8 road trips from Kansas City that rely on arts and culture

Stir-crazy yet? After nearly three months of social distancing, that’s to be expected. And yet, things aren’t exactly back to normal. Never fear, we’re here to help with eight great arts and culture-focused day trips from Kansas City. We picked eight spots that offer excitement, fresh air and much-needed changes of scenery. Get out there, but remember to use common sense and follow CDC guidelines.

Walk through the earliest era of KC at Missouri Town 1855

While you’re there: Right outside the park you’ll find Jazzy B’s Diner, which has both traditional KC ’cue and sea-food. We like the funky blue cheese potato salad and a saucy brisket sandwich.

At Fleming Park in eastern Jackson County, you can glimpse KC life in another era. That starts on the way into Missouri Town 1855, where the buffalo roam, and continues inside the thirty acres set aside for the park. In these idyllic pastures, you’ll find antebellum homes and barns moved here for preservation, along with a working blacksmith shop firing a coal furnace and a dry goods store stocked with period products, some of which are for sale. When the park is open, expect to find reenactors dressed in period garb playfully encouraging you to vote in a mock election or giving a brief history of the Missouri mule. —Martin Cizmar

GO: Head east on I-70 or I-45 to I-470, then take exit 10A for Colbern Road. Follow signs to the park.

Stroll the original Main Street, USA

Back in February, Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes rode down Main Street, USA, at Walt Disney World. What took him thousands of miles and a Superbowl victory is much simpler for the rest of us: Hop in the car and drive a couple of hours to Marceline, Missouri—home of the original Main Street, USA. Marceline (population 2,233) was Walt Disney’s hometown, and its Main Street is the model he mandated for the Main Streets at his theme parks around the world.

Walt’s father, Elias Disney, brought the family here in 1906 to start a forty-eight-acre farm. Although the family left four years later, when Walt was nine, the town held a place in his imagination.

“More things of importance happened to me in Marceline than have happened in the past or are likely to happen in the future,” Walt once said.

Start your trip at Ma Vic’s Corner Cafe for a Dusty Miller, the ice cream treat original to Marceline since the early 1900s. From there, it’s just a few steps to the Walt Disney Hometown Museum, a ten-thousand-square-foot, two-story structure housed in the 1913 Santa Fe Railway Station. Walt’s only sister, Ruth Disney Becher, gifted thousands of family artifacts to the museum. On the grounds you’ll find the resto-ration of the Midget Autopia Ride, the only ride to leave Disneyland and be operated outside of a Disney property. You can walk or pedal your way around the track in your own custom Autopia car.

Nearby is a bandshell that’s familiar from Disney films. Note that the marquee proclaims the “World Premiere of the Great Locomotive Chase”—Walt and his brother Roy came home in 1956 for the premiere and greeted each child as they entered the theater. Walt addressed the crowd on that occasion: “You children are lucky to live in Marceline. My best memories are the years I spent here.”

In attendance was a little girl named Kaye Malins, who grew up to become the director of the Disney Museum.

Even the post office here, named for Walt Disney, is unique—they stamp mail with a one-of-a-kind cancellation. Not far away is the Disney Farm and Barn, which has a replica of the barn. Walt kept the blueprints of the original structure, such was his obsession with this little town. —John C. Tibbetts

GO: Marceline is 135 miles from Kansas City. Take I-35 north to Cameron, then go east on US-36 for 70 miles and watch for the sign to Marceline.

This Springfield museum of nature is massive

Springfield is the birthplace of Bass Pro Shops, which are as much amusement parks as retail outlets. So it’s fitting that the founder put the massive Wonders of Wildlife museum next to HQ. The museum is 350,000 square feet and includes a million-and-a-half gallon aquarium and taxidermied animals in elaborate scenes from the native Ozark forest to the Amazon rain forest.

One of the world’s best zoos is a short drive up I-29

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo might just be the best in the world. You can take our word for it—but in case you don’t, Nebraska’s most visited tourist destination has been ranked above the elite zoos of San Diego, Singapore and Prague by USA Today, TripAdvisor and a host of other outlets.

The jewels of the hundred-acre campus are the two domes that immerse you in the jungle and desert. Inside the leafy, humid rainforest, you encounter macaws and squirrel monkeys while crossing rope bridges in the canopy before climbing down to the forest floor, where you get up close to a fifty-foot waterfall and pygmy hippos. In the desert dome—the world’s largest glazed geodesic dome—you’ll spot javelina, bearded dragons and meerkats. Oh, and below that dome you’ll find the world’s largest exhibit of nocturnal animals. The largest wild cat complex on the continent is just down the hill.

There’s more—a lot more—so if you’re doing this as a one-day trip, you’ll want to set an alarm to leave KC right about the time the animals are waking up. —Martin Cizmar

GO: The zoo is 190 miles north on I-29. From I-29, take I-80 west in Omaha, then take exit 454 and follow signs to the zoo.

A free museum in Arkansas has some of the world’s most impressive art.

As home to one of the world’s most successful corporations, Bentonville has an embarrassment of cultural riches. None are more impressive than the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, home to everything from Gilbert Stuart’s definitive portrait of George Washington to modern icons by Warhol and Rothko. The museum is free.

Pose for a portrait in front of one of the most iconic backdrops in American art

There are no stoplights in Eldon, a tiny town nestled deep between the rolling green hills and golden cornfields of southern Iowa. There’s a small grocery store ten miles away; you’ll have to drive an hour and a half to Iowa City if you want to find a Starbucks. All things considered, it’s a surprising place to find the inspiration for one of the world’s most iconic paintings.

You don’t need to be an art savant to recognize Grant Wood’s seminal 1930 masterpiece “American Gothic.” The portrait of a dour farmer father and his daughter (Wood’s sister and his dentist, in fact, both of whom he asked to pose for the painting) in front of a humble white house with its ostentatious gothic window has been parodied countless times in editorial cartoons, advertisements and magazine covers. When you visit the original American Gothic House in Eldon, the visitor center happily provides costumes and props for you to recreate your own portrait, from the overalls and patterned apron down to the cameo hayfork and necklace.

Most of the time, the house is closed to visitors. There is something surreal about seeing the small home in person, though you’ll have to content yourself with posing in front of it and walking around the well-kept lawn. The visitor center, open a few hours each month, contains a compact room packed with information about Wood’s life and work, as well as the history of the house—it was built in 1881, and Wood only visited it twice.

“American Gothic” is often interpreted as a satirical work, but that was never Wood’s intention. Rather, his aim was to exalt the Midwestern spirit: There is admiration in the fine lines of his subjects’ faces and fastidious attention to detail in the pattern on the window curtains. —Natalie Gallagher

GO: Eldon is 225 miles from KC. From I-35 north, take exit 92 for US-136 east. US-136 east merges with US 63 north after 90 miles. Continue on US-63 and follow for 12 miles to Floris Road. Take Floris Road to downtown Eldon, then take a left on Ninth Street, a right on Elm Street and a left on Finney.

While you’re there: Not far from Eldon is the small town of Ottumwa, where you’ll find the state of Iowa’s signature sandwich at Canteen Lunch in the Alley. Inside this squat yellow building, there’s a horseshoe bar wrapped around the restaurant’s centerpiece: a freestanding metal steamer that cooks over a hundred and fifty pounds of ground beef daily, seasoned only with salt. Loose-meat sandwiches here are available with cheese and “everything” (ketchup, mustard, pickle and onion). They’re four dollars and ten cents, and they’re utterly satisfying.

Midsummers Day festival in Lindsborg, Kansas.

Little Sweden, USA, is in Kansas

Walking down the street of Lindsborg, Kansas, is like walking through a storybook.

Sprinkled throughout the cobblestone street town are Swedish boutiques, herds of painted Dala horses, art galleries and colorful dollhouse bed and breakfasts.

The town of Lindsborg was settled in and built up by Swedish immigrants in 1869. Today, thirty percent of Lindsborg’s three thousand-resident population are natively Swedish. So don’t be surprised if, when walking down the streets of Lindsborg, someone wishes you “god dag” (for non-Swede folk, that means “good day”).

Across the street from Lindsborg’s Smoky Valley Roller Mill, which once operated as a national flour mill in the 1880s, is Heritage Square, a photogenic fenced-off plaza of colorful historic buildings including a one-room school-house, a railroad depot and the first McPherson County Courthouse. The Swedish Pavilion that sits at the north end of the square was brought over from Sweden for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

If you’re in town and in need of a pick-me-up, I recommend stopping by the Blacksmith Coffee Shop, which is in a century-old building that once operated as an actual blacksmith shop. The almond-flavored cafe latte is divine. —Nicole Bradley

GO: Take the scenic route on this one—drive two hours south-west on I-35 until you reach Emporia, then hop on US-50 to pass through Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve, just north of Strong City. Take US-150, which turns into US-56, until you hit I-135 and go north. Get off on the Smoky Valley Road exit. Take a right on 14th Avenue, then a left on E. Lincoln Street, which will take you into town.

The new St. Louis Aquarium just opened last winter

Once the largest train station in the world, St. Louis’ Union Station is now home to attractions including the new St. Louis Aquarium, a massive aquatic attraction with 13,000 animals including a massive shark exhibit and adorable otters. The aquarium opened last Christmas and has quickly risen to one of the top tourism destinations in STL.

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