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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