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The 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

Written by
Ellen Prinzi
&
Brock Wilbur
Contributor
Krista Diamond
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Kansas City gets lumped into flyover country too often, and that's a mistake. The best things to do in Kansas City include an up-and-coming arts scene, a variety of restaurants serving both the signature cuisine (BBQ) and modern takes on classics and a ton of fountains. (Yes, you read that right. There are a lot of cool fountains in this city.)
And aside from being a great sports town (if you think people are still celebrating the Super Bowl, you'd be right), Kansas City also boasts a long jazz heritage and a slew of year-round events. Plus, in 2020, KC began offering free public transportation, making it super easy to get around, and which means you can conquer some of the city's highlights all in one (very affordable) weekend. So go on and enjoy the best metro in the midwest before everyone beats you to it. 

Best things to do in Kansas City

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!

'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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This little craft-brewery-that-could is now one of the largest in the Midwest. Learn about the incredible history of this native-to-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 events like Boulevardia, when the brewery hosts a block party with some pretty major headliners. 

Bar arcades
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4. Bar arcades

Before bars-slash-gaming-centers became all the rage on the coasts, homegrown versions of these crossover concepts were already taking root locally. Check out Up/Down KC and then head to 403 Club for 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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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 these days, so that tailgate might be the better way to take in the city's various charms anyway. 

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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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. 

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, you'll 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. 

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Built in 1914, this 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. 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. 

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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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 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. 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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Formerly known as the Sprint Center, KC's downtown live event stadium is booked most nights with the biggest names in concerts, sports, and everything else across the entertainment spectrum. Whether it's a huge country star, WWE wrestling, monster trucks, comedy tours, or Disney live — this is the place to find it. Make sure to treat yourself to one of the many bars or restaurants across the street in the Power & Light District before (and maybe after) the show. Just make sure to plan ahead, as you and up to 18,000 other folks might be looking for food at the same time.

Next door to the American Jazz Museum is the Blue Room Jazz Club, offering live music 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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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 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. 

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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We cannot overstate how gorgeous this place 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. 

39th Street
Photograph: Shutterstock

18. 39th Street

There are plenty of small stretches in Kansas City where you can get a considerable amount of drinking done while also not doing any driving; Our personal pick is 39th Street, where you'll 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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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.

One of KC's premier distilleries is also the home to a whole host of different experiences. The tour is delightful, the tasting room and restaurant serve a wide variety of top-notch dishes, and the outdoor patio garden/ party space features elevated cocktails, light bites, garden games, and live music on Sundays. It's hard to go wrong with any of the cocktails offered here, but on principle you should treat yourself to the Tom Pendergast — a bourbon-and-mezcal mixed drink named for one of the city's "political bosses" of old.

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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. 

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 different aquatic marvels around the metro area, 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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