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The best of Kansas City
Kansas City gets lumped into flyover country too often, and this is the year they're pushing back. In fact, KC insists that you stop here. Not many people know that the best things to do in Kansas City include an up-and-coming arts scene, a variety of restaurants serving both the local signature cuisine, BBQ, and modern takes on classics and a ton of fountains. (Yes, you read that right.) But they do know that Kansas City can win a Super Bowl. Consider that KC's coming out party to the country. Hello, we're here. Aside from being a great sports town, Kansas City also boasts a long jazz heritage and some of the best events going down in the Midwest this year. Add in a tram system and (pending) bus legislation, and KC might soon be the only city of its size in the country with free public transit. So if you can get out there, you can conquer some of the city's highlights all in one (very affordable) weekend. Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere. You can also learn more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world, or take a look at our list of the 50 best things to do in the world right now.
If you're hoping to maintain a strict diet, or even some semblance of self-control, then visiting the best restaurants in Kansas City probably isn't for you. We don't do things like "portions" and we don't count calories. In fact, eating pretty much tops our list of the best things to do in Kansas City. KC is a city that likes to throw down a challenge, and we find friendship in those who are willing to at least give it the old college try. There's BBQ (and the correspondeing BBQ events), of course, but you'd be surprised by what else makes it to the table. If you're planning on swingin' through, here are the spots we think show off the best of our diverse plate. Apologies in advance if you have to take a lot of naps between meals. We do what we do. Eaten something you love on this list? Share it under the hashtag #TimeOutEatList to show your appreciation.
Keep in mind that, like most Midwestern cities, the attractions and entertainment districts are more spread out, with plenty of lodging options depending on the reason for your visit. Most hotels can either be found in the downtown Power and Lights District or the shopping mecca of Country Club Plaza. There isn’t much in the way of public transportation, but most hotels will offer complimentary shuttles within a certain radius. Whether you’re looking to stay in a historic Art Deco-inspired boutique or just looking for the best place to stay for a Royals game, check through our pick of the city’s best hotels and you’re sure to find something you’ll like.
Kansas City is home to lots of odd tributes to history (cannons aimed at modern apartment buildings and museums dedicated to old toys and old money are just a few examples), but one museum stands out even among the oddities: Leila's Hair Museum, a museum dedicated to hair art. Yup, you read that right: Hair. Art. Founded by born-and-bred Missourian Leila Cohoon, who first discovered hair art as a young girl in 1956, Leila's Hair Museum was opened to house Cohoon's collection of more than 700 pieces. But what exactly is hair art? First, the logic. Hair is not changed by time. Curly hair remains curly. Red hair remains red. While the rest of the body decomposes in death, hair "lives on" forever. Which is why, starting in the Victorian era, hair was used to create family dedications or artistic statements. How is it created? Artists use small amounts of wire to create a frame to wrap the hair around. The mixed media platform allows for just a small amount of hair to become an impressive arrangement. Most pieces resemble a wreath, and every arrangement leaves the upper section open-ended ... so that the soul may escape. Single-person hair wreaths are the most common form of hair art, and each could take the artist a few years to finish the project. They're most often created to commemorate the passing of a single family member, and the frame itself is usually finished in the same fabric and lining as the deceased's coffin. It's bleak, fam. For families with unlimited means and time, there are also multi-generation family contributions. They're sort of a like a family-tree, but individual members are not singled out. Instead, everyone contributes a lock of hair to create a large-scale art piece. They can range from a dozen to more than 100 hair contributions and many of the ones in the museum are more than 100 years old. One featured piece of art is comprised from a 90+ person community. Each person involved has been dead for at least a hundred years, but you can read each's personal scrawl next to their hair. There also the hair of Elvis Presely from his pre-World War II hair cut! There are cuttings from almost every United States President. (Where they came from is a story all on its own.) Both Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton have strands of hair in the museum—and they're contained within the same frame. You have to think that's not what they would have wanted, right? There's hair that this writer is convinced is haunted. Phyllis Diller went on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show and talked about how she was building a hair wreath. Decades later, Leila's Hair Museum got Diller to donate the piece. The further you descend into the hair museum, the more you come to understand how hair art has been woven into society over the last century. During World War I, most soldiers carried snippets of their wives' hair. Female hair was also used to make crosses for soldiers and some were used to make apparel (a lot of men owned a watch band based on the hair of their female partner). There are also buttons, wallets and more made out of hair. The Smithsonian keeps poking around to ask when they can have Leila's collection. But we say, keep Missouri weird. Read our full guide to Kansas City
Whether Kansas City is in your backyard or a getaway destination, one thing is for sure, this Midwestern hub is packed with family-friendly activities year-round. From immersive museums dedicated to baseball, jazz, and toys to outdoor activities and hands-on learning experiences, you’ll find amazing things to do with kids in Kansas City. Plan to visit wildlife, play with puppets, and break a sweat on the playground. In addition to the best events in the city and our favorite downtown activities, this collection of top kid-friendly activities is sure to engage the whole family. RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Kansas City
Consider Kansas City a cultural oasis on the plains and a beacon to all those within 100 miles—this is where you can find a good drink. Some of the finest bartenders, cocktail crafters, breweries and distillers that the midwest has to offer have all made KC home, producing some of the best sports bars, martini bars, beer bars and speakeasies in the Midwest. If you want to taste what Missouri has to offer, then check off the best bars in Kansas City from your bucket list. And while you're here, Kansas city has some pretty great restaurants and BBQ spots, too. Drank somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDrinkList. You can also find out more about how Time Out makes recommendations and reviews bars here.
Kansas City conjures visions of unending BBQ meats and perhaps some major football victories, ut the city's rising beer scene keeps breaking through to garner national attention, as this centrally located hub offers cheap real estate for upstart operations and a tight-knit community of supportive brewers. This is a great city for honing your brewing skills, and the people of Kansas City reap the benefits. If you're swinging through town, hit up our list of best bars, restaurants, and museums in town, but absolutely don't forget about these exceptional breweries in Kansas City. RECOMMENDED: The best bars in Kansas City
What’s the deal with downtown Kansas City? Without a doubt, Kansas City comes to mind when you think of world-class BBQ and a bustling jazz chronology. Yet this heartland city has so much history and all the more contemporary charm, you’ll need more than a few days to join us in celebrating our roots. Once the center of vaudeville and an important industrial base thanks to the port at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, Kansas City has always been a thriving home base. While the city once ran one of the largest streetcar systems in the country, today’s commuters get around on a free streetcar that connects neighborhoods and cultural destinations throughout the core. Take a tour around town to discover a multitude of museums and landmark fountains, dip into culture with a wander through Kansas City Sculpture Park or spend the afternoon at one of the city’s many historical museums, from the iconic National World War I Museum and Memorial to the American Jazz Museum or the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum celebrating Kansas City’s baseball history. During your visit, plan to stay up late as our nightlife includes live music, an endless bounty of food, and homegrown distilleries you won’t soon forget. If you only do one thing Do as the locals do and head to Crown Center. This multi-use facility is home to many of the city’s best annual events, and year-round you’ll find family-friendly fun every day of the week. The shopping and entertainment district is home to attractions including the SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium, Hallmark Visitors Center and the Ice Terrace, a public outdoor skating rink. Live performances take place at The Coterie Theatre and MTH Theater, while choirs and pop-up performances can be found throughout the complex. You’ll also find local foods to fuel your fun, from Burnt End BBQ to frozen custard and Kansas City Fudge. Go off the beaten track While you visit famous landmarks in Penn Valley Park, like the Liberty Memorial at the National WWI Museum, take a look around. You’ll find one of the best skyline views of the city here. And if you want an even more mesmerizing view of the Midwestern sky, take in a movie under the stars. Favorite summer movie nights can be found at Crown Center’s weekender, the rooftop terrace at the Kansas City Public Library, and at nearby Boulevard Drive-In Theatre. On a rainy day, spend a few hours exploring The Kansas City Garment District Museum for a fun fashion tour housed in buildings that date back to the 1870s. Stay up late Jazz roots run deep in Kansas City with a history famed with appearances by Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. Today you’ll find live performances every night of the week, and the art form celebrated throughout the city with the Charlie Parker Memorial and year-round celebrations at the American Jazz Museum. Start your musical immersion at the museum then head next door to the Blue Room Jazz Club before popping into locals-favorite Green Lady Lounge. Squeeze into The Phoenix for some hot local grooves or chill out with fine dining and cool sounds at Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room. Eat here Oh, you know barbeque is on the menu so let’s set you on the right track with what this city is known for. First up, know what to order. Go for burnt ends and pork ribs, and anything smokey like a beautiful brisket. Pair the melt in your mouth Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbeque with their legendary sides like a cheesy potato bake and hickory pit beans. Get in line (it’s worth your time) at roadside staple Jones Bar-B-Q for serious homemade sauce and a savory slab of ribs. Or go for sultry smoke at Big T's Bar B Q where the choices seem endless. Want even more barbeque? Kansas City is so intent on having you sample the goods, there’s a free app to guide you through the KC BBQ Experience. Be sure to check out other comfort foods around town, like Stroud’s pan-fried chicken, Gram & Dun’s chicken and waffles, and the all-American classic diner dishes at Winstead’s, a local tradition for more than 75 years. For fresh local flavors, take a stroll through the historic City Market for year-round farm stands and artisan snacks. Then satisfy your sweet tooth with a stop at Fairway Creamery, home to craft donuts and an amazing assortment of fresh ice cream. Drink here While your night on the town hopping from one jazz club to the next is sure to satisfy your thirst, Kansas City has a number of other can’t-miss beverages. Take a tasting tour of distillery J. Rieger & Co, founded in 1887 and home to flavorful Kansas City whiskey. Sample German-style lagers and ales in the Biergarten at KC Bier Co. or combine local city history with contemporary tunes at Stockyards’ Brewing Co. Or pay tribute to long-lasting local bars like The Ship, established in 1935, or Harry’s Country Club, complete with jukebox and a wallet-friendly happy hour. How to get to downtown Kansas City More than 50 destinations offer nonstop flight service to Kansas City, but you just might be within a road trip’s drive to visit this Midwestern gem. While public transit services visitors from Kansas City International to downtown, the faster bet is hailing a rideshare or cab. Once downtown, get around from one neighborhood to the next with the free KC Streetcar. What else is nearby? North Kansas City is just across the Missouri River with a 60-acre public park perfect for family fun in the sun, along with even more variations of local barbeque favorites.
Whether it's local history or global visions for tomorrow, KC has incredible art for all tastes. All you have to do is head to some of the best museums in Kansas City to see an incredible array of history, art and more. Take the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum or the American Jazz Museum for example, where you can get a deep dive into the unique history that makes Kansas City great (besides the BBQ, of course). More into contemporary art? The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art both have worthy exhibits and Instagram-worthy installations. After you see the show, head to some of the best restaurants in Kansas City to refuel. RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Kansas City
Texas has brisket, Carolina has pulled pork and St. Louis has ribs, but the crown jewel of the Kansas City BBQ scene is a plate of burnt ends. We're talking about those wonderful bites of brisket that are caramelized and smokey on the outside and tender on the inside. Basically, they’re meat gold. Although plenty of butchers used to discard this meat because it was thought to be too chewy for sandwiches, today, the dish sells out on a daily basis all around town. That's because Kansas City BBQ isn’t just the town’s most recognizable culinary offering (and one of the best things to do in Kansas City), it’s an institution that has shaped the entire country’s gastronomical landscape since the 1920s. (That's when Henry Perry fired up a smoker in an old streetcar barn and sold grilled meat in newspapers for customers to carry out.) Today, that tradition has expanded to more than 100 restaurants serving BBQ in the area—slathered in world-famous KC BBQ sauce (thick and sweet with a hint of spice), of course—and even BBQ-themed events and festivals. So what are you still waiting for? Put on that bib and get eating. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Kansas City
If you visit Kansas City and think people are still celebrating the Super Bowl, you are ... absolutely right. The big win continues to be celebrated around town, but that’s not the only thing KC is championing this year. Every Kansas City events calendar is full of massive parades (KC continues to hold the largest free Memorial Day event in the Midwest) as well as cultural celebrations and so many food fests. (Did you think you were escaping town without a taste of the legendary BBQ?) If you're not convinved you need to plan a trip to KC, yet, how about a famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade or lively Oktoberfest festivities to make you start looking up the best restaurants and hotels in Kansas City. Whatever your reason for visiting Missouri, the best events in Kansas City will make sure you have a good time while you're in town. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Kansas City