The Coolest Things to Do in Kansas City
Once an overlooked city in the heart of flyover country, Kansas City is quickly becoming a Midwestern hotspot for vacationers looking to experience the best of America’s heartland. It might not be the biggest city, but what it does, it does extremely well, from the downtown arts and nightlife scenes to the excellent bars and restaurants (hello barbecue!) Read on for not-to-miss food, drinks, shops, and sights in this slice of the Midwest.
Dive in to the City’s Famous Barbecue
Chances are you’ve heard about Kansas City’s reputation for a little something called barbecue. While everyone (including this homegrown author) has their own sworn allegiance to one joint or another, don’t leave town without trying the pulled pork from Jack’s Stack or the ribs at Joe’s Kansas City BBQ—all doused liberally in tangy, sweet, or spicy sauce, of course. Over in Westport, there’s arguably no better brunch spot to shake off last night’s overindulgence than Westport Café and Bar. Come here for the Eggs Norwegian, stay for the champagne cocktails. As the sun sets in the Crossroads, Anton’s Taproom and Restaurant effortlessly blends great drinks, dry-aged steak (another city source of pride), incredible burgers, house-made sausages (sold in its downstairs butcher shop), and 67 craft beers with a cool arty vibe. Not too far away, Lidia’s Kansas City, from Lidia Bastianich, is a beloved institution for its family-style Italian food (the pasta trio is a dinner to remember) and beautiful setting in a former railroad house.
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Head to the ‘Burbs
No, we’re not joking: The city’s southern suburb of Overland Park is home to the new Museum at Prairie Fire, a branch of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Opened in 2008, the museum’s emphasis is on “timely and scientifically accurate exhibitions” that explore the natural world. It’s great for kids, but adults will also find themselves deeply entertained.
Listen to Jazz
The Phoenix and the Blue Room are two local landmarks for live music, but one of the best spots to catch authentic Kansas City jazz is the iconic Green Lady Lounge, in the heart of downtown. Scarlet walls, a marble bar, glowing golden lights and oil paintings set the scene, and the crowd is unpretentious and friendly. Come any night of the week and you're bound to hear something memorable.
Sip Cocktails, Champagne, and Craft Beer
If you ask anyone in Kansas City where to go for a beer, they’ll point you to Boulevard Brewing Company, which opened in 1989 and jump started the city's craft beer scene. Today, it’s practically an institution. If cocktails are your thing, there’s no better—or more romantic—joint than the nationally acclaimed Manifesto, a speakeasy that actually operated during the Prohibition and counted Al Capone as a guest. The entertaining, ever-evolving menu is large but consistently well-executed. Other favorites: Tom’s Town Distilling Company, also located in the Crossroads, for its craft vodka and gin, and the cleverly named Ça Va bar in Westport, which specializes in Champagne, Prosecco, and all other manner of sparkling wines.
Get Your Art Fix
If there’s one museum to go to in Kansas City, it’s the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. You can see works by Kadinsky, de Kooning, Duchamp, Caravaggio, and Delacroix, as well as a stellar permanent collection of Asian art. The museum also hosts top-notch rotating exhibits covering a breadth of genres (at press time, one such show was an exploration of Han Dynasty armor and early Chinese art).
Stay at The Raphael
Originally opened as an apartment building in 1928, the Raphael is one of the few boutique stays in Kansas and a looker at that. The beautifully preserved building combines Art Deco glamour with Italian Renaissance Revival architecture. The 126 guestrooms are light-filled aeries with high thread-count sheets, Keurig coffee makers and flat-screen TVs and the downstairs restaurant Chaz on the Plaza serves next-level regional American dishes like a Colorado rack of lamb with broccoli, lamb-sumac fries and muscovite sauce. Don't miss the live music and regional wines in the lounge (Tuesday through Sunday), a nice warm-up to a night out in Kansas City’s blues and rock venues.
Shop the Neighborhoods
You can't come to Kansas City without shopping at Country Club Plaza, modeled after the Spanish city of Seville—complete with a 138-foot half-scale replica of the Moorish Giralda tower. Walk around the plaza for big brand stores like Anthropologie and Burberry and two stellar exceptions to the selection of national high-end chains: the ever-chic Standard Style, arguably the city’s best boutique, with curated labels like See by Chloé, Theory, and Helmut Lang, and Baldwin, a denim label from one of Standard Style’s co-owners that’s beloved both locally and in the pages of GQ. If more local, quirky finds are your jam, there’s an abundance of incredible vintage stores in the West Bottoms and Westport neighborhoods: You’ll want to check out Good JuJu for great antiques and retro-style home goods (just time it right: the warehouse is only open occasionally) and Pryde’s in Westport for every kitchen implement under the sun. In the city’s Crossroads Arts District, don't miss Raygun for tongue-in-cheek Midwestern-themed souvenirs and Oracle, a “natural science curiosities store” for esoteric home décor like porcupine quills.