Don’t be tempted to lump Kansas City into “flyover” territory; aside from being a friendly Midwestern town, this spot is known for its restaurants (hello barbecue), jazz heritage and massive amount of fountains—the city is home to over 200 of them(!). K.C. is a great sports town, a hub of innovation and packed with history and culture—including the 100-year old Union Station and the National World War I Museum and Memorial—along with some stellar hotels to rest your head after days of sightseeing. Here’s our list of 23 Kansas City essentials, ranging from what to eat (meat!), see and do in the Heart of America.
Best things to do in Kansas City
Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue
Stuff yourself at Joe’s
Joe's Kansas City Barbecue is a common recommendation for a reason—it’s the best. And Kansas City takes their barbecue tradition seriously. There are three locations, but you’ll definitely want to go to the original spot on 47th, which used to be a gas station. Yes, there will be a line, but it’s almost a rite of passage. Order The Z-Man, fries and half rack of ribs. Split that with a friend. Do not deviate from the plan!
Boulevard Brewing Co.
Take a sudsy brew tour
The little brewery that could is now one of the largest craft brewers in the Midwest. Learn about incredible history of this native Kansas City company and about Boulevard’s brewing process on a 45-minute tour that starts and ends with free beer. Afterwards, make sure to get a photo in the little RV photo booth and hit up the gift shop to take home your favorite brews.
Catch a Royals Game
Kauffman Park is one of oldest and nicest ballparks in the American league and home of the Kansas City Royals. Catching a game here is both affordable and fun, and there isn't a bad seat in the joint to watch the 2015 World Series Champions play ball. The outfield concourse allows fans to walk 360 degrees around the stadium, plus there’s plenty of parking/room for tailgating. Look out for “The K’s” best known feature, the Water Spectacular, a fountain and waterfall display behind the right-field fence.
Peruse the goods at City Market
Don’t be confused—it’s referred to as both the River Market and the City Market. A Kansas City tradition since 1857, City Market is always packed with people—and for good reason. Here you can find local produce, hipster goods, home accessories and more, as well as restaurants and cafes. During the summer, there’s an extensive events calendar with live music and festivals. On weekends there’s a popular Farmers Market, and visitors can shop antiques and collectibles at the Vintage Sale on Sundays.
Mutual Musicians Foundation
See a jam at the Mutual Musicians Foundation
Local musicians, singers, and spoken word poets jam together at the Foundation on Fridays and Saturdays from midnight ‘til dawn, as they have done since 1930. The walls are covered in Kansas City jazz history. It’s nothing fancy—drinks are served in plastic cups at the bar. Here, it’s all about the music. So, take a nap, pay the $10 cover, and listen to talented players jam until the cows come home.
Ride a KC Streetcar to First Fridays
Take a (free!) streetcar ride down to the Crossroads on the First Friday of the month to experience some Kansas City culture. The streets are filled with food trucks, live music, vendors and art exhibits. Walk from a pop-up party to a craft brewery to a fine art gallery, all within this avant-garde neighborhood that’s all about the arts.
Union Station Kansas City
Explore Union Station Kansas City
Built in 1914, this historical, architectural masterpiece is a sight to behold. Marvel at the Grand Hall's 95-foot ceiling, three 3,500-pound chandeliers and the six-foot wide clock. With traveling national exhibits, 3D movies on the Extreme Screen, Science City (an interactive science center), a permanent KC Rail Experience exhibit and a planetarium, Union Station has something for everyone in the family.
American Jazz Museum
Hear the history at the American Jazz Museum
Downtown, the American Jazz Museum shares a building with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District. Learn about the birth of jazz in Kansas City through interactive exhibits, including listening stations and custom mixing boards. Among the historic artifacts from the height of jazz's popularity are collections of photographs, sheet music and posters. A great attraction to see before a live show.
Blue Room Jazz Club
Then listen to Jazz at the Blue Room
Next door to the American Jazz Museum is the Blue Room Jazz Club, offering live music four nights a week in an intimate setting. Part “Kansas City jazz” exhibit, this is a great place to grab a drink and see up-and-coming bands, seasoned local veterans and big names from the jazz world.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Tour the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
While you’re in the historic district of 18th & Vine, which was the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s-1960s, take a self-guided tour of African-American baseball’s rich history at the NLBM. The multimedia displays, collections of photos and artifacts, and film exhibits dating from the late 1800s through the 1960s tell the complete story of Negro Leagues Baseball, from average players to superstars. Don’t miss the field of 12 bronze sculptures and the museum store.
Worlds of Fun
Get amused at Worlds of Fun
KC’s amusement park might be a bit smaller than you’re used to, but there are all kinds of rides and slides within its 235 acres, and it’s much less crowded than Disney or Universal. Spend the morning at Worlds of Fun riding coasters and hanging out with 35 life-size animatronic dinosaurs at Dinosaurs Alive!, then cool down at Oceans of Fun—access to the waterpark is included with admission.
Try the Burnt End Chili at Woodyard Bar-B-Que
Follow the plume of smoke signals off the beaten path to find authentic Kansas City BBQ. What this place lacks in ambiance it makes up for in deliciously smoked meats; try Pitmaster Mark O'Bryan’s brisket or pulled pork sandwich (make it a Carolina, topped with slaw) with a side of cheesy corn, and definitely get the Burnt End Chili, a local favorite.
Ernie Miller Nature Center
Hike at Ernie Miller Nature Center
Nestled in the middle of a beautiful 116-acre park, the Ernie Miller Nature Center is home to native birds and cute creepy-crawlies, as well as educational exhibits, a gift shop and three beautiful miles of hiking trails. It’s a great option if you’re craving wide open spaces and a break from the city.
Kansas City Public Library
Check out the Kansas City Public Library
From the book cover-inspired parking garage to the film vault in the basement, the Kansas City Public Library’s Central Library is packed with character and Instagram gold. In addition to the incredible number of books on offer, there’s a coffee shop (just like a bookstore), a children's area and a full size chess game on the roof.
National World War I Museum and Memorial
Tour the National World War I Museum and Memorial
History buffs need to check out the world-class collection of WWI memorabilia at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. The tour starts with a short introductory film, then visitors are free to explore the different uniforms, weapons and paraphernalia and learn about the geopolitical causes of the Great War through short films, storyboards, maps and timelines. Be sure to see the fantastic view of the city from Liberty Tower, a monument commemorating those who served in the war.
Westport Flea Market
Grab a burger at Westport Flea Market
You’ll know you’re at the Westport Flea Market Bar & Grill (aka “The Flea”) when you see the Burger-mobile parked out front. Bring some cash and order at the bar, then play some arcade games while you wait for one of the best cheeseburgers in KC.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Spend an afternoon at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Known for the giant Shuttlecocks installation out front (created by husband and wife team Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Brugge), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art houses nearly 40,000 works of art. With ancient to contemporary collections and an extensive collection of Asian art, the Nelson is regarded as one of the best museums in the country, and admission is free.
Tailgate at Arrowhead
Tickets to the game are optional to enjoy one of the best parties in town. Regardless of your team loyalty, enjoy a beer and brat in the parking lot, and introduce yourself to this longstanding KC football tradition. Tens of thousands of passionate partiers show up hours before kickoff; games typically begin around noon, so this is a great excuse to ingest massive amounts of BBQ and beer at 8:30am. The best tailgates are when the Chiefs biggest rivals, Oakland and Denver, come to town.
Spend a day in the Westside neighborhood
Kansas City’s historic yet modern Westside neighborhood is a picturesque, tree-lined thoroughfare packed with shops and eateries. Peruse local wares and eclectic antiques at Westside Storey, then nosh at one of the many locally-sourced and creative farm-to-table restaurants. Start with burgers and cocktails at The Westside Local, then treat yourself to something sweet at Chez Elle Creperie. Or just grab a fresh loaf of bread from Fervere, take a seat and people watch.
National Museum of Toys and Miniatures
Visit the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures
Housed in a mansion on top of a hill on the UMKC campus, the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is a hidden gem in Kansas City. The museum boasts the world’s largest fine-scale miniature collection on the first floor, from itty bitty Russian nesting dolls to tiny replicas of everything under the sun. On the second floor, see how toys have evolved throughout time in one of the nation’s largest antique toy collections.
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Explore the exhibits at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
While not much can outshine the Nelson-Atkins, just a short walk away is the (much more intimate) Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which boasts a collection of modern and contemporary works and hosts exhibitions, installations, film and video series, lectures, concerts, workshops and other creative programs. Café Sebastienne is a great place to stop for a bite before or after your visit, and admission and parking are both free.
Kansas City Fountains
Make a wish in a Fountain
In a city known for its fountains, spend a day taking a tour of the most famous ones. Every spring, all 48 publicly-operated fountains come to life. Ranging from classical to modern and minimalist to ornate, they can be found sprucing up the scene in parks, plazas and shopping areas across the city. Start your tour with The J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain near Country Club Plaza.
Country Club Plaza
Stroll (and shop) Country Club Plaza
“The Plaza” is KC's premier shopping and dining destination. You’ll find high-end retail establishments, restaurants and entertainment venues within its sprawling 15 blocks, but this isn’t just another outdoor mall. Walk, shop, eat and see some beautiful fountains and classic European architecture, as well as more than 30 statues, murals and tile mosaics. The Plaza is a must-see when visiting KC, especially at Christmastime when it's decked out in its famous lights.