We’ve been to Kansas City dozens of times over the years. It seems each visit we find something new to see and learn about. So, when Lisa asked me if I was interested in doing a “10 things to do in KC” post, I struggled to hold the list at just 10 items. There are several quality museums, sports venues, historical spots, shopping, dining and hotels, among the many outdoor activities.
So, with all that said, here is my list of 10 things to do in Kansas City (Part I – LOL):
Union Station is a favorite haunt of ours. I think we visit it almost every time we are in town. It never gets old. The architecture is amazing – it’s beaux-arts style, which was popular in France and the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Built in 1914, it has withheld the change of times. More than a million people passed through Kansas City here during World War II.
Union Station was the site of a shootout between gangsters and law enforcement in 1933. One gangster and four police officers were killed. The “Kansas City Massacre” led to steps that strengthened the FBI. Bullet hole marks remain front of the building, along with a historical event marker.
Union Station was closed for much of the 1980s. In 1996, a bi-state effort revived it. Now, it’s a tourist attraction, as well as home to an Amtrak stop and other businesses.
We love Union Station for its interior attractions, as well. In the Grand Hall, beautiful chandeliers hang above.
Union Station is home to Science City, a great resource for children to play and learn. It also has a theater offering current and special exhibit movies. A free model train exhibit is located on the main floor.
Union Station houses several traveling exhibits throughout the year. We have visited exhibits for King Tut and pirates. They continue to bring in high-quality attractions and wish we could make it to all of them. (Note: Admission charge is required for these exhibits).
National World War I Museum
Nearby Union Station is another favorite spot for us – the National World War I Museum and Liberty Tower. The Liberty Tower memorial was built following the “Great War.” People can visit the grounds of the Liberty Tower for free. It’s a beautiful area and a great walk. The front wall (across from Union Station) features busts of the military leaders of the Allied Forces (including Missouri native General John J. Pershing).
The tower can be accessed via an elevator and a short set of stairs, allowing a breathtaking view of the Kansas City area. Access to the tower is available when you purchase a ticket to the World War I Museum.
The museum is an impressive look at the first major world war. The visit starts with the history of events that led to the war. The museum’s exhibits are all from the World War I era and mostly donated.
Midway through the visit, people can watch a short film on the United States entering the war. It includes a display depicting British soldiers walking along a trench area, surrounded by actual items from the war.
Crown Center Mall
A short distance from the World War I Museum is another attraction people should visit – Crown Center Mall. It’s more than just shopping. Crown Center is home to the Sealife Aquarium and Legoland. Crown center is also the site of the Mayor’s Christmas tree during the December holiday celebration, as well as an outdoor ice skating rink December-March.
Crown Center offers a variety of retail opportunities – from apparel to fudge making to locally made products. We suggest checking out The Best of Kansas City store.
A favorite dining experience for us is Fritz’s. It’s a burger joint with a railroad theme. Food is delivered via miniature trains on rails above tables.
Sealife is a great aquarium. We weren’t sure what to expect after visiting larger aquariums around the country. However, we were truly impressed. Many of the fish tanks are curved. We thought it helped a lot with the photo shots. The stingray tank was our favorite exhibit. You can stand above the tank on a small overlook, as well as see the fish via the side glass.
Next door is Legoland. We visited on “Adults-only Night.” One Monday night a month, Legoland is open only for adults 18 and older. Otherwise, it restricts visitors during normal hours to people with children under 18. That makes sense for safety purposes. One of the items on exhibit included Kansas City buildings created from Legos.
We visited during the Halloween season. The lead Legoland artist was from Omaha, so that added to our local flavor. We participated in a class on how to create a themed toy. Otherwise, season themes could be found in several rooms.
Hallmark Visitors Center
Located in the Crown Center is our next favorite must-see in Kansas City – the Hallmark Visitors Center. I list this individually because it is truly an attraction unto itself. Hallmark was started by a young man from David City, Nebraska. His final site choices were Omaha and Kansas City. KC won out because at the time it had a better rail system.
Visitors learn the history of the Hallmark greeting card, as well as how they are made. You can see actual cards being made by hand from artists on site.
Hallmark ornaments and other items are on display throughout the center.
The center has several Christmas trees made with hallmark themes on display. They were made by staff. The last tree in the exhibit was the last tree made, because that marked the year the founder passed away.
You can watch clips of Hallmark movies and commercials.
Next on our must-see list is the Nelson-Atkins Museum. It offers exhibits from prehistoric times to contemporary. It is one of a few museums in the world to have a panel of Monet’s “Water Lilies” painting.
While the museum offers so many interesting pieces indoors, the sculpture walk may be my favorite thing about the Nelson-Atkins. The giant badminton shuttlecocks are located in a few spots on the grounds, but the most recognizable is on the lawn in front of the museum. The view creates one of the most beautiful scenes of any city in the world.
18th and Vine District
The 18th and Vine District offers a step into the history of jazz and, unfortunately, segregated baseball. The area is home to the Jazz Museum, which highlights not only Kansas City-based musicians, such as Charlie “Bird” Parker, but other greats, including Louis Armstrong.
The Blue Room, which is part of the museum, is open weekend nights for performances.
Across the lobby is my favorite sports-related museum of all-time – The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The museum is located a few blocks from the YMCA, where Rube Foster organized and led the NLB.
Some of the greatest athletes to throw or hit a baseball are immortalized here – Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson among them. Once Robinson was signed by major League Baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers, it started the end of the NLB, because more major league teams signed African American players.
Worlds of Fun
Kansas City is well known for its theme parks – Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun. I’m not a theme park kind of guy. That is, I am not a rides guy. I prefer checking out the other attractions. Lisa and friends enjoyed riding the various roller coasters during our visit last fall. They participated in several other rides, as well, but really enjoyed the roller coasters. I was more comfortable with the ride along the Nile River (a raft ride over a small water feature).
We visited during the haunted house season, known as Halloween Haunt, so we got to see ghosts, zombies, ghouls, and other creatures of the night. The parks are fun to visit any time of the season (which runs April through October).
In 2017 Worlds of Fun got into the holiday spirit opening the park for a new mini-season for Winterfest.
Kansas City Zoo
Speaking of creatures, the Kansas City Zoo offers visitors a nice experience. As soon as you enter the gates, you are greeted by an otter exhibit. We have spent many minutes watching the otters play, swim and run around their display.
My favorite part of the Kansas City Zoo is the polar bear exhibit. It’s large by zoo standards. The bears have room to move around on the ground. The pool features an underwater viewing area, so you can see the bears dive and play with their treats and toys.
The zoo offers camel rides for a small fee. If you’ve never been on a camel, here’s your chance.
It has a lake, so you can take a short boat ride and get a different view of the animals.
The Kansas City Zoo has opened a penguin exhibit in the past year. It’s on our list to check out soon, on one of our next visits.
Harley Davidson Factory Tour
Note: This tour is no longer available effective September, 2018.
Whether or not you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, we suggest checking out the Harley Davidson plant tour north of town. The hour-long visit gives you a close-up look into hos the bikes are made. My in-laws are Harley diehards, so we’ve always thought this would be a good tour. And it is. You watch parts being created and assembled. The teams work fast , but quality is a must. They only make a motorcycle after a customer has ordered it. So, there are never new Harleys sitting on a lot, waiting to be test driven.
Kansas City BBQ
Kansas City is famous for its barbecue. And folks have a lot of options. People are also very adamant about their favorites. The original Arthur Bryant’s offers a great look into the joint’s history. You order at one window and pick up at another. The joint is located near the 18th and Vine District.
Our favorite has been the old Oklahoma Joe’s (now known as Joe’s Kansas City BBQ). The original shop is located in a still-working gas station. It’s not uncommon to see people standing in line for a block or longer waiting for a chance to get their grub on. We stood in line for about 45 minutes over lunch during our first visit. We met a super nice couple from the St. Louis area, who were dining there for the second time that weekend. The ribs are drop-dead delicious. The entire menu is worth the visit, but the ribs were my fave.
Jack Stack is also high our KC BBQ list. The food here is outstanding! We ate at the location near downtown. The lunch we had was delicious. The dessert alone was worth the visit – carrot cake that was divine.
We’ve enjoyed meals at gates, Smokehouse, Woodyard and Wabash (about an hour away in Excelsior Springs – worth the drive).
Kansas City offers so much to see, do and eat that it’s impossible to truly appreciate the area in one trip. We hope you find your KC favorites and enjoy a trip to the “City of Fountains.”
For more information on Kansas City attractions, hotels and restaurants, please visit www.visitkansascity.com.
Looking for places to stay during a visit to Kansas City? Here are some places we have stayed: