Kansas City (KC) straddles two states—Kansas and Missouri—and offers fun things to do for families in both. In fact, Budget Travel named KC as one of its top places for an affordable getaway in 2012. Additionally, according to the Visit KC website, there are 33 free activities for travelers on a budget (note: not all are kid friendly). We visit the Kansas City area about every other year to visit friends and relatives and have experienced a lot of diverse activities, both as a couple and now as parents.
Travel tips: The best bet from the Bay Area is a direct flight out of Oakland Airport on Southwest. MCI, the airport in Kansas City, is easy to maneuver: It’s one level with baggage claim near the gates, and getting through security is usually easy. If you don’t have the luxury of family for pickup and drop-off, I suggest renting a car. The airport is actually about a 30–45 minute drive from downtown KC.
Where to stay: There are a number of hotels downtown, and if most of your activities are in the area, it makes sense to stay there. However, if you have a car and are inclined to drive, suburbs such as Prairie Village, Brookside and Mission Hills, near Country Club Plaza, are nice places to stay. You might also choose to stay at the Plaza. Its architectural design models the city of Seville in Spain, and there are some replicas included in its more than 30 statues, fountains and murals. The Plaza offers upscale shopping and dining just four miles south of downtown KC. The Raphael Hotel is right on the Plaza, and it makes for a nice romantic getaway. The Marriot, Sheraton and Embassy Suites all offer options on the Plaza as well. The suites at these hotels provide ample space for families, small kitchens and other amenities that may be useful. The Intercontinental, which is pet friendly, and the Raphael also offer luxury suite options.
Where to eat: If you stay near the Plaza, there are many restaurants to visit. Kansas City is known for having more restaurants per capita than any other city. One of our favorite Plaza spots is The Classic Cup, a sidewalk café. Another local favorite is Brio, an Italian grill. You also can’t visit KC without having some barbecue, so find a Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue for one of your meals.
What to do: Depending on how long you stay in the area, here are some of our favorite activities to experience with children who are toddler age and older, as well as some activities that deserve a pass.
- Deanna Rose Farmstead – We think the farmstead is amazing and will continue to take our daughter there each visit. The farmstead has a petting zoo (but with much larger animals), educational interactive activities, multiple play areas, hayrides, old town shops, an original Kansas City schoolhouse and more. On weekdays, there is no entry fee, and on the weekends it’s $2. Almost everything is outside, which makes it a wonderful place to go on a beautiful day.
- Union Station and Science City – Union Station, located downtown, offers a variety of activities and exhibits, including a model train display, as well as a movie theater and restaurants. Located at Union Station, Science City includes a planetarium, the KC Rail Experience and other great offerings. Union Station is definitely good for families with older children, and half a day or more can be spent in the area alone.
- Kaleidoscope – Unfortunately, during our last trip, Kaleidoscope was not open. That said, we have heard wonderful things about it from our family members who also have young children. Located downtown, Kaleidoscope offers free creative workshops for kids up to 12.
- SeaLife Aquarium and Legoland – These two attractions share an entrance and a building at Crown Center in downtown KC. For anyone who has been to Legoland in Southern California, this will be disappointing. The SeaLife Aquarium is pretty small, and although not crowded during the week, it took about 30 minutes to explore. Before we went, we read mixed reviews and decided to go anyway. Our daughter had the most fun in the play structure at the end of the aquarium tour, which says a lot considering how much she loves fish and the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
- Check out the events listed on the Visit KC website as there are many art fairs, jazz festivals and cultural events that may be of interest to families. The annual Plaza Art Fair, one of the largest and best known, takes place in September. For sports fans, Chiefs and Royals games are fun family options. There is also a new soccer stadium for Sporting Kansas City that is drawing soccer families from across the nation.
When to visit: The best time of year to visit is in the spring or fall. The winters are snowy or just incredibly cold, and the summers can get too hot/humid to be comfortable. These are generalizations, of course. Lately, Kansas City has had really nice weather spells in June or August. If you’re visiting during the holiday season, the Plaza Lights are beautiful. They’re on between Thanksgiving and the second week of the new year and are a long-running tradition (since 1930).
Are you a Monterey maven? A Portland pro? With the new Get Outta Town feature, the PAMP newsletter is seeking travel tips for your favorite family-friendly day trips and vacation destinations. Help your fellow members take some of the guesswork out of getting away with the kids, and meet your volunteer commitment at the same time! Email email@example.com to learn more.
Kelsey Combellick is a working mom who loves travel, cooking, wine and her family. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.