Some time ago, I lived in Kansas City. Not for long (a year and a half), but long enough that it moved to the top of my list of Missouri cities. And trust me, I would know. (I grew up in Springfield, went to college in Columbia, have family near Joplin, Lake of the Ozarks and St. Louis.)
There’s just something about Kansas City. Perhaps it's nostalgia since it was the location of my first job after college. Maybe it’s the youthful vibes and culture that’s ingrained in every aspect of the area. Whatever the case, I want you to experience that feeling, too, whether you live there or are visiting.
Some of that excitement can be found in the popular, more touristy locations. For example, the stadiums where the famous sports teams reside (Go CHIEFS!), the incredible museums like the National World War I Museum and Memorial or The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the kids’ hangout spots such as Worlds of Fun or SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium.
The other part of exploring the city comes from those adventures that are a little bit more off the beaten path. So whether you are a local or an out-of-town visitor, here are five things that I love about Kansas City that might not be on your to-do list … and why they should be.
1. Country Club Plaza
If you grab some coffee and sit or walk down the plaza streets in the morning, you can practically see the city wake up. Most people have probably heard about Country Club Plaza, and in my opinion, this is a top area to get to know the city during the day.
Yes, there are many stores to peruse, but it’s more than just shopping. It’s also more than just the variety of restaurants — from The Cheesecake Factory to Shake Shack — that it offers. I used to love buying lunch in the warmer months and then strolling along the Brush Creek Waterway, where people can even enjoy a gondola ride. It’s also important to take in the aesthetic of the plaza, which is beautiful, particularly due to the open-air art gallery of statues, architecture and fountains.
2. Kansas City Jazz
As someone who did jazz band in high school and worked at a nonprofit jazz organization in college, how could I not love the Kansas City Jazz scene? From the atmosphere of the clubs to the talent of the players themselves during a concert, it’s a magical experience.
There are many places in the city to hear local artists and other performers just passing through. Some of the clubs I’ve been to include the Green Lady Lounge, Black Dolphin and The Phoenix. Next time I go, I’d really like to visit The Blue Room, which is located in the American Jazz Museum.
Jazz in KC is a big deal, and I wish more people would take note of it (pun intended). So plan an evening while you’re visiting, or even if you live there, to support jazz (and history!) and take in the sights and sounds of the city at night.
3. Loose Park
Don’t let the mention of “park” dissuade you from reading this point! Every city has parks, it’s true, but I believe you can also tell a lot about Kansas City from the recreational areas dispersed throughout it.
My favorite of the many is Loose Park, which isn’t far from the plaza. It was a short drive from my work, and I found it to be an escape within the city where I would soak up some sun before heading home.
It includes all the usual aspects of a park — a 1.5-mile paved parameter trail, a big playground, a pavilion, open grassy areas and trees — but there are also well-groomed gardens, a pond where visitors can watch the ducks and a Japanese Tea Room and Garden. Lastly, and my favorite, the 1977 art installation “Wrapped Walk Ways” sits almost in the very center of the park and offers a place for visitors to relax and enjoy a good book or simply contemplate the beautiful day.
4. The Peanut
Many of you from Kansas City probably know exactly what I’m talking about when I say “The Peanut,” but the rest of you are completely confused. Within my first year living there, my coworkers introduced me to this gastropub. They also made me a believer. Many of them went there almost every Friday for lunch since the original location was just a couple of blocks away from work. You might ask, what’s so special about The Peanut, anyway? Well, it serves ...
The. Best. Hot. Wings. I’ve. Ever. Tasted.
I don’t quite know how to describe them other than the flavor is perfect, they’re hot and dipping them in blue cheese is just the cherry on top. These wings are FIRE, so I have to share! Stop by The Peanut when you’re touring Kansas City. Even my wing-lovin’ husband reviewed it, and it became #1 on his list.
5. The Dancing Scene
If you never stop moving like me, then you’ll love the nightclub scene and other dancing events that the city provides. A major hub for live or loud music, the Power and Light District has a variety of bars to get you moving. For example, Howl at the Moon has dueling piano shows, and PBR Big Sky has a mechanical bull that people can ride when they’re not two-stepping in the middle of the floor. On the outskirts of the city, you’ll find exciting spots like Funky Town, where people dress up in 70s and 80s clothes and boogie the night away. Sadly, my favorite club for country dancing, called Kanza, closed for good during Covid or I would highly recommend it. (People ACTUALLY danced there, with coordinated steps, partner flips and everything.)
As someone who has loved ballroom for years, there are also quite a few studios and dance groups that host events. While I wasn’t able to join a studio when I lived in Kansas City, I did go to a few shindigs. One night, we dressed up Great Gatsby-style and danced east coast and west coast swing at Union Station. So check online for any upcoming or recurring events you might like to try!
Every time I go to Kansas City, which is about 2-3 times per year at this point, I experience something new that helps me fall a little more in love with it. Case in point, during my most recent trip, I went to the Powell Gardens for the first time, which were really beautiful. You never know what you’ll find the more you explore, and while I could expand this list, it would never cover everything that Kansas City has to offer those who live near and far. And when I don’t feel like exploring more, I’ll always have these five things that I enjoy going back to again and again.