With the I-35 running down its spine, Merriam is a suburb of Kansas City, around seven miles southwest of downtown.
Roughly speaking, on the east side of I-35 is a commercial hub with the likes of Ikea and Marshalls, while on the west side is Turkey Creek and its accompanying trail extending through the community.
The Turkey Creek Streamway Trail links several parks, as well as the Merriam Marketplace, site of a flourishing farmers’ market on Saturday mornings in summer.
Some of the many spots to keep in your plans are a hidden waterfall, a bakery making authentic povitica, a riveting outdoor museum, one of the top movie theaters in the metro area and a Kansas City-style BBQ restaurant.
1. Antioch Park
Within Merriam’s boundaries is one of the most beloved parks in the metro area, managed by the Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department.
Antioch Park opened in 1958, making it the county’s oldest park, and also attracts the most visitors.
Parents here with younger children will be impressed by the Historic Dodge Town Play Area, an interactive Wild West-style town with bank, pony express, general store, city hall, blacksmith, model horses and cows and a train station.
Elsewhere, Antioch Park has an arboretum, rose garden, two fishing lakes, four shelters and facilities for bocce ball, tennis and basketball.
On the third Saturday in May, this is also the location for Merriam’s long-running Turkey Creek Festival.
2. Tim Murphy Art Gallery
Under the radar, this public arts facility opened in Merriam in 1996, and hosts regular exhibits by national and regional artists.
There are around ten exhibits each year, and the highlight in the calendar is the Heartland Artist Exhibition, a national juried show in March.
To see emergent talent breaking through, the annual High School Art Competition is also worthwhile in December. All exhibits have free admission, and many shows feature work for sale, either as originals or prints.
3. Turkey Creek Festival
An annual tradition for almost four decades now, the Turkey Creek Festival is a day-long celebration, normally towards the end of May. In store is a lively program of arts and crafts, live music, food trucks and competitive events.
The day begins with a 5k run/walk at Merriam Marketplace, and for the next eight hours there’s a world of family fun at Antioch Park. The Kid Zone here has face painting, craft projects, a petting zoo, pony rides, balloon sculpture, inflatables and much more.
The live music begins in the morning, with three bands/artists on the bill, while food-wise you can choose from tacos, philly cheese steaks, sweet treats and, of course, BBQ.
4. Merriam Farmers’ Market
On the east side of Werner Park stands Merriam Marketplace, a handsome metal-framed pavilion with 36 spaces for vendors and 120 parking spaces in the surrounding lot.
This site is also linked via a new bridge to the Turkey Creek Streamway Trail, which we’ll talk about below.
This is all a fabulous setting for the Merriam Farmers’ Market, taking place on Saturday mornings, May through September.
Shop here for a changing selection of fruit and vegetables throughout the season, as well as honey, jams and jellies, preserves, houseplants, flowers, farm-raised Kansas beef, salsas, cheese curds and the kind of handmade crafts you won’t find anywhere else.
Check the facebook page for details of upcoming events and live music performances.
5. Strawberry Hill Povitica Company
For newcomers, povitica is a sweet rolled-dough pastry, with a rich texture resembling a cake. Povitica originated in Croatia and Slovenia, which was the source of a great deal of immigration to the KC area at the turn of the 20th century.
That’s the story of the Strawberry Hill Povitica Company, one of a few local businesses to keep on your radar.
The current owners’ ancestors arrived in Kansas City in 1903, and the matriarchs brought with them the recipe that the bakery still uses today.
The original povitica, using English walnuts, is still the bestseller, and has been joined by numerous varieties including apple cinnamon, blueberry cream cheese, lemon cream cheese, poppy seed and strawberry cream cheese.
6. Turkey Creek Streamway Trail
Turkey Creek flows through Johnson and Wyandotte counties for around ten miles before entering the Kansas River near Shawnee Heights.
In Merriam, the creek’s banks are mostly undeveloped, and there’s a lush green buffer along the banks that feels remote, even though you’re in the middle of the city.
The Turkey Creek Streamway Trail is about 3.6 miles long, beginning in the south at W. Frontage Rd. near W. 75th St., and linking the likes of Chatlain Park, Campbell Park, Werner Park and Waterfall Park.
7. Waterfall Park
There’s a lovely natural sight where you might not expect to find it, right next to the interstate along Turkey Creek. Nestled in that riparian corridor along the creek is a small but picturesque waterfall, enclosed by a 16-acre park.
The waterfall is little more than a few feet high, and the creek is slow-moving, so it’s not unusual to find people paddling here during the baking hot KC summer and climbing onto the ledges that form a little canyon behind.
The park was developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and has a playground, soccer fields, benches overlooking the falls and picnic tables.
8. Merriam Town Center/Merriam Village
Lining the east side of the I-35 through Merriam is a long commercial corridor that ends in the south with the Merriam Community Center and Antioch branch of the Johnson County Library.
For just a summary of the big box stores awaiting you here there’s an Ikea, a Hobby Lobby, a Home Depot, Petsmart, Marshalls, GameStop, OfficeMax and Old Navy.
Dotted around are chain restaurants like McDonalds, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, IHOP and Denny’s, and towards the north end is the Cinemark 20 and XD, touted as one of the best places to see a movie in the KC metro area.
9. Merriam Drive Live
Werner Park is the venue for one of Merriam’s biggest annual events, happening on the first Saturday in October and bringing an end to the farmers’ market season.
Totally free to the public, Merriam Drive Live is a street and lawn party, with family entertainment, fun activities and great food.
The day begins with a 5k run/walk, followed by a busy schedule of live music, food trucks, a beer garden, a cornhole tournament and a lot of fun things for children to get up to.
10. Merriam Historic Plaza
At the US-56 exit for Shawnee Mission Parkway is a spot that is touted as Merriam’s gateway, home to the local Visitors Bureau and this intriguing little park.
The complex was built in 2006, and along the pathway you can browse a series of 12 interpretive signs recounting the history of Merriam, from the days of the Shawnee Native Americans through incorporation to the present day.
The building housing the visitors bureau also doubles as a space for meetings and events.
11. R.J.’s Bob-Be-Que Shack
If you’re a meat eater, it wouldn’t be right to spend time in the Kansas City area and not treat yourself to some BBQ. Fortunately there’s no shortage of options, and one of the closest to Merriam is R.J.’s Bob-Be-Que Shack, founded by a Kansas City native in 2003.
This spot has won a raft of awards for its rubs and sauces, and has a devoted local following, so you know you’re in for the authentic KC BBQ experience.
Some of the specialties to keep in mind are the lamb ribs, bison empanadas and, in particular, the jalapeño sausage, which is a real favorite.
As a starter, be sure to try the corn fritters, while if you come for breakfast the burnt end hash is a real favorite.
12. Shawnee Town 1929
Under five minutes from Merriam Town Center, this outdoor museum is a time warp back to the small farming communities that were here before the sprawling city.
Shawnee Town 1929 is an engaging living history attraction, where you can see track farming techniques in action and visit small-town businesses and amenities from the period like a post office, general store, fire station and chapel.
The museum also puts on a wide range of programs in spring, summer and fall, from children’s ukulele classes to events like the Old Shawnee Days Festival in June.
13. Grandstand Burgers
North of Waterfall Park at the corner of Antioch Road and Merriam Drive there’s an old-fashioned fast food joint, in business for more than 20 years.
On a large lot, Grandstand Burgers is a tiny hole-in-the-wall, with no indoor seating, but with a big clientele and a line that often runs out the door.
There’s also a new carhop service, if you don’t want to leave the comfort of your cart. Essential menu items are the best-selling Kelly Burger (bacon double cheeseburger with a slice of ham), the enormous Tenderloin Sandwich and the tots, served in a generous pile and worth getting instead of fries.
14. Splash Cove
The nearest public water park of real scale is moments away in Shawnee, sharing a park with the Shawnee Town 1929 Museum.
Perfect for restless younger children, Splash Cove is packed with attractions including an instructional pool, a mini wave pool, a 125-foot body slide and a spectacular interactive water playground with a 350-gallon conch shell dumping a “safe” torrent of water on all the kids below.
Splash Cove is usually open Memorial Day weekend through the school summer break.
15. Werner Park
One of the parks connected by the Turkey Creek Streamway Trail, Werner Park is a little oasis close to many of Merriam’s main attractions.
Merriam Marketplace is right across the creek, and from there you’re a stone’s throw from Merriam Town Center/Merriam Village.
In October the park hosts the Merriam Drive Live festival, and for the rest of the year this is somewhere you can unwind for a moment in the heart of the city.
There’s a shelter here, as well as grills and picnic tables, making this a fine place to bring something from one of the many eateries nearby.