Going to Kansas City? Plenty of New Attractions For Couples or Families

By Bob Lindsey

When you think of Kansas City, the images of Country Club Plaza, Union Station, Crown Center, jazz , barbecue, fountains and parkways come to mind. After not having been there for ten years, we found many new attractions, institutions, restaurants and different forms of nightlife.

Whether you go for a romantic weekend or a trip with the family, Kansas City is well worth the easy 4-hour drive from St. Louis County.  On a recent January weekend that started with temperatures in the mid-60s and ended with  temperatures in the upper teens, we got a taste of the new and improved K.C. landmark and entertainment venues, including those at Crown Center and the World War I memorial.  An unexpected bonus came when we learned that the holiday lights stay on in K.C. through the second weekend in January.

We stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast named Southmoreland (see accompanying story)  just two blocks from Country Club Plaza, the nation’s first outdoor shopping district. The long-time heart of the city, Country Club Plaza celebrated its 90th birthday in 2012. The nation’s first outdoor shopping complex has survived the Great Depression and a major storm that flooded the Plaza in 1977 to bounce back and remain one of the top shopping and entertainment districts in the country.

New additions at Hallmark’s Crown Center, Union Station, and the Power & Light District have increased K.C.’s central corridor of attractions along Main St. Once a dreary downtown area, the Power & Light District now radiates with clubs, restaurants, retail, the new Spirit Center, and K.C. Live.

New Downtown Attractions

Just a few blocks from Power & Light District is the architectural jewel of the city skyline, the twin concert halls of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2011.  Built in the style of the European opera houses, there are two large concert venues with perfect acoustics for ballet, opera, musicals, and the famed Kansas City Symphony Orchestra.

We experienced the symphony at a classical concert in the 1,600-seat Helzberg Hall, one of two duel arches at the Kauffman Center. The other is the 1800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theater, billed more for shows, musicals and pop music concerts.  What a striking contrast—classical concerts and musicals such as “Hair” (coming this spring) in this duel performance venue (kauffmancenter.org).

If you continue down Main Street for several more blocks, you’ll run into the second largest railroad station in the country—Union Station, which reopened in 1999 after a major renovation.   Here you’ll find entertainment for all age groups, as well as the famous restaurant, Harvey’s, best known for its Harvey Girls who serve All-American meals. Union Station also houses a children’s museum, a planetarium, Dino’s Lab, Pierpont’s restaurant, a few shops and even an operating Amtrak station. unionstation.org.

Known for its big traveling exhibits such as Titanic and the Princess Diana exhibit, Union Station’s current offering is the unique Science of Rock n Roll exhibit, which shows how technology changed music from the 1950s to the present. I could have spent hours here learning more about the historical and musical trends of the past six decades. Budding musicians will love the interactive portions of the exhibit where they can play drums or guitars, or learn how to compose a song. And American Idol wannabes might enjoy making their own video while singing karaoke and later broadcast it to friends via social media.

World War I Museum Revamped

Canons, tanks, and state-of-art technology are all part of the WW1 Museum.

The most surprising attraction was the National World War I Museum, located underground beneath the Liberty Memorial Tower, which opened in 2006. Dedicated to “the Great War”, it’s the only museum in the U.S. featuring World War I.  It also has the second largest collection of World War I artifacts in the world. But what impressed me the most was the state-of-the-art visual technology used to tell the story of the political elements leading up the war and how America was forced into a conflict that originally involved only Europe.

The Horizon Theater is half a football field long with vintage film of the conflict filling the wide screen. Beneath the screen is a replica of a barren British battlefield of artifacts. In fact, throughout the museum’s 32,000 square foot gallery are cannons, the first tanks ever made, and ambulances like the ones Hemingway wrote about from his experience as a driver in Italy. This museum is a historic gem well worth its small price of admission. theworldwar.org.

New Venues at Crown Center

Hallmark’s Crown Center has two new entertainment venues that will please adults and children alike.  Located side-by-side are two new family attractions that opened in April 2012.

The Kansas City skyline depicted at the new Legoland Discovery Center.

Legoland Discovery Center has one requirement for visitors:  All adults must be accompanied by at least one child (and vice versa). Since we were without children, public relations representative Elizabeth Matthew agreed to be our guide. She took us through the factory to see how Legos are made, and then on to the soft play rooms and Lego mini land.

We also tried our skill at shooting at targets with our special laser guns as we rode a carnival ride through Legoland.  Then we watched two short fun-filled  4D movies that really brought things to the forefront! There are more than two million Legos at the K.C. location. Is it any wonder why Legoland is a paradise for kids? legolanddiscoverycenter.com.

New aquarium at Crown Center offers a wide variety of species.

Next door, Sea Life Kansas City dispels the myth that you can’t have a sea aquarium in the landlocked Midwest.  With more than 5,000 sea creatures and 30 displays, you can get up close and personal with starfish, sharks, rays and even a few seahorses. There’s a “touchpool” where kids can feel certain species and an underwater glass tunnel to observe the sea life above you. sealifeus.com  Combo tickets for both SeaLife and Legoland offer a nice savings option.  Allow at least four hours to enjoy both venues.

Besides the many shops and restaurants, Crown Center houses two intimate theaters. We attended the premier of the Sherlock Holmes caper The Hounds of the Baskervilles, which runs until Feb. 24  at the American Heartland Theater. Three talented comedic actors portray several characters in a farce Monty Python style. The American Heartland is noted for finding some of the newest popular shows on the national theater scene. Coming later this year will be Life Could be a Dream, Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage and The Bikinis.  Nearby in the Off Center Theater, the AHT production of Menopause the Musical will be on stage through Feb. 17. ahtkc.com.

The consumer-friendly Crown Center offers free parking in all of its garages each weekend, Friday night through Sunday night. On a mid-January Saturday, the crowds were evidence of the policy’s effectiveness.

There are many more attractions in the Greater Kansas City area including the 18th and Vine Jazz District, also home to the Negro League’s Baseball Museum.  Other museums earning national acclaim are the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Expansion and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.  There’s a new casino on the Kansas side to go with the three casinos in North Kansas City.  For more detailed information, go to VisitKC.com.

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