Kansas City loves its art. Between museums and galleries offering free admission to street art, murals, architecture and water fountains, you can spend days soaking it all in.
Now, there are guided tours to take you through some of the city’s amazing art scene. Urban Hikes Kansas City combines exercise with people’s love of art. During an almost 4-hour walk around the city’s Crossroads Art District on the Artful KC Streetcar Urban Hike, we covered about four miles and several alleyways of spray can artwork, a couple of galleries and three hotels’ art and architecture.
Lisa Pena started Urban Hikes Kansas City as a way to combine two of her favorite things – exercise and her hometown of Kansas City. Each hike takes you through interesting areas of the Kansas City metro area, on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas state line. Along with colleagues Rebekah Baughman and Lori Miller, hikers explore other areas such as Penn Valley (along with a yoga class), Strawberry Hill and downtown Kansas City, Kansas, and Crossroads Art District and Westside.
Our group – about 10 of us – met at the Crossroads Hotel, which is home to a small gallery of its own with rotating exhibits. During the pandemic, all participants are required to wear a facemask during the urban hike (no exceptions).
A tour of the Crossroads Hotel took us to the Percheron rooftop bar. With ample space to relax while enjoying a drink, music will add to your experience, The rooftop bar offers an outstanding view of downtown and the surrounding area. From the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, National World War I Memorial and even the iconic Western Auto sign, the views are amazing!
Our first stop was at the Leddy-Voulkos Art Center. Considered the grandfather of the art district, the art center hosts several special exhibits during the year. We caught the tail end of the “Witness” retrospective by Jason Pollen, a New York-based artist. The exhibit featured works created while he isolated during the pandemic. The figures – which resembled aliens to me (he didn’t see it) – represented people waiting for something to happen.
The second stop was at Belger Arts Center, which provided a look at a contemporary art collection featuring the works of William Christenberry, who used his southern experiences as inspiration for his work. His models of Alabama buildings even include red clay from the state. His works include murals, models and paintings.
The Crossroads Art District is well-known for its alley art. We love this area and enjoy checking it out as often as we can. From our first visit to the art district during the recent adventure, Crossroads fails to impress. We find something new to appreciate with each trip through the district. We enjoyed this trip so much that we visited again the next day, taking in even more art.
Artists using spray paint create beautiful work on the backsides of Kansas City’s vintage buildings. Businesses love the art because it attracts visitors, who tend to stop in shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars and coffee houses. Kansas City hosts the SpraySeeMO Mural Festival each September.
Hotel Kansas City
Hotel Kansas City marked our second hotel of the walk. Near the intersection of 12th and Baltimore, Hotel Kansas City is about a 20-minute walk (one mile) from the Belger Arts Center. The walk can be a bit challenging for some people, as it does involve walking uphill a few blocks. You can also catch the KC Streetcar, reducing the walk to a few blocks. We missed our ride by a couple of minutes, so the group decided to walk the full distance.
The hotel is located in a classic downtown building. the first-floor lobby contains several unique art pieces, including a bust of President Harry S. Truman. We took the stairs up to a few ballrooms, each featuring magnificent woodwork, stained-glass windows, or artistic carvings. But, the attraction that caught my attention was the chandelier, which ran from the fourth floor to the first surrounded by the staircase.
Following our visit, we headed to the 21c Hotel. Located around the country, each boutique hotel has an art gallery on the first floor. The 21c is known for its life-sized plastic penguin, each in a color related to the city. The Kansas City bird is royal blue in support of the KC Royals baseball team. The gallery featured a chandelier designed to represent the size of nuclear power in the United States. The chandelier, one of 31 around the world, is the largest in the collection, indicating that the U.S. has the largest reliance on nuclear energy in the world.
As our four-hour tour wrapped, our team caught the downtown streetcar only a couple of blocks from the 21C. A few minutes later, we were back at the Crossroads Hotel, ending a fun-filled early spring outing.
Museum of Illusions
The next day, we kept our art theme alive with another day of artistic experiences.
We started with a morning visit to the Museum of Illusions at Union Station. The visually challenging museum features exhibits such as a room where at one end a person is a giant compared to the smaller person at the opposite end. Another puts you in a hall of mirrors, where your reflection goes on and on and on. Try your hand at a game of cards with…yourself. With about 20 exhibits, you’ll have fun exploring the museum and testing your eyesight. Did you see what you thought you saw?
Iron District North Kansas City
Since it was approaching lunchtime, we thought we’d visit Iron District, a shipping container park featuring food vendors, boutiques and bars in North Kansas City. With the businesses inside the shipping containers, you can find apparel or gifts. We may or may not have gone home with a photo box designed for cats (stay tuned for possible social media photos). Eateries operate out of containers similar to food trucks – place your order and pick it up from the window when it’s ready.
With a nice selection of dining options – from street tacos to teriyaki, as well as vegan options – it’s easy to find something everyone will like. We ordered our lunch from Thaiger, a Thai restaurant. The ribeye rice bowl and egg rolls were delicious.
18th and Vine District
Following lunch, we continued our Kansas City adventure with a visit to 18th and Vine, a historical neighborhood that remains one of our favorite areas in Kansas City. The historically African American district is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and American Jazz Museum, as well as several blues clubs. You’ll find several Black Lives Matter murals in the area, as well as painted on the street in front of the NLB Museum.
Monarch Plaza – site of the historic Municipal Stadium – honors the teams that played at Kansas City’s original sports stadium. From the Negro Leagues’ Monarchs to the Kansas City A’s and football’s Chiefs, the venerable stadium served as the home to seven teams. Today, the plaza is a bit weathered and homes have sprouted up around where greats such as Buck O’Neil, Lee Mayberry, Willie Lanier and Bobby Bell once took the field.
Our hotel accommodations for the weekend fit our art theme easily. The Raphael Hotel, part of the Marriott chain’s Autograph Collection. The European-style luxury boutique hotel – named as one of the best hotels in the world by Travel and Leisure – served as our base during our trip. It was tempting to spend the entire trip in our suite. The living room was immaculate, with a comfortable sofa and chairs, a large dining/conference table and a nice work area. The bedroom was perfect, with a mattress so comfortable, a person can actually get the recommended eight hours of sleep.
Our suite had an excellent view of the Plaza Club area. The outdoor shopping center was the first in the nation and is home to about 150 stores.
We enjoyed dinner in our suite thanks to the hotel’s award-winning restaurant, Chaz on the Plaza, which offers in-room service as well as dine-in! My prime rib was excellent, as was Lisa’s Chilean Sea Bass. The hotel’s room service is outstanding, bringing the covered dishes to the table.
Built in 1928, the Raphael was originally an apartment building – Villa Serena Apartments. It served as an apartment building until 1974, when the J.C. Nichols Company bought it in 1974. A year later, following a major renovation, it opened as the Raphael Hotel. After a couple of ownership changes, Lighthouse Properties bought the Raphael Hotel in 2005, and worked to restore the building to its 1920s style. The Italian Renaissance Revival-style hotel has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Kansas City’s art scene is one of the best in the nation. We enjoyed our outing with Urban Hikes Kansas City, as well as the Museum of Illusions. Our first weekend get-away in 2021 proved to be a fun and successful one. We’re already planning the next visit to KC.