It was April 1986, shortly after the opening day of baseball, when we moved to Kansas City, Missouri. I was still smarting over the Royals’ defeat of my St. Louis Cardinals in the I-70 World Series the previous October.
No way was I going to be happy living in an American League city, and particularly one that cheats at baseball, no matter how good the job offer that brought us to Missouri’s second largest city.
It’s been 28 years now, and we have become some of Kansas City’s proudest residents, happy to explore the city with friends, family and complete strangers. The only trouble is where to start. There are so many things we love about our home.
Let’s start with food, because no matter what your interests, you’ve got to eat. Kansas City is a barbecue mecca with a style of barbecue designated as one of four distinctive styles in the country, right up there with Memphis, Carolinas and Texas. Basically it’s a dry rub, smoked over hickory, with sauce applied after smoking. The sauce is a molasses-base and somewhat sweeter than you’ll experience in Memphis.
But with nearly 100 joints in KC, you’ll find all sorts of styles and flavors. The legendary places to visit are Arthur Bryant’s and Gates. They are the oldest, and Bryant’s location at 17th & Brooklyn is one reason Kansas City has the slow-smoked reputation it has today.
However, after living here all these years, we’ve eaten a lot of burnt ends and have a few lesser known, but really good, establishments frequented by locals more than tourists. We like Little Danny Edwards’ Boulevard BBQ for burnt ends, but they are open only for lunch Monday through Saturday, so plan your schedule accordingly.
LC’s BBQ is a great place near the Truman Sports Complex. My mother would be tempted to take a bucket of Lysol to the place, but that would just ruin the atmosphere. The burnt ends are some of the best in Kansas City, and the ribs are flat-out some of the best in the country. Most days there is a line out the door.
If you want to try a lot of barbecue in a short amount of time and learn what makes each place and each style unique, then sign up for Kansas City Barbecue Tours. Available only on Fridays and Saturdays, you’ll visit four restaurants and eat so much you’ll be ready to pop. But you’ll waddle away knowing something about barbecue that you didn’t know before.
With barbecue on your brain, let’s talk about coming to Kansas City in October. Experts in barbecue reserve the first weekend in October on their calendars every year for the World Series of Barbecue. Sure, Memphis has May and Lynchburg has Jack Daniels, but the Kansas City Barbeque Society was the first to write the rules for barbecue judges, and this event is the one they all want to win.
It’s a three-day weekend of concerts, poker tournaments, cooking demonstrations and more, but you come to watch the masters at work. And, oh, the aroma that fills the air above Kansas City’s West Bottoms that weekend. Yum.
Other than the first weekend in October, really any first weekend is a fabulous time for a KC getaway. Many cities worth their mojo have some sort of First Friday art walk, but Kansas City takes it a step further. Not only is the First Friday event in the Crossroads Arts District the largest in the nation with more than 10,000 of your closest friends in attendance, the weekend spreads over into the West Bottoms for a classic treasure sale.
From early Friday morning to late Sunday afternoon, the otherwise abandoned old warehouses in this historic district overflow with vintage finds, antiques and repurposed junk. Street bands, food trucks and the thrill of the hunt have made this the hottest shopping destination in the Midwest. If you’re serious, you’ll bring your truck or a trailer to this event.
Shopaholics often rave about Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, and they should. This was the nation’s very first shopping district designed for people and their automobiles, way back in the 1920s when horse and buggies were still common on some KC streets.
Modeled after Kansas City’s sister city of Seville, Spain, the Plaza is undeniably eye-candy. With its many fountains, sculptures, mosaic tiles and Moorish architecture, the Plaza is Kansas City’s most photographed destination. A Segway tour through Segway, Bike & Stroll is a fun way to explore the Plaza while learning about the fabulous art.
One of our favorite places to eat on the Plaza is The Classic Cup. The sidewalk tables or patio out back allow for fabulous people watching and some great food. I actually saw the late Paul Newman and his wife Joanne Woodward eating here several years ago. I don’t know what they were having, but I always get the Asparagus and Brie salad. For a fun souvenir of your Kansas City getaway, ask for a bag of the Classic Cup’s pancake mix.
Actually, any restaurant on the Plaza is going to be great, as are the shops. There’s a nice mix of local brands and better-known chains. Kate Spade has a store here, and, as a native of the city, she qualifies as both. If you’re an Apple fan, this is where Kansas City’s Apple Store is located.
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The tech geeks will seek out the Google Fiber Showroom, not on the Plaza but nearby at Westport and State Line Road. Kansas City rocked the tech world when Google announced we had been chosen as the first place to implement ultra-high-speed gigabet Internet. That’s about 100 times faster than what most Americans experience with broadband service. If you still have dial-up, that’s like the difference between horse and buggies and driving at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s way cool.
Now for some suggestions where to stay: The Southmoreland is a wonderful bed-and-breakfast inn like few others. The 100-year-old mansion, just east of the Plaza and adjacent to Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, is not a fru-fru B&B, but a homelike place to stay while learning a bit more about the history of KC.
Mark and Nancy Reichle own the inn, and Mark is famous for his barbecue breakfasts on Saturdays. They’ve decorated many of the rooms to reflect the city’s heritage. There’s a room for William Rockhill Nelson, who founded The Kansas City Star and co-founded the art museum that bears his name.
Another room celebrates the gifts of Jacob and Ella Loose. Artists Thomas Hart Benton and George Caleb Bingham each have a room of their own, as does Satchel Paige, the Hall of Fame pitcher for the St. Louis Browns, Kansas City Monarchs and the Athletics.
A recently opened hotel in Westport called 816 Hotel also has some themed rooms. Yes, there’s a baseball theme celebrating the Kansas City Monarchs, but another one recognizes the many years that TWA called Kansas City its home. It has twin seats from an MD-80, and a beverage cart serves as your mini-bar.
Are you coming to Kansas City to enjoy jazz? Ask for room 504. It has a working piano, a headboard that looks like a keyboard and a mural devoted to the Mutual Musicians Foundation based in Kansas City, the longest continuously operating jazz joint in the world.
If you are bringing children with you, they might like the room featuring the penguins at Kansas City Zoo. If you are Irish, then plan your visit to KC on Labor Day weekend for the Irish Festival and ask for the green room at 816 Hotel, which explains about Kansas City’s deep Irish roots.
But my favorite room is the World War I Museum room. Kansas City is home to the National World War I Museum, and visiting it should be on your itinerary when you come to town.
We are at the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, a war that is more difficult to explain than World War II and one that certainly doesn’t get the attention of its sequel. But to truly understand World War II, you’ve got to understand the Great War, and this museum does a fabulous job at it.
Enter over a field of poppies, slug your way through muddy trenches and end up in a bombed-out French farmhouse. It’s not as tough for visitors as it was for the Doughboys, but you’ll walk away with a better understanding of why the world went through the same thing just 21 years later.
Take time to ride the elevator to the top of the Liberty Memorial, a 217-foot tower that was built to honor all who served and died in the Great War. From its top, you have a great view of the city.
One of the phenomenal buildings you’ll see in the KC skyline is Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. At 165 feet tall, the clam shells are accented by more than 1,000 panels of glass in a south-facing wall that is 50 feet high and 360 feet long.
This is where the ballet, symphony and opera are located and perform on one of two stages beneath the magnificent twin clam shells. Check the calendar before your visit for programming that includes everything from Tony Bennett to National Geographic photographers.
You can also look down from the Liberty Memorial and see Union Station, truly one of the most magnificent train stations in the country. If you had seen it 15 years ago, you wouldn’t have thought it was beautiful, but a one-of-its-kind bi-state cultural tax in Kansas City brought both Missourians and Kansans together to save and restore this beautiful, historic building.
And that’s just one of many reasons we’ve become proud to call Kansas City home.