Summer is back, baby.
And not in the same way it is every twelve months, as the sun swings back around to shining bright on our hemisphere.
The summer of 2021 is special because it comes on the heels of a fourteen-month metaphorical winter, a time when uncertainty and fear clouded over seemingly everything.
It’s time to get out there and enjoy the season in Kansas City—at Missouri’s largest pool, with some boozy popsicles or by shopping at a new night market.
We’ve divided the activities into things that are brand new and things that are coming back after hibernation.
It’s back: The largest pool in Missouri is at a campground in Lone Jack
Shannon Gray has a vision for Lake Paradise Resort, which she and her husband bought two years ago: “Picture Dirty Dancing right in Kansas City—that’s how it’s going to be,” she says.
While she’s still working out some details on her plan to revive the seventies-era resort near Lone Jack to match the golden age of the Catskills, Gray (no relation to Jennifer) does have one very impressive asset to build around.
Lake Paradise is home to a half-acre pool, the largest in Missouri. It’s a pool that could easily fit hundreds of people, with floats. There are no water slides or diving boards—just a pool as large as a lake. “We’re old school, baby,” Gray says. “It’s an amazing place. It’s in the middle of the countryside, right smack in the middle of nowhere—all of a sudden you drive around the corner and see this gorgeous pool that sits right on the lake.”
The resort has camping, cabins and spots for RVs, but you can also buy a day pass for the pool ($10 adults, $5 children). Get there early on humid weekends, as the revived park is starting to get a lot of attention in KC. “We put it on social media and it went absolutely nuts since everything else was closed and it’s so large you can easily stay distanced,” Gray says.
It’s new: There’s a brand-new, record-breaking water slide at Oceans of Fun
After delaying its debut because of the pandemic, Oceans of Fun has just opened a new, record-breaking water slide called Riptide Raceway. At almost five-hundred feet long, it’s the longest slide in the world where riders race on foam mats. The slide starts with a climb up a five-story staircase. Riders claim their mat and line up at one of four chutes to slide through a full loop and four tunnels before splashing into the pool. Worlds of Fun’s waterpark sibling opens Memorial Day weekend with the new slide as part of its lineup.
It’s back: Art is again the focus of First Fridays at the Crossroads
When it began almost twenty years ago, First Fridays in the Crossroads were all about art—the main attraction was gallery shows that drew dozens. The event slowly grew into a large street party before crowds started staying home following a tragic fatal shooting in August 2019. Last year, the event was canceled because of the pandemic. This year, the event returns with a renewed focus on the arts. So far, gallery owners report that this year’s attendees are far more attentive to the shows, with artist talks taking center stage.
It’s new: You can drink beer and shop for vegetables at Shawnee’s Moonlight Market
Downtown Shawnee is blossoming with the rebirth of its historic Aztec Theater and the opening of an enviable collection of brewpubs. To capitalize on the energy, the suburban city is launching a new mid-month Moonlight Market (4-8 pm on June 17, July 15, August 19, September 16 and October 21) that’s a combination farmer’s market and street fair, with live music and shopping. They’re allowing open containers in the parking lot of city hall, and the pubs have opted into the city’s very bureaucratically branded “Common Consumption Area.” The new liberalization of liquor laws paves the way for St. Patrick’s Day Parade partying and a totally lit Old Shawnee Days.
It’s back: After a tumultuous winter and spring, Betty Rae’s is back and under new ownership
Alec Rodgers is the knight in shining armor we didn’t know we needed. The former Betty Rae’s employee purchased the two ice cream shops in Waldo and River Market from owners David Friesen and Mary Nguyen in February. Both shops were closed sporadically throughout the pandemic, and early in the year, the future of the brand seemed uncertain—until Rodgers stepped in. Under his guidance, both Betty Rae’s locations reopened in April, offering the original menu full of the flavors Kansas Citians have come to love, like the decadent goat cheese-apricot-candied walnut and the signature burnt end ice cream.
It’s new: A new Overland Park ice cream shop provides sweet opportunities
If the woes of the world hang heavy on your shoulders, please take yourself on a self-care break to the Golden Scoop in Overland Park, where coffee drinks and ice cream cones are served with such warmth that even the iciest pirate heart would melt into a gooey puddle. The nonprofit shop has eighteen employees (“Super Scoopers”), all of whom have a developmental disability.
Golden Scoop’s mission is to provide meaningful employment for this overlooked population. When you visit, Super Scoopers will greet you, take your order, create fancy foam art on your latte and build your triple-stacked cone. The offerings at Golden Scoop are, well, solid gold: Try “My Father Was A Jam Maker,” made with strawberry jam from a Super Scooper’s brother, or Lucy 41, a luscious dairy-free vanilla named for Super Scooper Lucy Wagner. Forget Disneyworld: This is the happiest place on earth. The ice cream is just a bonus.
It’s back: The Opal Wapoo returns, giving the area an elite gravel road bike race
The pandemic forced the cancellation of most bike races in the area, including the internationally famous Unbound Gravel (formerly the Dirty Kanza) and this lower-key gravel grinder.
The scenic Opal Wapoo is held around Excelsior Springs, just thirty minutes from Kansas City, and includes roughly nine thousand feet of climbing on the hundred-mile route. Riders will pedal through curvy, hilly gravel roads lined with trees as they explore the beautiful Missouri countryside.
The race/ride takes place on June 26, during the city’s Waterfest, which celebrates Excelsior Springs’ mineral water heritage with a parade and custom car show. The race starts at 7 am from the Historic Hall of Waters, where riders will be escorted out of town by a 1953 John Deere tractor. There is also a shorter fifty-two mile route offering a less greuling taste of the winding gravel countryside, but still all of the fun. Participants get free post-race beer and the satisfaction of conquering some pretty tough hills.
It’s new: A new bike trail boasts the area’s longest pedestrian bridge
One of the most ambitious bike trail projects in the country just got a whole lot closer to completion—with a signature bridge to boot.
The Rock Island Trail will tie KC to St. Louis by bike trail via the well-known Katy that crosses the state. The first phase, six and a half miles, was finished in 2019 and is headlined by the historic Vale Tunnel, a railroad tunnel built in 1904. The new phase is set to open in June and extends the trail from Brickyard Road to Kauffman and Arrowhead (sadly, the K does not have bike racks at this time).
This phase is just over seven miles and will have three trailheads, two in Raytown and the last at the stadiums. The new section has five bridges, the most notable being the Wildwood Bridge, a three hundred-foot trail bridge just outside downtown Raytown. It’s the longest in Jackson County and a stunner that’s sure to be all over Instagram this summer. There’s now just one short section to finish around Pleasant Hill before KC to STL is easily bikeable.
It’s back: KC Daiquiri Shop expands its frozen jugs of summer cheer to two new Kansas locations
We’ve been a little obsessed with KC Daiquiri Shop since it opened in Power & Light with a wall-long line of slushie machines spinning away. The shop was inspired by a popular Dallas spot and makes its daiquiris using rum and vodka in flavors like Piña Colada, Georgia Peach and Strawberry. They serve them by the glass or in milk jugs—quart, half-gallon, gallon—mixing as many flavors as you like. We recommend a Triple H of Hulk, Hypnotic and Hurricane.
Now, there are two new daq attacks, one in Overland Park (8725 Metcalf Ave.) and the other at the newly refurbished Monarchs stadium (1800 Village West Parkway, KCK).
It’s new: Beer slushies land at Crane
If you swing by Crane Brewing in Raytown this summer—the parking lot happens to be a trailhead for the Rock Island Trail, where you can see the massive new bridge above—you might notice something unexpected behind the bar. Slushie machines. In a brewery. Yes, Crane is now making beer slushies, often using their sour beers spiked with spirits. The concoctions are devised by their bartenders and change daily. One recent offering was built from the house’s Guava Weiss with marg mix, tequila, pepper syrup and lime. “Our bartenders get to be creative in using our beers, local wine and spirits,” owner Christopher Meyers says. “Plus they are hitting the spot like adult slushies, especially this summer and for all the bike riders jumping off the Rock Island Trail.”
And don’t forget!
A highly selective list of summer events in KC that we are super excited about.
Greetings, Saul Steinberg
Saul Steinberg is best known for his illustrations that have graced The New Yorker covers and his extension work for Hallmark cards and calendars. This retrospective at Crown Center looks at mid-century works from the Hallmark archive. Open during Crown Center shop hours. Gallery at 2450, Level 2. Free.
Probably the prettiest concert you’ll ever see, the symphony performs outdoors amidst the rolling tallgrass prairie near Council Grove.
Since 1982, the longest day of the year has been home to this worldwide event, and it’s happening in KC for the first time. Look for free concerts on streets, sidewalks, venues and parks across the city.
Castles, Cottages, and Crime
The Nelson-Atkins’ collection of tiny ceramic buildings from the mid-1800s has been in storage for forty years and includes tiny replicas of “murder houses” where notable crimes were committed.
Night catfishing at Kaw Point
The confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers is home to some of the biggest catfish in the country. At this night fishting tournament at Kaw Point, anglers will try to reel in a record-breaker.
July 22-August 8
Festival of the Butterflies
Butterflies, caterpillars and moths take center stage at the nine hundred seventy-acre Powell Gardens, which celebrates the pollinators with a number of special events.
Musical Theater Heritage stages the iconic hippie-era show Hair from August 5 to 22 at the four hundred fifty-seat former American Heartland Theatre, which will be held to forty percent capacity.
KC Rep’s production of the epic love story set during World War I will, appropriately enough, open at the World War I Memorial for a one-month run starting in late August.
Shake the Lake
The shores of Longview Lake will be home to a new country music festival: Shake the Lake has a lineup headlined by “Small Town Boy” Dustin Lynch and “Buy Me a Boat” singer Chris Janson.