I am a little biased since I grew up north of Kansas City and now spend the holidays there, but I really love this city, its beauty, its arts and its people. It has recently been getting some great press which describes it as becoming a hip, foodie destination with great BBQ. So it is true that “Ev’rythin’s up to date in Kansas City” as the lyrics state from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma!
Make sure you see or visit:
Country Club Plaza
The Country Club Plaza was the first shopping center built by J.C. Nichols and opened in 1923 in a Moorish style similar to the buildings you might see in Seville Spain. In 2023, it celebrated its 100 anniversary. It is not enclosed but is a 15 square block area filled with fountains, restaurants, cafes and great shopping. Many of the local stores have been replaced by national specialty stores. If you can see it at Christmas, the Plaza is at its best with colored lights outlining every building and covering every tree. It is a magical place to visit at this time of year with one of the most festive holiday traditions in the country.
Kansas City was started in this area in 1833 as Westport. Today it is a small area of bars, movie theaters, restaurants and shops. Prydes Kitchen & Necessities, just east of Westport at 115 Westport Rd., is a gourmet housewares and kitchen and home accessories store.
Crown Center is the area surrounding Hallmark’s headquarters between the Plaza and downtown Kansas City. It has refurbished Hall’s store along with others that appeal mainly to children. Just east of Crown Center is the Filling Station, at 2980 McGee Tfwy, which is a really fun spot that I discovered several years ago. It is a great place for lunch or a break for tea or coffee.
Just north of Crown Center is the historic Union Station Kansas City. Built in 1914, the 850,000 sq. ft. building was the train station accommodating hundreds of thousands of passengers a year. The North Waiting Room (now the Grand Plaza) held 10,000 people and the complex included restaurants, a cigar store, barbershop and railroad offices. It was home to one of the famed Fred Harvey Restaurants, found in many of the major train stations in the US and in the Harvey Hotels in the west.
The station closed in the 1980s but was reopened in the late 1990s after a major renovation. Today, it has restaurants, a coffee shop, the Science City museum, two theaters for movies and live theater and the Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium. Their Harvey’s at Union Station and Harvey’s Whistle Stop Market, were named after the historic restaurant from the past.
The station serves as the local AMTRAK station for such trains as the Southwest Chief connecting Chicago to Los Angeles. 30 W. Pershing Rd.
For history buffs, just to the west of Crown Center is The National WWI Museum and Memorial located in Kansas City at 100 W. 26th at the Liberty War Memorial. It is an exceptional museum with wonderful displays. Make sure to see the 12 minute introductory video which sets the stage for what caused the war.
Crossroads Arts District
Crossroads Arts District, just north of Crown Center, is a popular emerging arts district. Here you will find several galleries and restaurants. Lidia’s Kansas City, which was opened by Lidia and Joseph Bastianich from New York, in an old railroad freight house, is one of my favorites in town. On my last trip, I enjoyed their Sunday brunch with a large buffet including gnocchi with duck ragout, spaghettini squash, pears, walnuts and endive, arugula salad, and dessert selections. I always loved the warm, old warehouse with exposed brick walls and glass chandeliers in the shape of grapes
There are art walks in this area the first Friday of every month. There are also a number of ceative new murals. So make sure walk and explore particularly in the alleys off of 18th and Cherry.
Near the murals is Duet, at 517 E. 18th St., which is contemporary home and gift design store.
18th & Vine
I recently went back to this area, east the Crossroads Arts District, for the second time where Kansas City jazz is the focus. There are several jazz clubs including the Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum at 1600 E. 18th where you can attend weekly live music performances. The American Jazz Museum has great exhibits on Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and others as well as the history of jazz. Also in the same building is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum which is really interesting. I was not aware of this part of sports history. 1616 E. 18th St.
Across the street is the Gem Theater, a vintage theater from 1912 that is now part of the museum also. It features the concert series Jammin’ at the Gem as well as other performances including plays and musicals. 1615 E. 18th St.
There is also the 18th & Vine Historic District First Fridays on the first Friday of every month. Here you will find live music, street vendors and food trucks in addition to the shops and restaurants.
Explore 39th Street between State Line Road and Topping Avenue. Here d’Bronx Deli, at 3904 Bell, is a great deli that has been there for years. It also serves great pizza. The street has a number of bars, restaurants, shops and bookstores like Prospero’s, at 1800 W. 39th, for a huge selection of used books. Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffee, located in an old house at 1615 W. 39th, is a fun, local’s spot for coffee and a vegan or gluten free treat.
Harry S. Truman Library and Museum: The short drive east to Independence MO to see Truman’s Presidential Library is well-worth the effort. The displays and exhibitions are excellent which include a recreation of his Oval Office in The White House. 500 W. US Highway 24. His home a few blocks away is open for visiting and is a National Historic Site. Stop in at Dave’s Bakery & Deli for a fun diner experience at 214 W Maple Ave.
This area along the Missouri River, just north of Downtown, is now a growing residential neighborhood with new condos and lofts, restaurants like Farm House, specializing in farm-to-table, home-style cuisine and Thou Mayest Coffee at 412 Delaware, Suite B.
The anchor of the neighborhood is the City Market. There are many food options in the market from Kansas City Barbecue, Chinese (Bo Lings) and Vietnamese. There is an Italian grocery, a great bakery and vendors selling local produce. The historic market originally opened in 1857 and is one the largest farmers market in the Midwest.
I really enjoyed my brunch with family at City Diner at 301 Grand. It was casual and fun.
Also fun to visit is Opera House Coffee & Food Emporium, where you will find multiple options or contemporary food court in one location featuring a restaurant, coffee house, bar, bakery and music venue. 500 Walnut.
History buffs will enjoy The Arabia Steamboat Museum housing artifacts salvaged from the Arabia, a steamboat that sank in the Missouri River in 1856. The 30,000-square-foot museum opened on November 13, 1991.
At the suggestion of my sister-in-law, I recently visited the Planters Seed & Spice Co. Located at513 Walnut St., they carry a large selection of seeds, coffee, tea and other garden supplies
On my most recent trip I went for the first time to the TWA Museum which is located at the south end of the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport. The building was first terminal of the airport where I had my first TWA flights as a child. So it brought back fond memories of the original Lockheed Constellations or the “Connie” and the Boeing 707s. The exhibitions show TWA memorabilia from vintage photos and posters to the flight attendant uniforms and the china used on the planes.
TWA was started in Kansas City in 1931. Originally known as T&WA or Transcontinental & Western Air, it was later renamed TWA and was based in Kansas City at 1735 Baltimore until the headquarters was moved to NYC in 1964. It was the base for its flight attendant training, ground operations and airplane maintenance. Their former maintenance facility north of downtown is now the site of the Kansas City International Airport.
On the other side of the downtown airport is the Airline History Museum. Located in an old hangar, you can actually see old planes and learn about many others. Unfortunately it was closed when I was in town. I hope to see it on my nexst trip. 201 NW Lou Holland Dr.
To walk off some of your KC BBQ, head south of the Plaza to the 75-acre Jacob L. Loose Park at 51st and Wornall Rd. From 1927, it has a lake, a shelter house, Civil War markers, tennis courts, a water park, picnic areas, and a Rose Garden. It is lovely in all seasons. It was the major site for the Battle of Westport where Confederate forces were routed by Union forces during the Civil War on October 23, 1864.