Most visitors to the Kansas City area know about the star attractions: the Country Club Plaza, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kansas City Zoo and Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Next time you visit “the Paris of the Plains,” check out some of these off-the-beaten-path destinations. Call or visit the websites for hours and admission fees.
Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead. This replica of an early 20th century farmstead is home to nearly 200 farm animals and birds of prey. Plant lovers can wander through acres of vegetable and flower gardens. Kids can visit the one-room country schoolhouse, take a pony ride and engage in hand-on activities with the farm animals, such as feeding goats and petting horses and cows. 13800 Switzer Road, Overland Park, Kan. opkansas.org. 913-897-2360.
Leila’s Hair Museum. In Victorian times, keeping in touch wasn’t so easy. Locks of hair served as tokens to remember faraway or departed loved ones. Sometimes hair was woven into ornate wreaths or jewelry. Leila Cohoon’s collection features thousands of pieces of hair art, including strands from Queen Victoria, four U.S. presidents, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson. 1333 S. Noland Road, Independence, Mo., leilashairmuseum.net. 816-833-2955.
Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio. See where the Regionalist painter, famous for depicting midcentury American life, created masterpieces such as “Persephone.” Benton converted a stone carriage house into a studio. Time capsule-like, it remains as Benton left it when he died in 1975, strewn with brushes, paints and a canvas stretched and ready for another work of art. 3616 Belleview Ave., Kansas City, Mo., mostateparks.com. 816-931-5722
Cedar Cove Feline Conservatory and Education Center. This nonprofit organization cares for endangered “big cats” and other exotic animals and educates the public about them. Visitors who schedule a tour can see rescued tigers, lions, leopards, wolves and coatis (relatives of the raccoon). 3783 K68 Highway, Louisburg, Kan., saveoursiberians.org. 913-837-5515
Moon Marble Co. Learn to play marbles, purchase them, and watch them being made. Besides the multicolored handmade marbles, Moon Marble stocks machine-made marbles, from “peewees” to “boulders,” and many other classic games and toys. 600 E. Front St., Bonner Springs, Kan. moonmarble.com. 913-441-1432
Black Archives of Mid-America. This collection preserves the social, economic, political and cultural histories of African-Americans, particularly those in the Midwest. Peruse the extensive photo and oral history archives, and see personal correspondence from choreographer Alvin Ailey. 1722 E. 17th Terrace, Kansas City, Mo. (in the 18th and Vine Jazz District) blackarchives.org. 816-221-1600
Olathe Prairie Center. Five minutes away from a busy suburb, this 300-acre preserve is a habitat for prairie grasses, some of which grow nearly nine feet tall, and a diversity of native wildflowers, including the endangered Mead’s milkweed. Wildlife watchers should keep their eyes peeled for various butterflies and prairie birds, such as eastern meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows. Because it’s a nature reserve, public access is limited to trails, and bicycles and motorized vehicles are prohibited. 26325 W. 135th St., Olathe, Kan. kdwpt.state.ks.us. 913-856-7669.
Kansas City Garment District Museum. During the first half of the 20th century, Kansas City’s bustling garment industry cranked out clothing for America. See your grandmother’s made-in-Kansas City fashions – many still stylish today – on display. Head to the park across the street to view the 22-foot “Needle” sculpture. 801 Broadway, Kansas City, Mo. kcgarmentmuseum.org. 816-474-2112.
Grinter Place State Historic Site. With its period furnishings, this house built in 1857 near the Kansas River provides a glimpse into frontier life along the Kansas-Missouri state line. Annie Grinter, who was American Indian (Lenape), raised poultry and livestock at the homestead and started an apple orchard. Her husband, Moses Grinter, ran a ferry and trading post. Their stories illustrate the changes in Kansas during a tumultuous time in the state’s history. 1420 S. 78th St., Kansas City, Kan., kshs.org. 913-299-0373
1950s All-Electric House. Constructed by Kansas City Power & Light Electric Co. in 1954, this five-room ranch house encapsulates the postwar American dream of suburban life. The All-Electric House features “futuristic” gadgetry such as an electric curtain opener, a hideaway TV and year-round heating and cooling. 6305 Lackman Road, Shawnee, Kan., jocomuseum.org. 913-715-2550.