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Stephanie, top, and Juliet Boothe at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

Metro area packed with summer activities for the entire family

Summer vacation doesn’t mean families have to plan spectacular trips to the beach or a grand tour of roller coasters. Families can plan spectacular summer breaks right here at home with the added benefit to the wallet. After all, what’s really the most important part of summer-time activities? Spending time with the family, right?

Before I offer my list of top-10 activities, let me tell you a little about my family.

I have a 6-year-old who is easily entertained but also easily distracted and prone to get bored quickly. I have a 4-month-old who just discovered his voice, his right foot and his left hand. I have been married to my best friend, the most amazing husband and father for 11 years.

And me, well there’s a reason my husband says our 6-year-old gets her personality from my side of the family. Taking all these personalities into consideration can make a day on the town a little bit of a challenge.

10 Feed the fish. At Blue Springs Lake, part of the Fleming Park amenities through Jackson County Parks and Recreation, you can purchase a handful of fish food for a little bit of pocket change. It’s entertaining to watch the fish swim over top of one another to get to the morsel you’ve just thrown out there. And once your out of fish food, you can watch all the boats go by or pick up a rod and reel and try to catch some fish of your own – a particularly heart-warming activity for this farm girl turned city dweller.

9 Visit the Shatto Dairy. While my family has never done this, it’s definitely on our bucket list. We used to drive by the dairy all the time on our way out of town to visit my family. Tours, $5 a person, of the dairy are available by appointment and last about 90 minutes. The tour also includes a chance to taste some of their products. The Dairy also offers many special events throughout the year. It’s a little outside the city, so it makes for a great day trip. For more information, visit http://www.shattomilk.com/.

8 Go to the drive in. For $7 a person, you and your family can enjoy a night under the stars – watching new-release films and feeling like you’ve gone back in time a little. Not enough money for the snack bar? That’s OK. Many family will bring their own food with them. You can either sit outside in lawn chairs or watch the movie from your car.

7 Free movies. Speaking of movies, there a lot of chances to watch movies on the side of a building. The Independence Square offers free family movies on the side of the Pharoah Theatre once a month during the summer. The movies are always family-friendly. Crown Center also offers free movies.

6 Enjoy the arts. Kansas City is home to a vibrant arts community. At the helm are two art museums that offer plenty of entertainment for all ages. My daughter and I recently enjoyed a field trip to the Nelson- Atkins, where I could appreciate the history of the pieces and the students were tasked with pointing out shapes in the pieces. This was a great way to engage my daughter in the arts and provide a learning experience.

5 Check out Crown Center. Crown Center always has a family-friendly activities. Last summer, we enjoyed an interactive reading exhibit. Stories like “Chikka Chikka Boom Boom” and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” came to life through various stations. And of course Crown Center is also home to Legoland and the Sea Life aquarium. Kaleidoscope and the Crayola Store are always family favorites for us. For families with older children, Crown Center also offers a free concert series. In fact, my first concert was one of the free concerts offered by Crown Center back in the 1990s.


Festivals abound across the metro offering inexpensive fun for entire families. Here, Juliet sports a painted face at a festival in downtown Independence, Mo.

Festivals abound across the metro offering inexpensive fun for entire families. Here, Juliet sports a painted face at a festival in downtown Independence, Mo.

4 Festivals abound. From Old Shawnee days to the Vaile Mansion Strawberry Festival, organizations all over the metro will start setting up vendor tents for the annual festivals. The Strawberry Festival is one of our favorite summer events. Not only do visitors get to spend the day looking at crafts and antiques, but there is also live music and tours of the infamous Victorian home. And don’t forget the strawberries. Strawberry sundaes and strawberry shortcake will surely hit the spot.

3 Get some home-grown produce. Every community offers a farmers market with fresh produce. But Kansas City is also home to the mother of all farmers market down in the River Market area. Peaches, tomatoes, you name it and you can find it at the River Market. There are bounce houses and mini trains for the kids. I was particularly excited to see I could get bubble tea. And once you’re done with the river market, try taking the new light rail to another destination in the city. Or grab a bit to eat at one of the many unique restaurants down there. For the history buffs, visit the Steamboat Arabia Museum.

2 Go to the beach. OK, so it may not have the big waves that crash onto Daytona Beach, but many of the area lakes offer the main features – sand, sun and swimming. Fleming Park and Smithville Lake, for example, offer public swimming options. Or if you don’t care so much about the sand, try spending a day at your local pool. Most cities have turned their public pools into aquatic centers so there is much more to do than swim and jump off the diving boards. Lazy rivers and water slides are almost standard in aquatic centers these days.

1 Go to the zoo. Spending the day seeing animals in their natural habitat is both fun and educational and a great way to see a little bit of wonderment in your child’s eyes. Watching the polar bear swim is, by itself, worth the cost of admission. There is a carousel and a train and hours and hours of good family bonding.

–Stephanie Boothe, Metro Voice contributor