The Plaza lights twinkled on for the 92nd time this year, marking the start of the holiday season in Kansas City.
But fun in the cold season doesn’t have to end when the lights go dark on Jan. 9. Winter is a great time for exploration, both indoors and out. We’ve compiled a list of five free wintertime activities to add to the calendar:
- Impress the in-laws with a tour of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
- Bundle up and become one with nature in Parkville and Riverside
- Take a new look at Kansas City’s past at the recently renovated Kansas City Museum
- Learn a thing or two at the Kansas City Public Library
- Check out a new neighborhood — or an old favorite — like West Bottoms or Strawberry Hill
Impress the in-laws with a museum tour
The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, located in Midtown, has long stood for free, accessible art that tells a distinctive story.
According to its website, the museum offers “more than 60 educational programs free to the public” each year.
One exhibit that requires in-person participation is Mexican Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s “Pulse Topology.” The display shimmers to life in a huge, darkened room as thousands of suspended light bulbs mimic visitors’ actual heartbeats.
Admission to the Kemper is always free, but with the recent rise in COVID cases in mind, visitors are encouraged to reserve a ticket and corresponding time slot beforehand. Masks are required.
Although “Pulse Topology” can only be experienced until Jan. 2, 2022, the museum has other exhibitions planned, including “Natalie Frank: Unbound.”
Frank’s work exists at the intersection of feminism and identity — she’s perhaps most known for reimagining more controversial versions of fairy tales. That exhibit will run from Jan. 28, 2022, to May 15, 2022.
Bundle up and become one with nature
If the goal is to get outside in the new year — or at least out of the house — take the adventure north to Parkville, a picturesque little town with a castle-like college and charming main drag.
Parkville may be small, but it has options. Day hikers can follow Missouri Highway 9 through town and turn right into Parkville Nature Sanctuary, a 115-acre wildlife preserve cared for by the city and volunteers.
The sanctuary is open year-round, varies in trail difficulty, and encompasses a marsh, dense forest and open prairie. Hikers will find overlook points and an old stone cellar previously used by the city to store harvests in winter.
Even though it might be frozen in January, kids will love the waterfall on the Old Kate Trail, which tops out at a mile. Folks looking for a more challenging hike can do the rocky 1.5-mile Whitetail Trail. The Bluebird Trail is ADA accessible.
Furry friends aren’t allowed in the sanctuary, but Parkville’s English Landing Park — which sits right along the river — offers five miles of walking, running and biking trails and a dog park to the southeast.
The trails at English Landing Park connect to the six-mile Missouri Riverfront Trail. This trail stretches from Parkville to Riverside along the top of the Missouri River levee and down into river bottoms and floodplains. Dogs are allowed but must be leashed.
Take a new look at Kansas City’s past
The recently renovated Kansas City Museum — located atop a bluff in the historic Scarritt Point neighborhood — highlights Kansas City’s diverse cultural history and creates a space for present-day inclusivity.
In collaboration with Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, Black Archives of Mid-America, UMKC’s Center for Neighborhoods, UNESCO Creative City-KC and African American Artists Collective, the museum has worked with an education team to develop Restore KC.
The program introduces a series of conversations that involve confronting systemic racism, healing from pandemic-era isolation and restructuring the current socioeconomic status quo.
Built in 1910, the Beaux-Arts style mansion is the original home of lumber baron Robert A. Long. It has been mostly closed since 2008 and has since undergone a $22 million restoration.
The entire first floor of the museum has been architecturally restored. The second and third floors portray a history of Kansas City, laid out chrono-thematically over four main galleries.
Some themes include “Culture Confluences: Rivers to 1870” and “The Kansas City Spirit: 1940s to 1980s.” The fifth gallery features limited-run exhibits.
Elixir, the museum’s soda fountain, will reopen in early 2022. Café 3218, which is only open — so far — for ticketed culinary events, is located on the first floor.
Kansas City Museum is open from Thursday through Sunday and asks that visitors reserve timed-entry tickets, though printing them is not required.
Learn a thing or two at KCPL
Kansas City’s public library system is a tried-and-true community resource, offering free events centered around art, literature and history year-round.
In early January, get to know French playwright Molière, perhaps ranked second only to Shakespeare when it comes to theater. The presentation is available both in-person and online via the library’s YouTube channel.
And on Jan. 20, 2022, photographers Michael Mardikes and Nick Vedros will give visitors a glimpse into Missouri painter and muralist Thomas Hart Benton’s workspace and home.
Check out a new neighborhood (or an old favorite)
Holiday visitors can spend a day walking around the city’s historic West Bottoms, which survived flooding in 1903 and 1951. The high water mark is still visible from the second floor of the Livestock Exchange Building.
Today, the Bottoms feel eerily — but happily — suspended in time. Take the scenic 12th Street Bridge from downtown to park and peruse the area’s collection of thrift stores, bars and coffee shops. First Friday weekends are especially busy and popular.
Another possibility is the Strawberry Hill neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas, which has a history all its own.
Established by Eastern European immigrants after flooding in 1904, the area has a thriving Latinx community and is known for its grand Victorian homes with original stained-glass windows.
Downtowns in historic nearby cities such as Independence and Liberty also provide plenty to see and do without planning a long day or overnight trip.
And there’s always a stroll around Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza — with or without the lights.