From barbecue to jazz to shopping on the Country Club Plaza we've put together a quick Top Ten list of Things to do in Kansas City just like the locals. Additionally visit our calendar of events for hundreds of events happening throughout the Kansas City metro area
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1. Country Club Plaza
Anchored by the iconic J.C. Nichols Fountain, the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City is one of the top tourist attractions. Simply called “The Plaza” by us natives, visiting the Plaza is like going to a European shopping district featuring an open-air museum of Spanish architecture and European art.
The Plaza was designed in 1922 as the nation’s first planned suburban shopping district. The 15-block area features more than 150 shops including Williams-Sonoma, Tiffany & Co., Burberry, and Pottery Barn. Kansas City’s own Classic Cup Sidewalk Café is a great place to people watch and is one of the many upscale eateries on the Plaza.
No trip to the Plaza is complete without a stop at the Three Dog Bakery for treats for our canine family members, who by the way, are welcome in the store.
Each Thanksgiving, tens of thousands of people crowd into the Plaza to watch the Christmas lighting ceremony. On a cool fall evening the sounds of the horse-drawn carriages and the music of street performers bring out your romantic side . There truly is no better place to be during the Christmas season than the Country Club Plaza.
2. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Having the opportunity to study photographic works such as Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” is what keeps us going back to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Being photography buffs, we are enthralled with the museum’s Hallmark Photographic Collection that totals more 7,500 original works of art by such photographers as Mathew Brady, Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith, and Diane Arbus to name a few.The collection features the medium’s entire history from 1839 to present day.
The photography collection is just one reason to visit “The Nelson,” which is known for its neoclassical architecture. The museum’s European painting collection includes works from Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, Petrus Christus, Rembrandt, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh. It’s American collection includes works by Thomas Hart Benton, George Caleb Bingham, Winslow Homer and Alfred Jensen. The Nelson is also well-known for its extensive collection of Asian art.
And for the adventurous visitor, attend one of the free Yoga in the Park sessions on the south side of the Nelson museum near the “Thinker” statue each Sunday at 1 p.m.
3. National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial
When you cross the clear glass bridge and stare down at the 9,000 red poppies that cover the “Flanders Fields” at the entrance to the World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, you’re suddenly reminded of how a single gun shot in 1914 changed the world.
Each poppy represents 1,000 WWI combat deaths.
The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial tells the story of the Great War and all the related events from 1914 through the 1918 Armistice and 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Before it was all over, 36 nations fought in the world’s first global conflict. During the “Great War” 65 million men and women served in the military. More than nine million died.
The 32,000-square-foot facility is not only a memorial to the fallen war heroes. It also houses The National World War I Museum as designated by Congress in 2004 as America’s official museum dedicated to the war.
4. SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium
Sea Life Aquarium opened in April 2012 on the ground and second floors of Halls department store at Crown Center in Kansas City. Operated by Merlin Entertainment, Kansas City’s attraction is the company’s fifth aquarium to open in the United States.
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The aquarium features more 5,000 fish and sea creatures in 260,000 gallons of water. Many of the attractions are hands on and interactive. In the center is a large tropical ocean tank with a walk-through underwater tunnel which allows visitors to come nose-to-nose with sharks, starfish, and sting rays
In addition to the sea life experience, visitors can get a unique tour that looks at the journey of the waterways of the Kansas City area, from the fresh waters of the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico then out into the warm blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, and finally ending at the Atlantic Ocean.
5. The LEGOland Discovery Center Kansas City
Legoland Discovery Center Kansas City, the metro’s newest tourist attraction, is ideal for kids who wish to combine an amusement park with ways to express their creative minds.
The 30,000-square-foot center, located at Crown Center, was designed for children ages 3-10 and gives them the opportunity to climb through a LEGO-themed play structure, build and race cars, ride the Merlin’s Apprentice amusement ride, watch a 4D movie, sing karaoke, create LEGOs by molding them and painting them on the computer. Children can save a LEGO princess while riding an interactive ride and shooting targets with laser guns.A typical visit takes 2-3 hours.
Adults are only allowed into Legoland who are accompanied with a child. Special “adult only” nights are held the third Monday of each month.
6. Kansas City Zoo
Prepare to do a lot of walking when visiting the Kansas City Zoo but it’s worth the adventure. The zoo sits on more than 200 acres and features more than 1,000 animals. Local celebrities, Nikita and Berlin, who visitors can watch year round swim in the new Polar Bear Passage. Their playground is a 144,000 gallon swimming pool.
7. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
It’s the image of Buck O’Neil peering onto the baseball field from outside the fence that has stayed with me after visits to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
When our family moved to Kansas City nearly 10 years ago, we were quickly taken by the warmth, charm, and big wide smile of the former Negro leagues baseball player and manager. Although we never met him, we laughed at seeing pictures of him flirting with members of the Olympic softball team visiting the museum. We cheered when he signed a one-day baseball contract with the T-Bones to become the oldest baseball player in history.
And our hearts were broken along with the city’s when his admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was denied. The local newspaper ran a picture of him walking hand in hand with his long-time partner away from the museum, trying to hide his disappointment.
And of course we cried upon his death at age 94 in 2006.
The story of “Buck” just illustrates how relevant the museum is to life in Kansas City. It sits at 18th and Vine in the city’s historic jazz district.
The baseball museum is more than about John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil though. After spending an afternoon in the museum we came away with real stories about real heroes who were arguably some of the best players to ever play the game.
Besides all the items for sale in the gift shop, there is a gentleman behind the counter, a former math teacher, who challenges all the children who come through with a math problem. And if the correct answer is given, they are rewarded with a small prize.
8. Arthur Bryant’s BBQ in Kansas City
Many call Kansas City the barbecue capitol of the world. And that very well might be the case. For us, and many other locals, our favorite is Arthur Byrant’s Barbeque. Now there are several locations around the city, but for locals the original location at 1727 Brooklyn Ave. is the only choice. It’s located within blocks of the famous 18th and Vine Jazz District which is home to The Gem Theater, The Jazz Museum, and the National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Presidents and other celebrities have lined up to get their barbeque from the restaurant since 1930. When Arthur Bryant passed away, the Kansas City Star published a cartoon showing St. Peter’s arm around Bryant when he arrived in Heaven with the caption, “Bring Sauce?”
9. Steamboat Arabia Museum
The Steamboat Arabia Museum is one of the best things to do in Kansas City, especially if you’re partial to stories of buried treasure and real-life adventure. Located just north of downtown in Kansas City’s City Market area, the museum showcases more than 200 tons of treasure buried at the bottom of the Missouri River when the Steamboat Arabia hit a snag and sank in September 1856. Imagine the contents of an Antebellum Wal-Mart disappearing under the river’s surface only to be discovered in pristine condition more than a century later.
10. Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead
The Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead in Overland Park is one of the best and most children-friendly attractions in the Kansas City metro area. It’s designed to depict an old-fashioned family farm and is complete with 200 animals and birds, a one-room schoolhouse, fishing pond, barn and pony rides.
Overland Park’s website states, “Deanna Rose’s legacy was to bring the charm of the farm to children living in the city. Children treasure such memories as bottle feeding baby goats, milking a cow and taking a horse drawn wagon ride through the woods.”
The farm opened in 1978 and in 1985 it was re-named to honor Deanna Rose, the first Overland Park police officer killed in the line of duty.