In KC, you can easily while away a day at the zoo or Crown Center
The Kansas City Zoo has the flashy ($15 million new Penguin Plaza), the surprising (iPad-playing orangutans), the thrilling (a sky tram to “Africa”) and the polar bears — one of them, Nikita, obliges for photo ops by kicking off the glass while swimming his usual loop.
The zoo spans 202 acres, so pick one section if you only have a half day. In the Australia loop, highlights include tigers, orangutans and free-range kangaroos that come so close you can almost reach into their pouches. In Africa, watch for elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes and the intrepid chimps, who recently engineered their escape and climbed a branch into national news. The KidZone has a playground, carousel, sea lion demonstrations and camel rides, plus the indoor Discovery Barn, which houses some adorable, zippy spider monkeys.
Train and tram rides are worth the splurge, at $2.50 and $1.50 respectively. Kids will delight at rushing through tunnels on the train. Your feet will delight at the momentary break. The African Sky Safari ($4) resembles a ski lift, cutting across the exhibits from above and landing at the chimp enclosure, the farthest point from the zoo entrance.
Located in Swope Park, the zoo is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 5 p.m. on weekends. Regular admission is $12.50 for adults, $11.50 for seniors, $9.50 for children ages 3-11 and free for the 2-and-under set. kansascityzoo.org, 816-595-1234.
Crown Center is where you go if you want a full Day o’ Kid Fun.
There’s Sea Life Aquarium, one of the few places in landlocked Missouri where a person can ogle such marine creatures as a 14-foot Japanese spider crab, delicate seahorses and mesmerizing jellyfish. You can observe sharks and rays from inside the main tank’s tunnel. For something more hands-on, head to the Interactive Rockpool, where you can pet a starfish or (safely) cradle a crab. visitsealife.com/kansas-city
Save some energy for the Legoland Discovery Center. There you can learn how Lego bricks are made, laser away bad guys during a ride and ogle a “Wizard of Oz” spread in miniature. Builders can engineer race cars for speed tests, towers for earthquakes and Duplo creations. If you want to ditch the kids and build with other adults, check out “No Kids Allowed Night” on the third Monday evening of the month. Combo tickets to Sea Life and Legoland cost $23 for children ages 3-12 and $29 for teens and adults. legolanddiscoverycenter.com/kansascity
Save cash by hitting Crown Center’s free interactive exhibit, “Super Kids Save the World,” which runs from May 24 through Sept. 7. The exhibit focuses on ways kids can get eco-friendly, from turning on lights by pedaling a bike to playing dress-up in a play thrift store.
Crown Center also has lunch options aplenty, none more kid-friendly than Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant. Grab your cardboard engineer’s hat and gaze upward to watch the food get delivered to your table by train. At this old-school diner even the prices are nostalgic: An Old Fashioned Hamburger costs $2.49. Prepare for a line on weekends.
Steps away from Crown Center: Science City at Union Station. And in Overland Park, kids will love exploring Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, which depicts a circa-1900 family farm complete with animals.
| Lindsay Hanson Metcalf, Special to The Star
In St. Louis, big fun that won’t hit your wallet too hard. And don’t miss the City Museum
St. Louis may be one of the kid-friendliest destinations in the country, with attractions that have outranked the Mouse in Orlando and are far easier on the wallet.
The City Museum is unlike any museum you’ve ever visited. It’s visually stunning and completely hands-on for all ages. It’s more mayhem than museum. The 600,000- square-foot space is an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, wacky funhouse, surrealistic pavilion and architectural marvel. Be sure to check out the giant slides, including a 10-story, 100-foot spiral slide that starts at the building’s top floor. Tickets start at $12; citymuseum.org.
The St. Louis Zoo in Forest Park boasts one of the premier collections and habitats with 18,000 animals from 700 species on 90 acres. More than 3 million visitors a year come to see exhibits like the River’s Edge, Sea Lion Sound, Big Cat Country, an insectarium, Children’s Zoo, Zooline Railroad and more. The best part: Admission is free; stlzoo.org.
Also in Forest Park is the St. Louis Science Center where you’ll find the “Dinosaurs in Motion” exhibit along with the Omnimax theater, the Planetarium and other exhibits. Admission is free; slsc.org
Zagat’s guide once named the Magic House, a 55,000-square-foot children’s museum, as the nation’s top family attraction with the most child appeal. Infants have their own area inspired by nursery rhymes. Preschoolers love “A Little Bit of Magic,” a play area with a texture tunnel, puppet wall, sand play and a water playground. Children in the elementary grades will enjoy the Children’s Village, a kid-sized community with a market, bank, library, garage and a fishing pond. For older children, there is “Can You Solve the Mystery?” where they become detectives to solve an art forgery crime. Admission is $9.50; magichouse.org.
| Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch