When looking at a map and finding Kansas City, Missouri, it’s no wonder it’s called “The Heart of America”. The city appears to be quite literally smack dab in the middle of the country. However, for many people, “smack dab in the middle” sets off the coastal bias of “just another flyover town.” So why then are LonelyPlanet and other travel sites calling KCMO “the coolest city in America nobody is talking about”? Kansas City is quickly establishing a reputation as the cultural capital of the Great Plains. The cultural piece goes beyond just their world-famous barbecue, the city is beautiful, with as many fountains as the city of Rome (yep the famous one, not the ones in Georgia or New York), there are a number of renowned museums, and many artsy, kitschy neighborhoods beg to be explored. The town has something for everyone so go ahead and check out some of our favorite things to do in Kansas City, MO.
18th and Vine District
Gaining fame originally for being the hub of Kansas City style jazz, a form that produced world-famous musicians like Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, the area still has a number of jazz clubs but is visited often for two neighboring museums. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum offers a world-class look into the history of the former segregated league for African-Americans and celebrates the commitment, honor, and talent of the league that was thankfully disbanded in the early 50s. Next-door is the American Jazz Museum which doubles as a great place to see live music.
Country Club Plaza
A well-known shopping area, the Country Club Plaza features over a hundred high-end and stylish stores. While it’s ideal for dropping a buck or two, it’s also worth a visit for the architecture, as the entire area is modeled after the gorgeous buildings of Sevilla in Southern Spain.
Nelson Atkins Museum of Art
Not far from the Country Club Plaza area, this museum is praised for its building which in 2007 Time ranked as the number one choice on their “10 Best (New and Upcoming) Architectural Marvels” list. The museum collections feature paintings from El Greco, photography from Andy Warhol, and a highly praised Asian art exhibit. However, the most famous installation is likely the giant shuttlecocks making an impact on the grasses around the grounds.
River Market District
The River Market District is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Kansas City situated along the banks of the Missouri River. Many travelers visit for the long-standing farmer’s market that has been running for over 150 years. Another fun destination is the Steamboat Arabia Museum, a showcase of salvaged items from the sunken steamboat, named Arabia, that plummeted to the river’s depths in 1856, only a year before the genesis of the farmer’s market.
National World War I Museum and Memorial
The country’s official site to pay respects to those who participated in The Great War, the museum and memorial have a moving collection of artifacts and displays relating to the conflict. The entrance from the visitor’s center is over a glass bridge that covers a garden of 9,000 red poppies. Each flower is a placeholder for 1,000 soldiers who lost their lives.
Catch a Game or Concert
Kansas City has proven itself, year after year, to be a passionate sports town and experiencing the athletic history amongst the fans is an incredible opportunity. Go to games at Arrowhead Stadium for a Chiefs’ game — one of the loudest locations in the NFL — or head to Kauffman Field, the grounds for the Royals which plays into Kansas City’s reputation for fountains as they surround the outfield. Alternatively, see a Sporting KC game at Kansas City’s soccer club. If you prefer a big music scene, consider timing a visit with a concert at the Sprint Center, a large venue that opened with an Elton John performance in 2007.
Eat and Drink through the City
As previously mentioned, Kansas City is famed for its own version of barbeque, known for using a dry rub rather than an excessive amount of sauce. There are great BBQ restaurants all over the city but expect a debate with locals when identifying a favorite. Joe’s, Q39, and Arthur Bryant’s are just a few of the most popular spots. Kansas City is also home to a booming craft beer scene, a personal favorite being Boulevard Brews, whose brewery has multiple tour options and unexpected events like bingo and yoga.
Don’t worry kiddos, KC isn’t all art museums, it’s also a city full of fun amusement parks. Check out Ocean of Fun, one of the country’s most popular water parks, the Kansas City Zoo, built on 200 acres of land, and the roller coasters at Worlds of Fun.