October 10, 2018

Things To Do In Excelsior Springs

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.

Things to do in Excelsior Springs

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.

The Elms Hotel & Spa is an easy walk to downtown Excelsior Springs, Mo.

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 Brewing Co. opened in April 2018 in downtown Excelsior Springs.

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. 

I tried a beer flight at Dubious Claims Brewing Co. My favorite, by far, was the kolsch.

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.

Wabash BBQ on a live music night.

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.

The Hall of Waters was once a water bar where people could sample different “healing” spring waters.

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. 

Hall of Waters & Excelsior Springs Visitor's Center
The Hall of Waters is on the Excelsior Springs self-guided water springs walking tour. It’s also a pretty easy walk from The Elms Hotel & Spa.

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 Hall of Waters is on the Excelsior Springs self-guided water springs walking tour. It’s also a pretty easy walk from the hotel.

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.

Storefront of the clothing boutique 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. 

Taking a break from our bike ride at Watkins Mill State Park to check out hte scenery.

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.

Watkins Woolen Mill is a national historic landmark located near Excelsior Springs.

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 dives into the area’s agricultural history as well as the significance of the mill.

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.

Posing by the Watkins house at the Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site. If you take the tour, you can enter the house and learn more about the Watkins family.

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. 

The treelined path to the mill at the historic park.

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. 

The garden patio is adjacent to the tasting room at Van Till Family Farm & Winery.

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.

The Elms was first built in 1888, though this current structure is the third incarnation of the historic hotel. The first two suffered fire damages. This building opened in 1912.

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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Weekend getaway to Excelsior Springs, Missouri - Fun things to do including bike ride, visiting a national historic landmark, trying local beer and wine, and seeing The Hall of Waters
Guide to a weekend in Excelsior Springs - Where to eat, where to try local beers and wine, and details on a mineral springs walking tour and a scenic bike trail
September 28, 2018

The Elms: Perfect Couples Getaway Near Kansas City

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.

The historic Elms Hotel & Spa in Excelsior Springs, just outside Kansas City, is a great getaway for couples. Go for the spa services & Grotto, and then stay for the food, friendly employees & history. #Missouri #USA #romantic #getaway

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.

Entrance to The Elms Hotel & Spa in Excelsior Springs, Missouri
The Elms was first built in 1888, though this current structure is the third incarnation of the historic hotel. The first two suffered fire damages. This building opened in 1912, and it’s designed to be fire-proof.

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.

Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs
The Elms Hotel & Spa at sunset.

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.

Everything is pretty grand when it comes to The Elms, including the service.

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. 

Quiet room at the spa in The Elms Hotel & Spa
I dare any parent to rest in the Quiet Room at the Elms spa and not doze off.

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.

The indoor lap pool at The Elms is pretty uniquely designed.

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.

The hot tub in the Grotto is spacious.

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. 

Grotto at The Elms
Four of the Grotto’s features are pictured here. From left is the dry sauna, steam sauna, hot tub, and steam shower. To the right, just out of view, is the cold plunge shower.

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. 

A king-size bed room at The Elms Hotel & Spa. Our room was on the fifth floor, where we had access to the Royal Treatment Lounge.

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 breakfast spread on a weekend morning at the Royal Treatment Lounge, located on the fifth floor of The Elms Hotel & Spa.

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 pastries display at The Cafe located just near the main entrance to The Elms.

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 Elms’ main restaurant, 88, features a more upscale menu for lunch and dinner, as well as a brunch.

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. 

Hall of Waters & Excelsior Springs Visitor's Center
The Hall of Waters is on the Excelsior Springs self-guided water springs walking tour. It’s also a pretty easy walk from the hotel.

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). 

Elms Hotel pool at sunset
Just beyond the pool and the gazebo is a great lawn to stroll, where you’ll find the chef’s herb and vegetable garden, a few tables and horseshoes.

And if tours aren’t your thing, just take a walk on the grounds of The Elms. 

If you go

Elms Spa & Spa

Where: 401 Regent St., Excelsior Springs, Mo.

Website

Looking for a romantic or relaxing couples getaway? The Elms Hotel & Spa in Missouri fits the bill - A large spa, attentive employees, and the Royal Treatment - all packaged in a historic building #Missouri #USA #ExcelsiorSprings #hotelreview

Read more about Excelsior Springs

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.

Dubious Claims Brewing Co. is located within walking distance of The Elms Hotel & Spa.

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January 15, 2018

Midwest Restaurants With Memorable Breakfasts

In the Midwest, breakfast is not just the most important meal of the day, it’s the best. As a travel blogger who specializes in this region, I’ve had a few stand-out breakfasts at Midwest restaurants, but I’m always on the hunt for the next one to visit. So, I asked the experts, those have frequented more than a few: Midwest travel bloggers.

This group has some fantastic suggestions!

Here’s a collection of the most memorable breakfast experiences at Midwest restaurants:

Illinois

Charlie Parker’s Diner, Springfield, Ill.

“The breakfast horseshoes are so good. And they make a gigantic pancake that is served on a pizza pan. Also just super fun nostalgic place – interesting quanset hut building.” Recommended by Carrie, who wrote about it at Chicago Foodie Sisters

Jellyfish, Chicago, Ill.

“The brunch menu includes a variety of signature cocktails, soups and salads and sharing plates of everything from stuffed french toast to eel benedict to fruit sushi.” Recommended by Carrie, who wrote about it at Chicago Foodie Sisters

The Goldmoor Inn, Galena, Ill.

“French toast with peaches and waffles with wild blueberries were the stars of our mornings. You can always order eggs made to order if you’d like something other than the daily specialty. Fresh muffins and scones from their pastry chef Tara were decadent and delicious.” Recommended by Sue, who wrote about it at Food Travelist

SafeHouse Chicago, Chicago, Ill.

“I went to their new brunch a few months ago and it was a very cool experience! It is a James Bond spied theme restaurant with a themed brunch menu.” Recommended by Jamie, who wrote about it at Corn Fields and High Heels

Sunda, Chicago, Ill.

“My favorite would probably be the Tempura French Toast. The Oxtail Potstickers were pretty awesome, too.” Recommended by Carrie, who wrote about her brunch experience there at Chicago Foodie Sisters

Timmerman’s Supper Club, East Dubuque, Ill.

“Timmerman’s Supper Club offers an amazing Sunday brunch buffet complete with mimosas and awesome bluff top views over the Mississippi River! The buffet features a range of typical breakfast items, a fruit and salad bar, a taco station, a huge selection of desserts and a live omelette and carved meat station. There’s something for everyone…make sure you visit with an empty stomach!” Recommended by Kylie, who wrote about it at Between England and Iowa

Indiana

Cafe Patachou, Indianapolis, Ind.

“Really good upscale breakfast that was featured in Bon Apetit magazine as a top breakfast spot in the county. Nice downtown location overlooking capitol grounds.” Recommended by Carrie, who wrote about it at Chicago Foodie Sisters

Creighton’s Crazy Egg Cafe & Coffee Bar, Warsaw, Ind.

“Small town, farm-themed restaurant that will take you by surprise. A pleasant surprise! Simple but unique menu and a full-coffee bar. Located in the middle of nowhere, on a farm!” Recommended by Jamie, who writes at Cornfields and High Heels

Eggshell BistroCarmel, Ind. 

“… stepping inside the Eggshell Bistro is like stepping into a Parisian cafe except here no passport is required…Order a coffee, ask for a recommendation if needed, sit back and enjoy the ambiance of this bistro while forgetting that your feet are still firmly planted on American soil. The menu is an eclectic mix of international flavors and all the menu items have an egg included in it. When you go be sure to order the Kedgeree: house-smoked/sorghum-glazed wild salmon, jasmine rice, curried-spice mix, onion, caper, scallion, soft-boiled hen’s egg. Seriously delicious!” Recommended by Deb, who included the restaurant in her post “Fantastic Foodie Finds + More In Hamilton And Hendricks Counties Indiana” at Just Short of Crazy

Grilled cheese at Milktooth in Indianapolis. Photo courtesy Emily Hines

Herrold on Hill, Wabash, Ind.

“Breakfast was the crowning glory of our stay…Alan made us some amazing protein waffles with strawberries and blueberries and double smoked ham Sandy topped off our meal with a fresh tomato and basil salad because, ‘We have vegetables at every meal.’” Recommended by Cindy, who wrote about it at Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl 

Milktooth, Indianapolis, Ind.

“Named one of the best restaurants in the WORLD by CondeNast Traveler, Milktooth in Indianapolis is an all breakfast/brunch restaurant located in the heart of Indianapolis. This ‘fine diner’ serves up the classics with a twist: Think dutch baby with manchego cheese, grapefruit, and brussel sprouts and a grilled cheese topped with truffle honey and a duck egg. Their award winning food makes this place insanely busy, especially on the weekends but it is worth the wait!” Recommended by Emily, who wrote about it at Em’s On The Road

Iowa

Caroline’s in the Hotel Julien, Dubuque, Iowa

“Classic breakfasts like biscuits & gravy and sweet and unique choices like bananas foster’s french toast are just the tip of the iceberg. Impeccable service and small touches like a saucer with your coffee make this dining experience top notch!” Recommended by Katy, who wrote about it at Flint & Co.

Country Kitchen, Marion, Iowa

“Country Kitchen in Marion, Iowa has the fastest service and most delicious breakfast options around. I could eat there all day with the selection they have but I enjoy their breakfast most. Kids love their chocolate chip pancakes and parents love their value” Recommended by Melissa from ThirtySomethingSuperMom

PM Park, Clear Lake, Iowa

On our first visit to Clear Lake, I was determined to have a lakefront meal. It wasn’t as easy to find a place as I had anticipated, but luckily, there was PM Park. While our meal was being prepared, the kids played on the pirate ship outside and I could sit inside sipping my coffee. Try the french cake (pretty much a french toast pancake). I wrote about it in the Great Iowa Road Trip post.

 

Kansas

The Chef, Manhattan, Kan.

“In a college town where fast-food chains dominate the breakfast scene, The Chef stands out. While there’s nearly always a wait, you can sip coffee and create a sidewalk chalk masterpiece to help pass the time. The Pancakes Bananas Foster and Buenos Dias Frittata are two of our family favorites!” Recommended by Sage from Everyday Wander.

You can watch your breakfast being made if you sit at the counter at Doo Dah Diner.

Doo-Dah Diner, Wichita, Kan.

“…perhaps the best restaurant breakfast meal of my life! Here, cooked from scratch breakfast and lunch items fill the menu. You will drool just reading the descriptions!” Recommended by Melody on The Yum originally and reshared on Visit Wichita (her primary blog is Whereever I May Roam)

Michigan

Breakfast at Tiffiny’s, Portage, Mich.

“Made fresh/from scratch and great healthy choices! Serves lunch too…but breakfast all day!” Recommended by Joan at Gramcracker Crumbs

Bunde’s Bakery, South Haven, Mich.

“Bunde’s Bakery is an adorable neighborhood coffee shop you’ll want to pop into during your summer beach vacation. Grab a delicious cinnamon roll with your latte but get there early if you want your pick of the baked goods and breakfast sandwiches.” Recommended by Lindsay, who wrote about South Haven at Let Me Give You Some Advice

Minnesota

Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis, Minn.

“Hell’s Kitchen service staff wears their jammies, ridiculously scary decor and really good food.” Recommended by Diana, who wrote about it at Mojotraveler

Mickey’s Diner in St. Paul is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mickey’s Diner, St. Paul, Minn.

“If you want a unique breakfast experience, we recommend Mickey’s Diner in downtown St. Paul. It’s a dining car that has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can sit on a stool at the counter and watch the cooks fry your bacon and flip your pancakes. My family loves the blueberry pancakes. Breakfast is served 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! I also have a general post about how small town cafes serve up the best breakfast you’ve never had! We could eat breakfast for three meals a day!” Recommended by Victoria, who included the diner in her Small Town Cafes roundup on the blog That Was A First

Note: I’ll second this recommendation! They put some magic in their omelets. I’ve never had one so fluffy and cooked absolutely perfectly. It was one of our favorite restaurant stops during our Great Minnesota Weekend.

World’s Best Donuts, Grand Marais, Minn.

“The cake donuts alone make the World’s Best Donuts worthy of its moniker: Lighter in texture than a traditional cake donut, superb when coated with a thick dusting of cinnamon sugar. There are also raised donuts, twists (try the chocolate covered one), cream or jam-filled bismarks, long johns, apple and blueberry turnovers, jam-filled croissants, caramel pull-aparts, and cream cheese and maple swirls. A small selection of gluten-free items is also available, baked off-site at a gluten-free facility. Besides the cake donuts, my favorite item was the skizzle, a flat piece of fried dough coated with sugar–basically a thin version of American Indian fry bread.” Recommended by Stacy, who wrote about it on Tangled Up In Food

Missouri

Cielo at the Four Seasons, St. Louis, Mo.

The winner of the best view at breakfast in the Midwest has to be handed to Cielo, located on the rooftop of the Four Seasons. Definitely order the chicken and waffles.

Eggtc, Kansas City, Mo.

Eggtc is regularly featured on “best of” breakfast lists for Kansas City for good reason: It’s delicious. What made it all the more memorable (from a tired, traveling parent’s point of view), was the waitress thoughtfully got us a to-go cup for our coffee after we were done with breakfast. I wrote about it in 24 Hours In KC With Kids.

Gailey’s Breakfast Cafe, Springfield, Mo.

“History and modern convenience meet at Gailey’s Breakfast Cafe in Springfield, Missouri. An open kitchen allowed us to watch the cooks prepare our unique dishes in this renovated turn-of-the-century pharmacy building. Try a Freedom Waffle for a cheery and colorful way to start your day.” Recommended by Jeff, who wrote about it at Our Changing Lives

Fruit display at the brunch served at The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks. Photo courtesy Postcard Jar

The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks, Branson, Mo.

“The Sunday brunch at College of the Ozarks was amazing! Sunday brunch at College of the Ozarks is more than a meal — it’s an experience. We enjoyed a leisurely brunch in the beautiful Keeter Center there which included full breakfast selections and personalized omelets and waffles all made with farm-fresh ingredients grown on the campus. Details like an ice sculpture, hand-cut fresh seasonal fruits, domestic and imported cheeses, crudités, and made-to-order Caesar salads took brunch to a new level. We loved the award-winning carved ham and were entertained by students who sang and played the piano while we dined.” Recommended by Ann who writes Postcard Jar Travel Blog with her husband, Steve

Nebraska

Culprit, Omaha, Neb.

“I adore Culprit. Their specialty donuts and morning buns are a great welcome-to-Omaha breakfast when you’ve just picked someone up from the airport and want to simultaneously nourish, spoil and impress them — but need to save room for lunch. If you’re feeling more indulgent, you can linger over their perfect, decadent quiche and a Spanish coffee.” Recommended by Jenna, who writes The Beaspora

The Green Gateau, Lincoln, Neb.

This charming downtown Lincoln restaurant has the feel of a European bistro. The food is exceptional and fresh. I always add a beignet to my order. And a mimosa. Always a mimosa. Expect a wait for brunch if you don’t have reservations.

Upstream Brewing Co., Omaha, Neb.

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is have breakfast outside at Upstream Brewing Co., while watching the farmers market shoppers. I usually order the french toast. For more Omaha dining recommendations, read this post.

Ohio

Bagel Street Deli, Athens, Ohio

“Best bagel sandwich I’ve had to date at Bagel Street Deli in Athens.” Recommended by Nedra at Adventure Mom

Oklahoma

Dilly Diner, Tulsa, Okla.

“Dilly Diner treats their employees amazing, and their food is absolutely amazing. Their employees are genuine and sweet. Feels like home.” Recommended by Linda

Waffle Champion, Oklahoma City, Okla.

“Flip the menu – one side is sweeter offerings, the other more savory (think bacon, egg, and cheese, or fried chicken) and all of it is delicious. I had the Blueberry Sunrise waffle: blueberry-thyme compote, lemon goat cheese spread, with an oat crumble sprinkled on top. When I asked if they could add pecans, the answer was, ‘Sure! Are espresso pecans all right?’ Um, YEAH, duh.” Recommended by Sheila, who wrote about it in a post called “5 Places to Live Like Local” on the blog Perceptive Travel

South Dakota

And the winner of the tastiest donut in Wall, South Dakota, goes to…the maple donut.

Wall Drug, Wall, S.D.

Wall Drug is about the cheesiest and touristy stop you can have in South Dakota, and it will also be one of the most memorable. For quick but very tasty breakfast, wait in line and get yourself one of their famous cake donuts. I sampled all of their flavors, and can confidently tell you to order the maple donut. I included Wall Drug in this post about our Nebraska and South Dakota Adventure.

Wisconsin

Frank’s DinerKenosha, Wis.

“Frank’s Diner is in an old street car diner. Very cool. And you have to get the garbage plate. Delish!” Recommended by Carrie, who wrote about it at Chicago Foodie Sisters. Sheila from Perceptive Travel also recommended Frank’s Diner, writing “Two visits to this town. Two breakfasts at Frank’s Diner in downtown Kenosha. Batting 1.000 so far.”

Mocha Moment, Janesville, Wis.

“It’s a family-owned and operated coffee shop and cafe in Janesville, Wisconsin. Tucked away from the road, it’s surrounded by the woods. The owners’ son sources and roasts their coffee, and all the delicious pastries are made in house. It’s definitely a local hot spot and was packed with regulars the morning I visited.” Recommended by Erin, who included it in her post about the 10 Best Breakfast Spots of 2017 post on The Epicurean Traveler

Simple Cafe/Simple Bakery & Market, Lake Geneva, Wis.

“Simple Cafe/Simple Bakery & Market is a favorite of locals and in-the-know visitors. The farm-to-table fare features fresh twists on breakfast classics and designer omelettes. The menu changes with the season (pumpkin bread pudding anyone?) Their bakery’s chocolate croissants are TO DIE FOR.” Recommended by Tabitha, who wrote about it at Trippin’ Midwest Mama

 

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January 3, 2018

5 Things To Know About LEGOLAND Discovery Center

You’d think after nearly a half-dozen visits to Kansas City with the kids, you’d think we would have gone to LEGOLAND Discovery Center by now. We have a son that’s really into LEGOs. We finally made it to the Crown Center attraction this winter, and here’s the takeaway from the experience.

Disclosure: I was provided complimentary admission to visit LEGOLAND Discovery Center so I could write about it.

5 things to know about LEGOLAND Discovery Center

1. LEGOLAND Discovery Center is not the same thing as LEGOLAND.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centers bill themselves as smaller versions of LEGOLAND, but having been to both, I’d say that’s a bit of a stretch. They are owned by the same company, and they are similar in that:

  • Both are inspired by the blocks and feature a ton of really amazing LEGO sculptures
  • Both have rides.
  • You can build things at both.

LEGO Merlin at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Kansas City.

By their nature of being indoors, Discovery Centers are much smaller than LEGOLAND theme parks. The good news is that the lines are way more tolerable than LEGOLAND theme park lines. In fact, we had no wait for either ride at LEGOLAND Discovery Center KC.

Have reasonable expectations and you’ll enjoy the experience.

2. The rides shouldn’t be your main draw here.

Before visiting the Kansas City LEGOLAND Discovery Center, I had a friend tell me there were two rides there and her kids only wanted to go on those rides over and over again. So, I assumed they were super cool. Well…I guess LEGOLAND San Diego set some high standards.

As Merlin’s Apprentice Ride spun around, you could control the height of your seats by the speed of your pedaling.

The rides in KC are indeed good rides for kids, particularly for the early elementary age or younger crowd. Older kids may be bored. But don’t discount a good target shooting ride. If you ever played Ninetendo or Playstation, you’ll probably enjoy the Kingdom Quest.

But do not assume these rides will be like LEGOLAND theme park rides. Remember the whole “indoor attraction” thing? These rides are on the small side.

3. Don’t skip the 4D cinema.

It’s tempting to think a 10-minute movie is skippable, but don’t do it.

Glasses on and all ready for the 4D movie to begin at LEGOLAND Discovery Center KC.

It’s pretty entertaining getting “sneezed” on by a dragon in a movie or feeling the snowfall you see on screen.

4. Expect to spend about two hours here.

How much time you spend at the Kansas City LEGOLAND Discover Center depends on a few factors, including just how into LEGO detail work your kids are, how easy you can get them out of the climbing area, and whether your kiddos need a nap.

My daughter did not want to leave the play area inside LEGOLAND Discovery Center.

We spent less than two hours here since we had a long drive home, but I could see it lasting longer. Take into consideration some of the daily programs there, and whether or not your kid is prone to riding rides over and over again.

Your kids will likely run pass some pretty cool things, like MIniland, that you may want to linger in to see the exquisite detail of things. The Miniland in KC was pretty impressive.

The Miniland inside LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Kansas City has quite a few KC landmarks made out of LEGOs, as well as this interactive race car track.

5. Get down and build alongside your littles.

It’s tempting to sit down and watch, but things get a whole lot more enjoyable when you get down and build with your kids. I designed my own square for a wall quilt and helped my son build a race car. There are 10 building areas at LEGOLAND Discovery Center. Good times, and good memories, for sure.

There are 10 areas where families can create LEGO structures, including one with earthquake tables and a race car track to test out your engineering skills.

If you go

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Kansas City

Where: 2475 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.

Cost: $15 to visit if you purchase online in advance; in-person tickets will cost at least $4 more per person. Kids under 2 are FREE.

TIP: LEGOLAND Discovery Center is right next to SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium, and you can usually purchase tickets together for a better price.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Kansas City is near a lot of great attractions around Crown Center. Here’s a family guide to Crown Center.

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Want more KC family vacation ideas?

Our WinterFest visit was part of a 24-hour trip to Kansas City, packed with a ton of fun, great food, and beautiful sights. Be sure to read all about our adventures:

24 Hours In Kansas City With Kids

Tips For WinterFest At Worlds Of Fun

Kid-Friendly Indoor Activities For KC Winter Getaways – Jan. 11

 

Looking for more things to do during the holidays? Here’s a post with 15+ fun things to do in Kansas during the holidays and a KC Holidays Bucket List.

If you have a little more time for your visit, check out fun things to do in the winter with kids in Kansas City or see what family-friendly activities are near Worlds of Fun.

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Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

 

December 30, 2017

10 Beautiful Midwest Destinations For Families

I’d like 2018 to be a year of beauty and wonder for my kids. The good news is that you don’t have to travel far to encounter some truly beautiful or unique places. There are so many beautiful Midwest destinations! Here are a few of my family’s favorites so you, too, can have a year of beauty and wonder with your family.

I’m stilling brainstorming where we may go in 2018, so I’d love your suggestions! Where in the Midwest should I go with my family for beautiful sights and wonder-inducing experiences?

 

Botanica, The Wichita Gardens

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

Where: Wichita, Kan.

Why it’s beautiful: Obviously, being a botanical garden, things are going to be beautiful. Must-see pretty spots at Botanica include the koi pond and Chinese Friendship Garden.

Why kids will like it: You must take the kids to the whimsical Downing Children’s Garden to see the Monster Woods, musical maze, the familiar storybook character statues. and, being Kansas, the yellow brick road.

Read more about this kid-favorite destination!

 

Clear Lake

The view from the top of the carousel at Clear Lake’s Fourth of July celebration.

Where: Clear Lake, Iowa

Why it’s beautiful: Like most Midwestern lakes, there’s a beautiful of the sky reflecting on the water and the serene appeal of quiet, lapping waves on a shore. But, the bonus with Clear Lake is that it’s a getaway without being far from modern conveniences. The town of Clear Lake is literally right at the water’s edge.

Why kids will like it: There are a couple beaches to choose from where kids where it’s shallow enough for littles to enter the water safely. My kids particularly remember Clear Lake for its Fourth of July festival…and the chance to stay overnight in a yurt.

Want to stay in a yurt? Here’s a post about the only yurts in Iowa you can stay in. 

 

Coronado Heights Park

Coronado Heights Park has a structure that looks strikingly like a castle to young children (and grown ups with big imaginations).

Where: Lindsborg, Kan.

Why it’s beautiful: Coronado Heights sits on a sandstone bluff looking over flat pastures. The beauty is the view, yes, but also the stark contrast of an ancient-looking castle set on the plains.

Why kids will like it: The castle, obviously. It’s not really a castle, but go ahead and let them believe there was once a small, medieval castle just northwest of Lindsborg.

Bonus: Don’t just visit the park and miss out on the charming town of Lindsborg. The town wears its Swedish heritage with pride, and it’s utterly charming to visit.

We tacked on a visit to Coronado Heights during our weekend trip to Wichita. Read about that stop here!

 

Ledges State Park

We looked for rocks in the shallow river that flowed through Ledges State Park.

Where: Madrid, Iowa

Why it’s beautiful: This park is an unexpected treasure in the middle of Iowa. The walk along the sandstone gorge carved out by a tributary of the Des Moines River is unforgettable.

Why kids will like it: Playing in the water is a big draw, but part of the fun, too, is Canyon Drive, a route that passes through the sandstone gorge and is often partly submerged under water. The bigger the splash, the better.

 

Loess Hills

They don’t call them the Loess Hills for nothing. Don’t expect a flat hike at Preparation Canyon State Park.

Where: Western Iowa and Missouri

Why it’s beautiful: We’ve hiked a few trails in western Iowa’s Loess Hills, and each have had their own unique beauty about them. Trails along these unique formations can sometimes lead to rolling hills or steep bluffs, and have views of prairies or forests. You’ll find them along the eastern edge of the Missouri River flood plain.

Why kids will like it: This is Midwest nature at its purest.

Here are three hikes in the Loess Hills to consider!

 

Missouri Botanical Garden

The Japanese Garden at Missouri Botanical Garden is 14 acres with bridges, waterfalls and peaceful nooks.

Where: St. Louis, Mo.

Why it’s beautiful: This huge botanical garden has a space that appeals to everyone, but the most beautiful, to me at least, is the 14-acre Japanese Garden. It’s peaceful with its path around the lake, and everywhere you look, you see pure beauty.

Why kids will like it: The kids enjoyed feeding the Koi fish at the Japanese Garden and looking for turtles around lake. However, you’d be making a huge mistake if you skip the seasonal Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden. It’s a lot of fun (pack their swimsuits).

They don’t call this place one of the most beautiful gardens in the U.S. for nothing! Read why here.

 

Smith Falls

A view of Smith Falls on a sunny day.

Where: Cherry County, Nebraska (nearest city is Valentine, Neb.)

Why it’s beautiful: Located in Smith Falls State Park, this 63-foot waterfall is the tallest in Nebraska. You don’t forget the first time you ever see this waterfall.

Why kids will like it: You hear the waterfall before you actually see it, which thrills children to no end. The fun part is that you can stand under the water, if you dare (it’s very cold no matter the season, and the water hits you pretty hard).

Bonus: Getting to Smith Falls from Omaha is half the fun – you drive through the beautiful Sandhills of Nebraska. Plus, most people opt to canoe the Niobrara River to Smith Falls State Park, which in my opinion, is another beautiful thing to experience.

Get Western Nebraska road trip inspiration to visit Smith Falls here!

 

Sylvan Lake

Where: Black Hills, South Dakota

Why it’s beautiful: Sylvan Lake is found within Custer State Park in South Dakota, which is itself, a truly unique and wonderful destination. Visit Custer, and make sure Sylvan Lake is on your list of stops. This gorgeous lake is a worthy destination for any family, either for an easy hike, water sports, or a waterside picnic.

Why kids will like it: The trail around lake is mostly easy, but there are some more challenging points that kids love. This is a spectacular spot to immerse yourself in nature.

Get inspired for a Black Hills road trip starting with this post!

 

Table Rock Lake

Jumping into Table Rock Lake to cool off in the summer.

Where: Stone County, Missouri

Why it’s beautiful: Table Rock Lake is a reservoir in the expansive Ozarks region of southern Missouri (and expands well into Arkansas). I particularly enjoyed Table Rock because it offered an peaceful escape from the frenzy of nearby Branson, Mo.

Why kids will like it: Water sports and small cliff jumping is a big appeal here. If you plan ahead, you can rent a houseboat to extend your stay on the water.

Toadstool Geologic Park

Nebraska’s own Badlands, AKA Toadstool Geological Park.

Where: Harrison, Neb.

Why it’s beautiful: This is Nebraska’s own Badlands. It’s off the beaten path, and much smaller than South Dakota’s Badlands, but park is just stunning to hike.

Why kids will like it: I suspect they like it because they’re imagining they’re on the moon. At least, that’s why I liked the park. Please note: The trail can be challenging for young children, and seriously panic-inducing for parents who bring their young children. Hike with care.

Read some Western Nebraska road trip inspiration in this post!

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Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

December 20, 2017

Staying Near Country Club Plaza in KC

One of the most-visited areas in Kansas City is the beautiful Country Club Plaza. There are few trips we make to KC that don’t involve a stop there.

Until recently, we’ve never stayed near there, though. If you’re looking for a hotel near Country Club Plaza, here’s what we found at Holiday Inn Country Club Plaza. It’s within walking distance to great shops and a ton of restaurants. Disclosure: Our stay was complimentary for this review.

Holiday Inn Amenities

We were in Kansas City for a quick holiday getaway, and we wanted to stay somewhere near some of our key activities like ice skating at Crown Center, playing at LEGOLAND Discovery Center and Science City, and hopefully, getting some shopping done. So, we opted for a hotel near the Country Club Plaza. It was nowhere near our third destination of the trip (Worlds of Fun).

The lobby at the Holiday Inn in Kansas City was welcoming. You can’t see it, but off to the side was a Christmas tree for the season.

Traveling to big cities, parking can be costly. A great perk at Holiday Inn near Country Club Plaza is the complimentary self-parking. Having it underground is a bonus, especially in the winter.

My family includes two young kids so one big thing is a requirement for hotels: A pool. This Holiday Inn has one, but alas, it’s outdoors and open seasonally. To keep the kids occupied, you could check out an Xbox Connect or board games.

There’s actually a year-round outdoor pool in Kansas City, and I highly recommend it for families (read about it in the Sheraton Hotel review here). It’s not within walking distance of the Plaza, though.

Another nice amenity is the free wi-fi access at the hotel.

Holiday Inn Rooms

The Holiday Inn near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City had really comfy beds that were perfect to fall into after a busy day.

You can bet after a day of ice skating and strolling around Worlds of Fun’s WinterFest, the family was beyond tired. Our room at two double beds with the coziest pillows ever. The blackout curtains insured the kids slept in for as long as they needed.

Our room overlooked the pool courtyard, which I imagine would be nice other times of year. During the winter, there isn’t much to see.

Free Dining

I didn’t get a chance to dine at the Holiday Inn’s restaurant, but for families on a budget, here’s the deal: Up to four kids ages 11 and under eat free any time of the day in any Holiday Inn® on-site restaurant.

Walk to the Country Club Plaza

The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City is stunning any time of year. The architecture is beautiful. However, around the holidays, the KCP&L Plaza Lights at night add an extra “aww” factor to your visit. The Plaza Lights run Thanksgiving through Jan. 14 from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily.

It doesn’t get much more Christmas-y than this photo of the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Photo courtesy Visit KC

There are several other events at the Plaza besides the Plaza Lights. You can get event details here.

One more tip: If you’re looking for a great breakfast choice, eggtc. is a KC staple with a location less than a mile from the Holiday Inn. It’s very family-friendly, but you want to get there early to beat the local rush.

 

If you go

Holiday Inn Country Club Plaza

Where:

Book a stay!

 

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Want more KC family vacation ideas?

Our WinterFest visit was part of a 24-hour trip to Kansas City, packed with a ton of fun, great food, and beautiful sights. Be sure to read all about our adventures:

24 Hours In Kansas City With Kids

Tips For WinterFest At Worlds Of Fun

5 Things To Know About LEGOLAND Discovery Center

Kid-Friendly Indoor Activities For KC Winter Getaways – Jan. 11

 

Looking for more things to do during the holidays? Here’s a post with 15+ fun things to do in Kansas during the holidays and a KC Holidays Bucket List.

If you have a little more time for your visit, check out fun things to do in the winter with kids in Kansas City or see what family-friendly activities are near Worlds of Fun.

* * * * *

Get Travel Inspiration Delivered To Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.