At the beginning of every summer, I make a list of places that I want to visit that are within a few hours of Kansas City. I never make it to all of them, but as the weeks go on I check off restaurants, bookstores, parks and shops while starring the ones that I would revisit. These are some of my top picks within an hour of KC for closing out your summer memorably.
- Boulevard Drive-In
The Boulevard is number one on this list and number one in my heart. It’s been open since 1950 and while there have been some updates to the signage, the box office and the concession stand, it has never lost its classic feel. There’s something about watching the Pink Panther cartoons that the Boulevard always shows first on the big screen, hearing the laughter of the kids on the playground, squeezing into line in the tiny concession stand and hearing the hush come over dozens of other strangers as the featured film starts up. I even love the loud trains that come blasting by on the tracks directly next to the drive-in. Pro tip: bring either lawn chairs or pillows and blankets to make the inside of your car cozier, along with bug spray and a cooler. Entry is $10 per person (cash only) and the movies run May through September, while the Swap ‘n’ Shop is open every weekend from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Mugs-Up is another throw-back. It first opened in 1956 and it’s still serving delicious Black Cows (aka rootbeer floats) and Orangaroos (orange soda floats). Many Kansas Citians are devoted to Town Topic, which serves a similar menu. But even though a visit to Mugs-Up requires a drive to Independence, it’s still my personal favorite for its homemade root beer and zip burgers.
- Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
The Monet Garden is pruned to perfection and it’s an ideal place for photoshoots of all kinds. The trails are well-maintained. The sculpture garden has many thought-provoking exhibits. Best of all, entry is only $3.
- Wyandotte County Lake Park
This lake is less than 10 minutes from the house where I grew up, so I might be biased here, but I consider this to be one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in Kansas City. On any given day, you can see fishermen angling from the shores and from their boats, then heading down to the marina’s Snackle Box to grab something to eat or to the bait shop next door. There’s a playground, a push-off point for kayaks and paddleboards (make sure to get a permit first!), tons of trails, picnic tables and some great spots to watch the sunrise or sunset. I love walking down by the dam to watch the water rush in or watching the boats from the beach shelter. If you arrive around dusk, be prepared to see lots of deer and raccoons, plus maybe some foxes and great blue herons if you’re lucky and patient.
- Shawnee Mission Park
I worked at Shawnee Mission Park this summer, so I spent a lot of time there. It’s safe to say that it’s one of the best maintained parks in the area. The lake is my favorite, as you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, pedal boats and canoes for a reasonable fee. It also has a small swimming beach. The lake is kept clean and you can make plenty of friends during the weekends when it’s usually packed. One feature that’s especially nice is a clean-up station where you can wash the lake water off any kayak or paddleboard that you bring from home. Once again, you will need a permit, and be aware that SMP is more regularly patrolled by police that are known to ticket.
As school starts up again and our schedules get busier, it’s important that we continue to take time for ourselves. Getting off-campus and taking a spatial as well as a mental break from school is good for your mental health. Next time you’re looking for something to do in KC, consider some of these options off the beaten path.