This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please read our Disclosure Policy.
Kansas City, Missouri, has been topping lists of places to visit in 2019 with good reason. The largest city in Missouri sits on the Missouri River, separating it from its counterpart, Kansas City in Kansas. Missourians will tell you that their Kansas City was built first and is named after the Indians that inhabited this region. I took the opportunity to visit my son after he relocated nearby from Wichita Falls, Texas shortly after his graduation from Air Force Basic Training in San Antonio. If you’re wondering whether Kansas City is worth the visit – the short answer is a resounding Yes! Fans of history, art, and having a good time will all find something to do in Kansas City. Here are my 15 favorite things to do in Kansas City.
1. Enjoy BBQ!
Kansas City’s barbecue is famous for a reason – the slow-cooked brisket is rubbed with spices and topped with a tangy-sweet sauce. If you’ve got the appetite, and the time to explore several locales, I highly recommend downloading the Kansas City BBQ app for your smartphone. Debuting in 2019, the app lists over 100 BBQ joints. Take a trail challenge, check-in, and earn badges while exploring all the KC options. Locals have a variety of favorites, with Gates a popular name that I heard often. With multiple locations throughout the city, check them out if you want a true taste of KC barbecue. Read more about local barbecue options here.
Looking for something a little more upscale? Try Q39. With two locations, one in Midtown and one in the South, you’re sure to find one conveniently located. Calling itself a “chef-driven barbecue” joint, Q39 is a comfortable environment for both families and groups. Order the burnt ends appetizer. My waiter recommended that I order the burnt ends burger and ask for it to be prepared “staff” style – which included cheese and onion straws. These were the perfect complement to the bbq sauce and spicy pickle relish. You can even enjoy a flight of craft beers with your dinner. Don’t skip the dessert either!
And just a little outside of town but not to be missed:
And while it may be across the river in Kansas, visitors shouldn’t miss a stop at Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue in Kansas City, Kansas. So good that it made Anthony Bourdain’s list of 13 Places to Eat Before You Die. Try a platter with various types of meat. You’ll feel confused as you pull up to the address that is really a gas station. But the line out the door confirms that you’ve found the right spot. Order the Z-Man Sandwich, with slow-smoked beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese, two onion rings and sauce on a toasted Kaiser roll. The french fries are popular, but in my humble opinion, the onion rings were the best that I have ever eaten. Crunchy and light, they melt in your mouth!
2. Admire the water fountains
Also known as the City of Fountains, Kansas City celebrates all types of fountains, from large to smaller neighborhood fountains. Kansas City claims to have the world record for the most working fountains in a city at 200 (yes, that’s even more than Rome!). These beautiful fountains have allowed the city to grow in a way that features pockets of greenery and soothing sounds.
One of the most recognizable fountains is the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain near Country Club Plaza. Built in 1910 in Paris, France, it is hard to believe that it was saved from a scrapyard in 1951 and brought to Kansas City. The four large horses represent four rivers: the Mississippi, the Seine, the Rhine, and the Volga. There are multiple benches where visitors can sit and enjoy the beautiful fountain. It is definitely worth a stop on your itinerary.
Want to explore them all? The city has prepared a map of all the locations found here:
3. Enjoy the sculptures at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Long-time readers know that while I sometimes include an art museum in my itineraries, I don’t always visit them myself. But the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s outdoor sculptures captured my attention and I would suggest walking around if this is of interest to you. Most famous for the giant badminton shuttlecocks on the lawn of the museum, you’ll find other sculptures interspersed throughout the gardens. Or set up a picnic on the lawn surrounded by these pieces of art.
4. Take a free streetcar ride
Didn’t know there was a streetcar in Kansas City? The downtown Street Car route is 2.2 miles long and connects Union Station in the south to the City Market in the north. The ride takes about 15 minutes each way, though you’re welcome to stay on it and ride the loop in about 30 minutes. The ride is FREE and will bring you close to many popular tourist areas downtown.
We took a streetcar tour with Kansas City Walking Tours – which I highly recommend. Starting at Union Station, you’ll ride the streetcar and disembark at various stops along the way where you’ll learn about the history and sights.
5. Party the night away in the Power and Light District
Whether you’re looking for the highest density of restaurants and bars in town, or looking for live music, the Power and Light District shouldn’t be missed. KC Live! is a stage located in the Power and Light District featuring live acts. Check the city’s schedule to find out who is performing during your visit. Admission prices vary but several nearby bars also offer an option to catch the action. Either book a hotel in the area or near the streetcar so that you can walk around without concern for driving after some partying.
6. Admire the architecture at Union Station
30 West Pershing Rd, Website
In bygone days, the Kansas City Union Station saw train travelers going from coast to coast or other destinations in the Midwest. Though it was once abandoned, Union Station has been restored to its former glory with marbled floors and decorative ceilings. Inside, travelers can grab a bite at Harvey’s or one of the small coffee shops. Union Station also serves as the home to 8000 square feet of toy train displays, a joy for train lovers of all ages. Also inside, the Science City museum is also based inside Union Station and features rotating exhibits that are sure to entertain visitors.
7. Learn about history at the World War I Memorial
2 Memorial Drive, Website
Because my son serves in the Air Force, I never miss an excuse to visit a military museum. The World War I Museum is hidden in plain sight – found at the base of the World War I Memorial. Billed as “the world’s most comprehensive WWI collection,” visitors will find exhibits concerning all the theaters of the war. Interactive displays allow guests to get a clearer understanding of some aspects of the war. The entrance shouldn’t be missed – it is a clear glass walkway over a field of commemorative poppy flowers. The best time to ride the escalator to the top of the Liberty Memorial Tower is around sunset – best done in winter or special evening functions – where you’ll get a fabulous view of Kansas City.
8. Drink a crafted draft beer
Early adopters of the craft beer movement, Boulevard Brewing Company set up shop in Kansas City back in 1989, way before craft beer was even a thing. Now there are more than 17 craft breweries in Kansas City, so you’re never too far from a freshly brewed beer no matter where you are!
9. Catch a show
Watch a musical under the stars at the Starlight Theater. Or at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Or at the art deco styled Music Hall. Or The Folly Theater which opened in 1900. In other words, fans of the performing arts have multiple facilities to choose from for unique experiences to enrich their cultural appreciation.
10. Enjoy the Spanish influences at Country Club Plaza
47th and Broadway, Website
Contributing to the European feel of this Midwestern city is the Spanish influences of the Country Club Plaza area of town. Whether this is your starting point to enjoy a walk along the Riverwalk, an opportunity to get some great meals, or an excuse to go shopping, the buildings will make you feel as if you’re in a Spanish city–which makes sense since one of Kansas City’s sister city is Seville, Spain!
11. Visit the Central Branch of KC’s Public library.
14 W. 10th Street, Website
A converted bank building now houses the main branch of the city’s public library. In the basement, see the old vault door leading to the current Vault Theater. There’s even a garden on the roof! The South wall of the parking deck features a mural of book spines known as the Community Bookshelf, serving as a favorite Instagram photo spot.
12. Learn about life on the river at the Arabia Steamboat Museum
400 Grand Blvd, Website
The Missouri River gave life to the town during a previous era. The era of the paddleboats transporting passengers and goods up and down the Missouri River may be gone, but you can see the exhibits stored here for an idea of what life must have been like along the river in the 1800s.
13. Visit the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Home
500 W. US 24 Hwy, Independence, Website
If you like visiting presidential libraries, then Harry S. Truman’s library shouldn’t be missed (though it is a short distance outside of town). Presiding the country in the years following World War II and at the beginning of the Cold War, exhibits at the Museum highlight the important decisions confronting our 33rd President. (Please note that the Museum is closed for renovations until approximately July 2020.)
14. Visit River Market
Combining the best of the surrounding rural areas’ goods in a seasonal farmer’s market with all types of cuisines in the neighboring restaurants, River Market is a spot you should add to your itinerary. Whether you’re looking for fresh flowers, a slice of pizza, an upscale French restaurant or eating with your hands at an Ethiopian restaurant, you’re sure to find something to please your group at River Market.
15. Sports fans can cheer their team
Attend a KC Royals baseball game or a KC Chiefs football game. And for fans of college basketball, spend some time at the College Basketball museum, where you’ll see some memorabilia of popular college players.
What’s your favorite thing to do in KC?
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kansas City. In May 2020, Kansas City hosts the Women in Travel Summit and I’m so glad that they will be hosting so many women travel bloggers at that time. I look forward to engaging in some of my favorite things to do in Kansas City with my blogger friends.
Annick, The Common Traveler