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Kansas City, Missouri
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Dean Hochman

The 21 best things to do in Kansas City right now

Tailgate, devour BBQ, visit art museums and listen to lots of jazz when tackling the best things to do in Kansas City

By Brock Wilbur and Ellen Prinzi
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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

Best things to do in Kansas City

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Photograph: Courtesy Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que

1. Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue

Joe's Kansas City Barbecue is a common recommendation for a reason: it is the best thing to do in town. There are three locations, but you definitely want to go to the original one on 47th, which used to be a gas station. Yes, there will be a line, but it’s almost a rite of passage to eat here. Order The Z-Man, fries and a half rack of ribs, to be split with a friend. Do not deviate from the plan!

Kansas City Plaza Lights
Photograph: Courtesy Flickr/CC/David DeHetre

2. Country Club Plaza

“The Plaza” is KC's premier shopping and dining destination. While you can find high-end retail establishments, restaurants and entertainment venues within its sprawling 15 blocks, this isn’t just another outdoor mall. It's more of a city all its own. 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 during the holidays, when it's decked out in twinkling lights. 

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Boulevardia
Photograph: Courtesy Flickr/CC/Bill DeBaun

3. Boulevard Brewery

This little-craft-brewery-that-could is now one of the largest in the Midwest. Learn about the 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. Afterward, make sure to get a photo in the little RV/photo booth and hit up the gift shop to take home your favorite brews. Be on the lookout for various major events like Boulevardia, where the brewery hosts huge music acts for block parties to give back to the city.

4. Bar Arcades

Before drinking locales mixed with gaming centers became all the rage on the coasts, homegrown versions of these crossover concepts were already taking root locally. Screenland Tapcade and Up/Down KC are blocks from each other, while out in Strawberry Hill you can find 403 Club with hard drinks and a harder dedication to competitive pinball. And it's incredibly easy to lose an entire day at Pawn & Pint, with its thousands of available games and drinks served directly to your table(top).

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Arrowhead
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Arrowhead

The Super Bowl champions rule over one of the loudest stadiums in all of sports. Regardless of your team loyalty, enjoy a beer and brat in the parking lot, and introduce yourself to this long-standing KC football tradition. Tens of thousands of passionate partiers show up hours before kickoff. Will you be among them? Tickets might be slightly more expensive this season, so that tailgate might be the better way to take in the city's various charms.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Tim Samoff

6. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Known for the giant Shuttlecocks installation out front (go on and take a selfie), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art houses nearly 40,000 works of art. Home to ancient and 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.

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Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Thad Zajdowicz

7. Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Just look for the pyramid-shaped building with a four-story spider statue out front. Yeah. 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. The gorgeous, world-class Café Sebastienne is a great place to stop and nosh, and admission and parking are both free. 

Kansas City City Market
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. City Market

City Market is also referred to as River Market, so don't let the names throw you off. A Kansas City staple since 1857, City Market is always packed with people – and for good reason. Here, find local produce, hipster goods, restaurants and cafés, home accessories and more. During the summer, there is an extensive events calendar with live music and festivals. On weekends, there is a popular Farmers Market, and you can shop antiques and collectibles at the Vintage Sale on Sundays. Make use of the city's free tram here, for traveling between this location say...

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Kansas City Union Station
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Jim Nix

9. 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-feet wide clock. Home to 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. Book a boozy brunch at Harvey's, if you want to feel like you're traveling back in time while enjoying a round of mimosas. 

American Jazz Museum
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Brent MacAloney

10. 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.

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11. Jones BBQ

Jones is a grab-and-go window in a parking lot with great ‘que and even greater service from the only all-female pitmaster team in town. The Jones sisters, Deborah and Mary, grew up learning all the secrets to making great BBQ from their father and have taken their secret family sausage recipe to unparalleled levels of fame. You'll undoubtedly recognize them from their stand out episode on Queer Eye. Be prepared to get there early in the day if you want to get in on the goods before they sell out.

Kauffman Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Kauffman Stadium

Kauffman is one of the oldest and nicest ballparks in MLB. Home of the Kansas City Royals, catching a game here is both affordable and fun. “The K’s” best-known feature is the Water Spectacular, a fountain and waterfall display behind the right-field fence. There isn't a bad seat in the joint to watch the 2015 World Series Champions. The outfield concourse allows fans to walk 360 degrees around the stadium, plus there’s plenty of parking/room for tailgating.

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13. Sprint Center

The Sprint Center seats 18,000 and host national acts on a nightly basis such as Panic! At The Disco, Post Malone and Justin Timberlake. Between stadium music acts, you can find all types of mid-level events like touring sporting events and the ever-lovable Monster Truck Jam. 

14. Blue Room Jazz Club

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 music world. Set aside enough time to fully take this one in, as it really starts cooking closer to 11pm.

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Worlds of Fun, Kansas City
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Robert Herschede

15. 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 less crowded than Disney or Universal. Spend the morning riding coasters and hanging out with 35 lifesize animatronic dinosaurs at Dinosaurs Alive!, then cool down at Oceans of Fun—access to the waterpark is included in the admission price. We recommend bouncing between the two parks in the depths of summer, as being drenched on a roller coaster tends to cool you off effectively. 

Mutual Musicians Foundation
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Wikimedia Commons/Mwkruse

16. Mutual Musicians Foundation International

Local musicians, singers and spoken word poets jam together at the Foundation on Fridays and Saturdays from midnight until dawn, as they have done since 1930. The walls are covered in Kansas City jazz history, but don’t expect anything fancy here (drinks are served in plastic cups at the bar)—it’s all about the music. Pay the $10 cover and listen to talented players jam until the cows come home. If this kind of thing is up your alley, consider trying to time your trip around one of the city's official Porchests: where folk musicians come from across the country to play free shows on random front porches across the metro. 

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17. Ernie Miller Nature Center

We cannot overstate how gorgeous this is, and how much you'll appreciate the break if you're trying to power through this list of KC events. Nestled in the middle of a beautiful 116 acre park, the Ernie Miller Nature Center is home to native birds and creepy crawlies as well as educational exhibits, a gift shop and three beautiful miles of hiking trails. It’s a great place for a break from the city in wide-open spaces.

18. 39th Street

There are plenty of small stretches where you can get a considerable amount of drinking done while also not doing any driving; Our personal pick is 39th Street, where you can also find food from across the world. If you can survive the initial gauntlet—the trio of Mo Brew, The Drunken Worm, and The Hi-Dive Lounge—you're gonna make it. But ... there's nothing wrong with winding up at The Worm for an afternoon either.

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Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Chris Murphy

19. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Head to the historic district of 18th & Vine, which was the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s to the 1960s, to 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 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.

20. 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, followed by an exploration of the different uniforms, weapons and paraphernalia of the time. Also learn about the geopolitical causes of the Great War through short films, storyboards, maps and timelines. Be sure to check out the fantastic view of the city from Liberty Tower, a monument commemorating those who served in the war. 

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21. J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain

Every spring, all 48 publicly-operated fountains in KC come back to life. Ranging from classical to modern, minimalist to ornate, they can be found sprucing up the scene in parks, plazas and shopping areas. Start your tour with the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain near Country Club Plaza. There are more than 200 hundred different individual aquatic marvels around the metro, hence the name "The City of Fountains." The name doesn't make much sense until you start seeing them absolutely everywhere.  

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