Independence, MO: More to Explore

Come for affordable accommodations, stay for family-friendly fun By Jackie Tucker Holiday vaile "It's like a castle, Mama," my eight-year-old princess-obsessed daughter, Sarah, whispered as we walked past the flower-lined path to Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri on our way to Independence Square. She wasn't exaggerating. The palatial Victorian mansion with its soaring gables, shimmering windows and white limestone trim, is the closest thing to a castle any of us have ever seen. It is a breathtaking showstopper. My husband, Neil, and I had arrived in Independence that Saturday morning with our two kids, Sarah and 10-year-old Carson, to spend some time exploring the town. We are big Kansas City Royals fans, and whenever we head to Kansas City for Royals games we love to make Independence our home base for the trip. The stadium is only 10 minutes away from Independence, and the hotels are comfy and affordable. But we hadn't really explored farther than our hotels-what were we missing? This time around, we arrived in town a day early, giving us some extra time to discover the exciting things Independence had to offer.

A simpler time

Other than baseball and apple pie, you can't get much more quintessentially American than an old-fashioned soda fountain. Neil and I thought it would be fun to take the kids to Clinton's Soda Fountain on Independence Square and step back in time for a bit. The building that Clinton's calls home dates all the way back to the 1800s, where it housed various businesses over the years like a shoe store and a jewelry shop. Harry Truman even worked at a pharmacy in the very same building as a young man. We walked into the charming soda fountain and immediately sensed the history. From the adorable black and white checkered floor tiles to the 100-year-old wood backdrop and marble countertop to the historical pictures on the walls, we embraced the wave of nostalgia that swept over us. Even the kids felt it. Sarah waltzed right over to one of the bright red bar stools, hopped on board and gave it a spin, giggling the whole time. We ordered four phosphates (root beer for Neil, cream soda for me, and the kids both got cherry). We clinked our glasses then gulped down the refreshing and delightfully effervescent soft drinks.

Award-winning lunch

After enjoying the sodas and atmosphere in Clinton's, we explored a little more around Independence Square. Wandering around the quaint and charming promenade, checking out its adorable shops and historic statues, was the perfect way to spend the morning. All the walking worked up quite an appetite, and Neil mentioned he was in the mood for Mexican food. Sarah pointed out El Pico, a Mexican restaurant that we had passed a few minutes before. Lunch decision made! The delicious aroma of sizzling fajitas greeted us as we walked in the door, and my mouth began to water. Before even looking at the menu, I knew what I was ordering. That and guacamole-always, guacamole. We were greeted by the friendly staff, who showed us to our table then pointed out the new "Selfie Wall." With a backdrop of a brick wall and a picture of a vintage doorway, we donned bright, colorful sombreros and hammed it up for a few family pics before placing our order. While waiting for our food, which didn't take long, our waiter told us about the Polly's Pop we were drinking. Polly's Pop was a popular local treat back in the '50s before going out of business. But in recent years, there has been high demand for specialty sodas with locally sourced flavors and no high-fructose corn syrup. So, Polly's Pop has been revived, and El Pico and other restaurants on Independence Square proudly serve this refreshing treat. Soon, it would even be possible to watch the drinks being bottled in a glass-enclosed facility right on the square.  Our food arrived, and we dove into the delicious fajitas, burritos and tacos, while washing it all down with Polly's Pop flavors like orange, strawberry and pineapple. Yum!

A history lesson

Truman Courtroom Carson had been studying Harry Truman in his fifth grade class. When I mentioned that we could visit the Truman Courtroom, he got excited, which was a pleasant surprise. He had struggled a little on his history test, and I wasn't sure if he would be on board or not. We walked into the courthouse for a guided tour, and Carson recited, "The first time Harry Truman ran for office was for judge of Jackson County in 1922." The tour guide laughed and said, "Well, I'll just let you give the tour, young man." Carson beamed with pride. The guide was a wealth of information, explaining the history of the courthouse far beyond the political connections between Truman and Tom Pendergast, whose connections helped Truman get his start in politics. As we admired the original county courtroom on the second floor, our guide showed us the eccentric folk art of our founding fathers and explained more about the restoration efforts that strive to keep the ambiance of the 1930s as they've updated the building with modern amenities like air conditioning. And Carson was attentive and quiet when the guide pointed out the clock on the wall that is stopped at 7:50, commemorating the exact minute of Truman's death on the morning of December 26, 1972. On our way out, we passed by an old antique phone booth and all pretended to ask the operator to place a call for us. My kids don't even have a concept of a dial tone, so they thought having to ask someone else to connect the call was hilarious. Before leaving, Carson thanked the tour guide and said, "If you were my history teacher, I would've gotten a better grade on my test!"

The main event

Main Event To top off the day, we headed to Main Event for a little dinner and fun. With amazing options like high-flying gravity ropes, a massive rock climbing wall, laser tag and bowling, we weren't quite sure where to start. So, we made the decision with a game of Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo. Gravity ropes won for the first event. The kids loved it, and Neil and I couldn't stop laughing as we crossed swaying bridges and tight ropes, all while suspended high over the game rooms below. Next up was rock climbing, which Carson and Sarah absolutely loved. They looked like little monkeys shooting up the wall in no time. We grabbed some delicious pizza from La Bella's and set up camp in our own lane at the bowling alley, where Neil and I got into a heated contest to see who could get the most strikes. I won. The next day as we were driving to the ballgame, Carson piped up from the backseat where he and Sarah were scrolling through the pictures on my phone that I'd taken over the weekend. "This weekend was awesome! I can't wait to tell my teacher that we saw the Truman Courtroom." Then Sarah chimed in, "Can I bring these pictures to Show & Tell next week, Mom? I want to show my friends." Discover more family attractions in Independence, MO!