Kansas City, Missouri, or Paris of the Plains as it is called, has everything to offer in dining, sporting events, and scenic views, but just like Paris, sometimes what you’re looking for is right outside the city limits. Whether you’re in the mood to relax lakeside in Missouri’s favorite resort town, soak in the culture in nearby Omaha, or board a wine trolley and explore vineyards in a nearby city, there are plenty of adventures awaiting, all three hours or less away by car.
Excelsior Springs: Nine Rounds and Relaxation
Hit nine rounds at the Excelsior Springs Golf Course before heading to the town’s centerpiece, The Elms Hotel & Spa. Open since 1912, the historic hotel has checked in guests including Al Capone, Harry S. Truman, and Jack Dempsey. Get a day pass and explore The Grotto, an underground spa with an exfoliation bar, saunas, and hot tub. Or book a service like a massage or facial in the cave-like setting. The grounds can keep you entertained all day long between relaxing and dining at 88 at the Elms or the café. If you’re looking to be spooked, The Elms offers nightly ghost tours that play on the resort’s history. On your way home, stop at the Dari B Drive-In for old fashioned ice cream.
Getting There: Get to Excelsior Springs in approximately 35 minutes by car via I-35 North.
Travel Tip: During high-volume times, day passes to The Grotto may be unavailable – call ahead and book one in advance to be safe.
Lake of the Ozarks: Lakeside Fun in the Sun
Sure it has inspired a hit show, but the real Lake of the Ozarks is a family-friendly resort town. Missouri’s favorite place for a lake vacation, there are a multitude of ways to spend your time between golfing, fishing, dining, boating, or just lounging on one of the two public beaches. Go to Iguana Watersports for boat and jet ski rentals. Head underground to Jacob’s Cave for a mile-long walk to see stalactites up close. If you’re bringing your kids, take them to Miner Mike’s, an indoor “adventure town” with games and prizes.
Getting There: Two hours and 45 minutes via I-70 E in a car.
Travel Tip: The official Lake of the Ozarks season runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Although things are open year-round, it is a town best enjoyed during the summer months.
Weston, Missouri: A Historic Distillery
Cross the Missouri River and transport yourself back in time. Weston, Missouri is home to Holladay Distillery, one of the oldest continuously operating distilleries in the United States. Take a tour of the facility to see its historic buildings, world-class bottling facilities, and taste their White Dog bourbon. Lantern-led tours are also offered at night for a different experience. After the tour, go to Main Street in nearby Platte City to McCormick on Main. One part shop and one part bar, the rustic spot offers samples of other McCormick Distilling products. Once you’ve narrowed down your favorite, or let’s be honest favorites, full-sized bottles are available to purchase as well as souvenirs and t-shirts.
Getting There: By car, Weston, Missouri is 45 minutes from downtown Kansas City. Or if you’re already at the Kansas City International Airport (MCI) you can take a 20-minute shuttle ride directly to the distillery.
Travel Tip: Walk-ins are accepted based on availability, so try to make a reservation in advance. A majority of the tour is outside so wear comfortable and weather-appropriate clothing.
Lawrence, Kansas: Sunflowers and Sunshine
The home of the University of Kansas’ Jayhawks, Lawrence, Kansas is a quaint college town. Along its historic main street, Massachusetts Street, there is shopping, spas, restaurants, and bars. But Lawrence is worth the trip for Grinter Sunflower Farms alone, where sunflowers bloom across dozens of acres. It’s a stunning sight any time but particularly during sunrise and sunset, perfect for a photo op. Nearby Clinton Lake is a popular spot for camping, but you don’t have to stay overnight to enjoy it. There are hiking trails, fishing ponds, sand volleyball and disc golf courses if you’re looking for outdoor activities.
Getting There: A 40-minute drive by car will get you to Lawrence, KS. From the airport, there are also many 24/7 shuttle services that can take you directly to the town, for a fee.
Travel Tip: If you drive via I-70, you will have to pay a toll prior to entering Lawrence.
Wichita, Kansas: Explore by Streetcar
The Little Arkansas River runs right through Wichita, making it one of the most picturesque – and largest – cities in Kansas. The best way to explore is by hopping on the Q Line Trolley, which is free. Reminiscent of New Orleans’ iconic streetcars, the Q Line runs from Delano to Clifton Square, allowing you to see the city hands-free without focusing on your car's GPS. A must-see is the Cowtown Museum. A replication of 1870s Wichita, the open-air museum brings a Wild West town back to life in painstaking, life-size detail. Walk down Main Street, see a one-room schoolhouse, and even businesses like banks, drugstores, and a blacksmith. At night, go to the Keeper of the Plains, a statue on the bank where the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers meet. Nightly, the “ring of fire” under the statue is set ablaze.
Getting There: Take I-70 W to 1-35 S by car and you’ll arrive in Wichita in just about three hours.
Travel Tip: If you visit in April, you’ll get to experience the Wichita Jazz Festival, which has been put on every year since 1972.
Omaha, Nebraska: Culture and Sculpture
If day-tripping to a different state interests you, Omaha, Nebraska is a great choice. The Joslyn Art Museum has pieces in its permanent collection by Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Hart Benson, and Ed Ruscha. After you’re through perusing the exhibits, head outdoors to the Peter Kiewit Sculpture Garden. Nearby, the Discovery Garden is a bright and inviting outdoor space for children with interactive artwork. For more culture, continue on to the Durham Museum, inside Omaha’s Union Station which frequently hosts different exhibits and also houses the Byron Reed Gallery of ancient coins, medals, and other memorabilia. Five minutes from the Durham Museum, see the original site of Lewis and Clark’s exploration along the riverfront, where the duo landed in 1804.
Getting There: By car, Omaha clocks in at two minutes shy of three hours.
Travel Tip: General admission to the Joslyn Art Museum is free.
Kingsville, Missouri: An Oasis Awaits
Containing nine extensive gardens each with their own theme, The Powell Gardens are a modern oasis. Lush grounds, flora, and idyllic ponds are transformed regularly each season and for various festivals hosted throughout the year including the Festival of Butterflies, Booms & Blooms, Fall Fling: Through the Looking Glass, and the Festival of Lights. Feel free to wander autonomously or enrich the experience through activities. The Powell Gardens offers activities for kids, conservatory talks, and even photography workshops. Take a snack break at any point at Café Thyme or the Refresh Snack Stop.
Getting There: An hour by car via MO-350 E to US-50 E.
Travel Tip: Hours of the gardens’ operation vary by season. Plan your visit by checking here.
Paola, Kansas: A Wine Trolley and Vineyard Tours
Paola, Kansas is home to a surprising amount of wineries and vineyards. Starting it all in 2001 was Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery which produces approximately 5,000 cases annually. All within a 15-minute drive, nearby NightHawk Vineyard and Winery, White Wind Farms, and Middle Creek Winery make up the Somerset Wine Trail. Explore on your own or board the Miami County Trolley, which will connect you and your group to each location in a charming ride. Though it’s not part of the official trail, make sure to also stop by the Louisburg Cider Mill. Open year-round, you can try some of their famous apple cider, fruit butters, or doughnuts — get some enjoy on the ride home.
Getting There: 50 minutes on I-35 S by car.
Travel Tip: Call the Miami County Trolley to arrange pickup and drop-off based on your chosen itinerary at 916-306-3388.
Rocheport, Missouri: Get Active Alongside Scenic Views
If you’re looking for a more active day trip, Rocheport is the place for you. Bike or hike along the scenic Katy Trail, or book a guided canoe or kayak trip down the Missouri River through Mighty Mo Canoe Rental. Given Rocheport’s proximity to St. Louis, it’s no surprise that it is home to the Budweiser Clydesdales which you can see up close at Warm Springs Ranch by buying a ticket in advance.
Getting There: Halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis, Rocheport is just a 90-minute drive by car.
Travel Tip: If you choose to explore the Katy Trail by bike, they can be rented from Bike Stop Café. Fuel yourself with a cup of coffee before you head out.
Emporia, Kansas: Magical Landscapes
When you think of Kansas, you’re probably picturing tallgrass sprawling across the landscape as far as the eye can see across the plains. Go for a leisurely drive though Emporia and the surrounding area and when you’re finished stop at Hay’s House in Council Grove, the oldest restaurant in Kansas, started by Daniel Boone’s grandson. Their skillet fried chicken and chicken fried steaks are a must-order.
Getting There: A one hour and 50-minute drive on I-35 South.
Travel Tip: Solo 24-hour bike race Dirty Kanza takes place every summer and covers 200 miles of terrain