Our Official Guide to Kansas City, Missouri—The City of Fountains
To those unfamiliar with the Missouri metropolis, Kansas City might call to mind a few associations: Barbecue. Jazz. The fact that there’s another, smaller Kansas City in Kansas (it’s all part of the same metro area…yeah, we were confused, too). And while it absolutely has all those things, it also boasts wide boulevards, world-class art and really good tacos. Here’s everything you need to add to your agenda on a visit to the vibrant Midwestern hot spot.
Make a Wish at One of the Many, Many Fountains
If you notice an abundance of water features around town, that’s because K.C. has, oh, 200 of them. (Its official nickname is The City of Fountains.) Among the most notable are the equestrian-themed J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain (built by a French sculptor in 1910) and the Henry Wollman Bloch Fountain in front of Union Station, whose 232 concentric water jets put on an ever-changing display.
Spend an afternoon wandering the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, notable for, among other things, distinctive architecture, an extensive Asian art collection and a sculpture garden that includes four giant badminton shuttlecocks. The nearby Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art houses more than 700 works from artists like Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler and Frank Stella. You’ll find an extra dose of culture throughout the city through October 28, thanks to Open Spaces, the city’s newly inaugurated biennial arts festival.
Drink Like a Local
Fun fact: Kansas City famously said “nah, we’re good” to Prohibition, so drinking is effectively part of the city’s cultural fabric. Take a tour at Boulevard Brewing; beer geeks should be sure to sample the complex, extra-boozy pours from the Smokestack Series. If spirits are your jam, head to J. Rieger & Co., a legendary pre-Prohibition distillery that was resurrected in 2010 (with help from a descendant of J. Rieger himself), for whiskey, gin, vodka and Caffe Amaro (a bittersweet coffee liqueur).
Soak Up the City’s Jazz Past (and Present)
Thanks in part to its unique, nightclub-friendly status in the ’20s and ’30s (see above), and heavyweights like K.C. native Charlie Parker, the city boasts a rich musical history, much of it centered around the 18th and Vine neighborhood. Pay homage at the Charlie Parker memorial and the American Jazz Museum, then catch a live show at the Blue Room (inside the museum) or the Green Lady Lounge.
Check Out City Market
There are farmers’ markets, and then there’s this massive institution, which has been operating as a hub for local vendors since 1857. Along with a bounty of produce and flowers from nearby farms, you’ll find dozens of eateries ranging from Ethiopian to Brazilian. It also shares the space with a surprising tenant: the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which showcases 200 tons of artifacts salvaged from an 1856 shipwreck in the Missouri River.
Anthony Bourdain called Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que one of the 13 places you need to eat before you die. The legendary spot—located in a gas station—is famous for its burnt ends and Z-man sandwich (brisket, Provolone and onion rings). For a new-school take on smoked meat, check out Q39, where the chef taps both his classical culinary training and years on the barbecue competition circuit to perfect dishes like a burnt-end burger and house-made chipotle sausage.
…And Not Barbecue
Feast on globally influenced small plates (think gochujang-dressed cauliflower and duck confit with za’atar) at The Antler Room, opened by a husband-and-wife team who brought their far-flung restaurant training back to their hometown. If the weather’s nice, grab a seat on the patio at Gram & Dun for creative cocktails and comfort food with a twist like Asian pig “wings” with sake-soy glaze or loaded baked potato gnocchi. Also of note? The town’s serious Mexican food scene. Order a whole wood-fired chicken at El Pollo Rey or walk into any of the great taquerias clustered around Southwest Boulevard.
Take a Stroll in Swope Park
At 1,805 acres, the city’s largest green space is more than twice the size of NYC’s Central Park, and houses the Kansas City Zoo, a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater that presents Broadway shows and concerts, a zip-line adventure course, soccer pitches (where both the men’s and women’s pro teams train), a wildlife rehabilitation center and miles of hiking trails and picnicking spots.
Explore the Crossroads Arts District
Creatives flock to this historic neighborhood, filled with galleries, design shops and buzzy restaurants. If you can, time your visit for the first Friday of the month, when you’ll find pop-up parties at galleries and shops, live performers on every corner and food trucks galore. Also in the area is the gorgeous Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts, should you wish to cap your evening off with some ballet, symphony or opera.