The largest city in Missouri, Kansas City, borders Kansas on the western part of the state. And there are so many things to do in Kansas City! Far beyond its reputation as a destination for barbecue lovers, the city offers a surprising cultural diversity in its museums, music scene, vibrant neighborhoods and performing arts venues. Its museums, in particular, cover a fascinating range of historical, artistic and musical genres and are must-see points of interest on any itinerary.
Things to do in Kansas City: Art, history, and jazz on display in its museums
History buffs will want to visit one of several great local museums, including the expansive National World War I museum perched on a hillside across from Union Station with great vistas of downtown. Hear the unforgettable music of jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald at the American Jazz Museum.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art near Country Club Plaza, which the architects modeled after Seville, Spain, is a world-class trove of art. Kansas City’s western heritage is on display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum in the City Market just north of downtown, featuring the full contents of the sunken ship, like a Sears Roebuck store preserved in time from 1856. And learn about Harry Truman’s presidential life and times at the Truman Presidential Library Museum in nearby Independence. Art lovers will enjoy a tour of the Thomas Hart Benton home and studio to learn more about one of America’s great regionalist painters.
Top dining, barbecue and beyond
Any mention of things to do in Kansas City has to include the vibrant dining scene, starting with great barbecue but there is so much more than that. Talented local chefs have trained elsewhere or overseas, then come home to open a wide array of top-quality restaurants in KC.
There are many quality choices for succulent barbecue in town, but having sampled all around town, the top three recommended would be: Q39 in the Westport area, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue in the historic freight yard building near Union Station and Joe’s KC, with its original location in a service station. Venture beyond barbecue and you’ll find a bevy of great choices and cuisines in different areas of the city.
Chef Rick Mullins produces wonderfully innovative cuisine at Café Sebastienne in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Top farm-to-table experiences can be found at The Farmhouse near City Market and Blue Stem with its tasting menu in Westport. There are are several opportunities to try Ethiopian food in town, including at Mesob, and at the Blue Nile in the City Market.
The Power and Light district has some average fare but several chains really do provide great meals, including 801 Chop House for steaks, Bristol Seafood for fish (tough to get good quality in landlocked KC) and the extensive menu at the Yard House.
The Crossroads district provides a wealth of fine dining, including a favorite, Novel, Chef Michael Smith’s newest restaurant, Farina, the Reiger (it’s fun to sit at the bar at the back facing the open kitchen) and authentic German entrees at Affare. The historic freight yard building near Union Station provides atmospheric dining beyond Jack Stack with excellent Italian food at Lidia’s and Austrian delights at Grunauer.
Don’t miss Kansas City’s jazz joints
When thinking about things to do in Kansas City, don’t forget its deep jazz heritage. Choose your jazz spot day or night in venues all around town. Crossroads has a pair of winning establishments side by side, the Green Lady Lounge and the Black Dolphin, where you can enjoy music into the wee hours.
Several places pair brunch or dinner with jazz, such as The Phoenix and The Majestic in the Library District, or Chaz at the Plaza in the Raphael Hotel, also a great place to stay. A favorite is the Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum, which is in the historic 18th and Vine district, and brings great jazz and blues acts to the intimate stage while you sip your drinks.
Kansas City offers many fun options for evening entertainment. Consider these options when thinking about things to do in Kansas City at night:
First Fridays celebrate local art studios every first Friday of each month in the Crossroads district. Studios stay open late and many provide wine to encourage browsing and conversation.
Whether your tastes run to the arts or sports, there are great performance options in Kansas City. The beautiful Kauffman Center, whose architecture crowns the skyline above Crossroads, offers a full schedule of music, opera, and plays. If you arrive in summer, baseball at Royals Stadium is a fun place to enjoy the national pastime.
Wandering around the Power & Light District takes you past a myriad of bars of restaurants, and there are free outdoor concerts. Or try something simple at trivia nights at the Flying Saucer. Country Club Plaza is another fun place to stroll, doing some shopping or dining and admiring the architecture. These buildings are especially magical at Christmas when they are decorated with lights. You’ll find plenty of late afternoon/early evening happy hour spots. One of the best is at Tom’s Town in Crossroads. Interesting drinks and snacks plus you can book a tour of their vodka distillery!
When planning your trip around things to do in Kansas City, consider that its amazing museums are reason enough to visit the City of Fountains. But round out your days with the plentiful evening entertainment and dining opportunities in the lively Power and Light District, catching a show at the Kauffman Center in the Crossroads area or enjoying some jazz in the historic 18th and Vine district. Get more information on all on offer at VisitKC.com and start planning your Midwest getaway!