Named one of the “Best Trips 2019” by National Geographic Traveler, Kansas City, Missouri is one of those cities that has everything someone would want in a destination. Full of live entertainment, culinary destinations, museums, outdoor attractions, casinos and sporting events, Kansas City has no shortage of things to see or do no matter the time of year. And with direct flights to and from over 50 destinations — including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Seattle and Las Vegas — KC is very accessible from major cities all over North America (and Iceland).
While its world-famous barbecue is one of the city’s big draws, that is only one of distinctions that helps bring over 25 million visitors to the Kansas City region each year. Known in the early 20th century as the “Paris of the Plains,” KC’s 12th Street was a jazz mecca in from the Roaring ’20s to the early ’40s; it has since been home to plenty of jazz greats. The city was home to Walt Disney’s first animation studio, continues to be the home of Hallmark, and is continually the host of more college basketball games than anywhere else in the country. And that’s without talking about the Royals, the Chiefs, its 220 parks, 29 lakes or 134 miles of trails and bikeways.
I had the pleasure of doing a 48-hour trip — Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon — to Kansas City, Missouri this month. Below are 10 things not to miss when visiting KCMO; more info on the growing city can be found online at www.visitkc.com.
Kansas City’s only AAA 4 Diamond Award-Winning casino hotel, the Argosy is about a 15-minute drive from Kansas City International Airport and a 10-minute drive from downtown KC; Uber and Lyft are both readily available in the city. Once you arrive at the Argosy, you arguably don’t have to go anywhere for a few days. It has a full-service spa, fitness center and meeting rooms beyond its on-site restaurants and casino.
Shortly after arriving on Friday, I had a great steak at the Journey Steakhouse. The last thing I did before leaving for the airport on Sunday afternoon was enjoy a full-hour massage at the Argosy Spa; it was arguably the best full-body massage I have ever had, as my therapist took the time before the massage to clarify my wants and needs. The casino had $10 blackjack tables, unlike many East Coast and Vegas casinos, giving some economical options beyond the typical high-roller tables. The guest-rooms in this stand-alone hotel were spacious and comfortable — the walk-in shower was especially memorable — and ultimately the Argosy provided a relaxing alternative to the usual high-pressure vibes of a casino-hotel.
Opened in 1950 as a theater-centric outdoor venue, the Starlight Theatre has hosted a “who’s who” of all entertainment genres for nearly 70 years. From Jerry Lewis and Phyllis Diller, to Alice Cooper to Rock Of Ages, seemingly everyone who matters has performed at the Starlight at some point; the award-winning venue first started hosting rock bands in 1980. During my trip, I had the pleasure of experiencing a co-headlining concert featuring Ben Folds and the Violent Femmes.
What especially impressed me about the Starlight Theatre was its overall atmosphere. Many venues want to get you in and out quickly, having you consume a lot while you sit down and watch the entertainment. The Starlight, on the other end, is open, spread and full of attractions. It has an on-site mountain, fountains, a lawn area, an overlooking food area, a VIP club and a “walk of fame,” all while having excellent sight-lines no matter where your seat is. This is a must-experience performance space no matter who or what is on the billing.
Kauffman Stadium has been the home of the MLB’s Kansas City Royals since 1973; it was originally named Royals Stadium and has since been named for former Royals owner Ewing Kauffman. Kauffman Stadium is within the same complex as Arrowhead Stadium, home to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, and is reportedly the sixth oldest ballpark within Major League Baseball. It has a seating capacity around 38,000, yet it manages to feel intimate and fan-friendly. The stadium most recently was renovated between 2007 and 2009, undergoing a $250 million facelift.
I had the pleasure of taking a private tour of Kauffman Stadium, thanks to the welcoming Royals staff; more on that is set to run later this week through WhatCulture. Beyond great Kansas City-style barbecue and other fun dining, you can expect a stadium full of attractions and walkability. It has a Royals Hall Of Fame, which is free to visit, and for children the outfield area has a playground, mini-golf, a carousel and batting cage. The Royals are also known to be a fan-friendly franchise, so more than half the games seem to have a fun promotion or freebie for tens of thousands of attendees; the game I attended against the New York Mets had a post-game concert by Lauryn Hill included with all tickets.
#4: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Speaking of fine baseball institutions, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is the world’s only museum dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich history of African-American baseball and its impact on the social advancement of America. The privately-funded, not-for-profit organization was established in 1990 and is in the heart of Kansas City, Missouri’s Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District. The NLBM interestingly operates two blocks from the Paseo YMCA where Andrew “Rube” Foster established the Negro National League in 1920.
The NLBM has welcomed more than 2 million visitors to date. In July of 2006, the NLBM gained National Designation from the United States Congress earning the distinction of being “America’s National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.” A surprising part of the museum, as seen towards the end of the museum, is its collection of signed baseballs that were donated by Rush frontman Geddy Lee. Meanwhile, the museum also has an exclusive film that was narrated by Academy Award Winner James Earl Jones. Thanks goes out to Ray Doswell, Vice President and Curator for the Museum, for the hands-on tour he gave.
#5: The National Museum Of Toys & Miniatures
The National Museum Of Toys & Miniatures opened in 1982 as the “Toy & Miniature Museum Of Kansas City,” as featuring the collections of Mary Harris Francis and Barbara Marshall. Operating in a building on the corner of 52nd and Oak on the University of Missouri – Kansas City campus, the 7,000-square-foot museum initially had two full-time staff members. Over the next 30 years, with expansions in 1985 and 2004, the museum grew to 33,000 square feet and a collection of over 72,000 objects.
These days, The National Museum Of Toys & Miniatures — which often abbreviates the “Toys & Miniatures” part of its name as T/M — has the world’s largest fine-scale miniature collection and one of the nation’s largest antique toy collections. The first floor focuses on miniatures, many of which mind-blowing works of art, whereas the second floor had a lot of interesting toy collections. I was so impressed with this institution that I wound up interviewing Petra Kralickova, its Executive Director, for Urbanmatter.
The original Improv comedy club opened over 40 years ago and was immortalized with the weekly television seies Evening At The Improv. The Kansas City Improv has hosted countless comedy greats over the years. This is especially emphasized within the hallways of the club, as you wait to get seated, as photos of previously-hosted talent adorns the walls; just a few of the eventual-superstars included are Joe Rogan, Sarah Silverman, Dane Cook and Jeff Dunham. I had the pleasure of attending a sold-out late show at the KC Improv, as headlined by DeRay Davis. Upcoming headliners include Nikki Glaser, Carlos Mencia, Earthquake, Dolph Ziggler, DL Hughley and Impractical Jokers’ Sal Vulcano.
Literally next door to the Kansas City Improv is Draftcade, a classic-style arcade with dozens of arcade games, 60+ beers on tap and a food menu. $7 gets you unlimited game play, whether you are seeking retrogaming, pinball or even throwing-based games. It was open even after the late show at The Improv wrapped, giving you the chance to keep the night going. Altogether, Draftcade and The Improv are part of the fun Zona Rosa Town Center neighborhood, which has plenty of great dining and shopping options.
#8: Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue
Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue is a small chain of barbecue restaurants — and related catering services and name-sharing retail products — within the Kansas City metro area. While everyone has their own opinion as to who makes the “best” barbecue in KCMO, as a New Yorker who doesn’t often have the opportunity to enjoy brisket or smoked meats, I absolutely enjoyed my lunch at the Country Club Plaza location. The service was prompt and friendly, as my appetizer came out within 5 minutes of ordering and the entree followed about 5 minutes after that, both of which still steaming hot. The restaurant could be booked via OpenTable yet there was comfortable seating at the bar. If hungry for some post-meal snacks after enjoying a meal at Jack Stack, check out the nearby cheese shop The Better Cheddar.
#9: Mutual Musicians Foundation
The Mutual Musicians Foundation is well-known for its jam sessions which start once the traditional clubs have closed. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1982, showing its significance to American history and not just the local jazz scene. Expect 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM sessions after Friday and Saturday evening, and everyone is welcome to join such.
Speaking of jazz in Kansas City, the American Jazz Museum shares space with the aforementioned Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. It is in the historic 18th & Vine district of KCMO and includes exhibits about the likes of Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Its exterior has a “walk of fame,” which includes plenty of contemporary greats, including Quincy Jones and Pat Metheny. The museum was offering a free Dixieland-style concert when I visited on a Saturday afternoon, a fine example of its free public programming.