Published: Sept/Oct 2003

Holiday retreat
Looking for somewhere to stay for your holiday getaway to Kansas City?

Southmoreland on the Plaza, an award-winning bed-and-breakfast inn near the Country Club Plaza, captures the history of Kansas City with rooms named after sports figures, politicians and civic leaders. Southmoreland owners Mark Reichle and Nancy Miller Reichle have a holiday tradition of serving homemade pie to their guests following the Plaza lighting ceremony.

Other accommodation choices include The Porch Swing Inn in Parkville and The Inn at Ophelia’s in Independence.

Across the state line in Kansas City, Kan., is Great Wolf Lodge, which opened last spring. This 281-room, northwoods-themed lodge boasts a four-story, 38,000-square-foot indoor water park with eight water slides and five pools. The lodge, with two restaurants and a health spa, is near other newer attractions, such as the Kansas Speedway.

• Great Wolf Lodge, 1-800-608-9653,
• The Inn at Ophelia’s, (816) 461-4525,
• The Porch Swing Inn, 1-866-587-6282,
• Southmoreland on the Plaza, (816) 531-7979,

For more information
Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Kansas City at 1-800-767-7700 or visit online at

Travel Assistance
Visit your nearest AAA service office for maps, TripTiks and TourBook guides.
Order travel materials online or use our online travel research tools.

Holidays aglow
Celebrate the season and shop for gifts during a Kansas City getaway

Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza glows with 288,000 twinkling lights. (above) /Missouri Tourism photo
The Mayor’s Christmas Tree in Crown Center is one of the tallest trees in the country. Some 7,200 lights decorate the tree. (below) /CVB of Greater Kansas City photo
By Diana Lambdin Meyer

Although it’s known as the City of Fountains, Kansas City, Mo., becomes a city of lights at Christmastime.

The city’s famous Country Club Plaza holiday lights have been inspiring residents and visitors for 74 years. And, over the years, this granddaddy of illuminated displays has been joined by celebrations in other parts of the city and neighboring communities, making the Kansas City area a wonderful holiday sightseeing and shopping getaway.

City lights

Designed in 1922 as the nation’s first suburban shopping district, the Country Club Plaza, located about five miles south of downtown, is an upscale shopping area with 180 stores and restaurants. The 15-square-block area, with its Spanish-influenced architecture, includes numerous fountains, sculptures and murals.

During the Christmas season, Plaza businesses are decorated with more than 288,000 lights, which are turned on during a Thanksgiving evening ceremony. An estimated 250,000 people gather to watch as a child selected from the crowd flicks a switch to set aglow more than 80 miles of lights. The holiday lights will remain on through Jan. 18, 2004.

The Plaza’s stores are generally closed on Thanksgiving evening, but its retail giants such as FAO Schwarz, The Sharper Image and the Discovery Channel store regularly carry a wide assortment of apparel, gift and other items.

Just east of the Plaza, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a great spot to catch the holiday spirit. The internationally acclaimed museums 20th annual tree-lighting ceremony and free concert will be held Nov. 29, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The program will feature holiday music by one of North America’s top ensembles.

A 22-foot-tall Christmas tree is the centerpiece of the museum’s lavish holiday decor. At the base of the tree are dozens of 18th-century Neapolitan creche figures arranged among Roman ruins. While you’re at the museum, you can pick up some gifts at the Holiday Shop in Kirkwood Hall. A Christmas favorite, the shop offers delightful children’s books, puzzles, games, calendars and more.

Another Thanksgiving weekend event is the lighting of the Mayor’s Christmas Tree at Crown Center on Friday, Nov. 28. The home of Hallmark Cards, Inc., Crown Center is at its best during the holidays, with caroling, live theater, food and three levels of shops offering an endless array of gifts for everyone from the cat lover to the car lover to the music box lover.

The center’s Ice Terrace, an outdoor skating venue, opens for the season on Nov. 7 and runs through March.

The 100-foot-tall Mayor’s Christmas Tree, one of the nation’s tallest, bears 7,200 white lights. Another 47,500 white lights decorate Crown Center Square throughout the holiday season. The tree symbolizes the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, which assists low-income families.

Show me Missouri

But not all that is merry and bright takes place on the Plaza or Crown Center. In suburban Parkville, Mo., about 10 miles north of Kansas City, a 1,000-voice children’s choir ushers in the season with carols during the Christmas on the River celebration. Scheduled this year on Friday, Dec. 5, the Victorian-themed holiday event includes the arrival of St. Nicholas and a giant fireworks display. There’s a lot to see in this charming Missouri River community during the holidays. White lights decorate downtown businesses and the campus of nearby Park University. A dozen restaurants and several blocks of independently owned businesses provide ample opportunities for refueling and shopping.

Just east of Kansas City is historic Independence, Mo., the jumping-off point for numerous pioneer trails and home of President Harry Truman. An Independence holiday tradition is the annual gingerbread display at the Mormon Visitors Center. The elaborate display opens on Dec. 5 and runs through New Year’s Day. A lighting ceremony, set Dec. 5, welcomes the holiday season with thousands of twinkling lights on the building and nearly a hundred trees on its grounds.

Some of Independence’s most beloved historic sites–the 1859 Marshal’s Home and Jail, the Vaile Mansion and the Bingham-Waggoner Estate–are lovingly decorated for the holidays. Take a special twilight tour on Dec. 7 or view the Christmas decorations during regular tours offered from Nov. 28 through Dec. 30.
Those looking for antiques as a holiday gift may well find them in the shops of Independence Square.

A Kansas visit

Across the state line, in Johnson County, Kan., experience “A Very Fifties Christmas” at the Johnson County Museum of History in Shawnee. Tour The 1950s All-Electric House, a restored 1954 model home on the museum grounds. From Nov. 29 through Dec. 28, the house is decorated for a 1950s-style Christmas, complete with hot pink and aluminum Christmas trees. On Dec. 20, catch special Moonglow Tours, where costumed guides re-create a holiday party that features food and music from those good old days.

For shopping, there are specialty stores such as Mid America Gourmet in Overland Park and Rainy Day Books, an independent book store in Fairway. Larger venues include Overland Park’s Oak Park Mall, home to the area’s only Nordstrom department store and Rainforest Cafe. Olathe’s Great Mall of the Great Plains is Kansas’ largest outlet mall. Leawood’s Town Center Plaza has the area’s only Coldwater Creek.

Diana Lambdin Meyer is a contributor from Parkville, Mo.

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