January 28, 2019

My Missouri Bucket List

Missouri is a state I feel like I’ve only just started to explore – though I’ve spent a great deal of time in Kansas City and St. Louis. I’ve started thinking about a road trip through the state – where I’d stop if I had no time limit, no money limit, and let’s be real, no day job. That’s how I’ve come up with this Missouri bucket list. You may think I’ve left off some key things, and that’s cool. Let me know what shouldn’t be overlooked!

You won’t find much St. Louis and KC items on this bucket list, because, well, I’ve made those lists already. Same with Excelsior Springs (if it’s not on your Missouri bucket list, add The Elms right this minute).

Missouri Bucket List - All the things I want to do, see, eat and explore in #Missouri #USA. Includes caves, ruins, wild horses, and some throwed rolls. #familytravel #bucketlist

Dive through a mine

For this bucket list item, I’m going to have to learn to dive first! The Bonne Terre Mines look like a surreal experience – you’re pretty much scuba diving through an old mine. National Geographic Adventure named the diving experience one of the top 10 adventures in America. If I never learn to dive, there’s always an option of a boat tour.

Feed big cats

The National Tiger Sanctuary, just north of Branson, is home to rescued large cats. There are different types of tours to help the public learn more about the animals, but the one that sounds like a bucket list item is the chance to feed one of the cats. There’s also a behind-the-scenes tour that I could see my daughter loving.

Go into a cave (or 5,000)

Inside Meramec Caverns, Missouri's largest commercial cave.
Meramec Caverns is the largest commercial cave in the state of Missouri. It’s located in the heart of the Ozarks. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

Missouri has more than 5,000 caves, with the most “show caves” in the country. Some that I think merit a visit: Onondaga Cave (claims to have the largest cave living room in the world); Fantastic Caverns in Springfield (home to the only ride-through cave in the U.S.); Marvel Cave (located inside Silver Dollar City and is said to have been discovered by Osage Indians in the 1500s); and two caves in Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Robber’s Cave and the Counterfeiter’s Cave (rumored to have been hideouts for outlaws). The largest of the commercial caves is Meramec Caverns.

Step back into time

My son is fascinated by historic sites, so a trip through Missouri wouldn’t be complete without stopping at a few historic homes. In Diamond, we can set George Washington Carver’s birthplace and see where nature first inspired him as a boy. Independence might be another stop for us in order to visit the Truman Home, a small home of Bess and Harry S. Truman. I’m on the fence about that one since you can only see it by guided tour, and my kids have a 50-50 track record of dealing well with guided tours.

Chase some waterfalls

I’m obsessed with waterfalls (probably because we have so few in Nebraska). Some of the Missouri waterfalls I’d love to see include Rocky Falls near Eminence, Mo., and Crooked Creek Falls in the Ouachita National Forest. Both of these are in the Ozarks. Missouri Life has some of the most picturesque waterfalls here.

Try a natural waterslide

And while I’m on the topic of waterfalls, let’s talk about a natural waterslide. Water flows over smooth boulders at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, making it a perfect place to cool off. Because of it, it’s one of the most popular state parks in the Ozarks.

Canoe the Current

Two kayakers floating down the Current River, part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverway
The Current River is part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

My husband planted the idea in my mind that we should canoe the Current River long ago, and I still think about it. Its crystal clear water and gorgeous scenery sound great. The Current River is just one of a couple rivers that are part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The other rivers are the Eleven Point and the Jacks Fork (so I guess I have some options). Together they are Missouri’s largest national park. There’s a hidden swimming hole that I’d love to see called Bluff Hole, located where the Jacks Fork River widens.

Go to the drive-in

They’re a dying breed, aren’t they? 66 Drive-In Theatre in Carthage is seasonal and said to be the last on this famous highway. This isn’t the only drive-in in Missouri, FYI. I could go to Sunset Drive-In Theater in Springfield and feel like I’ve stepped back in time to the 1950s. 

See some ruins

An overhead drone photo of the castle ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park in Missouri
The castle-like ruins at Ha Ha Tonka State Park are the remains of a mansion that was destroyed by fire in the 1940s. Photo courtesy Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitors Bureau

Near the Current River, there are for-real ruins. Apparently, there isn’t a good address for Welch Spring Hospital Ruins, so I found this post that gives some good directions (just scroll down midway through the post). Ha Ha Tonka State Park, near the Lake of the Ozarks, is home to castle-like ruins, too. Ha Ha Tonka sounds totally amazing. According to “Missouri Off The Beaten Path,” “The complex of caves, underground streams, large springs, sinkholes, and natural bridges at Ha Ha Tonka State Park makes it one of the country’s most important geological sites.”

Stay in a treehouse

The River Of Life Farm is a resort in the Ozarks with treehouse-like cabins. Beauty of the place is it in the heart of Mark Twain National Forest. I personally want to go to hike or canoe, but they are known for having excellent fly fishing.

Catch a throwed roll

I confess to already doing this, but it’s on this list since I feel my kids should experience having a hot roll chucked at their heads, too. Lambert’s Cafe is in two towns in Missouri (the original is in Sikeston, the other is in Ozark). Expect huge portions along with a wait if you go.

Bike the Katy Trail

A biker on the KATY Trail in Missouri
The KATY Trail is a 237-mile trail that runs through Missouri. This photo was taken near
Cooper’s Landing Campground and Marina. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

One of these days, I’m going to plan a weekend trip along the KATY Trail with my husband, stopping for a winery or brewery along the way. It’s flat, it’s scenic, and at 237 miles long, it’s the nation’s longest “rails-to-trail” project. So, um, maybe we’ll just bike part of it. This post in Southern Living has inspired me, though, especially about the B&Bs along the route. One that sounds great is the H.S. Clay House (it even has a pool and hot tub). And we’ll need to eat while we’re doing all this biking. Apparently, bikers in-the-know know to stop for some grub at Cooky’s in Golden City.

Find Charley’s Buffet

Hidden somewhere in a Mennonite community in Lake of the Ozarks is Charley’s Buffet, home to Mennonite-cooked and -served food that has people lining up every Friday and Saturday night.

Explore Route 66

Route 66 passes through Missouri including through the entire Ozarks. I read about a few places to visit just off the historic highway. There’s the scenic Devil’s Elbow, with nearby barbecue joint Elbow Inn and 40-foot-high wooden railroad trestle bridge. Then, there’s Lebanon, where the Route 66 Museum and Research Center is located.

Wine & dine in Missouri’s Wine Country

People having a picnic at Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Mo.
Stone Hill Winery was built in 1847 in Hermann, Mo. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

Missouri has a lot going on, in terms of wine, in the southeastern part of the state. This includes towns of Defiance, Marthasville, New Haven, and Hermann. Hermann has 10 wineries in the area as well as a couple microbreweries and distilleries. The town has several popular festivals like and Wurstfest and Maifest in the spring and Octoberfest in the fall. It is home to Stone Hills Winery which was built in 1847 and, up until prohibition, it was the second largest winery in the U.S. My friends in St. Louis tell me Hermann is the place to go but I wonder if the smaller down they might have overlooked are with visiting too.

Stay in a caboose

Staying in a caboose is going to keep popping up on my bucket lists for states until I stay at one. I’ve come across a couple in Missouri. Cozy Caboose is located at the St. Louis West KOA campground on Route 66. And this one isn’t your ordinary caboose. It’s decked out with a kitchen, queen bed and bunk bed, and more importantly heating and Wi-Fi. There’s also a place off the KATY Trail called Cruces’ Cabooses B&B with two cabooses for lodging. They come fully-equipped and are nestled in the woods.

Randy’s Roadkill BBQ and Grill

Randy’s Roadkill BBQ and Grill in Rolla intrigues me. Even though I’ve heard there is no actual roadkill on the menu at the restaurant, I feel like I have to go and see for myself. And then by the T-shirt.

See mastodon skeletons

Mastodon State Historic Site has a pretty interesting story behind it: The first evidence of mastodons were discovered there. And it almost didn’t become a public park – it took a group of persistent housewives to stop the archeological site from being sold to developers. According to the book “Missouri Off-The-Beaten-Path, ” four women fundraised and pestered state officials until it became a state park. 

Walk on a swinging bridge (or two)

Southwest Missouri is home to two swinging bridges that are just about 1,000 feet apart from each other. Grand Auglaize Swinging Bridge and Mill Creek Swinging Bridge are near Brummell. There are two near Osage Beach as well, though I read they were rather rickety. Like my fascination with caves, I’ve got an inexplicable interest for swinging bridges.

Have a phosphate at the soda fountain where Truman used to work

Clinton’s, located in Independence Missouri, is a legit old-timey soda fountain complete with the marble counter the uniformed soda jerks. This is where Harry S Truman got his first job. I think I’ll order a malt when we’re there.

Have a 19th-century meal by candlelight

Fort Osage National Historic Landmark is known for historical re-enactments. I could see visiting the fort during the day with the kids and then at night, return for an authentic 19th century dinner and entertainment hearthside in the factory’s dining room.

See the wild horses

Wild horses at Echo Bluff State Park in Missouri
Missouri is home to herds of wild horses who roam Shannon County. These horses were at Echo Bluff State Park. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

I’d heard about wild horses of North Carolina, but I’m surprised to know that there are herds in the Midwest, too. Missouri is home to herds of wild horses in Shannon County. They been roaming for more than 100 years and include the Broadfoot herd, Grassy herds , and Shawnee Creek herd.

Experience Ozarks circa mid-1800s

The Ozarks are is home to several festivals throughout the year, including the Hillbilly Fair in Laurie. The one that intrigues me the most is the Osage River Rendezvous and Mountain Man Festival held the third weekend in September. Here people dressed in period clothes re-create what it was like when fur traders and other early pioneers would gather to socialize, barter, trade and, perhaps, throw a knife or two. 

Buy the monks’ fruitcake

There is a group of Trappist monks in an abbey deep in the Ozarks near Ava. The Assumption Abbey has a bakery where they make more than 30,000 fruitcakes annually. I’m not a fruitcake fan but I hear they’re delicious (and also 2 pounds each). 

Hike by the Elephant Rocks

Hikers pass by the large boulders at Elephant Rocks State Park in Missouri.
The granite boulders at Elephant Rocks State Park were formed more than a billion years ago. Photo courtesy Missouri Division of Tourism

Just look at that picture of the boulders at Elephant Rocks State Park in Belleview! Don’t you also want to see them in real life? These huge granite boulders that were formed more than a billion years ago. The largest rock in the park is 25 feet high.

Be a cowgirl

One of these days I’m going to stay at a dude ranch. Blame it on “City Slickers.” Missouri has an option – Bucks and Spurs Guest Ranch. Families to stay here and do hands-on work at the horse and cattle ranch.

See Dogwood

I’ve read about Dogwood Canyon Nature Park near Lampe. This nature preserve in the Ozarks is the work of the founder of Bass Pro Shops. I’ve seen pictures and it’s quite picturesque. I’d love to take a bike tour around it, though there are also options of taking a guided horseback or tram tour.

Huge list of things to do in Missouri including obscure festivals, adventures and outdoor pursuits to add to any bucket list. #bucketlist #Missouri #USA

Get more Missouri Bucket List Inspiration

I’ve been pinning ideas I’ve found for months, more than could fit on this list. Check out my Missouri Road Trip Board for additional travel inspiration for the Show Me State:

https://www.pinterest.com/ohmyomaha/missouri-road-trips/
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 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.

Tips for visiting LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Kansas City #Missouri #KC #familytravel

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.
Wizard made out of LEGOs at LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Kansas City
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, because I didn’t think the KC rides were nearly as impressive.

The Merlin's Apprentice ride at LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Kansas City
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.

The 4D movie theater seats at LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Kansas City
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.

A tunnel in the play area at LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Kansas City
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.

A racetrack you can operate at Miniland inside LEGOLAND Discover Center in Kansas City
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.

The drawing and building space at LEGOLAND Discover Center in Kansas City
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.

* * * * *

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

A Family Guide To Crown Center

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 this year to be a year of beauty and wonder for my kids. How about you? 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.

10 beautiful destination in the Midwest | Family-friendly places to visit in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota #Midwest #familytravel #outdoors

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

Monster Tree at Botanica Wichita in Kansas
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

View of Clear Lake, Iowa at sunset
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

Castle structure at Coronado Heights Park in Lindsborg, Kansas
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

Creek at Ledges State Park in central Iowa
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

Hiking in part of the Loess Hills at Preparation Canyon State Park in Iowa
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

Bridge in the Japanese Garden in Missouri Botanical Garden in Saint Louis
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

Nebraska's tallest waterfall, 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

Walking stones in Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park in South Dakota
Hiking around Sylvan Lake at Custer State Park.

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 off a small cliff into Table Rock Lake in Missouri
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

The trail into Toadstool Geological Park in western Nebraska
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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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.