It’s that time of year — the manic dash to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Frenzied shoppers, mile-long to-do lists, packed stores … it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Ok, actually, it is my favorite time of year, and I have to admit I even love crazy holiday shopping (though my wallet doesn’t as much). But I always get stressed out trying to find that “just right” gift for each person (what can I say — I’m a perfectionist) and part of that is that so much out there is so generic. When I’m looking for a gift, I want something unique and special. Luckily, the local and craft market is booming these days, and there are an increasing number of sources to find decidedly un-basic gifts. I’ll admit it: I’m a craft market addict. In case you’re still on the prowl for gifts, I rounded up a selection of the best spots to shop local in Kansas City (some also have online stores, if you’re not in the KC area). With local and handmade items, these are the perfect places to find outside-the-box gifts for that special someone (and maybe a treat for yourself as well).
Made in KC is essentially the Mecca of local KC goods. They now have several locations across the city, each a marketplace stuffed with local foods, clothes, accessories, and more. Each item comes from a local maker or small company, and with a variety of different makers in one market, there’s a little something there for everyone. From jewelry and clothes to candles, plants, and liquor, you can find nearly everything here. The Plaza location even has a coffeeshop, beer on tap, and an ice cream counter inside, so you can sip or munch as you shop!
If you’re looking for a unique gift, Cherry Pit Collective has you covered. Cherry Pit Collective, a communal workspace for women artists, makers, and creatives in KC’s Tower East district, is getting merry this year with a special holiday pop-up shop at the nearby Objects space. Check it out weekends through December 23rd for one-of-a-kind handmade jewelry, ceramics, fine art, vintage goods, and more, plus pop-up eats like Swoon Cookies and Dead Beet Tacos (hey, shopping requires fuel!).
Pleasant as they are, the suburbs aren’t exactly known for their unique, non-chain shopping (hey, I can say this — I grew up right in this neighborhood). That said, Leawood is getting a little extra local flair this holiday season with an artisan pop-up in the Town Center Crossing shopping center. Stop by on weekends until Christmas for fine art, jewelry, and more from a selection of local makers. If you have a creative or art lover on your list, this is the perfect stop. And don’t forget to treat yourself as well: yummies from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, and Midnight Espresso Coffee Liqueurs are available as you shop!
Strawberry Swing leads the pack when it comes to craft fairs — each season they host a pop-up extravaganza of handmade, local, and vintage goods in a spot around Kansas City. These fairs are perfect for gift-shopping (or, ahem, treating yourself), but they only happen a few times a year. Never fear — the Internet is here. In case you missed the holiday craft fair, Strawberry Swing now has an online marketplace to shop many of its creative goodies. Clothing, jewelry, home and bath goods — you name it, they likely have it. It’s not exactly the same experience as visiting a cute little shop, I know, but it is local, handmade, and a plethora of unique gift possibilities.
Kansas City’s artists and makers have another home base in CollectiveEX, a workshop and store for local artisans to create and sell their work. You’ll find a host of locally made items here, from clothes and accessories to fine art. For a little extra shopping fuel, stop by Thee Outpost, the latest coffee creation from Thou Mayest’s Bo Nelson, also located inside CollectiveEX.
Venture into the eclectic Westside neighborhood for this funky little shop housed in an old 1920s dry goods building. With over 20 local artisans and makers, plus vintage goods, you never know what you’ll find in here. Cheeky enamel pin? Check. Classy handmade candle? Check. Vintage sword? Check. On top of that, Westside is its own little adventure in of itself, so it’s well worth making an afternoon of this one. Stop by the cheerful Bluebird Bistro for a scrumptious organic brunch, grab coffee at the charming Goat Hill Coffee & Soda, and wander around the wonderfully bizarre medley of houses in the area after you do your shopping.
An ancient castle, perched on top of a rocky island surrounded on all sides by the sea — sounds like a fairy tale, right? And really, Mont Saint-Michel is a bit like something out of a fairytale. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go Google Mont Saint-Michel — I’ll wait. Stunning, isn’t it? I took a day trip from Paris, and I would highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.
Located in northern France where Normandy and Brittany meet, this ancient island settlement dates back over a thousand years. As the story goes, the Archangel Michael told Aubert, bishop of nearby Avranches, to build a church on the island in 709. A community of Benedictines settled on the mont in 966, and the Romanesque abbey church and first monastery buildings were built in the 11th century. In the following centuries, the spot became a great spiritual and intellectual center and a major pilgrimage site. The monastery and surrounding town were built up throughout medieval times, including protective ramparts added during the Hundred Years War. It was even used as a prison during the French Revolution! Today, the monastery is once again a working religious community, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site that welcomes over 2.5 million visitors a year.
As you might have guessed, the only caveat is that by these days, this site is a big tourist attraction. That said, it’s still spectacular, and I would highly recommend it. I went in the off-season — in October — and while it was definitely full of tourists, it wasn’t nearly as packed as it would have been in the summer (though prepare for rain if you’re there in the fall). In any case, the crowds really didn’t dim the magic of the place. The trick is to get off the beaten path of the little town (after you’ve grabbed your crepe and souvenirs) and up into the winding paths of the upper town and monastery. The village is mostly one narrow cobbled path lined with bustling souvenir shops and restaurants — like something straight out of Harry Potter (think Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley). All around this area, quaint little homes and hotels perch on the hillside, all the way up toward the monastery at the top.
But as charming as the town is, the real magic is in the narrow cobbled paths that snake up the cliffside toward the monastery. Pick a path and start exploring — I can guarantee you’ll get lost, but that’s the fun of it. Wander past charming little homes with colorful shutters, peek into an ancient graveyard, say hello to a meandering cat, and the next thing you know, you’ll be standing on top of ramparts looking out over the steely grey ocean. It’s a maze of unexpected discoveries, and while you’re likely to bump into fellow explorers, the entire area is surprisingly peaceful.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of wandering, climb to the monastery at the very top of the island (you’re likely to end up there anyway if you keep heading upward). Honestly, I almost skipped this part, reluctant to pay extra to get in. Luckily, I went for it anyway — don’t miss this. Yes, I have a penchant for turning everything into a Harry Potter reference, but I promise, this looks just like Hogwarts. You wander through a maze of vaulted stone ceilings, spooky corridors, and a stunning church, all nearly a thousand years old (some of it older). Even with other tourists around, the entire place is hushed and almost haunted, like stepping back into history. You half expect a monk to amble past or a medieval knight to be waiting in the knight’s hall. At the end, you emerge from the dim corridors onto a platform overlooking all of the village and surround ocean — the highest point visitors are allowed to go — with only the bell tower looming above you. It really was spectacular, and definitely worth the 10 euros to get into the monastery.
If you’re feeling adventurous on the way out, you can actually venture out into the ocean at low tide. The entire mont is surrounded by a flat plain of grey muddy sand at low tide that you can wander across. In all honesty, this was a little too messy (and cold) for me, but many people were pulling off their shoes and doing it when I was there. I’m not sure how high the water rises at high tide, so it’s worth checking the tide times before heading out, but if climbing the mont doesn’t quite satisfy your adventurous streak, it’s definitely worth a try. Just only go if you don’t mind getting a bit muddy!
How to Get There
In the art of full disclosure, I should mention that this journey wasn’t what I would call stress-free (in my experience, at least). The trip itself isn’t complicated, but in my experience French train and bus stations aren’t always the most clearly marked. I certainly wouldn’t consider this a reason to forgo this trip, but I would recommend giving yourself plenty of extra time and not being afraid to ask for help (even if your French isn’t perfect).
As for the nitty-gritty details, the trip is about three to four hours (depending on your connections) each way from Paris by train and bus. There’s no train station actually in Mont Saint-Michel, so the last leg of the trip will be a bus ride. Visit raileurope.com and search for tickets from Paris to Mont St.-Michel. There are usually several time options and various price options — most tickets are around 70-100 euros round-trip. I left from Paris Gare Montparnasse in the morning, took a shuttle bus, a train, and another bus to get to Mont Saint-Michel around noon for 78 euros (obviously, the more flexible you are with times and the more you’re willing to pay, the better connections you can get). Both the buses and trains are actually quite comfortable, and the trip isn’t difficult. Again, I would just recommend you give yourself plenty of time, especially if you’re leaving from a major Paris train station.
Once you get to Mont Saint-Michel, you can either take a shuttle or walk the 30-minutes or so on the bridge out to the island. Remember that the buses out of Mont Saint-Michel leave from where they drop you off, so pay attention to where you are when you arrive and leave plenty of time to get back to the bus stop from the mont (I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything here…).
“So do you live on a farm?” That used to be a frequent response when I said I was from Kansas City. (Answer: Uh, no.) Or a crack about Dorothy. So it’s not exactly Paris. That said, Kansas City actually has a lot going for it, and it’s rising on the radar — or at least, it is if I have anything to say about it. Like a slightly annoying sibling, I’ll complain about it any chance I get, but criticize KC, and I’ll defend it with a vengeance. What makes KC special? I’ll give you 10 reasons. Whether you’re a native in need of a reminder of why you love this city or a visitor to our turf, check out these can’t-miss Kansas City experiences for a true taste of the city.
Yes, I know many cities have train stations. But this Art Deco gem is truly stunning. Walk into the Grand Hall and gaze up to the 95-foot painted ceilings dotted with chandeliers, or check the time on the historic central clock, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Built in 1914, Union Station was a major train hub in its heyday. After a massive renovation in 1996, the elegant stone building now houses several restaurants and shops, an event space, a movie theatre, a kids science museum, and more. You can even still catch an Amtrak there. The historic charm alone is reason enough to visit, but just in case, the exhibits and attractions make it well worth your while.
Right across from Union Station, the imposing tower of Liberty Memorial rises 217 feet from a hilltop. Dedicated to those who fought in World War I, the memorial was completed in 1926 and was dedicated by the supreme Allied commanders. Creamy stone in Egyptian Revival style and flanked by two giant stone sphinxes, the monument is decorated with four guardian spirits: Honor, Courage, Patriotism, and Sacrifice. At night, steam and lighting create a flame on top of the tower. Not only is the memorial itself a sight to see, the view of the skyline from it is to die for — who says Paris is the City of Lights? If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can climb to the top of the tower for an even more breathtaking view. For history buffs, the World War I museum at the base of the memorial is also worth checking out.
If you’ve seen an image or two of Kansas City, chances are you’ve seen a shuttlecock somewhere. The iconic shuttlecock statues resting on the Nelson’s lawn have become an unofficial symbol of the city — which is reason enough to visit them, really, especially juxtaposed against the elegant stone façade of the museum. But it would be a crime to miss out on the incredible museum itself. Built in 1933 and funded by Kansas City Star founder William Rockhill Nelson and schoolteacher Mary Atkins, the museum houses over 35,000 works of art. Whatever floats your art boat, you’ll likely find it here — historic artifacts, modern art, local artists, fun events. From quirky (think ancient cricket cages) to captivating (ie, Monet’s Water Lilies) to mind-bending (à la the heady futuristic Chimacloud exhibit), the collection never disappoints. There’s even a lovely courtyard restaurant if you need sustenance during your art explorations. And to top it off: it’s free. Time to get your art on!
If you want a taste of local flavor, look no further than First Fridays. Every first Friday of the month, the Crossroads Arts district of downtown KC comes alive with local art, crafts, performances, food, and more. The many art studios and galleries in the area open their doors with special exhibits and events and extended hours, but that’s only the half of it. The real charm of First Fridays is in the streets. Local artists and vendors line up on the sidewalks, food trucks gather in droves for scrumptious eclectic fare, and streets even close down for live music performances and impromptu dance parties. Wander around, soak in the colorful vibes, and enjoy some killer people-watching. From bizarre art to retro cars cruising to the now well-known man strolling with his boa constrictor, you never know what (or who) you’ll run into — which is exactly the fun of it.
Just after dark every Thanksgiving, the Country Club Plaza comes to life with thousands of twinkling holiday lights. Lining the Spanish-style domes and towers, the lights create an iconic skyline silhouette and irrepressible atmosphere in the quaint shopping district. A KC tradition since 1930, the Plaza lighting begins preparation in August to be ready for the big unveiling, and the lights stay up until mid-January. Each year, crowds gather for a live concert at the Plaza Lighting Ceremony, and a child is chosen at random from the audience to help turn on the lights. If you’re in a holiday shopping mood (or just hungry), the Plaza offers a plethora of shops and restaurants to keep you busy. Or you can just wander and bask in the multicolored magic of the lights. Insider tip: Cross Ward Parkway south of the Plaza, head to the InterContinental Hotel, and ride the glass elevator for a killer view of the lights.
For a true taste of Kansas City history — and modern diversity — look no further than River Market. Just off the south shore of the Missouri River, this is as historical as KC gets: the area was the original Town of Kansas in the 1850s, later to become Kansas City. The City Market was the site of the original public square in the mid-1800s. These days, River Market is home to an eclectic array of shops and eateries and the largest farmers’ market in the region. Check out the City Market Farmers’ Market on weekends year-round for everything from vegetables and gorgeous fresh flowers to homemade incense, antiques, quirky garden statues, and organic doggie treats. After your shopping bags are stuffed, stop by the Steamboat Arabia museum for a slice of frontier history in the sunken treasure from an 1856 steamboat accident nearby. And River Market Antiques off Delaware Street promises three floors of every nostalgic and amusing knickknack you could imagine. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, the area offers a mouthwatering mix of local restaurants, global fare, and ethnic markets. And of course, don’t forget coffee and dessert — Quay Coffee, City Market Coffee, Our Daily Nada, and Bloom Bakery are all musts.
In terms of public transportation, Kansas City is admittedly a bit lacking. That said, if you’re looking for a fun, effortless way to take a (heated/AC’d) mini-tour of downtown KC, the streetcar is the way to go. Stretching from Union Station to River Market, the new streetcar runs through downtown, the entertainment Power and Light District, and almost to the Missouri River north of River Market. It’s smooth, it’s free, and it’s an easy simple pleasure if you’re touring the city. Plus, we have to celebrate any form of public transportation around here. The cars run in a loop up and down Main Street and come every 10-15 minutes. Hop on!
Craving a little green? Loose Park is calling your name. A major site for the Battle of Westport during the Civil War (check out the cannons at the south edge), the park was opened in 1927 in honor of local businessman Jacob Loose. Today it’s a beautiful escape to nature with 75 acres of rolling lawns and shady tree alcoves. Stroll by the koi and duck pond, through clusters of massive oaks and maples, and over to the charming rose garden. Dating back to 1931, the rose garden is home to about 4000 roses of 168 varieties. With beautiful blossoms in spring and vibrant colors in fall, the park is perfect for a walk, a dog frolic, a picnic, or simply a breath of nature in the city.
There’s no doubt about it: Kansas City is a jazzy town — literally. The city has a rich jazz and blues legacy dating back to the 1920s and ’30s. Once a hub for vibrant jazz, blues, and ragtime music, KC was home to a thriving scene of dance halls, cabarets, and speakeasies, largely thanks to the workings of political boss Tom Pendergast in the 1930s (let’s just say he wasn’t a big fan of Prohibition). Such was the nightlife scene, in fact, that it earned KC the nickname “Paris of the Plains.” The roaring ’20s and ’30s may be long over, but luckily the jazz scene is still alive and well today. The Phoenix jazz club has a storied (and slightly sordid) history starting in the flourishing Garment District in 1888. Originally a hotel (rumored to be a bordello), the historic brick building housed a speakeasy-style saloon on the first floor and the “hotel” on the second. Today the club hosts local live music and serves down-home tasty eats. Behind a mural of jazz greats, grab a drink and slip into the vibes of KC’s melodic, colorful past and present.
A newer addition to the Kansas City skyline, the Kauffman is quickly becoming one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The fanning modernistic domes rise on the horizon, lighting brilliantly at night to welcome visitors to world-class performances from the Kansas City Symphony, the Kansas City Ballet, the Lyric Opera, and more. If you’re looking for a little sophisticated arts and culture, the Kauffman has you covered. Or if slightly lighter fare is more up your alley — live symphony-accompanied Harry Potter screening, anyone? — they have that, too. And while the building itself is stunning, the real gem (aside from the performances, of course) is the incredible panoramic view of the city from the glass front of the theater.