If you haven’t been to the Ozark Mountain village of Branson, Missouri, you’re in for a songfest when you do go. And if you haven’t experienced the white-capped waves of the Pacific Ocean from the shores of Newport Beach and Corona del Mar, on California’s southern coast, perhaps it’s time for you to behold them.
Aboard Southwest Airlines, my husband Jim and I winged our way from our home near Sacramento, California to St. Louis, then days later, from Tulsa, Oklahoma to the southern California coast. And when our final flight touched down at our home airport, we deplaned knowing we’d enjoyed the luxury of two unique experiences in a single journey.
We rolled into Branson, a three-hour drive from St. Louis, as the stars twinkled in the night sky and neon lights upon the buildings lit our path to Grand Country Square, our home for a week. This resort is a fun place with an indoor water park, indoor miniature golf course, its own theater, shops, and a buffet that even attracts local law-enforcement personnel to its bountiful breakfast offerings.
Upon our arrival at the Square, we heard music – coming from everywhere, it seemed. The melodies heightened our excitement as we strolled across the grounds to PaPa Grand’s for pizza and a frozen custard – much better than ice cream, say the locals – and for our first look at the largest banjo in the country.
Then came the hard choices. Branson touts itself as the Country Music Capital of America, and many great country and western musicians were in town to perform, along with local entertainers who matched their talents in almost every way. The entertainment ranged from Sunday Country Gospel and an Ozark Mountain Jubilee, performed by homegrown talent at Grand Country Music Hall, to “big” names including Sons of the Pioneers, Mickey Gilley, Mel Tillis, The Oakridge Boys, Kenny Rogers, and the Gatlin Brothers.
In Branson, you can find a show playing any time of the day, so it’s easy to immediately follow one with another. Sunday afternoon and evening found us humming along with two performances at Grand Country Inn.
Monday, under an azure sky, we took a walk back in time with Sons of the Pioneers, begun by “King of the Cowboys”, the late Roy Rogers. While we enjoyed an old-fashioned chuck wagon buffet, with warm-from-the-oven peach cobbler, the group, designated a “National Treasure” by the Smithsonian Institution, harmonized the melodies that brought them fame, including Cool Water, and Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds.
Later in our week, two timeless entertainers, Mel Tillis, who has composed more than 1,000 songs and recorded 60 albums, and Mickey Gilley, one of the first country legends to open a permanent theater in Branson, sang their hearts out to full houses. Their talents and personalities showed us why they have won the love and respect of country music fans.
But Branson, where traffic snakes down the two-lane main drag, isn’t all music. It boasts a natural beauty in its hills, rivers, and lakes, including Table Rock Lake, so named for the flat-as-a-table rock ledges along its shoreline.
It’s also home to the Roy Rogers Museum, where the cowboy’s famed horse, Trigger, is on display. It’s home to the only veterans’ museum, where the names of more than 500,000 United States military personnel killed in action during World Wars I and II, Korea, Viet Nam, and the Gulf War frame its walls. And it’s home to people with soft smiles and heartwarming ways. Further, it’s only an hour’s drive from charming Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where Victorian and gingerbread homes stand on hillsides, and where artists and writers retreat to rest – and to work at their endeavors.
Time ticked away , telling us it was time to leave this region of fun and beauty for an afternoon drive westward to Tulsa – Oklahoma’s second largest city – and a Southwest flight bound toward southern California and the Marriott Newport Coast Villas, for a week of sea and sun.
This resort, close to Orange County Airport, is one of the Marriott-owned timeshare resorts. Magnificently designed in Mediterranean architecture, the villas and public buildings, rising from the hillsides, are a vision of Italy. It was easy to forget we were in our own homeland. Our posh two-bedroom villa overlooked the championship Tom Fazio designed Pelican Hills Golf Course and the Pacific Ocean, largest of the world’s five oceans.
The stunningly landscaped resort features three swimming pools, walking paths, and a quaint country store – The Market Place – whose the staff create super sandwiches of roast beef, turkey, and ham, served with fruit, and fresh-made soups, if one chooses. Just outside The Marketplace, umbrella-covered tables for diners – or for those who simply wish to sit and read – surround a quiet waterfall, and an imposing fountain imported from Italy.
We felt no need to roam beyond Newport Coast’s periphery, yet the beaches beckoned. Lunch in Newport Beach at the Crab Cooker, serving up fish since the 1930s – and later, a short walk to the ocean – filled an afternoon. Another day, we watched with childlike wonder the waves alternately caressing and crashing upon the sands at Corona del Mar State Beach, close to the resort.
Had we chosen to do so, we could have wandered a bit farther to Disneyland, whose founder Walt Disney, created Main Street to match his hometown street of Marceline, Missouri, an intriguing fact for us, since we had left that state such a short time ago. We could have ventured to Catalina Island, a swank resort, aboard a high-speed catamaran, or shopped at the fancy Fashion Mall in Newport Beach. We might have explored the artists’ colony of Laguna Beach, or visited Mission San Juan Capistrano, said to be the most beautiful of the California missions, and where the swallows return each year. But instead, we chose to reminisce of our recent days and refresh our souls surrounded by the ambiance of Marriott’s stellar resort and the cerulean sea below.
Would we visit these two very different regions of our land again? In a heartbeat! Both are marvelous memories. Both call when the tick of the clock is again on our side.
For More Information:
Branson, Missouri including shows: www.bransonchamber.com
Grand Country Square: www.grandcountry.com
Marriott Newport Coast Villas Reservations: 800-844-5279
Southwest Airlines: www.southwest.com
Entertainment Books offering discount books for both areas: www.entertainment.com