A tiny engineer is at the helm of the train engine play structure, a centerpiece of the children’s department at the Library Station in northwest Springfield.
A tiny engineer is at the helm of the train engine play structure, a centerpiece of the children’s department at the Library Station in northwest Springfield. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

For our second neighborhood guide, we explore an area of Springfield (and a bit beyond) that’s north of Division Street and west of Kansas Expressway — a slice of the city that’s home to the Springfield Raceway. Fast cars aren’t for everyone so we looked for other ways to have fun in the northwest and made a few surprising discoveries.

For one thing, you could spend an entire day entertaining kids there — or yourselves. We also found a couple of local but very different eateries to try, each with deceiving exteriors.

Want a good reason to visit a part of town you may not know very well? We’ve got five!

How well do you know your community? We help you to explore with our neighborhood guide, an occasional series highlighting five places with something fun to do, see, eat or drink in a selected section of Springfield or neighboring metro town. Last time, we visited southwest Springfield. This time, we are headed northwest. (P.S. We’d love to hear your suggestions, too. Send spots we missed to Springfield Daily Citizen Managing Editor Brittany Meiling at bmeiling@sgfcitizen.org)

Ritter Springs Park

Ritter Springs Park in northwest Springfield has trails, streams, a playground, an archery range, and plenty of places to explore. The Fullbright Spring Greenway starts here and continues for more than six miles to Truman Elementary School.
Ritter Springs Park in northwest Springfield has trails, streams, a playground, an archery range, and plenty of places to explore. The Fulbright Spring Greenway starts here and continues for more than six miles to Truman Elementary School. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

If you’re aching for a hike but don’t have all day, the 245-acre Ritter Springs Park may be the haven you seek. Located northwest of the city limits in a rural setting, it’s only 10 minutes from the city but feels much more removed. A playground and bathroom at the parking area makes it an easy play stop for parents and kids. A trail leading through and beyond Ritter Springs is part of the Fulbright Spring Greenway and eventually goes under Missouri 13, past the David C. Murray Trailhead, into Lost Hill Park and ending at Truman Elementary School.

The Ritter Spring pool is one trail destination at Ritter Springs Park in northwest Springfield. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

But Ritter Springs has plenty to explore without leaving the park. The main gravel trail goes past a reservable pavilion and down a hill to the pretty Ritter Spring pool. Cross the bridge over a spillway waterfall to continue the now-paved trail as it winds among trees and along the Little Sac River. (Fun fact: The trail is also part of the Great Missouri Birding Trail.) The park also includes some mowed-grass side trails for exploring along the stream — plus an archery range.

Where: 3683 W. Farm Road 92

Online: Parkboard.org; Facebook @RitterSpringsPark

Contact: 417-864-1049 (Park Board)

El Poblano Grill & Cantina

Lorenzo Castro, who owns El Poblano Grill and Cantina, is ready to greet lunch customers in northwest Springfield. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Exploring can make you hungry! Whether you need a good meal or might be ready for happy hour, El Poblano Grill and Cantina is a festive place to try. From the outside, it looks like any other shopping center restaurant. Step inside and you’ll find a taste of Mexico on the menu and in its vibrant decor. You might even be greeted by owner Lorenzo Castro, who says he wanted to open a new generation Mexican cuisine restaurant (in fact, he’s expanding to Jefferson City and Aurora).

The menu includes a variety of seafood, steak and chicken dishes (including their popular fish tacos), traditional Mexican fare, a kids menu and several vegetarian selections. A daily lunch menu includes enchilada, taco and burrito meals, plus a variety of specialties. The spacious interior with a cantina vibe features Mexico-influenced wall murals, a rainbow of overhead flags and colorful details. If you like dining local, El Poblano is a friendly option in northwest Springfield.

The Library Station

The transportation-themed Library Station is worth a stop for any age while exploring northwest Springfield. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

If your kids like trains and you haven’t been to the Library Station yet, it’s time to chug on over. Reflecting Springfield’s historic connection to the railroad and transportation, the Library Station is worth visiting if only to marvel at its decor, with a map of Route 66 on the floor, airplanes flying overhead in the main room and a small electric train running around the upper perimeter of the children’s department. A selfie-worthy book return is a nod to both Hogwarts and trains: Like Harry Potter walking through the wall at Platform 9 ¾, books disappear behind a cart stacked with suitcases and Harry’s white owl. 

The Imagination Station is part of the new Play & Learn Center in the children’s department of the Library Station in northwest Springfield. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Entered through a covered bridge, the children’s department features a train engine play structure and, new in 2021, the Play & Learn Center, a gift from the Ball Foundation for kids from birth to age 12. It includes: the Imagination Station, a large flexible play space that might be a vet clinic one day or a food truck the next; the Everbright, an interactive light station (you’ll be tempted to play with it yourself!); and the Tot Spot, a soft structure area for babies and littles to crawl around and explore. In addition, there are weekly storytimes and each spring, tadpoles are welcomed into the department where families enjoy watching them grow into frogs.

The Library Station, like other branches of the Springfield-Greene County Library District, has rotating exhibits including a space science interactive exhibit through June 25, 2022. Conveniently located in a shopping center on the west side of Kansas Expressway north of Kearney Street, the destination library also has easy access to coffee and refreshments at the connected Panera Bread next door. 

Where: 2535 N. Kansas Expressway

Online: thelibrary.org

Contact: 417-865-1340

Tom Watkins Park and Disc Golf Course

An 18-hole disc golf course at the multi-use Tom Watkins Park is one of four disc courses at Springfield-Greene County parks. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

Take your discs for a spin at Tom Watkins Park, tucked into a neighborhood southwest of Kearney Street and Kansas Expressway. A refreshing open greenspace, the mixed-use park features a playground, tennis courts and a shelter. It’s also one of four parkboard disc golf courses and the only one north of Division Street. Tom Watkins Park — named for a kindly banker from the depression era — has a relatively open 18-hole course with some shade and a mix of shots. Renovated in 2018 with new tee pads and goal baskets, it’s a good place to meet friends for a competitive game, or to practice if you’re new to the sport.

Where: 2100 W. High St.

Online: Parkboard.org; view the disc golf course here; Facebook @TomWatkinsPark 

Contact: 417-864-1049 (Park Board)

The Foxhole Bar & Grill at Legion Post 676

Hot off the grill, a swiss-mushroom-onion burger with onion rings makes a quick, tasty and inexpensive lunch at the Foxhole Bar & Grill at the American Legion Post 676. (Photo by Sony Hocklander)

For a local dive vibe, good grill food at reasonable prices, and perhaps a game of darts or pool, the Foxhole Bar & Grill, owned and operated by the American Legion Post 676, makes a surprising and convenient lunch stop while visiting northwest. Yes, it’s a haven for veterans (thank you for your service!) but the grill and bar are open to anyone. The robust menu features grill basics and the kind of tasty selections you may need to walk off later. Options range from salads to Frito pie, a bacon-egg-cheese sandwich, a variety of burgers (that rival expensive fare elsewhere; try the yummy swiss-mushroom-onion burger!) to its Foxhole specialty, a pork tenderloin sandwich — and more. While the Foxhole at night features live music that leans country and swing, karaoke, dancing and poker nights (more reasons to visit), there are plenty of tables in this large open space for a good, inexpensive midday break after 11 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Or phone ahead to pick up your meal and go!

Sony Hocklander

Sony Hocklander is a freelance journalist, video storyteller and photographer who produces creative content through her small solo business, Sony Hocklander Creative LLC. When she’s not telling community stories, she loves wandering the Ozarks outdoors with a camera in hand. You can follow her on Twitter @SonyHocklander and on Instagram @shocklander or email her at: sonyhocklander@gmail.com More by Sony Hocklander