Kansas City is friendly and laid-back, but don’t be fooled by its low-key attitude–the city pulses with an upbeat and creative energy.
Kansas City was born and raised on the banks of the mighty Missouri River. To explore a section of it, rent a B-cycle at the corner of Fourth and Delaware, and then follow the Riverfront Heritage Trail, a paved path that connects the Missouri and Kansas sides of the city to the historic Kaw Point, where famous explorers Lewis and Clark camped in 1804.
A treasure trove of pre-Civil War artifacts lay hidden 45 feet below a Kansas cornfield until an amateur archaeologist rediscovered the final resting place of the Arabia, a steamboat the sank with 200 tons of cargo aboard in 1856. Artifacts, including the world’s oldest pickles and mule skeleton (the wreck’s only living casualty), were excavated and placed on display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum.
Kansas City produces some of the best jazz in the country, its epicenter at 18th and Vine is known as the Jazz District. The historic African-American community gave rise to a distinctive KC-style sound, heavily influenced by both blues and ragtime genres. The American Jazz Museum is a good starting place, but don’t miss the opportunity to see live performances at one of the city’s many jazz clubs.
BEST DAY TRIP
Weston thrived as a steamboat port in the mid 1850s, but a massive flood in 1881 shifted the Missouri River to the west leaving the town high and dry. Now it’s an agritourism destination with wineries, farmstead cheese, pick-your-own apples and farm-to-table restaurants. Get a drink at O’Malley’s 1842 Pub, housed in an atmospheric underground cellar below the Weston Brewing Company.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
While the Blue Room jazz club at the American Jazz Museum gets a lot of attention, not enough people know about the nearby Mutual Musicians Foundation, where musicians have gathered since the 1930s for jam sessions that last through the early morning hours. Located in the 18th and Vine historic Jazz District, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
MOST ICONIC EXPERIENCE
For decades, the Country Club Plaza has been the go-to place to take out-of-towners. Take a stroll through the outdoor shopping and entertainment zone to admire the Moorish architecture, reminiscent of KC’s sister city of Seville, Spain. Besides the tile-covered towers, ornate ironwork and colorful mosaics, you’ll find majestic fountains that contribute to KC’s reputation as “The City of Fountains.”
A decade ago, a successful redevelopment project took an eight-block slice of downtown and converted it into a retail, dining and entertainment destination known as the Power and Light District. At the heart of it all, Kansas City Live! pulses with live music in a partially enclosed courtyard surrounded by other nightlife venues ranging from dueling pianos to line dancing.
The 217-foot-high Liberty Memorial Tower leaves an indelible impression on those who see it, especially at night when the Flame of Inspiration shines over the skyline. While it’s worthy of a visit to admire its architectural beauty alone, the National World War I Museum underneath the structure delivers historical context with artifacts and personal stories from the century-old conflict.
There are actually two Kansas Cities; one in Kansas, one in Missouri. Check addresses carefully or you may end up on the wrong side of State Line Road.
NEIGHBORHOOD TO EXPLORE
The Crossroads Art District has endless eye-popping appeal for lovers of art, both in galleries and en plein air. Duck down Art Alley—at 17th and Locust—to see an ever-changing rotation of graffiti murals by sanctioned street artists. Afterwards, peruse the indie shops, restaurants and bars that give the neighborhood its hip street cred.
These days McCoy’s Public House in Westport is a great place to grab a drink with friends on the patio and pass time watching the world go by. If you were to rewind the clock almost two centuries, the spot would have been crowded with pioneers loading up on provisions for the rugged journey across the Oregon, California and Santa Fe wagon routes.
NORTH OF THE RIVER
At one time, North Kansas City (NKS) was the uncool neighborhood on the wrong side of the river. In the last five years, NKC has emerged as an unofficial district dedicated to craft beer. Here you’ll find a good lineup of standard IPAs and lagers at the Cinder Block or more experimental varieties at the dual-purpose Colony Espresso and Beer.