We’re quite fond of a good one-tank road trip, and recently found that Excelsior Springs, Missouri, ticked that box — plus many more! This small town about 30 miles northeast of Kansas City has a long and rich history as a wellness haven, thanks to its naturally occuring mineral springs. People once flocked from across the Midwest to take in the “healing waters,” as they were known back then; many thought they had curative powers.
Today, Excelsior Springs is a charming town that leans into its past while keeping a keen eye on its present. It’s the perfect place to exhale, unwind, and focus on… you! Here are a few reasons it’s the ultimate spot for relaxation.
1. The Elms Hotel & Spa
You can’t talk about Excelsior Springs without starting with The Elms. The imposing resort and spa sits in the middle of town and dates back more than 125 years. It was initially built in the late 1880s after a local farmer’s daughter was said to have made a miraculous recovery from tuberculosis after bathing in and drinking water from the springs.
Word spread quickly, and the town we now know as Excelsior Springs quickly built up around the bubbling sources of curative water. People came from all over the country to soothe a variety of ailments, and many checked into the newly built Elms Hotel to do just that. Guests could soak in the property’s mineral baths or stroll among its gardens for a bit of R&R. It was the destination during the town’s health heyday.
The resort has seen its share of ups and downs. There have been two fires and two rebuilds through the years. The third incarnation of The Elms — a five-story limestone and wood manor — is the one guests enjoy today. This stately structure has hosted gangsters, gamblers, and governors. Its guest rooms, common spaces, restaurant, and spa just got a complete glow-up thanks to extensive renovations and redesigns.
I recently visited The Elms as a guest for a wellness event and had access to the property’s spa, pool, steam rooms, grotto, and indoor European-style lap pool. It’s a grand place, yet restful and anything but stuffy. Upon check-in, I immediately headed downstairs to the spa area. It was peacefully lit, with a sauna, a steam room, and cold shower rooms. There was also a large soaking tub and various sea salt scrubs for guests to use. I also took advantage of the spa lounge, a nice place to rest and grab a quick snack after trying out the amenities.
The wellness event I attended (arranged and curated by The Elms spa staff) also featured a small-group yoga session off site as well as a lovely, locally sourced private dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Three Owls. The spa’s manager, Marissa, took time and care with our group, personally ensuring we had everything we needed to fully enjoy the experience. She also let me know that other weekend events are planned in the future at The Elms and that yoga and meditation sessions are offered onsite for guests on a regular basis. It’s a wonderful and holistic nod to the resort’s past as a health haven, and my stay there was a wonderful recharge!
2. Downtown Excelsior Springs
Excelsior Springs’ historic downtown district is well worth a stroll, either before or after your spa treatments at The Elms. The charming red-brick buildings date back to the turn of the century, and many feature painted murals along their sides depicting various points of the town’s history.
There are two spots that also deserve a closer look and a bit more of your time and attention:
Hall Of Waters
First, there’s the Hall of Waters. This Art Deco marvel was built by the Federal Public Works Administration and once housed two mineral water pools, plus separate baths for men and women. Then there was the water bar, where waters from ten local springs were piped to be bottled and served to customers on site (and shipped elsewhere).
The water bar area is closed to the public as it undergoes renovations and restorations as of this publish date. Here’s hoping the necessary repairs can be made quickly to restore this gorgeous building to its former glory!
Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives
Next, to learn more about Excelsior Springs’ long and interesting backstory, stop by the town’s history and archives center. The center is just a short walk from the Hall of Waters. It’s housed in a former bank building and an adjoining former hotel. The all-volunteer staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and more than happy to answer any questions you might have. The exhibits truly tell the story of the town and are worth checking out, as are the features of the preserved bank building, including the original vault and light fixtures.
Pro Tip: Bring $5 in cash for your entry fee; the center does not accept e-payments.
3. Boutiques And Specialty Stores
In addition to the history you’ll discover downtown, there are many charming shops and boutiques in Excelsior Springs to peruse. From antiques and home décor to bath and beauty items, there’s something for everyone.
One of my favorites is BluBox Boutique, which features on-trend women’s apparel and accessories in a wide range of sizes and styles.
Willow Spring Mercantile
Foodies should not sleep on Willow Spring Mercantile. This shop sells fine wine, craft beer, spirits, and all sorts of other goodies, including gourmet snacks and coffee. There’s even a quaint bistro on the lower level if you need a lunch break.
Sturm Brothers’ Custom Design & Fine Jewelry
If you’re in the mood for something sparkly, consider a stop at Sturm Brothers’. I just might have come dangerously close to bringing home some bling from Excelsior Springs. If you take a look, you could run the same risk!
Excelsior Springs sits in a valley with rolling hills and bluffs tucking it in. This terrain makes for some great land to grow grapes, and the little town is blessed to have two terrific wineries nearby.
Four Horses And A Dog
Located just to the north of downtown, Four Horses and a Dog is a small winery and vineyard that’s planted its own grapes for the past decade. From semi-sweet to bone-dry, varietals here include chardonel, norton, and chambourcin. Tastings are offered on site, and there’s often live music.
Fence Stile Vineyards, Winery, & Distillery
To the southeast of town, Fence Stile has been welcoming winery guests since 2009. Varietals grown on site include seyval blanc, Vidal blanc, vignoles, and chambourcin. Fence Stile also has its own distillery, cranking out custom small batches of rum.
I had the chance to take part in a lovely wine tasting paired with small bites at Fence Stile. Owner/winemaker Shriti Plimpton walked us through each of her wines, explained her process from grape to bottle, and could not have been a more gracious or generous host!
5. Excelsior Springs Golf Course
Some of us find relaxation in the great outdoors and getting in that all-important exercise. And if a game of golf is your idea of R&R, Excelsior Springs has you covered. The town’s golf club opened with an 18-hole championship course back in 1915. The club briefly expanded to 36 holes in the late 1920s, but the Great Depression forced a downsize back to 18 holes, a standard still in place today.
Rates are reasonable, and the course is gorgeous with its rolling hills, elevation changes, and many mature trees. Be sure to grab lunch in the newly built clubhouse to see an 1825 walnut log cabin, built by the man who first farmed the land where the golf course is located today. Great care was taken to build the new clubhouse around the cabin in order to preserve and protect this fascinating piece of history.
Like The Elms, a number of celebrities have visited and hit the links at Excelsior Springs Golf Course, including ballplayers, boxers, and golf stars of yesteryear. More recently, current and past PGA Tour players, including Tom Watson, Tom Pernice, and the late Payne Stewart, have also teed off at the club.
6. Dubious Claims Brewing Co.
Finally, you can’t go wrong with a craft beer to help you relax and unwind. And Dubious Claims Brewing Co. — so named for the far-fetched powers and alleged curative properties attributed to the town’s springs — doesn’t disappoint. The brewpub serves up a rotating tap of ales, IPAs, and porters made on site. While the menu is small, it’s tasty, featuring pizzas and other pub-grub favorites. Dubious Claims is a great place to take a beer break after a day of shopping or exploring town.
Pro Tip: While not exactly relaxing, per se, Excelsior Springs has fun festivals and events taking place year round. From chocolate tours and wine sips to Gatsby Days and Waterfest, the town has a robust social calendar! Consider planning your visit around one of the many annual events that make Excelsior Springs so special.