Missouri’s third-largest city, the “Birthplace of Route 66,” is steeped in history. The famed highway — one of the first in the U.S. Highway System — doesn’t originate in Springfield, but that’s where the name for the Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway was conceived. Springfield is also credited with aiding the development of the old Wild West following a shootout between two gamblers. Now with a population of more than 160,000, Springfield is a healthy metropolis with promising health care, manufacturing and business services industries. And with affordable apartments and numerous colleges — the largest of which is Missouri State University — Springfield is home to nearly 50,000 college students.
Considering the plethora of apartment complexes in Springfield, finding a rental in a convenient location shouldn’t be a problem. If you start your apartment search six to eight weeks before you hope to move in, you should be able to find a perfect fit.
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The Missouri State University campus is bordered on the north by Route 66 and on the east skirts the downtown Springfield area. So if you land an apartment in that area, you can get your kicks enjoying the route’s historic views and easy access to all Springfield has to offer. Drury University and the Ozarks Technical Community College are also nearby.
The city of Springfield doesn’t have a system of public transportation in place, so most residents have vehicles. But, if you’re a Missouri State University student with an off-campus apartment, you can take advantage of the school’s free shuttle that has several downtown drop-off locations. For one more option, Springfield — also known as the Queen City of the Ozarks — is built atop a plateau that makes for flat, cyclist-friendly terrain on 68 miles of greenways and 72 miles of on-road bike routes.
Springfield has an eclectic mix of reasons to leave your apartment, from cave tours and miles of bike trails to a vintage ‘80s-style arcade. After a day at the arcade — or perhaps after catching an artsy indie film at Moxie Cinema — you might want to get in the middle of all the drama and action. Springfield has an answer: Clue Pursuit, an escape room that requires you to find clues and solve riddles to find your way out before your time is up. Or, get your thrills at Springfield’s Sky Zone trampoline park.
Memorials and places of historical significance are scattered all around Springfield, but none as grand — and haunted — as the Pythian Castle. Built in 1913 by the fraternal group Knights of Pythias, the structure used to house orphans, widows and World War II prisoners of war. These days, it’s home to history and ghost tours and murder mystery dinners. Take another look into the past with the walking tour of the Battle of Springfield, which took place in January 1863 as the Confederacy attempted to gain territory during the Civil War. Nearby, Park Central Square is the site of the first quick-draw gun duel, between Wild Bill Hickok and David Tutt in 1865. A 12-mile trip to Springfield’s southwest will land you in the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, the site of the Civil War’s second major battle. Despite the significant historical ties, some of Springfield’s best features are timeless, such as the Fantastic Caverns. Tours are via trams rather than on foot to protect the sensitive ecosystem, which includes blind Ozarks cavefish and grotto salamanders.
Most Springfield residents agree that Bambino’s Cafe serves up the best authentic Italian food in the city. With one location a block from Missouri State, it’s a perfect snack-and-study spot before heading back to your apartment. And you can finally tell your family that you’re going to Grad School — known for its fries, burgers and fish tacos and conveniently located near the campus. For your finest of occasions, your main stop will be Jimm’s Steakhouse and Pub, but if you’re looking for fast and cheap, try the Sub Shop. Surprisingly, Springfield is also known for having more than its fair share of Chinese restaurants. Leong’s Asian Diner rises above the competition, with the distinction of being the birthplace of Springfield-style cashew chicken. You just have to try it for yourself.
Before we get to Springfield’s more typical college bars, let’s take a moment to recognize innovation at its best: 417 Taphouse lets you pour your own beer. Like, instead of waiting for the bartender to get through the queue, just bustle up to one of the self-pour taps. If accessible drinks in a modern, eclectic environment is less important than beer on a budget, try the Patton Alley Pub for cheap happy-hour specials. Feeling rowdy? Try Vintage Dancelounge, a typical club with a massive dance floor an endless parade of Springfield’s college-age partiers ready to dance until the sun comes up.
Given Springfield’s rich historical ties, there is no shortage of museums devoted to the area’s past. The Air and Military Museum of the Ozarks has an impressive collection of restored military planes, and the History Museum on the Square traces Springfield-specific developments, such as the Historic Route 66 and the Ozark Jubilee. On the artsier side, downtown is filled with private galleries and the Springfield Art Museum hosts several exhibits each year — including the museum’s hallmark exhibit, Watercolor USA — and year-round workshops and lectures. To catch a live performance, there are three main venues to watch in downtown Springfield: Gillioz Center, Creamery Arts Center and the JQH Arena. The Creamery Arts Center houses community-based shows and events, such as the Springfield Ballet. The Gillioz Center, however, is where you’ll find Springfield’s largest performances, ranging from nationally touring bands to film premieres. The JQH Arena — right on the Missouri State campus — also hosts a variety of big events.
As the “Birthplace of Route 66,” Springfield hosts a huge annual festival to commemorate the Mother Road. For three days, the city fills with live music, food, car shows, motorcycle demos and — for extra automotive fun — a drive-in movie. Another days-long fest on the calendar of many Missourans is the Ozark Empire Fair, which brings music, food, carnival rides, a rodeo and a monster truck show. Between festivals, various weekly concert series can pull you out of your apartment and onto the lawns of the OOVVDA Winery, Hillcrest Presbyterian Church and Founders Park. For a market with a side of music and art, see First Fridays in Park Central Square.
Most of the big-name shopping game in town is in Battlefield Mall, with more than 130 stores in Springfield’s Southside neighborhood. The downtown district, centered mainly on East Walnut Street, is also a wonderful place to shop, with dozens of independently operated businesses. The Commercial Street Historic District was the first district in Springfield to make it onto the Federal Register of Historic places, and “C-Street” is still one of the best places to browse local shops in the city.
Springfield’s main college team, the Missouri State Bears, are fierce competitors in NCAA Division I sports. Most Bears teams play in the Plaster Sports Complex, but indoor games are in the JQH Arena on campus. If you visit Springfield’s Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, look for Bears alumni — such as Bill Rowe — alongside more than 4,000 sports memorabilia items and interactive exhibits. One of the city’s favorite teams to cheer for are the Springfield Cardinals, the minor league offshoot of the St. Louis Cardinals. Their beloved stadium, Hammons Field, is shared by Missouri State’s Bears Baseball.
WIth almost 70 miles of bike-ped paths and 92 parks, Springfield is perfect for getting outdoors, with nearly as many scenic opportunities inside the city limits as out. The century-old Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, for example, connecting Commercial and Chase streets over 13 sets of train tracks, offers a memorable view from 562 feet in the air. Just outside the city, the Springfield Conservation Nature Center is 79 acres with trains woven throughout.