My kids have cousins who live in big urban areas: Tampa, Phoenix, and Chicago. When we visit them, my girls get to see awesome places like discovery museums, amusement parks, and yes, even the beach.
So when I learned that the Phoenix family members were coming to Joplin for a few days, I wanted to show them that our little part of Missouri also offers attractions that are unique and fun – and cool enough to impress big-city kids.
Here’s what we did.
The Phoenix family arrived in Joplin in the early afternoon. I had hoped it would be warm enough to go swimming at Schifferdecker Aquatic Complex, or maybe get wet at the splash pad at Parr Hill Park, but morning storms and cloudy skies kept the temperature too cool for water fun, leading me to enact my backup plan: having an indoor adventure at Escape Joplin.
That day’s escape room experience, Blackbeard’s End, immersed us in a world of pirates, where we had to search Captain Blackbeard’s ship for the Key to the Seven Seas. When found, this key would bring peace to the open waters. There were eight of us working on this puzzle, each person offering a unique insight into uncovering the clues that would lead us to the Key to the Seven Seas. With tireless teamwork, we managed to escape with two minutes left on the clock.
When we emerged from Escape Joplin, our eyes had to adjust to the brightness outside. While we had been busy solving our puzzle, the sun had finally peeked out from behind the broken clouds, which meant that it would be a good evening for downtown Joplin’s Third Thursday event
Held on the third Thursday of each month, from March through October, people gather on Joplin’s to celebrate the businesses, restaurants and cultural amenities that make our city vibrant. There’s art, music, and dancing, as well as food trucks and activities for the kids
As I watched my girls stroll down Main Street, each one paired with a cousin, I thought about how the simplest things can have such meaningful impact. Having a break from everyday schedules and technology, and just being able to enjoy each other’s company was strengthening their connections as cousins in ways that they wouldn’t even realize until years down the road. But this mama did – and she was grateful to witness it.
We let the Phoenix family members sleep in on Friday morning, knowing that they would need all of their energy for the activities I had planned for us. They ate breakfast at their hotel, then met us at the Joplin History & Mineral Museum in Schifferdecker Park.
Were the kids excited to be going to a museum?
Did they change their minds after they discovered some cool things inside of it, like mammoth fossils, glowing rocks, and the jewelry left behind at the site of a Joplin shootout by Miss Bonnie Parker of the infamous duo of Bonnie and Clyde?
The kids were on their best behavior inside the museum, so when we left the building, we let them burn off some energy on the Schifferdecker Park playground behind the museum. At one point, my niece looked around and said, “I can’t believe there used to be roller coasters right here!”
She was referring to the structures in Joplin’s Electric Parkthat had been erected in the early part of the 20th century in what is now Schifferdecker Park. I smiled. She had learned something at the museum that had made an impression on her.
At one o’clock, I stood up and announced to the kids, “It’s time to travel to New York!” They stopped what they were doing and turned to me with confused looks on their faces. “We’re not literally traveling to New York,” I explained. “We’re going to Carmine’s to eat some New-York-style pizza.”
New Jersey native Bill Carmine Cornell brought a taste of his region to Joplin when he opened his restaurant in 2016 And while I know that there are great pizza places in Phoenix, I knew our visiting family would be wowed by Carmine’s Wood Fired Pizza. I know that I am – and I grew up eating lots of pizza in my hometown of Chicago.
After lunch, we bargained with the girls: If they were patient with us while we stopped at some downtown boutiques, we would take them to get candy. They eagerly agreed, behaving like angels while their moms got a chance to shop. They didn’t even protest when we made an extra stop at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company to order a couple of Van Gogh lattes. Made with vanilla, honey, and almond, the lattes gave us the boost that we needed to keep up with the kids.
Then came time to deliver on my promise of taking the kids to get candy. What they didn’t know is that I had arranged for us to take a behind-the-scenes tour at Joplin’s Candy House Gourmet to watch the candy-making process in action.
The girls were blown away as the Candy House Gourmet’s signature toffee and caramel pecan treats were created before their eyes. Of course they wanted to try the final products, so we bought an assortment of candies to bring back with us.
At that point, we all needed some rest, so they went back to their hotel for some downtime while we kicked off our shoes at home. A few hours later, we met downtown for dinner at Social BTB.
It was a warm night, so we sat on the patio. There were several outdoor activities set up, and we watched our giggling girls alternate between playing corn hole and jumbo Jenga while we waited for our food.
After dinner, we drove 20 minutes north to 66 Drive-In Theatre in Carthage. This complex, which operates from spring to fall, opened on historic Route 66 in 1949, and several of the structures here are original.
At dinner, the girls had talked excitedly about staying up late for the double feature, but towards the end of the first movie, I heard some yawns coming from the cozy makeshift sofa in the tailgate area of my car. At intermission, I suggested that we call it a night
No one argued with me
Fluffy pancakes and hearty skillet breakfasts from Norma’s Diner helped fuel our crew first thing Saturday morning.
Our next stop was Grand Falls, the largest continuously running waterfall in Missouri. Here, we gathered all of the cousins together in front of the falls for a memorable family photo.
Our exploration of nature continued at Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, where the kids learned about the plants and animals native to the area, as well as the unique chert glade ecosystem which visitors can explore just behind the center. As we walked through the glade, my daughter nudged her cousin and pointed to a prickly pear cactus jutting out from the ground. “See? We have those here, too!” Her cousin was amazed to see a plant common in the desert climate of Phoenix growing in Missouri.
Yes, Joplin is full of surprises.
We continued walking the paths behind the center through Wildcat Park, through the forest, to a spot next to Shoal Creek. Here, the girls skipped rocks and launched sticks out into the current to see whose would race down the creek the fastest
When everyone got hungry, we stopped at nearby All Aboard Ice Cream for some burgers, followed by fresh peach ice cream, made with peaches from a regional orchard. But the most unique part of the experience was being able to eat all of those goodies aboard an authentic Kansas City Southern postal car.
On our way back downtown, we made a quick stop at Mercy Park, where the girls posed for photos in front of the colorful butterfly mural.
For dinner, we ate at Hackett Hot Wings, the top spot in the region for wings (some of the kids ordered the boneless tenders instead, which are just as delicious).
Sitting down felt like such a relief after our day of being on-the-go. When we were finished eating, I was ready to call it a night, but somehow the girls had gotten a burst of energy. “Can we go to Tilt?” my daughter asked me
Knowing that there’s an area at Tilt Studio where parents can sit while their kids play is what prompted me to agree to her proposal. So, we drove to the mall and, for the next couple of hours, we adults had the chance to catch up while our kids played arcade games, mini-golf, and laser tag.
It was a nice way to end our jam-packed day.
Our last day together started with breakfast at First Watch, where the BLT Benedict and Lemon Ricotta Pancakes were popular orders in our group.
Afterward, we drove south from Joplin to George Washington Carver National Monument, named after the former slave who discovered many applications for the use of peanuts and other plants (but, no, he did not invent peanut butter).
In addition to being a scientist, Carver was also a teacher, and the center at the park houses a replica of an old-fashioned school room similar to the ones that Carver once taught in, complete with individual slate chalkboards for the students.
Our kids had a blast playing school here, and it took some coaxing to get them to leave that behind so that we could go outside and walk the nature trail.
The girls quickly learned that the nature trail contained surprises of its own: a trickling spring, a pond teeming with aquatic life, a prairie bursting with wildflowers, the Carver family cemetery, and the Carver homestead, built in 1881.
As we neared the end of the trail, I noticed that my normally outgoing niece had grown quiet and was lagging behind the others, “What’s wrong?” I asked her.
“I don’t want to leave.”
“I don’t want you to leave, either,” I said, giving her a reassuring hug. “But you all are welcome to come visit any time.”
Christine is a Chicago native and has lived in Joplin for almost two decades. Growing up in the Windy City, she loved to explore the wide variety of museums, restaurants, sports venues, theaters and parks. When she moved to Joplin her goal was to learn about the unique culture and attractions in the area. Now Christine discovers new things each week, whether it be a little-known park, a new restaurant or a community event. Joplin can be just as exciting as a major city if you dive in to all the community has to offer.