Discover places to go in Missouri using this category, including itineraries for city visits, tips for kid-friendly destinations and recommended restaurants to try in Missouri. Learn about cities like Kansas City, St. Louis, Excelsior Springs and more.
Kansas City, and the surrounding communities, is a foodie paradise, especially if you have a sweet tooth. After many years of visiting, I’m sharing my favorite KC restaurants for ice cream, cookies, and other sweet treats.
Disclosure: Some of these restaurants or shops I’ve visited while being hosted by a visitors bureau; others I’ve visited and paid my own expenses. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
I chose restaurants and shops that aren’t necessarily in Kansas City, Kan., or Kansas City, Mo. Instead, these restaurants are in the “greater Kansas City area.” It’s a broad term, sure, but just hop on the interstate and you’ll be getting your sweet treat fix in no time.
COVID-19 UPDATE: I highly recommend following up on local protocols for the pandemic. Some Kansas counties require masks indoors, for instance. Also, check with the business to determine if they are open at this time before visiting.
Ice Cream in Kansas City
We tend to get ice cream on every road trip. The most memorable ice cream stop was at Sylas and Maddy’s in Olathe, Kan.
This family-owned ice cream shop has a ton of homemade flavors. So many, it’s hard to choose. So maybe go ahead and get yourself that five flavor sampler.
Cake and pastries in Kansas City
Hands down, the best cake I’ve had was the cream cheese coffee cake at Strawberry Hill Bakery in Merriam, Kan. I don’t know where it’s been all my life, but I’m so glad to know about it now.
Be sure to keep the cake chilled. It gets rather crumbly, otherwise. Not that I’ve tried sneaking a slice in my car or something.
While I’m partial a savory breakfast, I sometimes sample the sweet pastries my family orders. And in Kansas City, they’ve ordered some doozies.
For more creative spin on a pastry, go to Black Bear Diner in Olathe and try the Bear Claw French Toast. The bear claw is so sweet, you really don’t need much syrup, if any.
For a more traditional pastry, try a giant cinnamon roll at Corner Cafe (there are a few locations). We tried to split it between four people and couldn’t finish it. Granted, we all had ordered our own breakfast entrees, but still. It’s that big.
Cookies in Kansas City
The French macarons at Kate Smith Soirée are almost too pretty to eat. Almost. We found a way.
We came across Kate Smith Soirée while having lunch at The Public Market in Lenexa. I tried a lavender and honey macaron, and it was as delicate as it sounds.
Sweet breads in KC
Ever heard of a povitka (pronounced poh-va-teet-sa)? Me neither, but I learned all about the hand-rolled bread on a recent visit to the Kansas City area.
It’s a Slovakian bread and Strawberry Hill Bakery in Merriam, Kan., has spent decades making this homemade delicacy. Try the most popular povitka, the English walnut. It’s delish.
Candy in Kansas City
For gorgeous candy that’s more of a work of art than a treat, go to Christopher Elbow Chocolates in the Crossroads District of KC. This is definitely splurge chocolate. It does taste as good as it looks.
For a less spend-y candy treat, I have a few suggestions. If you’re on the Kansas side of Kansas City — you know, The Sunflower State—be sure to get yourself some candy with sunflower seeds in it.
Sunflower Food Co., based in Lenexa, Kan., sells two kinds of chocolate-covered sunflower seeds. My whole family settled on the milk chocolate ones over the dark chocolate.
Sweet drinks in Kansas City
Whether you want hot or cold sweet drinks, I found some great ones in KC. Since it’s summer when I’m writing this, I’ll start with the ice-cold drink of choice for me.
This one’s a bit of a drive outside of the KC metro area, but it’s worth it. Head to Gieringer’s Family Orchard & Berry Farm in Edgerton, Kan., and try the strawberry lemonade slushee. After picking berries in the summer sun, you’ll want to gulp down this drink, but beware: Brain freeze is real.
Who doesn’t love a good road trip? You don’t have to go too far from Omaha to have a fun getaway. I’ve collected some of my favorite Midwest destinations for this post to give you a variety of options near and far. All road trips from Omaha on this list are within a day’s drive, and most are much closer than that. Happy travels!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking the link, I receive a small referral stipend.
COVID-19 update: Please check current CDC guidelines prior to traveling. Double-check your destination to make sure 1) you’re not traveling to a hot spot; 2) it’s even open and what the new hours may be; and 3) what the local mandates are.
Road Trips From Omaha
These getaways are just a car ride away. Read on for destinations to consider for your next overnight or weekend trip.
Home to one of my favorite places to hike in the Loess Hills of Iowa, Honey Creek is my go-to destination on a sunny weekend day. Hike at Hitchcock Nature Center, visit the goats and try goat yoga at Honey Creek Creamery, or try the zipline at Mount Crescent Ski Resort (or if it's winter, you know, go ski there).
Tip: Don't skip the visitor's center at Hitchcock Nature Center. It's full of interactive exhibits for kids. In the winter, you can rent snowshoes there. It's next to the lookout tower.
Home to the Sarpy County Fair in the summer and just south of Omaha, Springfield is an easy day trip for Omaha families. I usually pair a visit to Springfield with a trip to a nearby state park. You could visit Louisville SRA for water time at the beach and inflatable obstacle course and end the day at the old-fashioned soda fountain at Springfield Drug for ice cream. Or, hike Schramm Park and then sip the afternoon away at Soaring Wings Vineyard & Brewery.
Tip: Soaring Wings often has live music, especially on the weekend. Pack a picnic and lawn chairs, and then buy a bottle of wine to enjoy an evening overlooking the vineyard.
Enjoy a mix of history and nature on a visit to Ashland, Neb. Exit 420 off Interstate 80 will take you to three of the state's big attractions: Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, Wildlife Safari Park, and Mahoney State Park. Just beyond those attractions, you'll find Platte River State Park (look for the waterfall!).
If you're visiting in the summer, Mahoney State Park offers a full day of activities, including horseback trail rides, an aquatic center with a wave pool and water slides, and putt-putt golf.
Tip: Ashland is home to two great wineries. My favorite, Glacial Till, has a tasting room on the main street of town. Try the cider.
It doesn't matter the season, Nebraska City is a favorite day trip for my family. We'll spend a few hours at an apple orchard like Kimmel, and a few more hours at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure. You can also tack on a visit to Arbor Lodge to explore the historic mansion.
Tip: Have a blast exploring the Treetop Village treehouses tucked inside the Tree Adventure.
Most Nebraskans make the trek to Lincoln at least once, if only to attend a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Huskers football game. The city has a college town feel to it, with affordable local restaurants, charming shops, and plenty of museums.
Learn about Nebraska's unique history and see giant Mammoth fossils at Morril Hall. If traveling young kids, a stop at the Lincoln Children's Zoo and Lincoln Children's Museum is a must.
For such a small town, Brownville packs in a lot of history and arts. Bookstores, galleries, and one excellent winery can found in the town of a population just over 100, as well as a vibrant seasonal music and theater scene.
Tip: Brownville is pretty close to Indian Cave State Park, which has horseback riding, great hiking trails, and an interesting little living history area.
For a relaxing lake getaway, Lake Icaria near Corning, Iowa, is a well-known secret to Omaha families. This is the place for fishing and water fun in the summer. The cabins are affordable, but RV and tent camping is also available.
Tip: Food trucks stop by on the weekends, seasonally. We lucked out and found a barbecue truck on the Saturday we were there.
Sioux City has two of my favorite things: A gorgeous state park in town, and museums. Stone State Park has wonderful trails and is near the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, which has a great nature playscape. For museums, families with young kids will want to go to LaunchPAD Children’s Museum. Art lovers should check out the Grant Wood corn room at Sioux City Art Center. And music lovers should check out the memorabilia scattered throughout the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Tip: Don't leave without a visit to Palmer’s Old Tyme Candy Shoppe, home to the Twin Bing.
Indoors or outdoors, Des Moines has a lot for young (and young at heart) to enjoy. Favorites of my family include the Science Center of Iowa, Adventureland, and Living History Farms.
Tip: One location of my favorite Des Moines restaurant, Fong's Pizza, is within walking distance of the science center. If you time it right, the large Des Moines farmer's market takes place in front of Fong's too in the summer.
Boone is your winter and summer destination for activities, and the Hotel Pattee in Perry is where you'll want to stay. We've been to Boone in the summer to wander around the beautiful Ledges State Park and ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. In the winter, we had a blast skiing and tubing at Seven Oaks Recreation.
Tip: Hotel Pattee's rooms are all themed, and you can request specific family suites with fun themes.
My family has had many great adventures to Kansas City, from wild rides at Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, to hours on end spent at Science City and Nelson-Atkins Art Museum. Oh, and the barbecue is pretty tasty too!
Tip: The City Market is a lively year-round farmer's market that's free to explore. While there, stop at the Steamboat Arabia Museum, another free attraction.
I found Excelsior Springs more of a couples or friends getaway than a family destination. Why? The gorgeous Elms Hotel has a fantastic spa with a grotto where you'll just want to relax the hours away.
The hotel is within walking distance of two great stops: A great barbecue joint that offers live music on some summer evenings and the excellent microbrewery, Dubious Claims Brewing Co.
Tip: There are a couple of wineries near Excelsior Springs, including Van Till Family Farm Winery. Order one of their artisan pizzas and a bottle of wine and grab a table on their covered patio for a low-key date.
I have so many childhood memories of canoeing the Niobrara River in north-central Nebraska. This calm river flows through some scenic cliffs that will surprise you, plus the state's famous Smith Falls. I dare you to stick your head in the falls!
This is a popular river for tubers and can take on a bit of a rowdy, party atmosphere on some weekends. Which may or may not appeal to you.
Tip: Valentine is one of the closest cites to use as a homebase. Alternatively, outfitters often offer campsites along the river.
A collection of interconnected lakes, you can have as relaxing or active of a getaway as you want. You want to waterslide into the lake at a waterfront bar? You can find it there. Want to sit on a beach by a firepit watching the sunset? There's a place for it.
Our favorite activities we did at Okoboji included a trip to historic Arnolds Park Amusement Park, a bike ride, kayaking, and playing at Dickinson Country Nature Center.
Tip: The Arnolds Park Funhouse Museum is home to the large wooden slide that used to be in the amusement park. You can take all the rides down you want if you have the day pass or just pay per ride.
Clear Lake is best known for the Surf Ballroom, the last place Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens performed. Once you explore the music history of the ballroom, now a museum, you've got to hit the lake and one of several sandy beaches around it.
Time your visit for the Fourth of July for a small-town celebration you won't forget.
Tip: Want a lakeside dining option? Try PM Park. We had a delicious breakfast indoors and then returned later during our trip to have lunch at the outdoor tiki bar. Yes, tiki bar.
Located along the Mississippi River and split between Iowa and Illinois, the Quad Cities are a getaway for families. We visited on a particularly rainy weekend, so we spent a fun weekend indoors at Putnam Museum and Science Center, the Family Museum, the John Deere Pavilion, and Figge Art Museum, which has a wonderful space for hands-on art activities for kids.
Tip: There’s a surprising amount of hands-on opportunities at the hidden gem, Fryxell Geology Museum, in Rock Island, Ill. And, bonus, it's free.
As much as I want to tell you all to go to Decorah for the outdoor experiences, the awesome dining there almost trumps the outdoors. I know!
OK, first the outdoors. Bike, climb a little waterfall, or kayak down one of the most scenic rivers in the Midwest. For food, get a taste of the Norwegian cuisine the city is known for at Ruby's or have delicious wood-fired pizza on a farm where the ingredients were grown and raised (experience it at called Luna Valley Farm).
Tip: Decorah is home to microbreweries that bring in beer aficionados from around the Midwest, including Toppling Goliath. I particularly enjoyed having a beer after a long bike ride at Pulpit Rock Brewing Co.
If all my destinations could be as bike-friendly as the Twin Cities, I'd be a happy mama. One memorable place to bike around the park at Minnehaha Falls. Indoor fun includes Can Can Wonderland, Science Museum of Minnesota, and the hidden gem, the Bakken Museum.
Oh, and there's a little place called Mall of America. Perhaps you've heard of it.
Tip: One of my all-time favorite brewery experiences was at Surly Brewing Co, where we had dinner and beer with friends. The large brewery is surprisingly family-friendly and if the weather is nice, you can enjoy the immense patio and green space.
Perhaps you remember old family trips to Mount Rushmore, with a stop at Evans Plunge, the indoor water park that uses mineral water from nearby thermal springs. It's still open after all those years (with several updates) in Hot Springs!
Hot Springs is a less touristy stop in the southern Black Hills. Nearby, visit Mammoth Site is a must-visit.
Tip: Hot Springs is a short drive from two beautiful parks, Wind Cave National Park (10 miles away) and Custer State Park (20 miles away). Don't skip Sylvan Lake and the begging burros at Custer!
It's the quintessential summer experience: Road trip to Mount Rushmore. Head straight there or make stops along the way, as we did on our exciting western Nebraska and South Dakota road trip.
We explored everything from the fascinating Toadstool Geological Park in Nebraska to Reptile Gardens in Rapid City. Other stops on this road trip included Wall Drug, Badlands National Park, Mammoth Site, Chadron State Park, and Fort Robinson. It's a long trip and the distance below doesn't factor in the extra stops.
Tip: Everyone has to stop at Wall Drug, if only for the photo ops, right? While you're there, don't forget to order one of their fresh donuts.
Distance: 545 miles to Mount Rushmore
Find more inspiration for road trips
Sky’s the limit on these bucket list for Midwest destinations:
My family has visited Kansas City so many times for weekends and even one-day getaways. We’ve discovered there is a lot to do in Kansas City with kids – way more than you can fit into two days. If you’ve yet to plan a weekend trip to KC, or you’re just looking for something new to do for the next visit, this list is for you!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking the link, I receive a small referral stipend.
Kansas City attractions for kids
American Jazz Museum – The American Jazz Museum is one of those KC gems I discovered pre-kids. It’s on my list to bring the kids to one of these days, because it’s a great museum with interactive exhibits.
City Market – The City Market has a year-round farmers market that’s heated and indoors in the winter. Browse shops and visit the FREE Steamboat Arabia Museum. On our last visit, there was a mini train for the kids.
Country Club Plaza – If you have young shoppers, this is a charming destination with unique architecture and high-end stores to choose from. This would also be the place to reserve a carriage ride.
Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead – Learn about farm life and get up close to animals at Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead in Overland Park, near Kansas City. The farm offers hands-on experiences like bottle-feeding goats and milking cows.
Great Wolf Lodge – While technically a hotel, Great Wolf Lodge does offer day passes for families to enjoy the indoor water park without staying overnight. Plan your next family getaway now at Great Wolf Lodge. Save up to 25% on your stay of two nights or more with Promo Code WOLF2019.
Hallmark Visitors Center and Kaleidoscope – This Crown Center attraction allows kids to make art using materials from Hallmark’s manufacturing processes. Sessions last 50 minutes, and it’s FREE, so simply pick up tickets the day you visit.
Kansas City Zoo – This is one of the few zoos I know of that has a boat ride, but obviously, there are more reasons to visit the Kansas City Zoo. The 200-acre zoo includes exhibits featuring African elephants, penguins, kangaroos, and the awesome Polar Bear Punnel.
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art – Kemper features modern works of art that may entertain or challenge your kids. This FREE museum also has a Instagram-worthy collection of outdoor sculptures.
Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Historic Farm Site – Just outside of Kansas City is Olathe, where you’ll find the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop. A living history museum and the last working stagecoach stop on the Santa Fe Trail, a stagecoach ride is in order when you visit. Plus, a big draw for kids will be the animals on the farm.
Museum at Prairiefire – There’s one particular room in Museum of Prairiefire that I guarantee your kids will love: The Discovery Room. Well, unless they love dinos
LEGOLAND Discovery Center – This place will be a hit with your LEGO-loving kid. It’s important to note that while there are two rides, LEGOLAND Discover Center is NOT an amusement park. Don’t confuse it with LEGOLAND.
There are a lot of opportunities to build and a fun climbing structure, though. Do not skip the 10-minute 4-D movie. It’s next door to SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium.
Check out this guide to Crown Center to see what else you can do there beyond LEGOLAND Discover Center!
Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank – Heads up, when you visit this museum, you receive a complimentary bag of shredded currency there as a souvenir – worth $165.
National Museum of Toys and Miniatures – This museum featuring toys from different decades will be more of a trip for you than your kids. The building is huge – more than 70,000 items are on display!
National World War I Museum and Memorial – This World War I museum is not so much a museum of war, but a reminder of a war that was declared “the war to end all wars.” It includes interactive exhibits, as well as several displays of weapons, uniforms and trenches.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum – For baseball fans, this museum provides insight into the sports unique Negro leagues.
Nelson Atkins Museum – Those famous shuttlecocks on the lawn you see in photos? Those are at the Nelson Atkins Museum. But you’ll want to venture indoors, too, and see the impressive permanent collections. Kids will particularly like the medieval area with a suit of armor. Best part? It’s FREE.
Oceans of Fun – Oceans of Fun is a seasonal outdoor water park connected to Worlds of Fun (so two theme parks for the price of one admission!). My strategy in the summer is to ride popular roller coasters at Worlds of Fun in the morning and when things start to get hot in the afternoon, we cool off at Oceans of Fun.
Powell Gardens – Located southeast of Kansas City, Powell Gardens is the city’s botanical gardens, covering more than 900 acres.
Science City – Science City is a science center meets children’s museum that’s fun for all ages. If the weather cooperates, don’t miss the outside space, Simple Machines At Play.
Tip: Science City is part of the Association of Science & Technology Centers, and if you have a membership to Omaha Children’s Museum, you receive admission for up to four people into Science City!
Learn more about reciprocal membership benefits here.
SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium – Get up close to sharks, sting rays, an octopus and other sea life at this attraction in Crown Center. Due to the proximity to LEGOLAND Discovery Center, you can get a combo ticket to visit both.
Shoal Creek Living History Museum – Shoal Creek is a FREE outdoor living history museum in Hodge Park that celebrates Missouri history (on select weekends you can find reenactments). Beyond historic buildings, there’s a bison enclosure.
Union Station – Science City is located inside Union Station, so you can explore both in one outing. Union Station has an escape room, a virtual reality game, and usually some pretty unique traveling exhibitions. Don’t skip the model train room.
Worlds of Fun – Worlds of Fun appeals to a wide range, with youngsters enjoying all the rides at Planet Snoopy and the big kids enjoying the variety of roller coasters. This park can easily occupy a full day, if not two days.
Kansas City sports and families
If yours is a sports-watching family, Kansas City is probably already on your radar. The city has three professional sports teams — the Kansas City Royals, the Kansas City Chiefs and Sporting KC — and a few minor league teams, as well.
Here’s a bit more on the three pro teams:
Kansas City Chiefs – There are certainly fewer home games when it comes to football, so if you can’t catch the home team playing, you can still tour Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City Royals – Time your visit right to take in a home game for this baseball team or, at least, tour Kauffman Stadium.
Sporting KC – For soccer fans, the Major League Soccer team Sporting KC is a hot ticket. Matches are at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.
Restaurants in Kansas City for kids
There’s a great food scene in Kansas City, especially if you’re a barbecue fan. We’ve visited frequently, but have yet to have a big list of restaurants that were both hits with us adults and the kids, so that’s why this KC restaurant list is rather short.
Blue Bird Bistro – This charming breakfast spot is admittedly one I’ve only been to with Mr. Wonderful, but I loved it so much, I want to bring the kids there (though, from what I can tell, there is no kid’s menu). It’s farm-to-table goodness.
Corner Café – This North Kansas City restaurant serves ginormous cinnamon rolls, along with hearty breakfasts.
Eggtc – This was one of my favorite breakfast spot discoveries in Kansas City. One bonus is they gave us some coffee to go after our meal. It’s like they know me so well.
Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ – This Kansas City institution has five locations. We tried the one near Union Station. It’s a great kid-friendly place to try if you’re looking for barbecue.
Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant – How can a family resist this: A model train delivers the meal to your table? It’s a hit with kids. The menu includes hamburgers, sandwiches and fries.
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que – We went to the Leawood location, not the original in a gas station. It was smack-the-table good, and I recommend ordering the Z-Man Sandwich.
Crown Center Ice Terrace – The Ice Terrace is a popular seasonal, outdoor ice skating rink at Crown Center open November through February each year. For more Kansas City holiday inspiration, check out my Kansas City Christmas Bucket List.
Mayor’s Christmas Tree – Crown Center not only has the ice skating rink, it has a wonderful, FREE, holiday display centered around the Mayor’s Christmas Tree. There are wooden structures set up around the Christmas tree for kids to climb and play in.
City Market at Christmas – We timed one of our visits to see City Market’s Whoville experience at Christmas time. It’s FREE, and extremely popular (read: expect a wait).
Christmas at Worlds of Fun – WinterFest is an annual holiday event is at Worlds of Fun, and visiting the park when it’s decorated so brilliantly was a lot of fun. This is an evening event, and many of the rides are open, so it was a hit with every age in our group.
Christmas not that big of deal for you? Planning a visit sometime other than November or December? Got it.
Here are great annual events celebrating different holidays in Kansas City:
Halloween at Worlds of Fun – There are two sides to Worlds of Fun at Halloween. The daytime amusement park is full of playful activities and photo opps for the Great Pumpkin Fest. At night, it’s a massive haunted house. Of course, there are rides to enjoy, as well.
St. Patrick’s Day in KC – The family-friendly side of St. Patrick’s Day is typically a parade, and Kansas City has its fair share of them. The big one is Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which begins at Linwood & Broadway and finishes in Westport. Westport has road races that day, including a three-block dash for youngsters.
If you’re in KC the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, Snake Saturday Parade kicks things off in North Kansas City.
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Missouri is a state I feel like I’ve only just started to explore – though I’ve spent a great deal of time in Kansas City and St. Louis. I’ve started thinking about a road trip through the state – where I’d stop if I had no time limit, no money limit, and let’s be real, no day job. That’s how I’ve come up with this Missouri bucket list.
You may think I’ve left off some key things, and that’s cool. Let me know what shouldn’t be overlooked!
COVID-19 UPDATE: Double check local health and safety ordinances before traveling the state, as well as check if your destination is open to the public.
You won’t find much St. Louis and KC items on this bucket list, because, well, I’ve made those lists already. Same with Excelsior Springs (if it’s not on your Missouri bucket list, add The Elms right this minute).
Dive through a mine
For this bucket list item, I’m going to have to learn to dive first! The Bonne Terre Mines look like a surreal experience – you’re pretty much scuba diving through an old mine. National Geographic Adventure named the diving experience one of the top 10 adventures in America.
If I never learn to dive, there’s always an option of a boat tour.
Feed big cats
The National Tiger Sanctuary, just north of Branson, is home to rescued large cats. There are different types of tours to help the public learn more about the animals, but the one that sounds like a bucket list item is the chance to feed one of the cats.
There’s also a behind-the-scenes tour that I could see my daughter loving.
Go into a cave (or 5,000)
Missouri has more than 5,000 caves, with the most “show caves” in the country. Some that I think merit a visit: Onondaga Cave (claims to have the largest cave living room in the world); Fantastic Caverns in Springfield (home to the only ride-through cave in the U.S.); Marvel Cave (located inside Silver Dollar City and is said to have been discovered by Osage Indians in the 1500s); and two caves in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Robber’s Cave and the Counterfeiter’s Cave (rumored to have been hideouts for outlaws).
My son is fascinated by historic sites, so a trip through Missouri wouldn’t be complete without stopping at a few historic homes. In Diamond, we can set George Washington Carver’s birthplace and see where nature first inspired him as a boy.
Independence might be another stop for us in order to visit the Truman Home, a small home of Bess and Harry S. Truman. I’m on the fence about that one since you can only see it by guided tour, and my kids have a 50-50 track record of dealing well with guided tours.
Chase some waterfalls
I’m obsessed with waterfalls (probably because we have so few in Nebraska). Some of the Missouri waterfalls I’d love to see include Rocky Falls near Eminence, Mo., and Crooked Creek Falls in the Ouachita National Forest. Both of these are in the Ozarks.
Missouri Life has some of the most picturesque waterfalls here.
Try a natural waterslide
And while I’m on the topic of waterfalls, let’s talk about a natural waterslide. Water flows over smooth boulders at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, making it a perfect place to cool off. Because of it, it’s one of the most popular state parks in the Ozarks.
Canoe the Current
My husband planted the idea in my mind that we should canoe the Current River long ago, and I still think about it. Its crystal clear water and gorgeous scenery sound great. The Current River is just one of a couple rivers that are part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
The other rivers are the Eleven Point and the Jacks Fork (so I guess I have some options). Together they are Missouri’s largest national park. There’s a hidden swimming hole that I’d love to see called Bluff Hole, located where the Jacks Fork River widens.
Go to the drive-in
They’re a dying breed, aren’t they? 66 Drive-In Theatre in Carthage is seasonal and said to be the last on this famous highway. This isn’t the only drive-in in Missouri, FYI.
Near the Current River, there are for-real ruins. Apparently, there isn’t a good address for Welch Spring Hospital Ruins, so I found this post that gives some good directions (just scroll down midway through the post). Ha Ha Tonka State Park, near the Lake of the Ozarks, is home to castle-like ruins, too. Ha Ha Tonka sounds totally amazing.
According to “Missouri Off The Beaten Path,” “The complex of caves, underground streams, large springs, sinkholes, and natural bridges at Ha Ha Tonka State Park makes it one of the country’s most important geological sites.”
Stay in a treehouse
The River Of Life Farm is a resort in the Ozarks with treehouse-like cabins. The beauty of the place is it is in the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest. I personally want to go hiking or canoe, but they are also known for having excellent fly fishing.
Catch a throwed roll
I confess to already doing this, but it’s on this list since I feel my kids should experience having a hot roll chucked at their heads, too. Lambert’s Cafe is in two towns in Missouri (the original is in Sikeston, the other is in Ozark). Expect huge portions along with a wait if you go.
Bike the Katy Trail
One of these days, I’m going to plan a weekend trip along the KATY Trail with my husband, stopping for a winery or brewery along the way. It’s flat, it’s scenic, and at 237 miles long, it’s the nation’s longest “rails-to-trail” project. So, um, maybe we’ll just bike part of it.
This post in Southern Living has inspired me, though, especially about the B&Bs along the route. One that sounds great is the H.S. Clay House (it even has a pool and hot tub). And we’ll need to eat while we’re doing all this biking. Apparently, bikers in-the-know know to stop for some grub at Cooky’s in Golden City.
Find Charley’s Buffet
Hidden somewhere in a Mennonite community in Lake of the Ozarks is Charley’s Buffet, home to Mennonite-cooked and -served food that has people lining up every Friday and Saturday night.
Explore Route 66
Route 66 passes through Missouri including through the entire Ozarks. I read about a few places to visit just off the historic highway. There’s the scenic Devil’s Elbow, with nearby barbecue joint Elbow Inn and 40-foot-high wooden railroad trestle bridge. Then, there’s Lebanon, where the Route 66 Museum and Research Center is located.
Wine & dine in Missouri’s Wine Country
Missouri has a lot going on, in terms of wine, in the southeastern part of the state. This includes towns of Defiance, Marthasville, New Haven, and Hermann. Hermann has 10 wineries in the area as well as a couple microbreweries and distilleries.
The town has several popular festivals like and Wurstfest and Maifest in the spring and Octoberfest in the fall. It is home to Stone Hills Winery which was built in 1847 and, up until prohibition, it was the second largest winery in the U.S. My friends in St. Louis tell me Hermann is the place to go but I wonder if the smaller down they might have overlooked are with visiting too.
Stay in a caboose
Staying in a caboose is going to keep popping up on my bucket lists for states until I stay at one. I’ve come across a couple in Missouri. Cozy Caboose is located at the St. Louis West KOA campground on Route 66. And this one isn’t your ordinary caboose. It’s decked out with a kitchen, queen bed and bunk bed, and more importantly heating and Wi-Fi.
There’s also a place off the KATY Trail called Cruces’ Cabooses B&B with two cabooses for lodging. They come fully-equipped and are nestled in the woods.
Randy’s Roadkill BBQ and Grill
Randy’s Roadkill BBQ and Grill in Rolla intrigues me. Even though I’ve heard there is no actual roadkill on the menu at the restaurant, I feel like I have to go and see for myself. And then by the T-shirt.
See mastodon skeletons
Mastodon State Historic Site has a pretty interesting story behind it: The first evidence of mastodons were discovered there. And it almost didn’t become a public park – it took a group of persistent housewives to stop the archeological site from being sold to developers.
According to the book “Missouri Off-The-Beaten-Path, ” four women fundraised and pestered state officials until it became a state park.
Walk on a swinging bridge (or two)
Southwest Missouri is home to two swinging bridges that are just about 1,000 feet apart from each other. Grand Auglaize Swinging Bridge and Mill Creek Swinging Bridge are near Brummell. There are two near Osage Beach as well, though I read they were rather rickety.
Like my fascination with caves, I’ve got an inexplicable interest for swinging bridges.
Have a phosphate at the soda fountain where Truman used to work
Clinton’s, located in Independence Missouri, is a legit old-timey soda fountain complete with the marble counter the uniformed soda jerks. This is where Harry S Truman got his first job. I think I’ll order a malt when we’re there.
Have a 19th-century meal by candlelight
Fort Osage National Historic Landmark is known for historical re-enactments. I could see visiting the fort during the day with the kids and then at night, return for an authentic 19th century dinner and entertainment hearthside in the factory’s dining room.
See the wild horses
I’d heard about wild horses of North Carolina, but I’m surprised to know that there are herds in the Midwest, too. Missouri is home to herds of wild horses in Shannon County. They been roaming for more than 100 years and include the Broadfoot herd, Grassy herds , and Shawnee Creek herd.
Experience Ozarks circa mid-1800s
The Ozarks are is home to several festivals throughout the year, including the Hillbilly Fair in Laurie. The one that intrigues me the most is the Osage River Rendezvous and Mountain Man Festival held the third weekend in September.
Here people dressed in period clothes re-create what it was like when fur traders and other early pioneers would gather to socialize, barter, trade and, perhaps, throw a knife or two.
Buy the monks’ fruitcake
There is a group of Trappist monks in an abbey deep in the Ozarks near Ava. The Assumption Abbey has a bakery where they make more than 30,000 fruitcakes annually. I’m not a fruitcake fan but I hear they’re delicious (and also 2 pounds each).
Hike by the Elephant Rocks
Just look at that picture of the boulders at Elephant Rocks State Park in Belleview! Don’t you also want to see them in real life? These huge granite boulders that were formed more than a billion years ago. The largest rock in the park is 25 feet high.
Be a cowgirl
One of these days I’m going to stay at a dude ranch. Blame it on “City Slickers.” Missouri has an option – Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch. Families to stay here and do hands-on work at the horse and cattle ranch.
I’ve read about Dogwood Canyon Nature Park near Lampe. This nature preserve in the Ozarks is the work of the founder of Bass Pro Shops. I’ve seen pictures and it’s quite picturesque.
I’d love to take a bike tour around it, though there are also options of taking a guided horseback or tram tour.
Get more Missouri Bucket List Inspiration
I’ve been pinning ideas I’ve found for months, more than could fit on this list. Check out my Missouri Road Trip Board for additional travel inspiration for the Show Me State:
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A trip to Excelsior Springs, Mo., was a long-time coming for me. I’d first heard about the town in reference to the famous historic hotel, The Elms Hotel & Spa. It seemed to be a destination in itself, an epic Midwest spa destination. I knew friends and in-laws who went as a couples getaway. So, I wanted that kind of getaway, too. But, I also knew there were other great things to do in Excelsior Springs, so we ventured out into town.
If you’re curious, here are things to do in Excelsior Springs as well as a few things to do just outside of tow:
What’s there to do in Excelsior Springs?
Excelsior Springs is a town of about 11,000 people, and it’s a shell of a town it once was. It used to attract tourists seeking the supposedly healing spring waters. The spring water wells are no longer flowing into bath houses, and now it’s a lot quieter in Excelsior Springs. There is a lot of potential and as we walked around, I couldn’t help but wonder why this place didn’t have even more shops, what with the proximity of The Elms.
I could see a hint of a comeback downtown, though. There was a cafe, a few restaurant and bars, a few boutiques, as well as thrift stores.
If you stay at The Elms, you can easily walk to the downtown area and all of the things I’m going to tell you about in this post. First up, is the new kid on the block: Dubious Claims Brewing Co. We got a tip to visit this brew pub from a hotel employee.
Dubious Claims opened in the spring of 2018, and got its name from the history of the city and poking fun at the “health properties” of the spring waters there. We went to Dubious Claims for dinner (try the Final Gravity Chicken) and some beer. There were seasonal brews and their standards. I recommend the popular Kolsch there.
Another fun place to visit for food and, if you luck out, live music, is Wabash BBQ and Blues Garden. The restaurant is in an old train station. In the summer and into early fall, there’s live music on some Saturday nights. We caught the last concert of the 2018 season and it was a packed event outdoors.
We saw some kids there, in case you were wondering if it was kid-friendly, but it was primarily an adult audience enjoying the beer garden atmosphere. The barbecue was pretty good, too, incidentally.
We picked up a complimentary, self-guided walking tour brochure from The Elms front desk to learn about Excelsior Springs’ past and see some of the sites where spring water wells once stood.
One of the big stops on that tour that I’d recommend taking a look at is The Hall of Waters. It’s now the visitor’s center for the town, so you can double up on the stop to learn about the history of the town and what’s going on there now.
It’s a beautiful art deco building with a fascinating history behind how it got built. Go inside to see the well-known water bar (no water to be sample there now, alas).
The tour took us down the main strip of downtown Excelsior Springs, and that time of morning, there weren’t a lot of shops open. Actually, there wasn’t a lot of retail going on at all downtown. I stopped in a cute women’s clothing boutique called Style By Ry.
Things to do near Excelsior Springs
It was a gorgeous fall weekend when we visited, so my husband and I spent a lot of time outdoors. You’ll need a car to get to these places from The Elms.
Our first stop was Watkins Mill State Park. The park has a scenic lake to walk around or bike the paved trail. If you bike, it’s a quick loop around the 100-acre lake with a large portion of it shaded.
There were quite a few families there fishing and enjoying an easy bike ride.
There is a beach that’s open seasonally there, but to be honest, it didn’t look appealing to me compared to other Midwest lakes.
Adjacent to the state park is the national landmark, Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site, is an interesting visit if you’re into ag history. The historic site is actually a national historic landmark.
The visitor’s center is a good place to start to learn about the significance of the family that once lived there.
Then take the short walk to the family’s home and the mill. It’s a peaceful place.
There’s an option to take a guided tour for a small fee. I heard it was worth the small fee, but we had a winery to get to.
Before heading to the winery, you may want to stop at a nearby waterfall. But, word of advice, if it’s a dry season, it’s going to be disappointing. I’ve seen pictures of Tryst Falls and knew it would be a small waterfall, but when we stopped to look, it wasn’t a waterfall at all. Don’t make a special trip just for the waterfall.
Anyway. Back to the winery. There are three wineries in the area to choose from. We opted to go to Van Till Family Farm & Winery in Rayville, Mo., after a hotel guest told us about their delicious wood-fire pizza. It sounded a lot like my experience at Luna Valley Farm in Iowa, so I wanted to check it out.
We sample some wine first inside the tasting room and then ventured to the outdoor wine garden. It was a busy place that afternoon. Luckily, it was a beautiful place for a leisurely-paced lunch with some chilled wine.
We ordered the chef’s pizza special that afternoon – pork belly and fig pizza. It was so good, there were no leftovers.
Where to stay in Excelsior Springs
I’ve written all about a stay at The Elms, including what their famous spa experience is like and dining at the hotel. You can’t beat the location and beauty of this hotel.
You don’t have to be a guest to explore the hotel’s first floor. It’s also a stop on the walking tour for the natural springs.
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Excelsior Springs, Mo., is home to the historic Elms Hotel & Spa, a charming hotel that was like a beacon to couples. My husband and I were there this fall for our anniversary, and while the goal was just to relax and reconnect, we may have fallen in love with the hotel, too. I think you might be surprised at why we loved this hotel so much.
Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by The Elms Hotel & Spa. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
About The Elms
The Elms is designed to make an impact at first view. It’s grand and there is no other structure in Excelsior Springs that looks so lovingly restored. But, that lovely building is the third incarnation of The Elms.
The original Elms Hotel opened in 1888 to provide luxury lodging to visitors streaming to Excelsior Springs to visit the towns newly discovered mineral springs. It was a grand wooden structure and suffered fire damage twice, so in 1912, it was redesigned in the Tudor Revival style in 1912 using fireproof native limestone.
Famous guests include Al Capone – who I read used to run some gambling in the basement. My favorite story is about Harry S Truman, who the hotel says was staying there the night he was elected. That famous photo of him holding up the Chicago Tribune with the erroneous headline? That was taken shortly after he checked out of the hotel to claim victory.
But, enough about famous guests. The stars of this story are the employees of The Elms. I sincerely think the employees are a big reason The Elms has so may repeat customers. We met a couple from Omaha who has been visiting for 35 years. Another couple from Kanas City started going for their anniversary but decided one year wasn’t enough and now they go every 6 months.
My encounters with the staff, and those I observed with others, were genuine and warm. I especially commend the two women working at the Royal Treatment Lounge on the weekend – Deby and Jenny. More on that experience below.
But first, let’s talk about the relaxation and escaping from obligations – what every parent wants, right?
The Spa At Elms
The Elms’ spa is one of the largest in the Midwest, when you count the indoor and outdoor pools, hot tubs, and (my favorite), the Grotto. You can make a day of it, really. Many people do.
My husband and I started our day off bright and early with a couples massage.
If you’ve booked a spa treatment, it’s a good idea to arrive at least an hour ahead of time, as your personal concierge will give you a tour of the spa and locker room. After you change into your comfy robe, you’re led to the Quiet Room to wait.
The Quiet Room is a slice of heaven for a parent who is used to constant chaos. There’s a small snack and drink bar with organic food, locally-sourced coffee, and a delicious coconut milk drink. You hang out in this room until your appointment.
Good and relaxed, you have your massage or treatment, and then, the really good part starts. You’re free to enjoy the other spa amenities. Head to one of the pools, indoors or outdoors, if you want.
But my recommendation? Make a beeline to the Grotto. The Grotto has hot tub, steam sauna with eucalyptus infused steam, a steam sauna, and a steam shower – which you’ll want to pick out your own salt scrub from the exfoliation bar to take into the shower first. And, when the heat gets a bit much, cool off in the cold plunge shower. It’s 42 degrees and feels fantastic.
Tip: You might not be a morning person, but I recommend that first-of-the-day time slot because then you just might get the Grotto to yourself.
Hotel guests and the public can pay $55 to have access to the spa if they don’t want to purchase a treatment. I have a list of treatments I want to try, so I think I’m more likely to schedule a massage or water treatment than just the access to the spa. Here’s their list of packages. But, I see how just relaxing poolside and hanging out in the Grotto could be relaxing enough, too.
Stay tuned: I heard from the spa’s manager that she anticipates some great updates to the spa in January 2019. The hydrotherapy rooms will get a makeover and some of the seating will be updated.
The Rooms At Elms
The rooms at the hotel underwent a $20 million renovation a few years ago. They retained some of the historic charm, but they’re all completely modern now.
Our room had a king-size bed, and modern amenities like a Keurig machine. It was located on the fifth floor (for you ghost hunters – that’s rumored to be the haunted floor). There are several room types, including suites, to choose from.
Now, the perk of the fifth floor is what The Elms calls the Royal Experience. This, my friends, is worth the add-on. Available Thursdays through Sundays, the Royal Experience includes a Welcome Reception each night with complimentary wine, beer, and appetizers. You get to meet Deby, who brings in her famous poundcake on Saturday nights (don’t ask her for the recipe – she’s not telling).
The Royal Experience also includes complimentary continental breakfast with fresh fruit, pastries, juice and coffee. Throughout the day, you can stop in to grab pop or a snack, too.
The appealing thing about this lounge is that it gets you talking with your fellow guests. We were tipped off to where the live music was (Saturday nights, June through September, you can walk to Wabash BBQ for a band). And, we found out about Dubious Claims, the new brewery that’s also an easy walk from the hotel.
The Restaurants At Elms
We were pretty spoiled with the reception and continental breakfast that was included with the Royal Experience, so we didn’t do a whole lot of eating in the hotel’s three other dining areas.
The Cafe in the lobby was a nice option for a quick snack before our early morning massage, though. We got coffee and some pastries.
We had a late breakfast at 88, the more upscale restaurant at the hotel, too. Of all of our dining experiences, this one was the least memorable. We tried the buffet, and while the omelets were superb, much of the rest of the items were not.
The other restaurant, The Tavern, could not fit into our short time there, so I guess we’ll just try it out next time. It look like a cozy place for a drink and pub food.
Tours and more
A lot of my readers seem to be into ghosts, as a few told me to look for ghosts while we were there. (No thanks) But, if you’re into that sort of thing, The Elms has you covered. There is a nightly ghost tour that’s $15 per person. I overheard a few people talking about it, and they loved it and said the guide was an excellent storyteller.
If you’re more into the mineral springs history of the hotel and the town, there’s a self-guided walking tour. The front desk attendant gave us a map, and we visited a few within walking distance (there’s one in the parking lot of the hotel). None of the wells are open any more, but at one point, there were 40 of them. Their healing powers may have been a bit dubious (side note: that’s what the new brewery in town named itself after).
And if tours aren’t your thing, just take a walk on the grounds of The Elms.
Check back on the blog soon for a post about things to do and places to eat at in Excelsior Springs, Mo. We spent a weekend there and biked, went to a winery for wood-fire pizza, found a local brewery, visited a historic site, and went to a concert, among other things.
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