Two Perfect Days in Kansas City

A native revisits the treasures of this Missouri River city

KC

The Kansas City Skyline, with Union Station in foreground. Photo by Jonathan Tasler

Thomas Wolfe wasn’t entirely right. You actually can go home again.

After growing up in Kansas City, I spent most of my adult life on either coast before moving to Denver four years ago. I’ve been jokingly called Dorothy more times than I can count and have grown accustomed to explaining that a.) No, I’ve never milked a cow, b.) I did not grow up eating barbecue three meals a day and c.) there are two Kansas Citys, a big one in Missouri, a smaller one in Kansas.

Despite my long absence, I’ve always loved returning to my hometown—which, like Denver, belies its cow-town rep. And because it’s a short hour-and-a-half flight from here, it’s a perfect weekend trip for Denverites. Stay on the Country Club Plaza (we love the chic sophistication and stellar location of The Fontaine Hotel), go running in the a.m. in nearby Loose Park, and enjoy these must-dos (not a bovine or sod house in sight):

Immerse yourself in art.
Visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, known for its immense collec- tion of Asian art; if you like architecture, enjoy the original neoclas- sical building and its highly acclaimed 2007 contemporary Bloch addition (named for the local H&R clan), made up of a succession of translucent blocks. Nearby is the small but important Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses works from Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and other major 20th-century artists. Both museums are free. If you’re interested in seeing how an artist lived and worked, visit Thomas Hart Benton’s Victorian house and studio, preserved much as the Regionalist artist and muralist left them, with old Folger’s coffee cans filled with paint brushes.

Museum

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Courtesy Visit KC

Go back a century.
You could spend a whole day in the 80,000-square-foot National World War I Museum and Memorial—one of the largest repositories of WWI artifacts in the world, designated by Congress as the nation’s official museum of the Great War—and not see it all. As soon as you cross the “field of poppies” at the entrance, you will be immersed in the causes, major battles and aftermath of “the war to end all wars.” The museum, which examines the war chronologically, is filled with military gear and vintage film footage.

Enter a time capsule.
Visiting the Steamboat Arabia Museum feels like a stroll through an antebellum general store. The background: The Steamboat Arabia, carrying more than 200 tons of cargo destined for frontier towns, sank in September 1856 in the Missouri River. Over time, the river changed course and the steamboat ended up half a mile away from its banks, 45 feet under a cornfield, where it—and its cargo—have slowly been resurrected. Today, the museum contains the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts—clothes, tools, guns and other goods—in the world.

Jazz things up.
Kansas City and jazz are like peas and carrots. The American Jazz Museum, located in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District, features such items as Charlie Parker’s sax, performance outfits worn by Ella Fitzgerald and letters between John Coltrane and Pearl Thuston Brown, as well as an amazing film collection of historic jazz performances. Time your visit right, and you can also see contemporary performances in the museum’s Blue Room Jazz Club.

…Then visit Satchel and Co.
Next door to the Jazz Museum is another little gem: the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. If you’re into the history of America’s pastime, this is a must-stop, bringing to life great players like Satchel Page, as well as many of the forgotten names from the age when African-Americans were denied the chance to play in the major leagues.

Raise your “Q rating.”
You cannot—absolutely cannot—visit KC and not eat barbecue. A few of our favorite ’cues: Q39 Midtown, Jack Stack Barbecue Freighthouse and Joe’s Kansas City BBQ. Make sure you go with an appetite, because the portions are gargantuan (and don’t forget to order the burnt ends).

BBQ

Courtesy Q30 Midtown

See a concert.
See a performance at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and honored as one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world, which is home to the Kansas City Symphony, the Kansas City Ballet and the Lyric Opera, plus visiting performers from Alice Cooper to the Punch Brothers. We’d highly suggest lunch or dinner and a little shopping at the nearby refurbished Romanesque school called Webster House, which has a beautifully curated collection of clothes, accessories and housewares.

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