Union Station in Kansas City

Best Things to Do in Kansas City

BY Fifty Grande Editors | August 22, 2020

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Kansas City? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Kansas City?”

 

Who would’ve thought that “Paris of the Plains,” “Cowtown,” “The Jazz Capital of the World” and the “BBQ Capital of the World” were the same place? But Kansas City’s seemingly disparate nicknames reflect its multifaceted nature. This is a city that openly defied Prohibition in favor of a thriving jazz scene, a place where you can chow down on some of the United States’ best burnt ends while admiring equally impressive street art. Sports, art, food and music are all significant threads in KC’s dynamic tapestry. Pull any of them and you’ll unravel an enriching adventure. We’ll help you get started with a few of the best things to do in Kansas City right now.

 

You’re here for sweet-savory BBQ

Kansas City BBQ is defined by its cornucopia of meats and sweet, thick sauce. Local favorites like Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, Q39, Jones BBQ and Fiorella’s Jack Stack dish out beef, pork, chicken, lamb and more, but your best bet is burnt ends — the go-to order for many Kansas City locals. 

Arthur Bryant's Barbeque, Kansas City.
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Arthur Bryant's Barbeque, Kansas City.

Arthur Bryant’s

1727 Brooklyn Ave, Kansas City, MO, USA

The bedrock of KC’s BBQ scene, Arthur Bryant’s has been around since 1908 and started the city’s burnt ends craze. Their presidential customer list includes Harry S. Truman, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbeque, Kansas City.
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Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbeque, Kansas City.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbeque

4747 Wyandotte St, Kansas City, MO, USA

They’re a tad more upscale, and they serve a dizzying array of hickory-smoked meats. Their Crown Prime Beef Rib is a must-try.

Q39
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Q39

Q39

1000 W 39th St, Kansas City, MO, USA

This place bucks the “low and slow” BBQ cooking tradition, a gamble that pays off in the form of a killer sliced brisket.

Gates BBQ
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Gates BBQ

Gates BBQ

1325 Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd., Kansas City, MO, USA

A local chain lunch counter that serves up delicious sandwiches and combination plates. 

 

But you’re here for jazz too

Jazz clubs popped up across 1920s Kansas City, resulting in a unique style that favored improvisation and pushed jazz innovation forward. The genre still thrives in Kansas City today, so head to the Jazz District (18th and Vine) and wing it.

Green Lady Lounge in Kansas City.
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Green Lady Lounge in Kansas City.

Green Lady Lounge

1809 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, MO, USA

A retro cocktail lounge that has no-cover performances seven days a week, including some of the city’s pre-eminent jazz bands.

Blue Room Jazz Club, Kansas City. Illustration by Sophia Derry for Fifty Grande.
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Blue Room Jazz Club, Kansas City. Illustration by Sophia Derry for Fifty Grande.

Blue Room Jazz Club

1600 E 18th St, Kansas City, MO, USA

Located inside the American Jazz Museum, Blue Room is another hot spot that hosts some of the best local and national jazz talents alongside weekly jam sessions for anyone who wants to jump in.

Visit America’s official World War I museum

This is the Kansas City destination for American history buffs. The most defining feature is the Liberty Memorial Tower, flanked by sphinxes, but underneath it lies a massive collection of World War I artifacts, over 300,000 items and documents in total.

World War I Memorial and Museum in Kansas City
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World War I Memorial and Museum in Kansas City. Photo via Shutterstock.

World War I Memorial and Museum

2 Memorial Dr, Kansas City, MO, USA

Jazz isn’t your style? Right this way.

Kansas City has numerous live music venues, perhaps none more acclaimed than Knuckleheads Saloon.

Knuckleheads in Kansas City
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Knuckleheads in Kansas City. Image via Knuckleheads Instagram.

Knuckleheads Saloon

2715 Rochester Ave, Kansas City, MO, USA

Knuckleheads is a popular spot for blues and rock performers. The venue has four stages (both indoor and outdoor) and, like Blue Room, hosts open jams on weekends and a “Gospel Lounge” on Wednesdays. The outdoor stage is right next to active train tracks where bands and concertgoers have come to relish passing train whistles. 

Keep your eyes peeled for Crossroads District street art

Take a walk in any part of the Crossroads Art District and you’re bound to stumble upon dazzling murals and impressive graffiti. 

Art Alley in Kansas City
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Art Alley in Kansas City

Art Alley

1739 Oak Street, Kansas City, MO, USA

Painters from all over the city (and the world) have contributed to this impressive collection of work. It’s tucked between 17th and 18th Sts., a corridor into Kansas City’s vibrant art community. 

Hit up a First Friday block party

The Crossroads District’s First Fridays are lively street fairs where local musicians, artists and eateries gather to strut their stuff. Wander art galleries and boutiques, grab tacos or BBQ from food trucks, stop to watch a breakdancer locked in a perfect headspin, all the tune of spirited jazz performers. These block parties occur all over the city, but the Crossroads District is the epicenter.

Bar-crawl 39th street

The historic Volker neighborhood is central to Kansas City’s nightlife, lined with some of the city’s most party-ready bars and many late-night eats.

Drunken Worm, Kansas City
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Drunken Worm, Kansas City. Pic: Shutterstock

39th St. (Volker neighborhood)

West 39th Street, Volker, Kansas City, MO, USA

Take a chance on the Hi-Dive Lounge’s mystery beer vending machine. Then hit the Drunken Worm for in-house tequila infusions. Then Gilhouly’s for an Irish pub aesthetic. Then Julep for a whiskey cocktail nightcap. And if you’re still standing, stop by Tiki Taco for street tacos that will be the best thing your drunk friend ever tasted.

Don’t want to go hard? Savor craft beer and cocktails instead

Between nationally recognized craft breweries and historically inspired distilleries, there’s no shortage of places to sip. 

Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City
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Boulevard Brewing Co. in Kansas City

Boulevard Brewing Co.

2501 Southwest Blvd, Kansas City, MO, USA

They might be one of the largest craft brewers in the Midwest, but they still put plenty of care into their creations. Tip back a pint of their nationally renowned Tank 7 farmhouse ale, or try their latest test beer. And before you’re all hopped out, check out some of the city’s smaller craft brewers, like City Barrel, BKS and Torn Label.

Tom’s Town Distilling Co. in Kansas City
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Tom’s Town Distilling Co. in Kansas City

Tom’s Town Distilling Co.

1701 Main St, Kansas City, MO, USA

This place is named for Tom Pendergast, a politician and liquor wholesaler who kept the city partying during Prohibition. Tom’s Town makes and serves premium bourbon, gin and vodka within an art deco interior. They keep the top-shelf stuff flowing because, in the words of Mr. Pendergast, “the people are thirsty.”

Get your game on

Summer visitors can head to Kauffman Stadium to cheer on the Kansas City Royals, while fall or winter travelers can catch the Chiefs in action at Arrowhead Stadium. But the city’s best sports experiences are the interactive ones. 

College Basketball Experience in Kansas City
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College Basketball Experience in Kansas City. Image via College Basketball Experience Instagram

College Basketball Experience

1401 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, MO, USA

Here, you can participate in various basketball challenges — hit a buzzer-beater and hear the crowd go wild, jump into a three-point contest or sit down at a news desk for your own play-by-play or color commentary.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Illustration by Sophia Derry for Fifty Grande.
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Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Illustration by Sophia Derry for Fifty Grande.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

1616 E 18th St, Kansas City, MO, USA

Discover a piece of African American history and learn about some of baseball’s most influential players. In the Field of Legends exhibit, you can take the field with life-sized statues of 12 African America baseball icons.

Gaze upon art and oddities

Kansas City earned the “Paris of the Plains” moniker primarily because of its early 20th-century reputation for carousing. But like Paris, KC also has some world-class art museums.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Pic via Shutterstock.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

4525 Oak St, Kansas City, MO, USA

Its lawn is strewn with 18-foot-tall shuttlecocks, a famous four-part installment. And inside, the museum houses ancient and contemporary pieces from every continent, including one of the world’s largest collections of Asian art.

Kemper Museum in Kansas City.
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Kemper Museum in Kansas City.

Kemper Museum

4420 Warwick Blvd, Kansas City, MO, USA

Fans of contemporary art shouldn’t pass up the Kemper Museum either, which includes works by Jackson Pollock, David Hockney and more.

Leila’s Hair Museum. Illustration by Sophia Derry for Fifty Grande.
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Leila’s Hair Museum. Illustration by Sophia Derry for Fifty Grande.

Leila’s Hair Museum

1333 S Noland Rd, Independence, MO, USA

For those who want something a little stranger, this collection contains only pieces made from human hair.

Bring the fam along

When the kids are tugging at your sleeve, the teens are rolling their eyes and the adults are bored, these places can keep everyone entertained.

Union Station in Kansas City
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Union Station in Kansas City. Pic: Shutterstock

Union Station

30 W Pershing Rd, Kansas City, MO, USA

You’re not riding the rails here because Union Station is not a functioning train terminal. It’s a repurposed architectural wonder and a hub for family-friendly activities. Within its walls are a planetarium, theaters, restaurants and an interactive science center called Science City.

Worlds of Fun in Kansas City
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Worlds of Fun in Kansas City

Worlds of Fun

4545 Worlds of Fun Ave, Kansas City, MO, USA

Groups looking for something of the thrill-ride variety, go for Worlds of Fun/Oceans of Fun, which boasts an assortment of roller coasters and water slides.