When I began planning a spring break road trip for just the kids and me, I thought I might be a little nuts. I had never traveled anywhere with only the kids, and I certainly had never spent an extended amount of time in the car with just the two of them. As the trip began to take form, I started sharing details with family, friends, and readers. I received a great deal of encouragement but there was another common reaction: confusion. Some folks were baffled by the choice of our main spring break destination.
Yes, Kansas. Overland Park, to be exact.
“Where is that?”
Overland Park, Kansas, essentially is a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. Aside from that, Overland Park is its own city and it is absolutely surprising. Simply stated, Overland Park totally won us over and we had the best time. Our days were filled with adventure, and our nights came early as we all were worn out from the days’ activities.
What was it about Overland Park that was so fun and so surprising? Allow me…
I’ve visited a number of arboreta and botanical gardens across the U.S. and none compares to the one in Overland Park. It’s more than a collection of different trees and plants. With six miles of hiking trails, 30 sculptures, and 12 different gardens, it is a year-round cultural and recreational destination. The kids and I spent almost five hours at the arboretum and botanical gardens, most of the time spent at the train garden. There are model trains winding through a miniature replica of old Overland Park, but the highlight for my kids was playing aboard the real train caboose. Just as awesome as the train garden, in my opinion, is the children’s discovery garden. It’s like the world’s coolest playground. The kids let loose and played on their own while I relaxed on a hand-carved log bench in the sunshine. The Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens wowed me to such an extent that I plan to dedicate an entire photo essay to it. Stay tuned for that.
Not exactly a shopping center, not necessarily a museum complex, it’s difficult and unfair to place Prairiefire in a single category. It’s another unique destination in Overland Park, most prominently featuring retail shops, the Museum at Prairiefire (MAP), and eight different dining options. It’s possible to spend several hours at a time at Prairiefire and that’s exactly what we did on two separate visits. Our first visit was to Pinstripes Bistro Bowling Bocce for lunch and a couple of hours of bowling. It’s a fun family spot where kids are welcomed to bowl. You can even set it up so the bumpers rise from either side of the lane when it’s the kids’ turns (I considered using them for myself).
On our second trip to Prairiefire, we visited the MAP. Through a special collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History, the MAP highlights natural science and the history of the local region as well as the rest of the world. Currently, the main exhibition is “The World’s Largest Dinosaurs” where guests get an idea of what a sauropod looked like on the outside and on the inside (literally). The other main attraction at MAP is The Discovery Room. It’s a completely interactive experience for children aged 3-12 (accompanied by their adults) to learn about nature, life, and the universe through hands-on play. The Discovery Room is divided into sections, each dedicated to a different field of museum research. Learning continues outside the MAP along the interpretative wetlands trail. It’s a short path behind the museum complete with rocks to jump on to cross the creek and a cute little wooden bridge. The path also affords visitors unobstructed views of the artful building exterior.
This is the one place in Overland Park that really wowed me. Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead treats visitors to heaps more than just a glimpse at life on a frontier farm. For me, it will forever be the place where I witnessed my daughter’s complete joy from being able to bottle feed baby goats. It is the place where my son had his first pony ride. And it’s where my children learned lessons in Kaw Indian Nation history and got to see the inside of a one-room prairie schoolhouse. Some of my favorite memories of our spring break trip were made at Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, and it is totally deserving of its own blog post. Again, stay tuned for that.
The above is a true statement. From Overland Park, you can be in downtown Kansas City in under 20 minutes, with easy highway access to and from both cities. Because there was so much for us to do and see in Overland Park, we spent only one day of our trip in Kansas City. The kids and I started that day with breakfast at Succotash in the Longfellow neighborhood. Next stop was Science City at Union Station. The science museum and its 120 hands-on displays are housed in the still functional, 100-year-old train terminal building. After hours of educational fun, we made the quick and easy drive back to Overland Park in time for dinner and a dip in the hotel pool.
When you think of American cities with extraordinary dining scenes, what comes to mind? New York? New Orleans? Chicago? How about Overland Park? Probably not, right? But the Overland Park dining scene is deserving of a mention. I was amazed by the quantity and diversity of dining options. Ethnic cuisine ranging from Ethiopian to Central American; pizza, from New York-style to wood-fired; and, of course, that legendary Kansas City BBQ.
Turns out, I wasn’t exactly nuts to take a road trip on my own with the kids. We had a blast and created some fun, lasting memories. Just as Overland Park surprised me, so did my kids – by being the best (and cutest) travel partners I could ask for.
My family and I were guests of Visit Overland Park. Aside from complimentary lodging, admission to many attractions, and some meals, I received no further compensation. All words and opinions contained here are, as always, my own.