With the holiday season upon us, it’s time to head out and check out the sparkling lights and other holiday-themed attractions. Kansas City is home to dozens of public holiday attractions, such as a drive-thru light display to the traditional Kansas City crowns. You’ll want to take advantage of as many Christmas attractions as you can, so plan accordingly.
Here’s a look at 11 of the best Christmas features to check out when Kansas City transitions from the City of Fountains to the City of Holiday Lights.
1. Union Station
Featuring a 40-foot-tall Christmas tree, Union Station is the perfect spot to enjoy the holiday season with the family. Lights and ornaments decorate the freshly cut tree, which proudly stands in the main hall, and giant wreaths hang above the entrances. Every year, the hall fills with the sounds of the season as live entertainment is offered on weekends. Enjoy a walk through Holiday Reflections,a village featuring decorated trees, displays, and giant mirrored ornaments. And while you’re there, check out Union Station’s impressive model railroad gallery.
2. Zona Rosa
From 1962 until the mid-1970s, giant decorated crowns hovered over downtown Kansas City’s intersections. The holiday crowns, based on Hallmark’s logo, were among the most popular of the city’s holiday attractions. Resurrected in 2011, the holiday crowns now adorn the intersections at Zona Rosa, an outdoor shopping center in northwestern Kansas City. The crowns feature lights of many different colors and are a must-see when visiting. The shopping center also has a 50-foot-tall tree at its main plaza and several smaller decorated trees.
3. Swope Park
Enjoy a mile-long drive-through Christmas light display at Swope Park. Winter Magic, which runs nightly through January 1, features a bevy of colorful lights, giant ornaments, and holiday-themed displays. With the synchronized displays set to holiday music, you can listen to beloved classics as you drive. Pack some hot chocolate and treats to enjoy during your visit. Tickets for the attraction must be purchased online in advance.
4. Country Club Plaza
With the tops of its buildings decorated in various colors, Country Club Plaza has been part of the city’s holiday light tradition for more than 90 years. The simple design -- colored lights running along the shapes of the buildings -- is a Kansas City favorite. From Thanksgiving until mid-January, thousands of locals and visitors make their way to the Plaza for the lights, dinner, and a little holiday shopping.
5. Crown Center
Home to the 100-foot-tall Mayor’s Christmas Tree, Crown Center celebrates the season in style. With larger-than-life toy trains, nutcrackers, and present boxes near the base of the tree, the Mayor’s Christmas Tree is flanked by smaller trees decorated with white lights. Inside the Crown Center, you’ll find holiday displays featuring trees, a gingerbread village, and more. The mall also includes an outdoor ice skating rink.
6. Hallmark Visitor Center
When you care to send the very best, head to the Hallmark Visitor Center. The greeting card giant celebrates its history at this small museum near Crown Center with employee-created Christmas trees given as gifts to founder Joyce Hall. Each is decorated with themed ornaments, such as those highlighting folk art and the 12 days of Christmas. The last tree decorated for Hall, who died in 1982, was a quilt-themed Christmas tree, and it is also displayed at the museum. Enjoy checking out keepsake ornaments and unique creations for the season featuring sports, pop culture, and traditional decorations. Bring some tissues -- you may need them when watching the holiday television commercials that are played on loop.
7. Legends Outlets
You’ll swear that the 45-foot-tall Christmas tree at the Legends Outlets center on the Kansas side of Kansas City is dancing. A light show every 15 minutes makes the tree’s multicolored lights appear as though they’re swaying to the holiday music. The outdoor shopping center also features larger-than-life ornaments such as snowflakes and Christmas bulbs.
8. 18th And Vine
Celebrate Christmas with a little soul as the 18th and Vine District kicks off the season with The Soul of Santa festival, featuring a tree-lighting ceremony followed by the sounds of the season. Explore the area’s Negro League Baseball Museum and American Jazz Museum, as well as the holiday lights around the district. Don’t forget to grab a bite of outstanding Kansas City barbecue at Arthur Bryant’s.
9. Longview Campground
With more than 500,000 multicolored lights twinkling in the night sky, Longview Campground is the place to be for the annual Christmas in the Park celebration. Open nightly Thursday through Sunday until December 31, Christmas in the Park is a drive-through winter wonderland featuring 175 animated displays. Listen to Christmas music as you enjoy the drive.
10. Powell Gardens
Offering more than 20 miles of colorful lights, the Festival of Lights at Powell Gardens is one of the best holiday attractions in the Kansas City area. Enjoy the outdoors as you walk along the flat trails to take in the joys of the season on more than 25 acres. Each section of the garden offers a variety of animated displays. Open Thursday through Sunday until January 3, the event is ADA-compatible. Powell Gardens also offers shorter routes to walk and tram rides from the Missouri Barn to the visitor center.
11. Worlds Of Fun
The Worlds of Fun amusement park transforms into a winter wonderland each year as Santa Claus and his friends take over, hosting WinterFest. The holiday celebration includes live shows, roaming elves, Christmas cookie art, and hot chocolate. The park is decked out in holiday lights and displays featuring larger-than-life ornaments and characters. WinterFest also recognizes Hanukkah with a menorah display. If you’re feeling adventurous, hop aboard one of the roller-coasters or other rides. Enjoy the nightly tree-lighting ceremony featuring Christmas carols and an appearance by Santa Claus. The event is hosted by the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Best Restaurants In Kansas City During The Holiday Season
Since most of the holiday events take place at night, you’ll want to grab dinner before heading out. Here are just a few outstanding options.
With two locations in the metro area, Q39 quickly established itself as one of the best places to enjoy barbecue in Kansas City. From the smoked and grilled pork belly appetizers to the Judge’s Plate -- a combination of pork spare ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, and chipotle sausage -- it may be challenging to pick a meal, since almost everything on the menu will appeal to barbecue fans. The apple slaw is so divine that you may want to order an entire plate of it for yourself.
Located in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District, Grinders is unique in its atmosphere and its menu. The atmosphere is about as eclectic as you can get, with autographed walls, stickers on another wall, odd pictures, and more. Some tables have airline seats as well as standard chairs. The menu features everything from “Big Ass Fries” to Philly sandwiches, smashed burgers, handmade pizzas, chicken wings (nicknamed “Death Wings”), and the famous Chicken Parmesan Grinder -- a hand-breaded chicken breast topped with lots of Provolone cheese and homemade red sauce on a long roll.
Jess And Jim’s Steakhouse
Located near the Kansas state line in the Martin City neighborhood, Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse has been serving up some of the best steaks in the Midwest for more than 80 years. Opened by two best friends, the restaurant has enjoyed a loyal following for decades. Following the passing of the founders, Jim’s cousin took over managing the eatery. Today, his sons continue the tradition. Known for its hand-cut premium steaks, Jess and Jim’s also serves filet mignons, Kansas City strips, and porterhouses, as well as burgers, chicken breasts, and gizzards.
Pro Tip: When visiting Kansas City during the holiday season, reserve a room at the Kansas City Marriott Downtown. Located among the city’s skyscrapers, the hotel is known for its light show, featuring Santa Claus and his reindeer flying and a giant Christmas tree. You’ll want to visit the park across the street from the hotel for the best view. The Marriott is just a couple of blocks from the popular Power and Light District, a fun retail and entertainment district with a plethora of restaurants, boutiques, and bars, including Howl at the Moon, a dueling pianos spot.