In the days after 9/11, I found myself driving across the country from San Diego to my home in Manhattan. During the first day, I drove through Arizona, up through the Painted Desert and into Utah and the Rocky Mountains. By the second day, the novelty of the drive had dissipated and all I could think of was the horrific tragedy that had befallen our country and my overwhelming need to just get home.
It was in this state of mind that I first encountered Kansas and Missouri. Endless, endless prairie followed by the beginnings of the urban sprawl that increased the further east we went. Sometime after midnight, I was pulled over for speeding and ticketed just outside of St. Louis. Needless to say, I didn’t leave those states with great impressions or a burning desire to return.
The first time I did return was this fall, for the TMS Family Conference in Kansas City. I didn’t really have any expectations for Kansas City. My main purpose was to attend a conference, learn a few things, meet fellow family travel bloggers, and introduce myself to the brand sponsors. I had signed up for a post-conference FAM (familiarization) tour without really researching much of what we were going to see. Plus I knew we had some evening activities scheduled around the city, but again, my main objective was the conference – sightseeing was secondary.
But Kansas City, Missouri didn’t just surprise me. It left me wanting to see more.
As the 37th largest city in the United States, I assumed there would be some family-friendly attractions, but I was surprised to see the breadth and quality of what the city had to offer.
I was surprised by the beauty of the city (Kansas City is called the City of Fountains and has more fountains than any city in the world except Rome.) I was surprised by the street art that adorned the clean city streets. I was surprised by how new everything looked. I was surprised at the obvious financial investment that had been made in many of the museums and attractions. I was surprised at the organized development and outdoor spaces like the Plaza for shopping and dining and the Power and Light District area with its eight blocks of restaurants, shops, bars and entertainment venues. I was surprised by the passion its natives have for the city (and its sports teams!) – painting the city blue from the water in the fountains to the lights on the skyscrapers to support their Royals.
Of all the things I saw, these were the things that surprised me the most:
5 Things to do in Kansas City with Kids (that might surprise you!)
Kansas City Science City — Located in the gorgeous, historic Union Station train station, just steps from the Kansas City Crown Center where we were staying, the Kansas City Science City didn’t seem that impressive at first glance. But as I moved through the different sections and saw how large, how well-done, how creative, and how interactive the exhibits were, I quickly changed my mind. I’ve been to science museums in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg and even Vancouver — but this was definitely my favorite. It is easy to see why Science City was awarded the prestigious Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge “EDGIE” Award for Visitor Experience from an international panel this year. It would be very easy to spend at least a half a day exploring all the exhibits and learning about astronauts, physics, water, dinosaurs, engineering, and more. Science City is a great discovery for kids of all ages.
Science City is located at 30 West Pershing Road inside Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. Tickets are $13.50 for adults and $11.50 for youth ages 3-12.
American Jazz Museum — Jazz is a music genre that I enjoy, but I’m not an aficionado like my husband. When I visited the American Jazz Museum, part of the Museums at 18th and Vine complex, I soon learned that you didn’t need to be a fan to enjoy the museum. Part of what made this attraction such an unexpected surprise for me was the powerful and passionate delivery of our docent. As she was moved to tears describing the journeys of some of our jazz greats, you couldn’t help but be affected by these stories that are a part of the fabric of our American history. Exploring on your own, you can view exhibits about many of the jazz greats, and listen to samples of their music. Also part of the museum is the Blue Room. Designed to resemble a nightclub, the Blue Room features live music four nights a week. One of the things I loved was the display of neon signs that have been preserved from the many nightclubs that lined the streets of Kansas City back in the height of the jazz age.
The American Jazz Museum is located at 1616 E. 18th Street in Kansas City, Missouri. Tickets are $10.00 for adults and $6.00 for children 5-12. There are also combination tickets for the American Jazz Museum and Negroe Leagues Baseball Museum for $15.00 for adults and $8.00 for children.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum — This was another museum in the Museums at 18th & Vine complex, and another where the guide made all the difference. I joined the tour late but was still blown away how the background provided and the stories told really brought the exhibits to life. Skirting around a baseball diamond with bronze figures playing ball under the bright lights, the exhibits walk through the history of the Negro Leagues and tell the stories of some of the league’s most famous players. This museum plays an important role in preserving a piece of African-American and sports history that would otherwise be overlooked or even forgotten.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is located at 1616 E. 18th Street in Kansas City, Missouri. Tickets are $10.00 for adults and $6.00 for children 5-12. There are also combination tickets for the American Jazz Museum and Negroe Leagues Baseball Museum for $15.00 for adults and $8.00 for children.
Hallmark Kaleidoscope Art Space — Brought to us by Hallmark Cards, the Kaleidoscope art space is free to the community for 40-minute family sessions. I would LOVE to have something like this at home…let alone for free! This is truly a hands-on space for kids and their grown ups to be creative. There is a glow in the dark room, you can draw, create with ribbons and tissue paper, and let your imagination lead you. One of my favorite features was the ability to take your artwork and turn it into a puzzle by hand cranking it through a cutting machine.
Kaleidoscope is located at 2500 Grand Blvd. in Kansas City, MO, in the Crown Center. Tickets are free but available on a first-come, first-served basis until a session fills.
National Museum of Toys and Miniatures — When I was a kid, we spent our summer family vacation visiting family in Vermont. We would take day trips throughout the state and one of my favorite stops was a dollhouse store. Even still, I wasn’t sure what I’d think of the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures. However, like Science City, I was impressed with both the curation of the exhibits and the design and style of the building itself. Newly reopened in 2015, this museum hosts over 21,000 fine-scale miniatures and one of the nation’s largest public displays of antique toys. Far from any dollhouse I’ve ever had my hands on, the miniatures were exquisite and truly a unique art form. On of the favorite exhibits is the display of toys grouped by decade. Our group was distracted with calls of “I had that” and “remember that one.” It was a nice walk down memory lane but also fun for kids to see the evolution of toys over the years.
The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is located at 5235 Oak Street in Kansas City, MO. Tickets are $5.00 for those over 5 years old.
Other Things to do in Kansas City with Kids
While those were the attractions in Kansas City that most surprised me, there is still so much more to do in Kansas City with kids including:
- Visit the polar bears, orangutans, penguins, and other animals at the Kansas City Zoo
- Build and explore at the Legoland Discovery Center Kansas City
- Learn and observe at the SEA LIFE Aquarium
- Shoot some hoops at the College Basketball Experience at Sprint Center
You know what my only disappointment was? We didn’t get to eat more barbeque. As the BBQ capital of the world, I’d hoped to sample some more local favorites. We did have excellent meals at both Lidia’s and Cleaver and Cork but for barbecue, I guess I’ll just have to return – with the family.
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Note: My visit was hosted by the TMS Family Travel Conference and Visit Kansas City, all opinions are my own.