When I first announced that I was moving from my hometown of Springfield to Kansas City, the general reaction from friends and neighbors was undisguised horror. "Nothing could be more boring than Kansas!" one friend even sputtered, while fixing me with a look of extreme sympathy. No doubt she was envisioning the stark black-and-white footage at the beginning of "The Wizard of Oz" and me getting swept away, head over heels, by tumbleweeds on the barren prairie.
But, more than 15 years later, I have fallen in love with Kansas City (and its neighboring college town, Lawrence, which I now call home). Far from being a flat, gray wasteland, Kansas City is a world-class destination, with rolling hills and more charm than you could shake a Wicked Witch's broomstick at. This former cowtown now has a cosmopolitan "feel," with more boulevards than Paris, and more working fountains (200!) than Rome.
There are actually two Kansas Cities-one in the state of Missouri and the other in Kansas. KC's State Line Road divides the two, so that if you straddled the middle of the road, you'd have a foothold in both Kansas and Missouri.
"Everything's up-to-date in Kansas City," as the song goes, and you'd need a month to explore all the modern attractions, shopping areas, spas and entertainment venues in the Kansas City area. Kansas City is a terrific value for Springfield families.
Less than a day's drive away, you and your family can walk through an exhibit of free-flowing butterflies at Powell Gardens; watch glass marbles, splashed with rainbows of swirling color, being made at Moon Marble Co.; shop at the upscale Plaza, with its Spanish-style architecture and sparkling fountains; watch engaging puppet shows at the Puppetry Arts Institute; explore creativity and use a bow-making machine at the Hallmark Visitors Center; ride a bike 30 feet in the air at Science City; and stuff yourselves with beef slathered with legendary Kansas City barbecue sauce at Gates Bar-B-Q.
Kansas City also boasts all the needed amenities for a girlfriends' getaway - full-service spas, a vibrant arts scene, extreme shopping, unique lodging and plenty of entertainment. When it's time to get "girly," head for The SPA Tuscano, Briarcliff Village, 4133 N. Mulberry Drive, for a luxurious signature "Tuscan Bliss" massage or, for the ultimate in relaxation, indulge in their exclusive "Tuscan Float," a large enclosed whirlpool containing 800 pounds of mineral salts, for an experience akin to floating on the Dead Sea! One hour spent floating effortlessly in the pure salt mineral water is similar to a deep, restorative sleep.
When it's time to get crazy, soar 15 stories then plunge and spin upside-down in zero gravity, with your feet dangling, on the Patriot inverted roller coaster at Worlds of Fun amusement park. As another song says, you can be "crazy little women" there!
History buffs will be awestruck by the National World War I Museum, where you can experience the war through the eyes of those who lived it. Upon entering this new, award-winning museum, you walk across the glass Paul Sunderland Bridge, which spans a field of 9,000 poppies, each representing 1,000 combat deaths during World War I. You can't help but be deeply moved as you continue exploring this extraordinary window to the human spirit, as revealed by genuine artifacts and many high-tech, interactive exhibits. (I highly recommend polishing off your visit with a meal in the themed "Over There" café, which features fabulous Italian wedding soup.)
For a completely different museum experience, head over to the Toy and Miniature Museum, 5235 Oak St., a 38-room house that boasts the largest collection of nostalgic toys, fine-scale miniatures and marbles in the Midwest. Little girls and their mothers will "ooh" and "ahh" over the intricate craftsmanship of the dollhouses. The miniature collection boasts a pair of dueling pistols with working mechanisms, a secretary desk with 19 secret compartments, and a fully furnished American Georgian Manor. Save some time for browsing in the gift shop, which features many nostalgic favorites, including gyroscopes, jacks, Tiddly Winks, marbles, and paper dolls.
Kids will also love Science City at Union Station, an amazing 1914 restored train station, now decked out as an "edutainment" destination for families. Besides Science City, which features more than 50 interactive displays, Union Station plays host to a train exhibit that highlights the history of the American railroad, a planetarium, a five-story 3D movie theater, live theater performances, restaurants and shops. You could easily spend a whole day here, and not be bored for a minute.
Kansas City is truly a shopper's paradise. In addition to the Country Club Plaza, which is ablaze with lights at Christmas, major shopping areas include Briarcliff Village, Crown Center, Oak Park Mall, Town Center Plaza, Zona Rosa and Village West & the Legends. If "shop 'til you drop" is your mantra, this is your town. And don't forget the college town of Lawrence, just 40 miles down the road. You'll fall in love with Massachusetts Street (which The New York Times dubbed "The Strip of Hip" in a 2005 article), with its funky, one-of-a-kind, homegrown shops.
Music lovers will find plenty to groove to here. Kansas City gave jazz its swing, and this world-renowned jazz legacy continues today in clubs throughout the city. You won't be singing the blues when you step inside the Blue Room (18th & Vine), which is part of the American Jazz Museum.
The Blue Room presents dynamic performances from the best local and national jazz talent several nights a week.
2009 marks the 75th anniversary of one of the top art museums in the world, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Art aficionados have two other fabulous museums to choose from, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the new Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. In addition, there are many trendy art galleries and outdoor sculptures throughout the city, and the Crossroads Arts District (Southwest Boulevard & Baltimore Avenue) is abuzz with gallery goers every first Friday of the month.
You don't want to leave Kansas City without sampling the world-famous barbecue, made with mouth-watering Kansas beef. But a plethora of fine dining experiences and ethnic eateries also abound, from Brazilian steakhouses to French bistros.
A personal favorite is the Bristol Seafood Grill, 51 E. 14th St., which is located in the lively new Power & Light District downtown. This district is really hoppin' at night, as is nearby Westport.
Where to collapse after enjoying a day of Kansas City-style fun? I love The Raphael Hotel, 325 Ward Parkway, an upscale boutique hotel on the Plaza., which was voted one of the world's best places to stay by Condé Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure magazines. Also getting my vote is the Hyatt Regency Crown Center, 2345 McGee St., just steps away from Crown Center and Union Station, as well as the WWI Museum.
At both hotels, you're right in the heart of some of the best shops, restaurants and attractions that Kansas City has to offer, and you don't even need a car.
Museums and shopping and art -oh my! No wonder Dorothy wanted so badly to go back home to Kansas.
Story published Friday, March 6, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 2 )