Why Kansas City is an Underrated Travel Destination: A KC Travel Guide
Let’s face it. Most people don’t consider Kansas City to be a desirable travel destination. To be fair, I also wouldn’t consider anywhere with “Kansas” in its name to be worth visiting. I’ve driven through the entire state of Kansas many times on my way to the West Coast and back, and it never fails to be the most mind-numbing 10 hours of my life. Thankfully, Kansas City is in MISSOURI, the good part anyway. When I’m not traveling across the world, I’ve treated Kansas City as my home base in the States. Since I graduated from Mizzou, I had plenty of friends in KC so I decided I might as well post up where I knew some familiar faces.
When I first started “living” in KC, I was pretty disappointed that I was settling for Kansas City and not one of my dream cities. But hey, rent was cheaper and if I was only spending a few months per year in the States, I might as well make it affordable. One thing traveling taught me is to look for the best in every place, whether it’s London, Cape Town or my tiny hometown in the Philippines. Every place has something to offer if you approach it with an open mind and a willingness to explore. In the process of trying not to hate Kansas City, I actually grew to love it quite a bit.
So, is Kansas City worth visiting? Here are some shining examples of why Kansas City is one of America’s up-and-coming travel destinations and best cities to live in.
First Of All, Food (Specifically, Kansas City BBQ)
Kansas City might not have the reputation as a food capital of the world, but it does do the important things correctly. Kansas City barbecue is seriously one of the best in the entire country, and that’s no exaggeration. A lot of cities claim that they’ve got the best barbecue but few can back that talk up. Outside of Texas, Kansas City might genuinely have some of the best barbecue in the United States. Let the food do the talking instead of me.
Joe’s, Q39, Plowboys, Char Bar, and Arthur Bryant’s are some of the most beloved BBQ joints in KC, so make sure to hit those spots up first. Here’s a few more of the 50+ barbecue spots you’ll find in KC.
If you want something a little more international, you can’t go wrong with a trip to River Market. Kansas City has a little section by the river known for its farmer’s markets and international cuisine. From organic groceries to bubble tea cafes and anything from Vietnamese to Italian to Brazilian and Mexican, River Market has an endless selection of places to eat. Coming here during a busy farmer’s market sometimes makes you forget entirely that you’re in a big city.
Other good dining districts in Kansas City include Country Club Plaza, Crossroads Art District, Power and Light District, and Westport. These three districts are where you’ll find the biggest concentration of Kansas City’s tastiest and trendiest restaurants. Just pop in to a restaurant that looks good and odds are, it will be. Kansas City’s dining scene is criminally underrated.
Next Up, Kansas City's Amazing and Unique Museums
Why is it that when people go traveling, museum are almost always on their to-do list? I’ve been to so many museums abroad yet have never even bothered visiting any museums to do in any town I’ve lived in. I was determined to make the most of my time in Kansas City so I actively sought out anything and everything that the city had to offer. I was a tourist in my own city, and thankfully, Kansas City has an impressive selection of museums.
I don’t know why this museum is free but it is. One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to visit art galleries around the world, and the Nelson genuinely ranks among my favorite. Their collections always feature some of the world’s most renowned artists, both contemporary and classical. I first went to check out their Picasso exhibit. I ended up losing track of time in the calligraphy section and ended up not having enough time to see what I came for. Since it’s free, it never hurts to visit multiple times. With a massive green space outdoors and a cute cafe inside, the Nelson is a popular and centrally-located hangout spot. Come see some art, have a coffee, and then sprawl out on the grass alongside the beloved shuttlecocks.
There are a few other art galleries in the area that are also worth the visit. The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is a close second to Nelson-Atkins. Within Kemper Museum is Cafe Sebastienne, which might be the best cafe in all of Kansas City. It is an art lover’s paradise in there. No trip to Kansas City is complete without a coffee and canvas-ogling within Cafe Sebastienne.
World War I Museum and Memorial
The World War I Museum and Memorial is a must if you’re in Kansas City. This museum is well-stocked with artifacts and items from World War I and is an absolute must while in Kansas City. The layout of the museum makes it easy to learn about the war from a chronological standpoint. Going to the top of the nearby Liberty Memorial offers an incredible view of Kansas City, perhaps the best in the entire city.
Considering how many times I go to eat at River Market, I’m surprised I haven’t at least peeked inside the Steamboat Arabia Museum right across the street. It’s a museum dedicated to a boat that crashed nearby. My friend keeps bugging me to go because one time, her school trip to Worlds of Fun was cancelled and they had to go to Steamboat Arabia instead. When you’re a kid, that’s probably the lamest thing to ever happen. It’s one of KC’s biggest attractions, so I’ll let you know how it is when I actually go.
Another of Kansas City’s many unique museums takes us back to when America’s favorite pastime was divided by the races. This museum has been dedicated as the official Negro Leagues Baseball Museum by the U.S. government, and has been visited by over 2 million people since its inception in the early 1990s. For baseball fans looking to learn more about the sport’s divided history, this is one of the best places to start.
Both a train station and a museum with various exhibits, Kansas City’s Union Station is a must-visit destination. This building is beautifully designed, and is home to one of my favorite ceilings in the world. Science City is awesome for people of all ages, as is the massive model train exhibition. Measuring at 8,000 square feet, when I say massive, I mean massive. Best part is that it’s free to enter!
I’m barely scratching the surface. There are plenty more fascinating museums in Kansas City to choose from, including the National Frontier Trails Museum, the American Jazz Museum, the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, the National Airline History Museum, The Money Museum, and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. And those are just the big ones.
The Best Hikes and Outdoor Activities in Kansas City
The girl I lived with in Kansas City had a cute dog so I was no stranger to all of the outdoor areas in and around Kansas City. You’ll unfortunately come to find that Kansas City isn’t exactly an outdoors paradise. You won’t find much in the way of mountains to hike as they’re all exactly one grueling drive through the state of Kansas away. However, Kansas City does have its fair share of green areas. It’s also right along the Missouri River, making for some amazing views from some of the parks, especially from Weston Bend State Park.
Weston Bend State Park has significance thanks to the Lewis and Clark expedition. Also along the Missouri River is English Landing Park, my personal favorite place to take the dog for a walk. It’s right by the river, near the spot where the Steamboat Arabia actually sank. It’s situated near a small university and the quaint small town of Parkville which makes for some uniquely vintage vibes.
Within Kansas City itself, you’ll find Swope Park and the large grassy area outside of Nelson-Atkins. During the winter, you can also go ice skating at the Crown Center. Maple Woods Natural Area, Hidden Valley Park, Parkville Natural Sanctuary along with Line Creek Trail are some good spots in North KC to experience the outdoors. Line Creek Trail is where I’d take my dog for walks frequently, as it’s a laid-back, mostly flat trail running parallel to a creek where I’d let my dog live his best life. It’s great for a run or a bike ride.
There are plenty of wooded areas around Kansas City. Burr Oak Woods State Forest is especially beautiful during the fall, but is worth the visit at any time of the year. Wyandotte County Lake Park is home to some of the best hikes you can do in the Kansas City area. If you’re looking for something a bit longer, Wyandotte’s a good bet if you’re looking to knock out a few hours of walking amongst nature.
Like I said, Kansas City may not have any must-see natural attractions, but there’s no shortage of places to stretch your legs and attune with nature.
Drinking and Nightlife in Kansas City
As the blog name suggests, I do like to go out and have a good time. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a city with bad nightlife, so that says something about Kansas City’s lively party scene. It’s great for a number of reasons. Kansas City’s big enough of a place to have a wide selection of nightlife options, from dive bars to more posh venues like jazz bars and dance clubs. Whether you’re looking for a ratchet night out or something more fancy, Kansas City’s got you covered. Another great thing about Kansas City is that it is nowhere near as expensive as other big cities in America. Partying in New York or L.A. or Miami is simply not sustainable. Kansas City, on the other hand, is a great balance of fun and affordable.
Boulevard Brewing Company
Boulevard is Kansas City’s most beloved brewery, born and raised in the city since 1989. Stopping by here for a brewery tour is a Kansas City rite of passage. Boulevard is one of my go-to beer brands whenever it’s available, and I’ll admit I miss it quite a bit when I’m traveling internationally. Sometimes, you just want to go with a beer that you know will be good.
Power and Light District
Power and Light is one of Kansas City’s top nightlife districts, if not the top. Power and Light’s KC Live! is a conglomerate of nightlife options clumped together. If you want to go from a sports bar to a nightclub to late night pizza, the world is yours. You’d just have to walk a minute from place to place to keep your night chugging along. You could spend a lot of time at P&L, starting as early as dinner and lasting well into the morning. Mosaic Ultra Lounge is my favorite place to be, although take that with a grain of salt. I personally love it, but my friends do say I over-hype it for a place that often charges $20+ for cover. For ballin’ on a budget, No Other Pub is a popular hangout filled with games like beer pong and bowling. It’s a good spot to start the night before moving on to Shark Bar or Mosaic.
The events and watch parties held in this area are also inconceivably fun. I went to a few concerts held at KC Live!, from Vance Joy to Misterwives and a few others. Big names come here all the time, and with KC being a melting pot of all types of musical fans, it’s inevitable that someone fitting your taste will come along. There’s a stage on the ground floor and both floors of the entire area get packed to the brim. The vibe is unbeatable.
Westport is Kansas City’s other main nightlife area and where I’ve spent many a hazy night. In general, it is cheaper than Power and Light and typically attracts a younger crowd. It’s got everything from dive bars, college bars, Irish pubs, and boomin’ nightclubs with crowded dance floors. You won’t have a problem finding late night food here either, but make sure to get in the QDoba line before it gets insane around its 3AM closing time.
Johnny Kaws, Kelly’s and Throwback will be your best bet if you want to dance your booty off all night. The other bars around Westport are mostly sit down spots that are ideal for late dinners and pregames. Harpo’s, HopCat, and Mccoy’s are three other must-visit spots in Westport, boasting spacious outdoor areas on top of their wide selection of drinks.
My personal favorite bar in Kansas City is this arcade/bar/pizza-place hybrid. Featuring everything from Mario Kart to Jenga to Pinball machines from way-back-when, you can never get bored at Up-Down. They also have a wide selection of beers to choose from. Grab a pint, find a good arcade game, and enjoy a weird night out.
One of my favorite concert venues ever is The Midland in the P&L District. The first time I ever went was to see Big Gigantic, an EDM duo known for their sexy sax solos. Sound strange? Yeah, that whole night was. For a concert venue as extravagant and luxurious as the Midland, one would expect operas and orchestras, not EDM groups. We went to another EDM show the following night, and since then, have been to plenty of shows of all genres. The bar attached to the venue is also a fun place to hang out at.
Green Lady Lounge
The Green Lady Lounge is a dimly lit jazz bar that makes for a perfect chill night out. With live music all year round, there’s no better place in KC for drinks and a show. Whether you’re there to enjoy the music or socialize, The Green Lady Lounge is never a bad choice. Despite its older crowd and more upscale feel, the drinks aren’t too expensive either. A well will run you around $4-5, with their unique cocktails hovering at $10.
Kansas City’s nightlife scene is constantly growing. It’s getting to the point that you can drink at a different bar every night and never run out of places to go. The future is bright for Kansas City partygoers of all ages.
Events, Concerts, and Festivals
Kansas City is lively. There’s always something going on, which is what surprised me the most. I’ve only been to a few of these, but people flock far and wide for some of Kansas City’s biggest events and concerts.
First Fridays at Crossroads
First Fridays is probably one of my favorite parts of KC. All of the art galleries in the trendy Crossroads district of KC open to display their art, new and old. So why is this my favorite part? There’s a lot of food and drinking involved. Food trucks flock to the area, and if you’re willing to wait in long lines, you’ll be able to clumsily devour some great food while perusing the art shows. Alcohol is a big part of the night, too. You can probably get drunk just off of all the free wine and beer that some of the art galleries provide.
Headlined by the groovy Parliament Funkadelic when I went this past year, Boulevardia is one hell of a night. Lots of beer, lots of food, and lots of great jams. I got super lost in the sauce here. One of the only pictures I have of this night is me with someone dressed as a can of SPAM. Yeah, I don’t know either. Kansas City may not have a Coachella, but Boulevardia is as close as it gets.
Of course, Boulevardia isn’t even Kansas City’s biggest festival or concert. Although the future of Rockfest is currently uncertain, it has been consistently regarded as the largest one-day festival in North America. Rockfest attracts some of the biggest names in rock, including headliners like Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Korn, Seether, and Rob Zombie.
Major Concerts Year Round
You don’t need to go to a festival to experience music in Kansas City. Year round, you’ll find concerts hosted at The Midland, Sprint Center and even Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City, while often overlooked as a travel destination, is definitely not overlooked by the world’s biggest musical acts. As a lover of reggaeton from my years of travels in Latin America, I was also shocked at just how many of the biggest names in Latin music make their way to Kansas City. From Taylor Swift to Ozuna, Kansas City attracts everyone.
The cool thing about Kansas City is just how diverse the people that live there are. Country music, blues, jazz, hip hop, reggaeton, the list goes on. There’s an audience for everything, which makes Kansas City’s concert scene surprisingly good.
Kansas City is a Big-Time Sports City
Honestly, I’m surprised that Kansas City has so many sports teams. I’m more surprised that those sports teams are actually good. It’s weird. I was in Lima for this past Super Bowl and while there were maybe only half a dozen of us watching, I wouldn’t shut up about being from Kansas City. I also wouldn’t shut up about how Kansas City (the good part) is actually in Missouri. The Chiefs won the freakin’ Super Bowl and that was probably one of the only times I wished I was back in Kansas City instead of traveling.
Between the Chiefs, the Royals, and Sporting KC, you’ve got a wide selection of sports teams to choose from in KC. The Chiefs have got the most ridiculously loyal fan base I’ve ever seen. Even if their team is guaranteed to lose by 50 points any given game, the fans will be out in full force tailgating regardless. A Sunday at Arrowhead’s parking lot is unbeatable. The experience inside the stadium speaks (or yells) for itself, as it Chiefs fans consistently rank as the loudest in all of pro sports.
I’ve also been to Royals games and Sporting KC games, and those boast fun atmospheres as well. Just the fact that you have the option to go to a baseball or soccer game when you’re bored is such a blessing. There are plenty of amazing things to do in Kansas City during the summer, but nothing beats a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium.
Aside from its major league sports teams, Kansas City is no stranger to hosting even bigger sports events. At Sporting Park, I caught a U.S. Men’s National Team soccer game. The Sprint Center hosts a lot of college basketball games, sometimes even March Madness games. And fingers crossed, Kansas City might be next in line to get an NBA team.
Other Things To Do in Kansas City
One of Kansas City’s biggest attractions is the Plaza Shopping District. This area is one of the most beautiful in the city, giving off Spanish-Moorish vibes due to its architectural style. The Country Club Plaza is a great place to wander and do a little shopping. If you’re a tourist, this is your best bet for photo ops and a unique shopping experience in Kansas City.
During the summer, Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun are two of Kansas City’s biggest attractions. This theme park and water park duo is a killer combo for visitors of all ages. There’s no funner way to spend a hot summer day in Kansas City.
When all else fails, just take a walk. There are plenty of areas in Kansas City where you could just roam around and stumble into a cool boutique store or a trendy new restaurant. Crossroads Arts District would be your best bet, as well as Power and Light and Westport. Outside of these districts, Kansas City is pretty spread out. It might be a lot of walking, but Kansas City’s Streetcar could be a lifesaver if you find yourself along its route. If not, renting one of the many electric scooters is another great way to experience the city.
You’ll find a lot of good restaurants in the Crossroads district of the city. Some of the more upscale options can be found around the Country Club Plaza area, as well. You’ll find all types of food throughout Kansas City, so even the pickiest of eaters will find something they fancy.
Kansas City might be one of America’s most overlooked cities. Despite being a big city, it is deep in flyover country, so few people make it here. It’s not nearly as large as Chicago so it wouldn’t typically warrant going far out of the way for international travelers. Nor does it have a major attraction like St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, although Kansas City > St. Louis is a statement I will stand by for life.
Kansas City is an underrated destination, and a city that I hold very close to my heart.