What to do and see in KC
Work brought me to Kansas City twice in the course of one month. Lucky for me, I have a good friend (we will call her AA) who lives in and loves KC. She provided me with helpful hints and suggestions about what to see and where to go during my downtime. I have laid out those suggestions, along with some of my own, in semi-geographical order below (south to north). They include neighborhoods worth visiting, places to eat and must-see attractions. It is a local’s perspective as executed by a tourist. (Thanks for all of the helpful suggestions, AA.)
Starting south of the city, there are some fun neighborhoods worth checking out. The first is Brookside. You will know you have arrived when it feels a bit like you have arrived in Germany. The architecture is very gingerbread-like and makes for a fun walkabout.
Country Club Plaza
Up next is Country Club Plaza (or just the Plaza). It was designed to look like Seville, Spain. (It felt a bit like Vegas to me. Kind of like how there is an Eiffel Tower on the strip, but it is not the real Eiffel Tower.) I had dinner at the Oliver with my friend and I enjoyed that experience very much. I attempted to have dinner at Gram & Dun another night (suggestion by AA), but I was not able to get a table. It is probably a good idea to make a reservation if you want to eat anywhere at the Plaza on the weekend. There are also plenty of places to shop, but they are all going to be big, nationwide names.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
About a 10-minute walk from the Plaza is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Do not miss this! Both the grounds and museum are excellent. Best of all, it is free! The Bloch Galleries of European Art (filled with impressionist and post-impressionist art) will keep you occupied for some time. However, the museum is not overwhelmingly huge. I found it to be the perfect size. I also found free parking on Oak Street, which was a great suggestion from AA.
Kansas City Sports Complex
From the museum, if you head east instead of north, fun can be found in the form of Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Kansas City Chiefs) and Kauffman Stadium (home of the Kansas City Royals). I recommend you take in a game if possible. The Royals were at home while I was visiting and I very much enjoyed watching the home team beat the Mariners.
Back on track, just north of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, is the neighborhood of Westport. AA describes it as “a little seedy in a good way with fun restaurants and bars.” I found that description to be perfect. My favorite part about the neighborhood was a little store named Mid Coast Modern. This place features handmade goods, mostly from the KC area. It is definitely worth a stop.
National World War I Museum and Memorial
If you ask any local or do any research at all about what to see in Kansas City, you are going to hear about the National World War I Museum and Memorial. AA told me: “You have to check out the monument area if it’s the only thing you do in KC.” After cramming as much KC in as I could, I have to agree. This attraction is a real gem. Parking is free and easy just south of the museum and the view of Kansas City cannot be beat…except by maybe the view from the top of the monument (I think it cost $5). I opted to visit the museum which includes a trip up to the top of the monument for $16. The museum is very well done and informative. Plus, the history of how it came to be is really heartwarming. I highly recommend you visit.
Tip: visit the museum as early as you can. I decided to leave it until the later in my day. I noticed the short lines when I passed it in the morning. By the time I returned in the afternoon, it was much, much busier. The monument elevator only holds seven people and it is one load up followed by one load down. It can be quite a wait, so plan accordingly.
From the museum, I walked to Union Station. It was an easy trip getting there. Climbing the hill back up to the monument later in the day was not so easy. Oh well. Union Station is lovely and well worth a visit. There happened to be a makers market going on while I was visiting so I enjoyed perusing handmade items from local Kansa City artists.
Tip: catch the (free) street car at Union Station and ride it all the way to River Market. Or get off here and there to visit the neighborhoods below. It was a little on the packed side when I rode it north, but things were thinned out by the time I road it south.
Crossroads was another great neighborhood. There are galleries and shops and restaurants as well as “artsy” graffiti. I was here in the middle of the day on a Saturday and it was pretty dead. But I enjoyed the vibe, none the less. I even did a little shopping. It was too early for dinner, but I would have liked to have tried out another suggestion from AA: the Rieger.
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is located in this neighborhood. It is a very unique-looking building. I checked the calendar to see if there were any shows happening during my stay, but alas, there were not. Still, I enjoyed walking the grounds and admiring the unique architecture.
I am still not sure if the Power and Light District and Downtown are one and the same, or if they are distinct areas. It all seemed the same to me, but maybe I was missing something. Either way, there is stuff to do here. I, however, did not do much since it was getting really hot and humid at this point in my day. AA did recommend the Kansas City Public Library. It is beautiful inside and they often have (free) exhibits on the second floor. While I was visiting, they had a photography exhibit. Mostly though, I enjoyed a break from the heat and a bit of AC. This is an area I will have to explore more of during future visits.
River Market was the furthest north that I ventured. On a Saturday, it was very busy. The farmer’s market was in full swing and there were plenty of permanent shops and restaurants as well. A coworker of mine recommended I checkout the Arabia Steamboat Museum here, but I ran out of steam. (Sorry, bad joke.) I will check it out next time. Instead, I picked up a sandwich at Bloom Baking Company and dessert at Beignets. The line was a little long at Beignets, but after inhaling my dessert, I kind of see why. Both of these delicious eateries were recommendations from AA. She also recommended a place called The Farmhouse. But I was too full at that point to contemplate more food.
More to see
Most of the recommendations listed above are contained to a general area. But there are other things worth checking out. Kansas City has a robust artisan scene for handmade goods. Most of what the stores sell features words and images about the local area, but you can find some gems for those who live out of state. The following stores were all pretty cool and worth a visit if you are nearby:
Near Urban Provisions was a tasty food truck called Pigwich. The area felt a bit remote, but there was a line for food, which usually means it tastes good. In this case, that was indeed true. And speaking of food, you will not go hungry in Kansas City. Naturally, there is BBQ. I got several recommendation for Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, and I think it lived up to its reputation. I also enjoyed small place called Fireside BBQ. The real highlight of my trip however, was a steak from Jess & Jim’s Steak House. It was everything a steak should be and still has my mouth salivating.
There is a lot to do in Kansas City and you will have your hands full trying to experience it all. If you still need more to do, you can always take a road trip. Both Missouri and Kansas have places to explore. However, I suggest you first try out all the wonderful things recommended to me by my local friend. Her suggestions were great and provided a wonderful Kansas City experience.