I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here we come… so starts the famous song with versions recorded by Fats Domino, Little Richard in the 50s and even the Beatles. My family headed there to check out some attractions we had never visited in the city that’s become a mecca for dining and culture.
A distinctive destination anytime, The Country Club Plaza is an upscale entertainment district that’s usually busy with people moving to and fro to dine at restaurants or shop at Michael Kors, Sur La Table, Tiffany & Co., Urban Outfitters and numerous other shops. The J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain at 47th Street and J.C. Nichols Parkway is the unofficial entrance and visual symbol of the European-inspired landmark (seen in the featured image, above).
Not far off 47th St., the main drag of the Plaza, is the Hotel Sorella, 901 W. 48th Place. Part of the Valencia Group, with properties in Austin, Houston, San Antonio and San Jose, its Mediterranean styling and Renaissance-era furniture give the hotel the feel of a contemporary Italian villa. My nephew was most excited about the rooftop pool, but that would have to wait until later.
The National Museum of Toys/Miniatures, 5235 Oak Street (www.toyandminiaturemuseum.org), located on the University of Missouri – Kansas City Campus and only a short drive from the hotel. Co-founded by Mary Harris Francis and Barbara Marshall, who shared their personal collections of toys and miniatures, the museum reopened in August after temporarily closing for an $8 million, first-class renovation.
Toys from every era were on display on the second floor but the standout for my family was the world’s largest collection of fine-scale miniatures on the first floor. From Louis XV’s study at the Palace at Versailles to a Boston Beacon Hill mansion, the precision and attention to detail and scale are quite impressive throughout the collection.
An admirer of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, I had an unforgettable day years ago visiting his home and studio in Oak Park, IL, so I immediately recognized his Prairie influences in the Breakfast Room in the miniature William Martin House, designed by Allison Ashby and Steven Jedd, who also made the Abraham Lincoln log cabin.
After seeing the miniature collection you may leave humming to the tune of “It’s A Small World After All.”
We then headed to the River Market neighborhood just south of the Missouri River to tour the The Arabia Steamboat Museum, 400 Grand Blvd (www.1856.com), which opened in 1991. The Wall Street Journal called it an “Aladdin’s cave of objects from the year 1856,” which is when the Arabia steamboat was headed upriver on the Missouri River from St. Louis, hit a tree snag and sank 10 miles from Kansas City. All of the passengers, settlers heading to make new homes in the West, were rescued—but more than 200 tons of cargo sunk.
In the years that followed, the Missouri River changed course and the boat remained buried beneath a Kansas cornfield near Parkville, Missouri, one-half mile from the actual river. Then in 1988, River Salvage, Inc. began excavating the boat and found much of the cargo, mostly brand-new merchandise that survived, including dishes, leather boots, cognac, silks from China and beads from Czechoslovakia.
The collection includes pieces of the ship’s stern and paddle wheel, along with hundreds of thousands of items intended for daily life on the frontier. The museum includes a general store with shelves lined with goods and a lab where visitors can watch technicians work on the collection.
Currently only two-thirds of the items have been preserved, with plans for the remaining treasures to be ready for the museum by 2022. Open seven days a week except for holidays, tours of the museum begin every 30 minutes. A short film lays out the adventure of the year-long excavation by the River Salvage Group, including David, Greg and Bob Hawley who owned a refrigeration repair business, Jerry Mackey, owner of Hi-Boy restaurants in Independence, and David Lutrell, the construction contractor.
The Hawleys operate the day-to-day operations of the museum. After the film, Matt Hawley, who very much resembles his late Uncle Greg, who died in a car accident in 2009, personally welcomed my tour group.
Voted a favorite Kansas City “Hidden Gem” in the Visitors’ Choice Awards at VisitKC.com, it’s definitely a must-see for the entire family.
Afterward, we walked through the bustling City Market, where people carried fresh flowers and produce back to their cars. The area features ethnic markets, restaurants and other shops. We ate some tasty salads and a supreme pizza at Minsky’s before heading back to the hotel so my nephew could finally go swimming,
The pool was tiny, more for cooling off than swimming. Seeing my nephew with his goggles, navigating through all the bodies was hilarious; meanwhile I enjoyed the views of nearby Sunset Hill and Brush Creek.
For dinner, we opted for Houston’s, 4640 Wornall Rd., and despite making reservations had a long wait. Mom ordered their famous artichoke dip and I liked the roast chicken and the lemonade, but my stepdad didn’t think his ribs were that great and they were very pricey.
We really enjoyed the complimentary European breakfast at the Hotel Sorella. I assumed it would be a croissant and coffee but it was so much more. Francesca’s Garden Lounge, the airy bistro and lounge off the lobby, featured a delicious spread of bagels, cream cheese and lox, fruit and pastries. The friendly staff toasted our bagels and made us cappuccinos, an experience that was a highlight of our stay and a wonderful way to start the day.
On the way into town the previous day, we visited the Puppetry Arts Institute, 11025 E. Winner Road (www.hazelle.org), a small space full of charm and history in the Englewood Station Arts District in Independence.
Founded by Diane Houk, she and her husband lived in England, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Iraq and Egypt before returning to Independence. During her travels she collected a variety of marionettes and puppets that would become the museum’s anchor collection. Houk also purchased the remnant stock of the Hazelle Puppet Factory, founded by Hazelle Hedges Rollins, which produced lightweight, short-stringed marionettes for children at a factory on Broadway from 1932 to the mid ‘80s. Rollins, who earned a BA in Art from KU and attended the Kansas City Art Institute, began creating puppets in her father’s basement.
Besides the small theater for puppet shows, there’s also puppet and marionette making workshops and other events for adults and children throughout the year.
It’s always fun to check out a city that you’ve been visiting your entire life and still find new adventures.
Kansas City’s Upcoming Holiday Events
Check out these holiday lights and activities throughout the city from Visit KC.
Kick off the 2015 holiday season with a special lighting ceremony to spotlight the large crowns hung above the streets, as well as the featured 50-foot Christmas tree in Town Square. Other highlights include the official arrival of the holiday Fairy Princess & Santa Claus! Other events include: PJ party with St. Nick, the Eskimoland Igloo and breakfast with Santa Claus. Located at the northwest corner of 1-29 and Barry Road, just minutes from KCI airport and downtown Kansas City. All the proceeds from the parking meters are donated to local charities.
Thanksgiving night marks the return of this drive-through winter wonderland—featuring 300,000 lights and 200 animated figures.
With miles and miles of holiday lights outlining the upscale shopping and dining district, the plaza is especially festive during the holidays. A tradition for more than 80 years, the lights are turned on the day after Thanksgiving and it’s guaranteed to delight kids and adults of all ages.
Every 15 minutes, the sprawling shopping center springs to life with thousands of lights synchronized to concert-quality music.
The 100-foot tree is the centerpiece for an illuminating holiday celebration at Crown Center Square.
A multi-day, multi-media entertainment event, featuring more than 100 different, holiday-themed exhibits, shows, performances and attractions in downtown during the first three weekends of December.