One of my goals this summer was to visit more of my own country. Seeing as I have a job and don’t have a lot of cash in my travel budget right now, I’ve been doing my best to explore my home city/state and more of the Midwest region in general. With one of my friends stationed near Kansas City, I didn’t need much convincing to hop on a plane to see them for a quick mid-week adventure!
My trip to Kansas City was far too short: I had less than a day and a half there, and it was definitely not enough time. I was able to hit most of the highlights in my 36 (more precisely 31) hours there, and absolutely loved the city! It gave me a very Minneapolis vibe: a big city, but not overwhelming. Lots of green space, friendly people, a beautiful downtown skyline. Kansas City is also known as the City of Fountains, and man are there a lot of fountains there! What can I say? Midwest is best!
So if you’re headed to Kansas City for a quick trip, look no further! Here are my top 6 recommendations on what to do with a very limited amount of time:
1. National World War I Museum and Memorial
This museum was one of the best and most informative war museums I’ve been to—the only place I thought had a better WWI exhibit was the Imperial War Museum in London. If there’s only one place you check out in Kansas City, this should be it! It’s America’s only museum dedicated to WWI, and the displays and information are simply fantastic. I spent over 2 hours here and could have spent longer! Make sure you ride the elevator up to the top of the memorial tower for great views of the city. Admission for students is $12, or $14 for adults. There’s free parking on the u-shaped drive and in a parking lot.
2. Central Public Library
You can’t visit Kansas City and not make a stop at the Central Public Library! The Central branch of the Kansas City Public Library is housed in the former First National Bank, which was built in 1906. The historic lobby is a must-see, you can head to the top floor for rooftop views, and there’s a bank vault turned film screening room in the basement! The parking garage (Community Bookshelf) is designed with 22 book titles—unfortunately I got lost and missed this (which I’m still kicking myself for), but it looks seriously cool!
3. The Country Club Plaza
The Country Club Plaza, or simply “The Plaza,” is a 15-block shopping district south of downtown Kansas City. There are over 150 shops and restaurants, all architecturally designed after Seville, Spain! This was one of the coolest parts about Kansas City for me—I really felt like I was transported back to Spain! It’s a great place to do your shopping, grab a bite to eat, or just walk around and enjoy the buildings. There’s free street parking for 2 hours along 47th Street and the side streets.
4. Union Station
The Kansas City Union Station opened in 1914, and today has exhibits, movies, restaurants, and a science center in the historic train station building. It’s absolutely free to visit, but any events or museums will probably charge admission. You can still catch the train from the Union Station’s Amtrak stop! I’d recommend combining this with a visit to the National WWI Museum and Memorial, and walking from their free parking to Union Station across the street.
5. Power & Light District
This great neighborhood is your best bet for entertainment, nightlife, shopping, and eating all rolled together with a very hip and cool vibe. There’s lots of bars and restaurants, and apparently it’s a great place for a night out on the town. I was only able to walk around here during the day, but I’d love to go back for a chance to experience it at night!
6. Historic Garment District
Another great neighborhood in downtown Kansas City is the Historic Garment District. The area is full of beautiful old warehouse buildings, which during the 1930s heyday used to be used as clothing manufacturers. Now, most of the industrial buildings have been developed into loft apartments (which is where my AirBnB was located—read below for more info!), offices, and restaurants. There is a Kansas City Garment District Museum with more history on the neighborhood.
I think it’s a safe bet to say that, had I had more time in Kansas City, I would have done a lot more. Unfortunately I spent a large chunk of my one evening on a sweaty (no air conditioning in the car and only one window that went down) and ill-fated adventure to Kauffman Stadium, where seeing a baseball game became too expensive and Taco Bell proved to be a better option. There’s a lot more of Kansas City that I would have loved to explore!
I’ve got a couple picks for where I’d go if I’d have had more time: the “Kansas City I’m So In Love” sign in the Crossroads District (according to another guest at my AirBnB, it’s on Southwest Boulevard, in an alley near a place called Up Down?!), the City Market (especially on weekends), Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts (if only because the building is really interesting), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District—for all things jazz (including the American Jazz Museum), and also for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. There’s a lot to do in Kansas City!
The Basics: Kansas City, Missouri is located in the western edge of Missouri (right on the border with Kansas) and has a population of about 467,000 people. Kansas City (Missouri) is not to be confused with the smaller and less exciting (but more sensibly named) Kansas City in Kansas.
Getting Around: While having a car makes life a whole lot easier in cities in the US, Kansas City does seem to have a good bus system, as well as a streetcar (tram) that runs through downtown. Most neighborhoods in downtown Kansas City are walkable, and it’s definitely possible to walk between downtown neighborhoods (although it’s not necessarily a quick and easy stroll). Kansas City International Airport (which is abbreviated to KCI, but the actual airport code is MCI) is your best bet for flights.
Where I Stayed: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I finally stayed at my first ever AirBnB! After months and months of encouraging people to stay at AirBnBs instead of hotels, and as a great way to cut down costs, I can now say I’ve stayed in one myself! The loft apartment was seriously cool (I hope I can live somewhere like that one day!), my bed was super comfortable, and my host Brittain was really nice. It’s a shared space (similar to a hostel) with a Sleep Number bunk bed, and you can tell Brittain has traveled and knows what travelers need—mini power strip next to each bed for charging, lots of Kansas City information and maps, and even a set of lockers if you have valuables to keep safe! You can search “itty bitty/hostel kc” on AirBnB to find Brittain’s place. I’d absolutely stay here again.
36 hours was definitely not enough time to explore Kansas City! I’d say a 2-day stay should be the absolute minimum, with a 3-day visit being the best option, if you want to see and explore all the major highlights. You could easily spend more time here with daytrips and a slower pace! Kansas City is a great place with such an awesome vibe, and I definitely hope to pass through again.
Have you ever been to Kansas City? What did you think?