Kansas City is a fantastic foodie destination, and a great deal of its reputation is due to the outstanding barbecue options. Everyone in Kansas City has an opinion on where to go and what to order. In fact, there’s so much chatter and enthusiasm about the barbecue that you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing else happening around town. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! Kansas City has it all, from history, music, and architecture to amazing things to do, cool places to stay, and even awesome ways to get around town. Here are 10 reasons to visit the city besides the barbecue.
1. Its Jazz Scene Is Second To None
People in Kansas City like to say that while jazz was born in New Orleans, it grew up in Kansas City. It was here that jazz evolved from a big-band style to a style featuring more musical improvisation. It also didn’t hurt that the city was considered “wide open” -- in other words, the Prohibition didn’t carry much weight. Today, the city is home to more than 40 different jazz bars and live music venues. In 2017, it was designated a Creative City by UNESCO for its contributions to music. In addition to exploring the live music scene, you’ll want to visit the American Jazz Museum and check out the Charlie Parker Memorial, a striking sculpture of the famous jazz musician’s face.
2. It’s Home To More Working Fountains Than Any Other City In The United States
One of Kansas City’s many nicknames is “The City of Fountains.” Almost unbelievably, the city has more working fountains than any other city in the world, save Rome. And, let’s face it -- no one can keep up with Rome! Every year in early April, Kansas City celebrates Fountain Day. The city’s obsession with fountains dates to the late 1800s, when the fountains provided water for thirsty residents and their horses. Over time, they became more and more elaborate and were constructed in many different architectural styles. Some must-see fountains include the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, which features four horsemen representing four different rivers; the Firefighters Fountain and Memorial; and the Henry Wollman Bloch Fountain, which employs over 200 water jets.
3. You’ll Recognize Many Of The Sites From The Movies
If some of Kansas City’s sites look vaguely familiar, but you’re not sure why, it’s probably because you’ve seen them before in the movies. Blame it on the fountains -- they’re wonderfully atmospheric! A walking tour of the city’s most famous sites is a great way to get oriented. You can take a self-guided film tour of sites such as Union Station, which appears in Robert Altman’s Kansas City, and the 18th and Vine District, which was immortalized in Clint Eastwood’s Bird.
4. You Can Ride The Streetcar For Free
Public transportation is already an affordable way to explore a new location, but in Kansas City, they take it to a whole new level. The KC Streetcar is 100 percent free to ride. It completes a 2-mile route through the city’s downtown, including the entertainment, arts, and hotel districts, and runs every 10 to 15 minutes, seven days a week. Night owls will appreciate that it runs until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
5. You Can See Great Art For Free
Frugal travelers will be thrilled to learn that the streetcar isn’t the only freebie in town. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is housed in a gorgeous neoclassical building; it’s open Wednesday through Sunday, and a visit to its permanent collection won't cost you a dime. The collection includes Caravaggio’s Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness, Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines, and Van Gogh’s Olive Trees. The museum’s sculpture park, the Donald J. Hall Park, features fun, feisty, evocative modern sculptures.
6. You Can Sleep In An Old Brewery
While you’re in Kansas City, you can sleep in a brewery -- sort of. The Pabst Brewing Depot was constructed in 1911. During Prohibition, the building was converted to offices -- and, according to some, a hush-hush bootleg operation. Today, the space is home to the hotel Crossroads. It’s also home to a contemporary art gallery featuring artwork by local artists and artists with ties to Kansas City. While no beer is bottled on-site, the hotel collaborated with local artists and chefs on everything from the roasted coffee and homemade chocolates to the art on the menus.
7. You Can Live It Up At The Money Museum
The Kansas City Money Museum may just be the only museum in the world that gives you a parting gift in the form of a bag full of money. Unfortunately, it’s a bag of shredded bills! But still, it’s fun to dream. The Money Museum is located inside the Federal Reserve Bank and offers free 1-hour tours of the collection. Be sure to check out the gold bar that’s worth $400,000! A visit here is another one of Kansas City’s fabulous freebies.
8. It’s Home To One Of The Country’s 13 Presidential Libraries
Kansas City is home to one of the 13 presidential libraries in the U.S.: the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum. Truman entered politics under the mentorship of Tom Pendergast, the local mover and shaker who purchased the Pabst Brewing Depot and converted it to offices (and maybe bootlegging!). The museum covers Truman’s early political career as well as his time as president. The history collection alone contains some 30,000 pieces. There are special exhibits dedicated to Truman’s most difficult decisions, including his decision to deploy the atomic bomb. Romantics will appreciate the 1,300 or so letters that Truman and his wife, Bess, exchanged during their courtship.
9. You Can Twirl Around On Some Really Old Horses
The C.W. Parker Carousel Museum will bring out your inner child and provide a fun break from the serious sightseeing. Parker built hundreds of small, traveling carousels before hitting the road with four full-time carnivals in 1905. Both an innovator and a lover of classic, fanciful designs, he didn’t make the switch from wooden to aluminum structures until 1925, by which time he was already famous for his work. A visit here is a little bit different, a little bit funky, and a whole lot of fun -- especially if you complete it with a ride on the 106-year-old carousel.
10. It’s A Paradise For Antiquers
The Kansas City neighborhood of West Bottoms is where old meets new, especially on the first weekend of each month. The normally quiet, up-and-coming neighborhood comes alive as antique shops welcome serious hunters and casual browsers alike. Food trucks convene to vie for the attention of hungry passersby. The neighborhood is also a fine place to get a good drink. Stockyards Brewing Company, the Amigoni Urban Winery, and the classic cocktail bar The Ship all call West Bottoms home. The neighborhood is also known for its Halloween haunted houses!
Bonus: The Rest Of The Food Is Amazing, Too
We’re focusing on all the amazing things Kansas City has to offer aside from barbecue, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about other food, right? The River Market area is easy to access thanks to the KC Streetcar. On weekends, the City Market offers all the classic farmers-market fare, plus flowers and herbs, in more than 140 stalls. During the spring, summer, and fall, the City Market hosts a wide range of weekend events, from concerts to cooking demonstrations. Vendors and food stalls offer everything from ramen to Brazilian street eats, and it’s best to come with your appetite in check. While you’re there, be sure to visit the Arabia Steamboat Museum, definitely a one-of-a-kind Kansas City attraction.