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Things to Do in Kansas City: A Year of Fun in the City of Fountains, Part 1
Whether you live in Kansas City or plan to travel to this all-American cowtown soon, there's always something fun to do here. Have fun the first six months of the year with this handy guide. When summer comes, enjoy more things to do in Kansas City with this Hub's sequel.
The air is brisk, and you may have to brave a bit of snow or chance an ice storm to travel to Kansas City this time of year. Then again, some milder January temperatures have found local golf clubs in full swing in recent years. Pack to dress in layers so you will be prepared, and join us for some warm downtown fun.
On arrival you may note the Country Club Plaza is still decked out in its holiday finest. Take a cab from your hotel and make a quick stop if you wish. Personally, I prefer the pre-Christmas Plaza lights tour, if you’ll be back in town this coming December.
Indoor outings are most convenient to schedule during a winter visit to Kansas City, and starting your year with a some new learning opportunities at Kansas City’s Union Station is a great way to weatherproof your plans. Science City, an Imax theater, and extensive historical exhibits on the history of the railroad in Kansas City are three of the main attractions. Let history take on your taste buds as you enjoy lunch in the Harvey House, or take the heated walkway across Pershing to Crown Center where you and your youngsters can feast at Fritz’s on food delivered by train cars that run a circuit around the dining area. While in Crown Center, be sure to make a stop on the second floor where you can watch the fudge making at Chip's Chocolate Factory and even buy a Kansas City Cow Pie to take home.
Across the street from Crown Center is Hallmark Cards, Inc. Their interactive creativity museum for children, Kaleidoscope, is a must-see for any family visiting Kansas City. No need to move the car from where you’ve parked it at Union Station. If you are relying on public transportation during your visit, the Metro runs regularly to this busy hub.
Start the day with a meander through the Negro League Baseball Museum where you can hear and see stories of the glory days of the Kansas City Monarchs and other teams. Next you can enjoy an audio tour of blues and jazz as you wander through the adjoining American Jazz Museum. Be sure to pick up information about activities scheduled in the Blue Room later tonight. You may want to return for some live entertainment.
No trip to Kansas City is complete without barbecue, so make your way to one of our famous eating places for lunch. On this day, I would recommend Arthur Bryant’s. The original restaurant is easy walking distance from 18th and Vine, but if the weather is extra cold, hop in your car. You won’t have any trouble finding parking.
While you’re in the area, be sure to check out the historic Gem Theater. Performances are once again being held here, and the venue is more amazing than ever.
If your visit falls on Mardi Gras, make your way west on 18th Street to Broadway. Here you will find a collection of unique businesses, including my favorite coffee shop, YJ’s. A local block party takes place here on the evening of Mardi Gras with a small parade, plenty of beads, food, and live musicians. Families, bring the kids. Lovers, come ready to dance the night away.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and plenty of wind can be found throughout Kansas City in March. Likely it will be warm enough for you to enjoy strolling through one of our many outdoor shopping districts. My favorite such place in March is Brookside where unique flower shops, French bistros, and independent booksellers are all warming to the idea of spring.
If you happen to be in town on Snake Saturday, the Saturday before March 17, be sure to take in the Brookside parade.
Since thoughts o’ the Irish run rampant in March, you may as well head north of Brookside into Westport where you will find Sheehan’s, a smart Irish gift shop packed with treasures. Then take Westport Road east across Southwest Trafficway and find a place to park. In the next few hours you can explore Westport Road to your heart’s content, slipping in and out of shops, picking a luncheon spot from among many dining options, reading the history of Westport from markers scattered around the area, and making sure to spend a generous amount of time at Pryde’s, where any kitchen necessity from jalapeno jelly to Bundt pans can be found.
No need to wait for May flowers here in Kansas City! The metro area seems ready to burst with blossoming trees, beds of tulips, and even a few late jonquils. The City of Fountains has sprung back to life. Even pitches from the mound at Kaufman Stadium are warming up.
Before an evening Royals game, take a tour of the Kansas City fountains. A few tour companies in the area are now providing these, or you can get information to enjoy a self-guided tour. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
Although occasionally the temperature in Kansas City spikes to uncomfortably warm levels in the last week or so of May, generally speaking this is the best month of the year for weather in Kansas City. Pack a jacket if you plan to be outdoors after sundown, just in case, but you likely won’t need it at all.
If you can make it on the first Friday of May (or any month, for that matter), be sure to take in the First Friday gallery openings in the Crossroads District. A map of galleries will be helpful, but simply following the crowd can be a lot of fun too. Art students from the Kansas City Art Institute often show their works on these evenings as do many local artists. Some artists are regulars for First Friday events and others are simply opening a month or week-long show. Street performers, musicians, and performance artists of a variety of skill levels entertain passers-by. Most shops stay open late these nights as well, and you won’t need to look far for delicious food and drink options.
The River Market, open year-round, will be in full swing in May. Local vendors are bringing in produce at full tilt on Saturday mornings. Store-front vendors peddling flowers, produce, spices, novelty gifts, and more have thrown open their doors to let warm breezes massage away winter’s stiffness. The music of street musicians mingles with the buying and selling.
On the east end of the River Market is the Steamboat Arabia Museum. Worth much more than the $6.00 admission price, the museum displays the cargo and history of the Steamboat Arabia, which sank in the Missouri River near Kansas City in 1865. The original paddle wheel from the boat is displayed in the foyer, welcoming the curiosity of children of all ages.
Summer vacation has begun in the city, and what better way to celebrate than with barbecue? June is the perfect time to visit all those small barbecue joints for which Kansas City is so famous. This adventure will take you into the suburbs, so I recommend driving or renting a car.
The surest way to start an argument in Kansas City is to begin a sentence with the words “the best barbecue in Kansas City is . . .” My personal favorite is Woodyard Barbecue where guests enjoy signature smoky flavors and a homey atmosphere. Added bonuses for those eating here include enjoying good food on the weathered porch, listening to local musicians entertain the small crowd, and savoring the unique cheesy corn you can only get at Wood Yard.
If you stopped by Kansas City in February, you may have already enjoyed Arthur Bryants’. This local company now has several restaurants around the greater Kansas City area and features a more savory barbecue sauce on thinner, deli cuts. Their hot and gritty president’s sauce, named for Jimmy Carter’s love of it, is a favorite of many locals.
Winslow’s in the River Market is another of my favorites. Their burnt ends meet my criteria of lean and crunchy, and their sauce is also a sweeter variety. The jalapenos in their hot sauce pack the perfect punch without overpowering the overall flavor.
There isn’t room here for me to properly review every deserving barbecue joint in the metro area, but others worth mentioning include Jack Stack, Smokehouse, Gate’s, Joe's Kansas City and Machine Shed.
These activities should keep most of you occupied for the next several months. Of course, if you find yourself unable to visit the City of Fountains every month of the year, consider combining activities to make your time here count.