May 8, 2017

Botanica Wichita: A Kid-Favorite Destination

Botanica Wichita has been a game changer for me. I don’t often plan stops at botanical gardens (delicate flowers + trail-blazing kids = no bueno), but this place has opened my eyes: My kids loved it there.

It helps that Botanica Wichita has an amazing children’s garden. Hands down, the best I’ve seen so far.

We visited Botanica Wichita on a spring weekend recently. Read about that fun weekend here. Our visit was hosted by Visit Wichita.

Downing Children’s Garden

If you’re visiting Botanica Wichita with children, you simply cannot skip Downing Children’s Garden. Every turn on the path revealed something whimsical, delightful, and beautiful.

The Monster Trees might have been my favorite part of all Botanica Wichita.

There’s a yellow brick road at the entrance leading you inside, because…Kansas.

Follow the yellow brick road into the Downing Children’s Garden inside Botanica Wichita.

This well-thought out space packs a lot into a little space. A nice touch is that there’s only one way in and out, so if your little explorer takes off, he or she won’t escape the area.

There’s more to discover at the Downing Children’s Garden than flowers, including digging opportunities to uncover animal habitats and pretend fossils.

Cool places to explore include a water feature, tree house and monster trees…and that’s just one little part of the children’s garden.

The tree house is right by the Monster Woods, two things you don’t want to miss at Garden Botanica’s children’s garden.

There’s a musical maze, ant hill, and party barn. Plus, a cute little enchanted spot with some favorite storybook characters. There are all sorts of cute touches that adults enjoy spotting as much as kids.

A familiar character spotted inside the children’s garden at Botanica Wichita.

If my kids had their way, we would’ve spent at least two hours in the Downing Children’s Garden.

We hardly had a chance to explore the farm side of Downing Children’s Garden at Botanica Wichita.

More garden to see

There are 30 themed gardens and exhibits over 18 acres. Don’t skip the seasonal train garden, which wasn’t running while we were there. Near it is the sensory garden, with the coolest natural kaleidoscope.

Peeking through the nature kaleidoscope at Botanica Wichita.

There’s also a butterfly house and a beautiful pond to explore. Bring some coins so your kids can feed the huge koi.

I thought the spot where we fed koi fish was the most picturesque and peaceful place inside Botanica Wichita.

Botanica Wichita’s newest garden is the Chinese Friendship Garden. It was enchanting to stroll through. Our guide, Janet, explained the connection between Wichita and its sister city, and how many of the items on display – from scrolls to huge foo dogs – have significant meanings.

The lovely Chinese Friendship Garden was inspired by Wichita’s Sister City in China.

Family-friendly tip: Botanica Wichita allows you to bring food in to have a picnic on the grounds. I saw tables inside the Chinese Friendship Garden and overlooking the koi pond. Both spaces look perfect for a relaxing lunch break.

Timing a visit

The miniature train wasn’t in operation during our early spring visit to Botanica Wichita. It’s runs seasonally.

You’ll see garden beauty any time of year, but Botanica Wichita has some special events that you might want to note of.

Spring – On a few afteroons in March and April, there’s an adorable event called Tulips, Fairies & Forts. Take Flight & Butterfly Festival is a special annual opening of the Butterfly House – the first 100 kids get to release a butterfly in the house. At the end of May, there’s the Family Night Hike.

Summer – Summers are hopping at the children’s garden. In June and July, you’ll find drop-in activities on the weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Those are included with admission. There are also Creative Craft activities for an additional fee on Wednesday mornings. Thursdays in June from 5 to 8 p.m. is Family Game Night.

Fall – Bootanica is a Halloween-themed event to look for.

Winter – One of the biggest each year is Illumination during the holiday season. There are lights throughout the gardens, and the train garden has a Polar Express theme to it.

 

If you go

Botanica Wichita

Where: 701 Amidon St., Wichita, Kansas

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Tuesday & Thursday until 8 p.m.); and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m.

Cost: Children (ages 3-12), $5; adults (ages 13-61), $7; seniors (ages 62) and military, $6; and children younger than 2, FREE. Admission is $3 all day Thursdays in the summer

Website

* * * * *

Want to start planning your own Great Wichita Weekend?

Start with My Wichita Bucket List to get some inspiration, then dive into these for more fun ideas:

The Great Wichita Weekend recap

Wichita’s Good Eats

Wichita Home Base: Hampton Inn & Suites

June 1 – Exploration Place

Jun 8 – Tangyika Wildlife Park

 

For even more ideas for family fun in Wichita, check out my Pinterest Board. 

 

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Wichita, and Botanica Wichita provided complimentary passes so I could tell you about it. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

May 1, 2017

The Great Wichita Weekend

It’s time to look at Wichita, Kan., in a different way. There’s so much for a family to do in 48 hours, it’s changed how I see the city.

For me, it’s always been a fuzzy memory from childhood when we were there to visit family. But after visiting the city this spring, I was surprised to discover it is a Midwestern cultural destination. Good thing to note: My visit was hosted by Visit Wichita, so I probably did way more in two days than you would with your family.

Wichita Weekend

I made my Wichita bucket list and got to check some, but sadly not all, off it. There’s only so much you can pack into a weekend.

Family-Friendly Attractions

In the heart of Wichita, along the river, is a collection of museums that is a good starting place for your trip. We took the kids, ages 5 and 7, to three of the attractions there: Botanica Wichita; Wichita Art Museum; and Exploration Place.

Botanica Wichita children's garden

Climb, dig and explore at the Downing Children’s Garden at Botanica Wichita.

Botanica Wichita is the botanical gardens, 18 acres of space with a lot to see. Kids will absolutely love the well-designed children’s garden.

Also stop by the koi pond to feed them and go look for the dragon in the Friendship Garden. We thought we’d only be at Botanica Wichita for an hour or so, but could’ve easily spent two hours in the children’s garden alone.

Exploration Place Wichita

Exploration Place in Wichita has a newly reopened space dedicated to Kansas, and it includes this cool fossil scanner for kids.

Exploration Place is Kansas’ premier science center with a cool mix of permanent exhibits and temporary ones. My daughter spent most of her time playing in the three-story castle. Other rooms had a ton of hands-on activities teaching about Kansas history and geology; weather; flight; and more. Plan on spending a few hours here.

Keeper of the Plains Wichita

Flames shoot up from pots around the base of The Keeper of the Plains nightly (weather permitting).

In that same area, you’ll spot the huge statue Keeper of the Plains. There’s a nightly show, where fire fills the huge caldrons at that base.

It’s an impressive and free show to catch, and it lasts about 15 minutes.

Wichita Art Museum

The most memorable experience at the Wichita Art Museum was taking our shoes off and walking over a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture.

We spent the least amount of time with the kids at the Wichita Art Museum, but it had some excellent experiences for them. We went on Saturday, which means free admission for us. The first stop was the Living Room, a kids space with activities. There’s also a space downstairs for even more activities for kids; since it was Earth Day, we were building with repurposed materials.

For anyone, no matter your age, you’ll want to go upstairs in the museum and walk across the Chihuly sculpture. When else will you get to do something like that?

Dart Warz Wichita

Dart Warz in Wichita is the love child of Nerf guns and paintball.

Outside of downtown, near our hotel, was a unique experience for me: Dart Warz. Think Nerf guns meet paintball. My son liked it, my younger daughter, not so much. It’s definitely more suited for older kids, and parents who’ve maintained their cat-like reflexes (so not me). You pay by the hour to play.

Head out of town for a very memorable afternoon, especially if your kids love animals. Tanganyika Wildlife Park creates amazing ways to connect with animals through encounters you might not find anywhere else. Expect to spend a full afternoon here.

Tanganyika Wichita

Feeding a giraffe is one of nine animal encounters at Tanganyika Wildlife Park near Wichita.

It’s funny. The things I liked best, like feeding exotic animals the behind-the-scenes to tour to feed and pet a rare opaki, were not my kids’ favorites. They loved feeding the guinea pigs and rabbits. No joke. I think they loved being able to linger in the space among gentle and small creatures.

Kid-Friendly Eats In Wichita

Wichita Old Mill Tasty Shop

Old Mill Tasty Shop opened in 1932 in downtown Wichita, and its classic soda fountain is still used today.

I love trying local eats on vacation, especially ones that welcome kids. If you want Wichita favorites, you can’t go wrong visiting Old Mill Tasty Shop and Doo Dah Diner in the downtown area. The Old Mill is a working soda fountain, so we ordered shakes, but you may want to plan a lunch stop there to get their famous chicken salad (but expect a line out the door).

Doo Dah Diner seems to be a local favorite. Everyone responded the same way when I mentioned it: “Ooooh, good choice.” It’s a diner, for sure, but there are some quirky offerings on the menu. My friend said you’ve got to try the monkey bread there. Our other stop was for barbecue at Delanao BBQ.

Wichita donut shop

Fun varieties of cake donuts are sold at The Donut Whole in Wichita.

I’m a sucker for a quirky donut shop, and The Donut Whole fits the bill in the best possible way. We went for breakfast and tried some relatively tame varieties, um, maple bacon donut, anyone? But the drive-thru is 24 hours a day, so if for whatever reason, you need a cake donut at 2 in the morning, they’ve got you covered.

The Disco Fries at The Kitchen in Wichita is Jersey’s answer to poutine, but done using clean foods. Total comfort food.

The Kitchen is a new kid on the scene, featuring American comfort cooked clean – so no nitrates in that ham and cheese Panini. Get the disco fries. You’re welcome.

The Anchor is a more grown-up place to enjoy local craft beer and a burger, but there is a kid’s menu, so we stopped there for dinner.

Moms and dads who like local beer with good food, go earlier in the day to The Anchor. They feature 50+ craft beers on tap and great burgers. The Haystack is an open faced burger, and it’s the most popular entrée there for a reason. They have a kid’s menu, so they won’t snub families.

Wichita NIfty Nut House

Nifty Nut House was called “a national treasure” by Alton Brown. I kinda agree, it is a one-of-a-kind candy shop/whole seller.

Do not leave without getting some snacks at Nifty Nut House. Any huge snack house that gets Alton Brown’s seal of approval is a place to visit.

Where to stay

The dining area for breakfast at the Hampton Inn & Suites near the Wichita airport. A hot breakfast is available for free every day for guests.

When we first arrived in Wichita, we were told you can get to most places in less than 10 minutes. We found that to be the case staying at the Hampton Inn & Suites at the airport. It’s a sparkly new hotel right off the interstate, and convenient if you’re flying in.

You could certainly find accommodations closer to the downtown. This one fit our needs: Pool, comfy beds, free hot breakfast, and located between our destinations in the downtown area and Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard, Kan.

Getting there

Wichita is about 300 miles from Omaha. If traveling with kids, I’ve got two stops for you.

If you take Highway 81 and I-135, I recommend pit stops in Hebron, Neb., to see the world’s largest porch swing, and Lindsborg, Kan. Lindsborg’s the cutest small town I’ve seen in ages full of all things Swedish, but a big highlight was visiting Coronado Heights, which has a shelter that my kids swore was a medieval castle. There are short trails near it and picnic areas with great views.

* * * * *

Want to start planning your own Great Wichita Weekend? Start with My Wichita Bucket List to get some inspiration, then dive into these for more fun ideas:

A Kid-Favorite Destination: Botanica Wichita

Wichita’s Good Eats

Wichita Home Base: Hampton Inn & Suites

Visiting Exploration Place With Kids

Exploring Tangyika Wildlife Park

For even more ideas for family fun in Wichita, check out my Pinterest Board: 

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Wichita. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

 

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March 15, 2017

My Wichita Bucket List

I’m taking the family to Wichita this spring, and as usual, I have a big ol’ list of things to do, places to see, and food to eat. Here’s my Wichita bucket list, if time and money were not an issue:

 

See the Keeper of the Plains

The Keeper of the Plains lit up at night in Wichita, Kansas. Photo by Merrill Thomas

There’s a giant statue along the Big and Little Arkansas rivers called Keeper of the Plains. Each night, you can watch flames spring up from fire drums around the statue, illuminating the surroundings. It sounds pretty cool, especially for my kids. Catch it at 7 p.m. in the winter and 9 p.m. in the summer.

Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper

I still haven’t the chuckwagon dinner I’ve been dreaming about ever since planning our South Dakota road trip two years ago. Maybe Wichita is the place? Just 20 minutes outside of town, there’s Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper, a dinner show with classic cowboy tunes and a chance to ride a wagon.

Tanganyika Wildlife Park

You can feed animals like lemurs or giraffe at Tanganyika Wildlife Park near Wichita. Photo courtesy Visit Wichita

Several friends familiar with Wichita have recommended we take the kids to Tanganyika Wildlife Park. It’s about 10 minutes from downtown. At the park, visitors can get up-close to the 300+ residents, even feeding some like giraffes and lemurs.

Botanica Wichita

The Fossil Wall at Botanica Wichita. Photo courtesy Visit Wichita

There are 26 themed gardens at Botanica Wichita. We’d definitely have to check out Downing Children’s Garden and the butterfly house, as well as the Fossil Wall.

Dart Warz

You’ve heard of laser tag and paintball? Now there’s Nerf battlefields and I just know my kids are going to love this place.

Eat all the food

I heard breakfast at Doo-Dah Diner is the stuff of legends. Photo courtesy Visit Wichita

I have so many restaurants I want to try – how will I decide? Do we get breakfast at Doo Dah Diner (I heard they had some habit-forming french toast there)? Or do we get donuts at Donut Whole or Hurts Donuts for a crazy creations? I’m thinking of getting malts with lunch at the old-fashioned soda fountain in downtown Wichita, Old Mill Tasty Shop.

My foodie friends in Wichita sent me a whole list of places to go to, including burgers at The Anchor, Dempsey’s or Ty’s; pizza at Ziggy’s; Mediterranean food at N&J; Songbird Juice Co.; and Two Olives. The Oh My! Omaha Facebook group also had some good recommendations, and I’m pretty sure The Kitchen will be on our itinerary for the spring trip.

You can watch planes take off and land while dining at Stearman Field Bar & Grill. Photo courtesy Visit Wichita

There’s also Stearman Field Bar & Grill, a restaurant located right on a landing strip where you can watch aircraft take off and land 20 yards from you.

Wichita Art Museum

Wichita Art Museum has free admission on Saturdays, plus they have a kid-friendly space called The Living Room. Photo courtesy Wichita Art Museum

The Wichita Art Museum has a space called The Living Room, which is an interactive gallery for art investigation and make-it/take-it art activities. My kids would totally love it. Plus, if we visit on a Saturday, admission is free.

Exploration Place

We could likely spend an entire day here, exploring flight, nanoscience, and what will likely be my castle-obsessed son’s favorite space, Where Kids Rule with its three-story castle.

Old Cowtown Museum

Old Cowtown has costumed interpreters that portray life in Kansas back in the 1860s, including what a shootout would’ve been like. Photo courtesy Visit Wichita

I think my kids would love seeing the cowboys and other costumed interpreters walking around this open-air museum – they tell visitors about Wichita life in the 1860s. Hope we time the visit right to catch a shootout on Main Street.

Museum of World Treasures

This three-floor museum sounds like a hodgepodge collection dreamed up by my children. It has everything from dinosaur skeletons, a segment of the Berlin Wall, and a mummy.

Old Town Wichita

Old Town Wichita is a charming part of Wichita with converted warehouses and brick roads. Photo courtesy Visit Wichita

Saturday mornings sound like a good time to visit, during the lively farmers market. It sounds very much like Omaha’s Old Market with its brick roads and converted warehouses, so I’ll be right at home.

Wichita Toy Train Club and Museum

In my kids’ younger days, this would be the place for us to spend our entire vacation. It still sounds like a family-friendly stop we’d enjoy. They even have a trains for kids to operate.

Sedgwick County Zoo

Sedgwick County Zoo is known for recreating authentic habitats. Photo courtesy Visit Wichita

I heard the animals live in authentic habitats, like Downing Gorilla Forest, which emulates a Congo village. The Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley exhibit opened in 2016 and has the world’s largest elephant pool (550,000 gallons of water)!

More Wichita Vacation Ideas

Want to see more ideas for family travel to Wichita? Check out Visit Wichita and my Pinterest board:

Share your ideas: What are other not-to-miss things to do in Wichita that my family should check out? Leave a comment!

 

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January 15, 2016

Beyond The Cookie: DoubleTree In Overland Park

On a recent trip to Overland Park, Kan., hosted byOverland Park Convention and Visitors Bureau, I discovered an important thing I had to point out: There’s more to the DoubleTree by Hilton than the warm cookies at check-in.

But do you really need anything more than a warm cookie to make a stay nice?

This is what you're greeted with at a DoubleTree.

This is what you’re greeted with at a DoubleTree.

You do.

Read on to find out more about the amenities of this hotel near KC, as well as the attractions and dining options near it.

This was our first visit to Overland Park, Kan., as a family. I may have been here as a child since my mom has a sixth sense for finding malls on vacation, and this city has a rocking mall (Oak Park Mall). 

Anyway. The hotel, you guys want to know about the hotel, right?

The festive lobby of the DoubleTree Hotel in Overland Park, Kansas.

The festive lobby of the DoubleTree Hotel in Overland Park, Kansas.

We arrived during the holiday season so it was tastefully decorated. We added our own little decoration since our kids were obsessing over the Elf on the Shelf. Lemme tell you, it was a challenge getting Tizbee into our room before the kids could ransack it looking for him.

Our elf, Tizbee, followed us on the trip.

Our elf, Tizbee, followed us on the trip.

The Double Tree Highlights

Eggs: You thought I was going to say cookies. As part of our hosted stay, we got to try the breakfast buffet at Trofi. It had the standard offerings of pastries and breads, fresh fruit, biscuits and gravy, that sort of thing.

But the standout was the eggs made-to-order. Yes, eggs. Before you think I’m strange about pointing out eggs, it must be pointed out just how rare it is to find someone who doesn’t overcook an omelet. The chef manning the station nailed it. Fab breakfast, and wonderful service.

By the way, Trofi also has a bar area and lounge that extends to a patio where you can enjoy bar drinks and snacks in warmer weather. Indoors, it has a water feature you’ll probably overlook but it will attract your kids like moths to a flame. 

Pool: As always, though, the pool was the kids’ favorite feature in the hotel. It’s a bit of a walk through the lobby to get to, but it’s a nice pool surrounded by windows. There’s also a whirlpool and sauna.

The DoubleTree pool, AKA, the best part of the hotel according to my kids. Not pictured are the little whirlpool and sauna.

The DoubleTree pool, AKA, the best part of the hotel according to my kids. Not pictured are the little whirlpool and sauna.

Customer service: Most hotels “get it.” Make guests feel welcomed and they’ll become loyal customers. So I expect it. The cookies are a good start, but what I was impressed by the genuine friendliness of the staff. It was above and beyond the typical friendliness (and not in an off-putting way).

The breakfast staff was exceptionally nice. Way more than you’d expect for early in the morning.

Connecting rooms: Beyond the cookies and eggs, this hotel has a lot to offer families. I discovered my new-favorite hotel convenience: The connecting rooms. My kids are now old enough to be trusted to sleep in a separate room – with the door to our room open.

Why didn't anyone tell me that connecting rooms is the way to go when traveling with kids old enough not to require constant monitoring at night?

Why didn’t anyone tell me that connecting rooms is the way to go when traveling with kids old enough not to require constant monitoring at night?

I could luxuriate in a king size bed while the littles each got their own double. Win win for everyone.

Another bonus for each room: 42-inch flat-screen HDTV in all of them.

What else do they have? The usual goodies you’d expect a mid-range hotel, including a fitness room, racquetball court, a hiking trail and free parking.

Did you know? The DoubleTree by Hilton has the most adorable vacation package I’ve ever heard of: An Oak Park American Girl Store Package. The package includes an overnight stay in a deluxe pink room with pink sheets, bath towels and more. The room package comes with a American Girl Doll travel bed and robe and slippers that cannot be purchased in a store or the catalog. The girls receive cookies and milk for the child and doll in the room and breakfast for four. The hotel can also provide shuttle transportation to Oak Park Mall for shopping and assistance in contacting the store to set up a personal shopper experience. W_RET_F5906_14124_001_HR_WEB

Attractions near this hotel

DoubleTree Hotel is 3 miles from Oak Park Mall, which has an American Girl store, LEGO store, and tons of other shops we don’t have in Omaha, plus a double-decker carousel.

You don't have to pay admission if you just want to see the T-Rex in the lobby of the Museum at Prairiefire.

You don’t have to pay admission if you just want to see the T-Rex in the lobby of the Museum at Prairiefire.

Families are going to want to check out the Museum at Prairiefire, which is 6 miles from the hotel, as well as the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, which is also about 6 miles from the hotel.

It’s a little more than 7 miles to the Ikea from the hotel too…which is an attraction of another kind, right?

You can get to downtown Kansas City on the I-35 in about 20 minutes without traffic (but we’re talking KC here, so plan on the 17-mile drive taking longer).

 

Restaurants near the hotel

The DoubleTree also happens to be near some of KC’s best barbecue, including Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue and a crowd-pleaser for my family, Joe’s KC Bar-B-Que in Leawood. There’s also Jon Russell’s Kansas City Barbecue. All three are about 4 miles from the hotel.

The hotel staff rounded up a list of local restaurants for me to share with you – given the short stay, I couldn’t try them all.

– Fritz’s Chilli

– Nick And Jake’s

– Stroud’s Overland Park (super kid-friendly)

– Unforked (super kid-friendly)

– Barley’s Brewhaus

– Blue Moose Bar & Grill

– Rock & Brews (kid-friendly)

– Bo Ling’s Chinese Restaurant (kid-friendly)

– Garozzo’s Ristorante

– Johnny Cascone’s Italian Restaurant

– Chosun Korean BBQ

– Mi Ranchito (kid-friendly)

– The Salty Iguana Mexican Restaurant (kid-friendly)

– d’Bronx Deli & Pizzeria

– Papa Kenos Pizzaria (kid-friendly)

– New York Dawg Pound (kid-friendly)

– John’s Space Age Donuts (kid-friendly)

– LaMar’s Donuts (kid-friendly)

– Oz’s Maq Donuts House (kid-friendly)

If you go

DoubleTree Overland Park

Where: 10100 College Boulevard, Overland Park, Kan.

Website 

 

Want to read more stories about Kansas City with a family-friendly focus? Check these out:

15+ Fun Things To Do During A KC Christmas Getaway

Magic At DreamWorks Ultimate Santa Adventure (Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kan.)

Exploring the Museum at Prairiefire (Overland Park, Kan.)

Family Fun At Science City (Kansas City, Mo.)

Lego Store in Overland Park (Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kan.)

A Family Guide To Crown Center (Kansas City, Mo.)

Best Winter Weekend Getaway To KC With Kids

Sheraton Kansas City (at Crown Center, Kansas City, Mo.)

December 21, 2015

Inside The LEGO Store

My love-hate relationship with LEGOs dates only a year or two back, when my son graduated to the teeny tiny LEGOs that cause maximum pain if you step on them. But, he loves building with them so he keeps getting more.

And now my daughter is starting to dig the Duplo sets.

Did someone say LEGO?

Did someone say LEGO?

So, it’s only natural that we had to stop at the LEGO Store during our recent visit to Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kan. Just try walking past it with young kids. You can’t.

It’s too inviting. And I swear it’s one of the first logos kids learn to spot.

The Mecca for builders out there, the LEGO Store inside Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kan.

The Mecca for builders out there, the LEGO Store inside Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kan.

It’s heaven for the builders out there, any age, any ability. And any price point. Want to build the Millennium Falcon? $300 and it’s yours. Want a mini figurine? $5 bucks and change.

The store is divided into sections, with a small area for the preschool crowd.

Building sets for the preschool crowd.

Building sets for the preschool crowd. My daughter’s stomping grounds.

Other areas were more themed – think “Star Wars” and … I don’t know, my son wouldn’t look at any other area, so that’s the only one I really saw.

If you don’t want a whole new set, there’s a great big wall ‘o LEGOs that you can peruse to create your own mini-figures. For $4.99 (plus tax), you can gather the pieces for your very own creature in the Pick a Model experience.

Wall 'o LEGOs

Wall ‘o LEGOs

It might just be me not knowing price points, but it seemed cheaper buying sets at this LEGO store than at big box stores.

FYI: The store has a digital screen where you can scan some special boxes for an interactive experience – you’ll see some of the sets come alive on screen. There are also store events you may want to join if you live in the area. Check out their website for more information.

If you go

LEGO store

Where: Oak Park Mall, 11149 W. 95th St., No. 18A, Overland Park, Kan.

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (may have extended hours around the holidays)

Website

 

Disclaimer: Visit Overland Park hosted my family’s visit to Overland Park, Kan. All opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Want to read more stories about Kansas City with a family-friendly focus? Check these out:

15+ Fun Things To Do During A KC Christmas Getaway

Magic At DreamWorks Ultimate Santa Adventure (Oak Park Mall in Overland Park, Kan.)

Exploring the Museum at Prairiefire (Overland Park, Kan.)

Family Fun At Science City (Kansas City, Mo.)

Crown Center dining & entertainment (Kansas City, Mo.) 

Best Winter Getaway To Kansas City With Kids 

DoubleTree Hotel (Overland Park, Kan.)

Sheraton Kansas City (at Crown Center, Kansas City, Mo.)

 

December 17, 2015

Exploring The Museum At Prairiefire (Kansas)

Behind the colorful glass windows of the Museum at Prairiefire is an inspiring world of science and beauty, as well as a room so fun for kids, they won’t realize how much they’re learning.

Just take a look at the spectacular exterior of The Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park, Kan.

Just take a look at the spectacular exterior of the Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park, Kan.

I wouldn’t fault you for shrugging it off, at first, because it’s a museum located on the outskirts of a shopping center. It’s not the first place I’d look for a museum, either. But, you’d be missing out if you skipped it.

Fun fact: The Museum at Prairiefire is the first architectural structure in North America to use dichroic glass in its design. This glass was originally engineered by NASA during materials research.

The highlights

The way I see it, there are two really remarkable, don’t-miss things at this museum – and one is FREE!

You’ll see the first right when you walk in.

ALIVE Interactive lets you interact with creatures you on a screen in the lobby of the Museum at Prairiefire.

ALIVE Interactive lets you interact with creatures you on a screen in the lobby of the Museum at Prairiefire.

ALIVE Interactive is an interactive video screen in the lobby showing real-time images of you in the Great Hall while prehistoric creatures (and a dragon or two) run by or swoop your head. Those creatures were created by patrons just like you using touch screens. All ages enjoy this!

I was like a kid dodging velocipraptors with my kids. It’s FREE to create your prehistoric animals and watch them come to life on the screen, if you didn’t feel like paying admission to see the rest of museum.

The Discovery Room

The Discovery Room at the Museum at Prairiefire is divided into different science areas with hands-on activities in each.

The Discovery Room at the Museum at Prairiefire is divided into different science areas with hands-on activities in each.

The second don’t-miss part of the Museum at Prairiefire is the Discovery Room. If it’s busy, you’ll be limited to the amount of time you can spend there, but I’d say plan on spending, at a minimum, an hour here if it isn’t. Your kids will not want to leave.

Looking at some bugs in the Discovery Room.

Looking at some bugs in the Discovery Room.

The Discovery Room is broken up into different areas of science – think anthropology, field biology, paleontology – where kids can learn through play and hands-on exhibits.

The first area my kids headed for was the paleontology section.

The first area my kids headed for was the paleontology section.

It’s a place where technology mixes with old school science, like a dig pit and magnifying glasses.

The dig site in the Discovery Room.

The dig site in the Discovery Room.

We played ancient games, hunted for animals in the sycamore tree, petted a mouse, and dug up dinosaur bones.

Mooch's favorite area in the Discovery room had all the animals in it.

Mooch’s favorite area in the Discovery room had all the animals in it.

The kids tried on masks from around the world, explored astronomy ideas and used microscopes to see just how many scratches were on my wedding ring.

Masks from around the world, Take 1.

Masks from around the world, Take 1.

Masks from around the world, Take 2.

Masks from around the world, Take 2.

The Discovery Room is worth the price of admission, hands down.

Technology these days...

Technology these days…

Museum staff are on hand to explain things (and make sure idiots like me don’t break anything, or teach their children the wrong way to put an insect statue together).

Other cool area of the museum

The beauty of this place begs you to explore it, inside and out.

Exterior of the Museum at Prairiefire changes depending on the time of day and how sunny it is.

Exterior of the Museum at Prairiefire changes depending on the time of day and how sunny it is.

My kids weren’t too interested in the giant T-Rex in the lobby, nor the science theater showing short documentary films. Typical of my kids to ignore a gigantic T-Rex, as if seeing one is an everyday thing.

You don't have to pay admission if you just want to see the T-Rex in the lobby of the museum.

You don’t have to pay admission if you just want to see the T-Rex in the lobby of the museum.

They were a little more interested in the traveling exhibit, “Horse,” in the American Museum of Natural History Exhibition Hall. It’s geared more toward older children and adults, though the end of the exhibit does have some hands-on activities for the younger crowd.

The exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History Exhibition Hall, "Horse," is there through January.

The exhibit in the American Museum of Natural History Exhibition Hall, “Horse,” is there through Jan. 24, 2016.

 

“Horse” is at the museum through Jan. 24, 2016.

There’s also a gift shop and café in the museum.

One more shot of the exterior, please.

And I’ll just leave one more shot of the exterior right here.

If you go

Museum at Prairiefire

Where: 5801 W. 135th St., Overland Park, Kan.

When: Mondays through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday evenings, 5 to 7 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 5 p.m.

Cost: Admission to the Great Hall is FREE. All-access pass is $22 for adults (13+), $15 for kids (3-12); Discover Room is $8 for adults, $7 for kids; American Museum of Natural History Exhibition is $14 for adults, $8 for kids.

Website

Tip: The Museum at Prairiefire is near quite a few recommended places to eat. Try Rock and Brew (it has an outdoor, heated play area for kids) directly across the street from the museum or Nick and Jakes, just down the road.

Disclosure: A big thank you to Visit Overland Park for hosting my family’s visit to the city!

 

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