Chances are, unless you are a passionate fan of barbecue food or jazz music, you have never thought of Kansas City, Missouri, as a vacation destination. This small city in the Midwest got its start as a place that people passed through on their way to somewhere else.
But that history contributed to the city’s fame, as dozens of fountains were built around town as a respite for these travelers and their horses. Today, this City of Fountains boasts more than 200 water features around town, from the large and modern to eclectic and small. Kansas City even has a nonprofit foundation set up solely to keep its fountains running.
We visited Kansas City recently, and what we found was so much more than we had expected. This vibrant city celebrates its culture and history, but also has a burgeoning scene for foodies and several major entertainment districts with fun, fantastic nightlife. And the shopping! When we say you could spend an entire weekend browsing the shops, we know because we tested this theory and proved it.
Here’s a guide to the best things to do in Kansas City, and some fabulous places to dine, as well. We’ll show you where to stay and when to visit, so let’s get started, shall we?
WHERE TO STAY IN KANSAS CITY
Immersing yourself in Kansas City’s vibrant cultural scene can start with your accommodations at 21c. Housed in a historic building that was once the Savoy Hotel, 21c combines luxury guest rooms with an 8,000-square-foot free contemporary art museum.
21c is perfectly positioned for fun in Kansas City – in between the restaurants and nightlife of the Power & Light District, and the museums and shopping of the River Market area.
Address: 219 W. 9th Street, Kansas City
THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN KANSAS CITY, MO
If you take the phrase “shop ‘til you drop” seriously, Country Club Plaza has 15 blocks of shops to explore — more than 100 in all. You will find your favorite brands here — from West Elm and Apple to Eileen Fisher and Vineyard Vines. But we especially love that the shopping mix includes 40 local stores.
Visit Array for fashion, accessories and gifts from 14 local boutiques, and we found our new favorite vintage-style T-shirts at Charlie Hustle, and all things Kansas City at Made in KC.
Tip: No visit to Kansas City would be complete without perusing a Hallmark store. The iconic company is based here. Visit HMK on the plaza for one of the best selections of Hallmark cards, gifts and ornaments available anywhere.
One of the most important art museums in the Midwest, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art counts important works by American artists Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O’Keeffe, John Singer Sargent, and Thomas Eakins among its collection.
Founded in 1933, the museum remains free to enter and welcomes half a million visitors each year. The museum’s mission is focused on the transformative power of art.
Fun Fact: The museum’s most recognized work today is a collection of four 18-feet tall aluminum badminton shuttlecocks. The sculpture was installed in the museum’s sculpture park in 1994.
Address: 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City
The 18th and Vine Historic District in Kansas City was the center of the Jazz World during the Prohibition era, when music legends such as Count Basie and Charles “Bird” Parker played in the nightclubs here.
The American Jazz Museum was founded to preserve the sights and sounds of that era, and it’s a great way to immerse yourself in true Kansas City culture. The Blue Room Jazz Club at the museum is one of the most active venues for live music in the city, offering 200 performances a year.
Tip: Buy a combo ticket to also visit the neighboring Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, celebrating the social impact of African-American baseball in the United States. The Negro National League was established in Kansas City in 1920, in this same, historic neighborhood.
Address: 1600 E. 18th Street, Kansas City
Spend a weekend morning browsing the 140 stalls of the region’s largest farmer’s market. Beyond the fresh produce, you’ll find cut flowers, and locally made bath products and gifts. And of course, one of the best things about a farmer’s market is the food you’ll find — from beignets to fair trade certified coffee.
Even if you can’t get there for the farmer’s market on a weekend morning, the City Market is still worth a visit — there are dozens of merchants open daily, including antique dealers, specialty grocers and eclectic cafes.
You know that feeling when you are starving, and you can’t decide what to order because everything on the menu sounds AMAZING right now? Take that times 10, and you’ll know what we felt like walking into this artisan chocolate shop.
Any flavor you can imagine, and many you haven’t even dreamed up yet, are available at Christopher Elbow. These artisan chocolates make the perfect souvenir or an elegant gift.
TIP: Don’t be so dazzled by the fancy chocolates that you overlook the Pate de Fruit. These intensely flavored fruit jellies come in a rotating variety of flavors that may include black currant, blood orange, or morello cherry.
Address: 1819 McGee Street, Kansas City
Before we visited Kansas City, we had heard that the National WWI Museum and Memorial tops all kinds of national lists. Really? A history museum? Once we visited this treasure, we understood why people rave about it.
We were especially moved by the recorded audio histories told by World War I veterans and others who lived through that era, in their own voices.
TIP: This museum’s Liberty Memorial is a great place to photograph panoramic views of Kansas City.
Address: 2 Memorial Drive, Kansas City
This craft brewer has become one of the most popular breweries in the country, and their 45-minute walking tour is worth the trip, especially because it ends with Tasting Room samples.
There’s also an adults-only “after hours” tour on Thursday evening. This expanded tour offers lots more info for the beer-obsessed among us, as well as expanded beer tasting.
Fun Fact: Travel was what inspired founder John McDonald to start Boulevard. The beers he tasted in Europe set him on a path to brewing great beer in his hometown.
Address: 2501 Southwest Boulevard, Kansas City
Check out the street art scene.
We were beyond surprised with the creative the street art scene in KC. If you have time, be sure to explore!
Launched in 2014, J. Rieger & Co., is Kansas City’s first distillery since Prohibition to release of “Rieger’s Kansas City Whiskey”, a unique style of American Whiskey that pays tribute to J. Rieger & Co.’s history and under the same umbrella as Savoy, Manifesto, and Rieger.
The distillery is part museum proudly sharing their history, and part event space hosting large parties, with tasting classes (founder tastings, cocktails etc) starting around the holidays.
THE BEST PLACES TO EAT IN KANSAS CITY
The creative menu here makes this fast casual eatery feel like fine dining. Try the BLT, topped with avocado and a fried egg, or the pear salad, crowned with candied walnuts and dried cherries, for lunch. The pastry case, filled with unusual goodies like an olive oil chocolate chip cookie, is hard to resist.
Address: 3141 Main Street, Kansas City
This light-filled bistro serves up beautiful hand-crafted cocktails and rustic cuisine with locally sourced ingredients. When the weather is nice, the cozy patio is a wonderful spot to grab a drink and a snack under the wisteria-covered trellis. Try one of their seasonal sangrias!
Address: 2143 Summit Street, Kansas City
For a taste of artisan Germany in the Midwest, you must try German-born Chef Martin Heusner’s innovative creations at Affäre. While the menu is ever-changing to take advantage of seasonal ingredients, a recent weekend brunch favorite was eggs benedict with lobster on potato rösti.
TIP: If your travels take you to Kansas City on a Thursday evening, try the restaurant’s four-course menu with wine pairings for just $54.
Address: 1911 Main Street, Kansas City
No trip to Kansas City would be complete without a taste of the famous Kansas City Barbecue.
Whether you prefer pulled pork, beef brisket, ribs, or chicken, you will find the smoked meat of your choice at Q39. And don’t miss the smoked beef brisket poutine on the appetizer menu!
Address: 1000 W. 39th St., Kansas City
Parker takes the hotel rooftop concept to the next level with its interesting twists on comfort food and cocktails. You’ll find plates like a shepherd’s pie made with local lamb sausage or a beef filet served with a loaded potato cake. Don’t overlook the cocktail menu. The Brown Butter, made with brown butter, Four Roses Bourbon and bitters, is a nutty-sweet favorite.
Tip: The views of Country Club Plaza from the Parker can’t be beat. Get a table on the patio if you can, and be sure to snap some selfies with the cityscape in the background.
Address: 901 W. 48th Place, Kansas City
WHEN TO VISIT KANSAS CITY, MO
If Barbecue is your thing, you’ll want to visit Kansas City in mid-September, when the “world’s largest barbecue competition” – the American Royal is held. The event features live music and a festival atmosphere, in addition to the food,
The weather is mild in the spring (April-May) and fall (September-October) months, and summertime is packed with special events in the entertainment districts and cultural venues.
But all is not lost if your schedule brings you to Kansas City in the winter months. Be sure to check out more of the food scene here during Restaurant Week in January.
Now that you know all the best things to do in Kansas City, we suggest you get packing. With live music, unique shopping and a burgeoning food scene, we think Kansas City has all the ingredients for the perfect, unexpected romantic getaway.