee flickered in the background.
Known for their wings, we shared a 5-piece basket with our choice of sauces: Thai Chili and Spicy BBQ – cooked and sauced to perfection. The Traditional Chef Salad with ham and eggs was fully loaded and crave-worthy. Our server said they are adding a salad bar.
If you order a burger, expect it to be stacked high like the West Plains Pride served on a jalapeño bun with pepper jack cheese, onion, and mango habanero sauce.
PRO TIP: Opt to sit outside on a nice weather day. They host local musicians on Saturday nights – no cover charge.
WAGES BREWERY & TAPROOM
Wages Brewery & Taproom (1382 Bill Virdon Blvd.) is an oasis for craft beer lovers who appreciate a relaxed taproom with a patio.
As they say, “It’s more than just a great beer, where the middle of nowhere never tasted so good.”
The brewery has a variety of beers for every kind of craft beer connoisseur, but for us, it was an easy choice.
We toted glasses of Landlocked IPA (a popular local choice) and Silky Oats IPA to the front patio for a game of Hook and Ring to the backdrop of rock music.
To our delight, friendly locals joined us outside to raise a glass to West Plains.
We left Wages Brewery & Taproom feeling good about our time in town. It’s the kind of place where the beer is always tasty, and locals Beer It Forward buying a pint for one another.
PRO TIP: Ask about the food menu if you’re hungry. Wages hosts live music multiple times a week, and there is no cover charge.
HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS & SUITES
I’ve stayed in numerous hotels, but none delivered the kind of stellar customer service like Holiday Inn Express & Suites (1301 Preacher Roe Blvd.).
The highly rated IHG hotel is locally owned and operated, earning recognition as #1 worldwide for guest satisfaction 5 years in a row and the IHG Torchbearer Award, their highest recognition.
When you travel, don’t you love it when your hotel room is well-designed, clean, and spacious?
Our king-bedroom suite located at the end of the hall exceeded our expectations. During the initial tour, I exclaimed, “Wow! This place is enormous!”
You’ll appreciate the kitchen space with a fully stocked Keurig coffee bar and microwave. Although it lacked a stove, I could easily see extended-stay guests using the kitchen amenities to heat and eat delicious meals.
The bathroom with an expansive shower was sparkling clean and offered plenty of space for more than one guest to get ready for a day of travel.
A beautiful fish aquarium and on-trend furniture set the scene for a complimentary hot breakfast in the lobby.
The attentive hotel staff ensures guests, including your four-legged family members, have everything they need during their stay.
PRO TIP: Do you prefer to work out while on the road? The indoor pool and fitness center are some of the most well-maintained that I’ve seen.
10/40 COFFEE & Boutique
Rise and shine at 10/40 Coffee & Boutique (24 Court Square) on the courthouse square. It’s more than another small town coffee shop.
The menu includes unexpected delights like homemade baked goods, avocado toast on artisan bread, and handcrafted breakfast sandwiches.
The faith-based gathering space is also a boutique that supports local makers and creators. The retail shelves ran the length of a brick-exposed wall and were piled high with irresistible merchandise from apparel to home decor.
PRO TIP: Look at the menu boards or ask a friendly barista for the day’s drink or food special.
NORTH FORK RECREATION AREA
The beauty of the Ozark is undeniable. Its crystal-clear lakes and rivers beg visitors to take a dip or drop a line. The region is also known for its free-flowing springs and waterfalls.
A visit to North Fork Recreation Area in the Mark Twain National Forest, reveals primitive camping areas and secluded fishing spots. At the Blue Spring Trail, one of two in the area, hikers can take a 200-yard trek to view picturesque Blue Springs.
The spring produces 6.5 million gallons of water per day, flowing beneath sandstone blocks.
We cruised around the area, photographing and admiring nature’s summer beauty.
It was easy to imagine a return trip when we had more time to enjoy recreational activities. The trails are ideally suited for mountain biking, walking, or horseback riding.
PRO TIP: Mark Twain National Forest encompasses 1.5 million acres in 29 counties. If you’re a hiker, take advantage of 750 miles of trails within the Ozark Trail system, which has trailheads near West Plains.
When the guy with the keys to an 1861 mill at the base of a cliff happens to be there when you visit, you go inside.
Hodgson Mill was purchased in 1884 for $500 to produce white flour. It once housed a general store, sawmill, and cotton gin. It is located 20 miles from West Plains, adjacent to Highway 181.
The mill is closed to the public., but consider taking advantage of beautiful walking trails, putting your feet in the cold water (28 million gallons per day!), or primitive camp nearby.
PRO TIP: Park your car in the gravel lot at the base of the mill. None of the privately owned buildings are open to the public, so walking the grounds for stunning Ozark views is advisable.
HIBBY’S SPORTS GRILLE
When you’re craving pub grub, there is no better place to grab dinner than Hibby’s Sports Grille (1729 W. US Hwy 160). The aesthetic inside? Think wood cabin lodge meets sports bar.
The floor-to-ceiling wood aesthetic showcases framed game jerseys with team pennants in a row.
Specialty sandwiches, burgers, and wraps dominate the menu. Our friendly server suggested the French Dip Sandwich and zesty Cuban sandwich, both equally scrumptious. The meat was juicy, the bread soft, and the flavor delivered.
Although we ordered plenty of food for a hearty lunch, we couldn’t resist adding an order of Fried Ravioli to our meal. They were so delicious that we nearly fought over the last one.
The Brick Oven Pizza menu includes 8″ personal pizzas cooked to order if you crave something other than a sandwich.
PRO TIP: Covered patio seating with views of the game is also available.
Harlin Museum (405 Worcester Ave.) tells the story of the Ozarks using art and historical artifacts.
The volunteer-ran museum houses a collection of local artists’ works on the first floor and historical artifacts and documents in the basement.
We guided our way throughout the upper floor exhibition room, admiring quilts, paintings, and sculptures. After a 20-minute tour, we headed downstairs to discover several items that told the story of West Plains.
We peered into display cases featuring military items and clothing once worn by the town’s residents. Equally interesting, old photos, newspapers, and Zizzer high school yearbooks were accessible.
PRO TIP: Before you go, visit the museum’s event page, which often lists instructional workshops and art show information.
Aid Downtown Antiques
A picker’s paradise, Aid Downtown Antiques (1 Court Sq.) is located in the old Aid Hardware Store. Shoppers seeking old relics from the past will love cruising in and out of booths stocked with merchandise.
I found the store well-organized, and some areas were categorized by theme.
You’ll see everything from vintage toys and coins to furniture and depression glass inside 22,000 square feet of retail space. I was drawn to an illuminated glass case filled with relics from the town’s past.
The signature of Elwin Charles “Preacher” Roe, a professional baseball player who retired after the 1954 season and opened a supermarket in town, was scrawled upon several artifacts. Roe played with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Brooklyn Dodgers.
Country at Heart
If you want to feel like a kid in a candy store, literally, Country at Heart (2 Court Sq.) is the place to shop. The towering shelves and baskets are brimming with old-fashioned candy and soda pop bottles.
A gift-giver’s go-to shop, Country at Heart is known for its handcrafted baskets decorated for themed parties.
The specialty store carries toys, books, novelty socks, candles, and more. You’ll find it hard to resist buying a gift or candy for yourself or a friend once you walk inside.
The Frame Shop & Gallery
The Frame Shop & Gallery (403 Washington Ave.) features the work of local artists while doubling as a place to get one’s artwork suitably framed.
Why buy a generic print for your home’s wall when you can purchase an exquisite painting or photograph?
Located a short walk from downtown West Plains, the gallery is a place to admire the talent of regional artists while igniting your own creativity.
HB’s Boot Corral
Have you wished you had a custom pair of cowboy boots in your closet for a special occasion or rodeo?
HB’s Boot Corral (2002 Porter Wagoner Blvd.), is the largest boot and western apparel store in the area, and they’re known for their custom-made creations.
If you can’t wait for a pair of custom-made boots, consider shopping from over 15,000 pairs in the store.
In business for over 30 years, the new store’s new owners have cataloged its inventory online, making it easy to shop and ship on demand.
The smell of leather. The overwhelming rows of boots, handbags, and accessories make HB Boot Corral the number-one place to shop for western apparel.
JMB PARK DISC GOLF
Grab your discs and spray on the bug spray. It’s time for 18 holes of disc golf at JMB Park (Buck Park Rd, State Route BB).
We’ve played numerous wooded courses, but this one was incredibly dense, resulting in an afternoon of technical play. The metal baskets lacked flags but were easy to spot using the helpful maps at each hole.
PRO TIP: Pack brightly colored discs should you unintentionally throw one into a tall grass, wooded area.
OSTERMEIER BREWING COMPANY
You know those drinking establishments where it seems like everyone knows your name? That’s Ostermeier Brewing Company (1872 US-63).
Under new ownership, the brewery/restaurant is as busy as ever.
As we entered, the staff directed us to an available table. We chose instead to pony up to the bar, a place I prefer so we can watch the action and have a direct view of the beer taps.
Owners Richard and Megan Hudson and their staff, kept up. Pouring beers and serving hand-tossed pizzas, they engaged with every customer.
We worked up an appetite while sipping on a Belgian Blonde and Marzan, eventually ordering a stone-fired meat pizza and a plate of house-smoked tri-tip steak with sides.
PRO TIP: With dozens of flavorful beers on tap, locals rave about the brewery’s cream soda and root beer ordering growlers of it to go.
SUGAR LILY BAKERY & FLORAL
When two entrepreneurs put their creative ideas together, anything is possible. The result? Sugar Lily Bakery & Floral (210 Jan Howard Expressway), a business that sells made-to-order coffee drinks, pastries, sandwiches, soups, salads, and floral arrangements.
I heard, “Hi honey, how are you?” upon entering the store, where I waited patiently in line to order an iced vanilla latté and breakfast quinoa protein bowl to go.
The dual-purpose space was tastefully decorated with fresh floral arrangements, holiday decorations, and grab-n-go gifts for any occasion.
Just as I was leaving to take my breakfast to the park to enjoy it, I felt a tap on the shoulder. Turning around, the owner handed me a rose.
PRO TIP: Come hungry (the pastries are drool-worthy), but be prepared, as the shop lacks dine-in seating.
GALLOWAY CREEK NATURE PARK
Galloway Creek Nature Park (County Road 1770) is a place you must experience first-hand before departing from West Plains.
I settled into a picnic table under a canopy of towering trees to enjoy breakfast and coffee. A couple stood at the park’s map, choosing a walking trail while birds and butterflies fluttered about.
Owned and maintained by the city, it features a wood bridge over a creek, benches for relaxation, a pavilion, a children’s play area, and a paved walking trail.
PRO TIP: The park is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Dog walkers must bring a leash.
Admiring art on a wall is delightful, but learning how to create it yourself is a real bonus.
At Studio 1505 (1505 Imperial Center), two talented artists help to foster the creativity of students who want to learn to paint or throw pottery.
Regina Willard is a contemporary impressionist painter who captures the natural world with every brush stroke. Her business partner, Ellen Hones Martin, is a wheel-thrower who creates unique pottery – each sells their creations at the studio.
Whether they are teaching students how to create a masterpiece or creating their own, the studio is abuzz with activity. I witnessed local shoppers in awe of for-sale artwork as the owners welcomed them to an open house party.
PRO TIP: The best resource for learning about upcoming workshops or events at the collaborative gallery and studio is to check the Facebook page.
I can’t think of a better place to enjoy a meal before ending the weekend than locally-owned, Ozark Cafe (662 Missouri Ave.). We arrived just as the breakfast rush was dying down.
Sandwiches and quarter-pound burgers dominate the lunch menu. We couldn’t resist a Club Sandwich and Fried Bologna Sandwich that hit the spot. I hope to return again to order the infamous Chicken Fried Steak dinner.
PRO TIP: The cafe is also a popular breakfast place. Breakfast is served all day. Lunch starts promptly at 11 a.m. Ask about the daily specials.
Homemade ice cream is on the menu at Spring Dipper (675 Missouri Ave.). Located across the street from Ozark Cafe, the locally owned and operated dessert stop tempts passersby, and the building’s exterior mural is easy to notice.
Will you order a soda float, a cup of classic chocolate ice cream, or a shareable sundae?
I took my time gazing at the selection of ice cream flavors before settling on a classic cone of sweet and creamy Chocolate Chip Cheesecake. You can’t rush a good thing.
Spring Dipper is the perfect way to end a weekend in West Plains.
SOLAR ECLIPSE PATH OF TOTALITY 04.08.24
Did you know people will travel for miles to witness a total solar eclipse first-hand? West Plains is in the path of eclipse totality on April 8, 2024, for 3:04, starting at 1:54 p.m.
West Plains Party in the Path (April 5-8, 2024) celebrates the astronomical phenomenon with events around town, ranging from mural painting to a Hot Air Balloon Glow.
The family-friendly four-day event includes food trucks, fireworks, and live music. Learn more and RSVP to the event.
Before the celebration, stop by Ozark Heritage Welcome Center (2999 Porter Wagner Blvd) to purchase Party in the Path merchandise and solar glasses.
BONUS PLACES WORTH CHECKING OUT
There are more than enough fun experiences in West Plains; our only regret is that we needed more time to try them all.
I hope my travel guide inspires you to explore West Plains in the heart of the Ozarks, which deserves recognition for its attractions, shopping, and dining scene.
For additional things to do in the area, visit Explore West Plains’ website. You’ll want to secure lodging and start planning your vacation in time for April 8, 2024, when the town experiences a total solar eclipse.