Stories of the lush, bucolic region encompassing Kansas City, Topeka, and Lawrence, Kansas are treated like secrets that seldom escape the heartland. And who could blame them for keeping their good word close? Their clean city streets and respectful population indicate solitude is working well for them.
KC is like an out-of-print classic long forgotten in all but title. A land of rolling hills and Edenesque farms where the deafening cheers of a championship demure to jazz, BBQ, markets, and antiquities.
We just returned from a three-month work assignment in Eastern Kansas. It was a wonderful measure of time spent enjoying an underrated part of our country. From the vintage architecture to the friendly people, this charming and unassuming city is a picture perfect escape from wherever you are fleeing.
KC has a lot going on, and we are going to tell you exactly what to do in Kansas City throughout this article. Everything is found within an hour’s drive — and we believe the following 20 attractions are worth the effort to see. We hope you enjoy.
Kansas City’s top-rated museum is the worlds’ most comprehensive WWI collection. The exterior of the museum is visible from all over town — the tower stands over the city like a sentinel. The interior of the museum is sleek, tasteful, and loaded with artifacts and information. If you are coming to KC you don’t want to miss the WWI Museum.
This is our personal favorite thing to do in Kansas City because it is so unusual. Over 400 river boats sank in US rivers. While many were recovered, many were forgotten by time when they disappeared. The Steamboat Arabia Museum tells the story of one such boat that lay in hiding for 130 years; a boat that would eventually yield the the largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.
KC is known for BBQ as much as any other US city — which is why we made it our mission to eat all of it. We visited a dozen highly-rated Kansas City BBQ restaurants. I reckon we spent the better part of $900 on KC BBQ when all’s said and done. As you can imagine, it was a glorious, life-changing event. The BBQ in Kansas City prevails over anywhere else we’ve traveled, except maybe Austin, Texas. We recommend you eat all of it. This is exactly what to do in Kansas City.
We invite you to read up on the 12 Best BBQ Restaurants in Kansas City.
Perhaps the most memorable thing to do near Kansas City this weekend is to take the Dome Tour at the Kansas State Capitol. Thirty-nine of the 50 US Capitols have domed structures, but only Kansas allows visitors to tour the dome. You’re gonna climb a lot of stairs and it’s gonna be a little scary (especially the final ascent into the cupola), but the experience is unforgettably wild and full of interesting information.
People love public markets because they are awesome, and we love the River Market in KC more than most! This is a true farmer market with stall after stall of gorgeous produce, some of which is very unusual. There are dozens of permanent stores and restaurants, as well as a large Asian Market across the streeta. The Arabia Steamboat is also found next door!
Powell Botanical Gardens is the premiere botanical garden in Kansas City, in-state-bested by only Missouri Botanical Garden in Saint Louis. This horticultural haven creates surprises as it sprawls from one garden to the next. Some highlights are: the Island Garden, the Chapel (last photo in article), the Fountain Garden, the Barn and Silo, and Fortopia, a collection of kids’ forts designed by children.
In the late 1800s, black ballplayers were on professional teams with white players, however, racism and “Jim Crow” laws would force them out by 1900. In 1920, an organized league structure was formed that led to the creation of the Negro Leagues. Some of the greatest players to ever play the game came from the Negro Leagues. All baseball fans looking for what to do in Kansas City will want to visit.
The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art is the preeminent Art Museum in KC. Self-proclaimed, “Kansas City’s Art Museum”, the Nelson Atkins houses a broad collection of artwork, which includes: African American, Ancient Egyptian, Asian, European, Contemporary, and Photography. They also offer rotating feature exhibits, workshops and art classes, and an awesome exterior sculpture garden.
Growing up in the 70’s/80’s Evel Knievel was America’s daredevil, and any attempt at bravery could draw reference to his death-defying feats. He was Elvis Presley on a motorcycle; as patriotic as apple pie; the windy edge of the American dream. Learn how it all went down at the Evel Knievel Museum. Admiring his stunts (and crashes) is one of the best things to do near Kansas City this weekend or otherwise.
One of the Topeka, Kansas “claims to fame” is the historical event, Brown v. Board of Education. The National Historic Site is located at the former Sumner Elementary School turned museum where schoolgirl Linda Brown was refused admission. The whole saga is represented here; it is interesting, painful, and horrifying. This dark chapter in our history will shock anyone born in the 1970’s or later.
On 202 beautiful acres in Swope Park, the KC Zoo is home to more than 1,300 animals. Voted one of America’s best zoos, it’s also ranked number one in the nation for African Animals Exhibits. Be sure to ride the ski lift in the back — it costs a couple of bucks but it’s worth it. The Kansas City Zoo is a guaranteed crowdpleaser for families with children. Open year round. Parking is free.
If you’re looking for a thrill ride or waterpark for what to do in Kansas City, Worlds of Fun / Oceans of Fun has both. This is largest fun park in KC, home to more than 20 thrill rides, 8 roller coasters, countless water slides, a wave pool, Halloween Haunt, and more. Be sure to ride the Prowler, Mamba, Patriot, and Timberwolf. Here’s ticket information.
Union Station is an architectural masterpiece; a place for great adventure where KC Connects. That’s what their website says. For those of us not selling something, it is a beautiful building that is home to a few family friendly excursions: Science City, The Planetarium, the Model Trail Gallery, and the Regnier Extreme Scream Theater (showings). A definite must-do in KC.
A significant chapter in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) took place here in Independence, MO. Before settling in Salt Lake, there was a time when the LDS church advanced west to the Kansas City area. The locals became hostile towards the Saints as they increased in numbers, and forced them to flee from their lands at gunpoint.
The LDS church maintains ownership of a land plot in Independence, which is where the Visitor Center resides. Here you can learn about the early history of the church, including this dark and interesting chapter.
Across the street is the massive temple you see above, which is owned by the Community of Christ Church (an off-shoot of the LDS church). And even more intriguing is, the other two corner plots are owned by yet another off-shoot of the LDS church, including the original LDS temple plot.
If you’re looking for Kansas City things to do that are outside the box, this is a great experience.
The Glore Psychiatric Museum in Saint Joseph, Missouri has been called “One of the 50 most unusual museums in the country”. It is the largest of its kind in the world. On your exploration of the museum you will see historic treatments, sustainability practices, patient art work, therapy options and so much more!
Could you swallow a nail? How about 453 of them? One patient in St. Joseph’s State Lunatic Asylum did just that. At the Glore Psychiatric Museum you will not only learn about the history of this particular mental health hospital, but the ebbs and flows of mental health treatment over the past 150 years.
If you’ve never visited a psychiatric state hospital museum before, this is a great place to start!
Not all baseball stadiums are created equal and Kauffman Stadium is a good one. Despite being one of the older stadiums still in use (built in 1973), it’s held up well (with two renovations), and is quite beautiful considering the thing is made of concrete. There isn’t much to do in the area around the park because it is outside the city a ways. Rather than eating corn dogs, get some Harp BBQ before the game!
Massachusetts Street, known as Mass St. to locals, is the beating, freaky heart of Lawrence. They say “what happens in Kansas stays in Kansas,” but that’s only because no one ever leave the state. Residents consider Mass Street to be one of the most beautiful main streets in America. Any visit to Lawrence has to include a Mass Street stroll.
The bohemian town of Lawrence offers more than your average mid-western city. Between the beautiful campus of Kansas University, the more than 50 public parks and trails, the nationally-recognized art scene, and a compelling place in our nation’s history, there are an abundance of culturally significant and fun things to do. A day trip to Lawrence is one of the best things to do in Kansas City.
One of the most popular Kansas City things to do is the Money Museum. Here you can see how the Bank processes millions of dollars in currency each day, as well as lift a real gold bar, view the historic Harry S. Truman coin collection (very cool), and enjoy interactive exhibits while learning about the U.S. economy. And everyone gets to take home a bag of shredded currency!
If we were wealthy and moved to Kansas City — two things unlikely to happen — we would want to live in Loose Park. The mansions are exquisite on the south side of downtown, yet the community feels open and accessible to everyone. We drove up and down the streets admiring the beautiful neighborhood, then parked ourselves at a lovely rose garden to devour Joe’s Barbecue.
The Kauffmans’ world travels inspired the creation of a space comparable to parks throughout Europe. The garden features bronze sculptures among lush and colorful annual and perennial plantings, pruned foliage framed by stone walls, brick walkways and playful fountains. The garden is free to enter and absolutely worth an hour to contemplate the colorful arrangements.
You aren’t going to find many folks encouraging others to vacation in KC, Topeka, or Lawrence. There are no beaches, mountains, or sexy reputations about much of anything found in Eastern Kansas and Western Missouri. It’s just a fact of life that the mid-west is not a hot ticket destination.
What we keep finding, however, is these mid-western towns have wonderful points of interest and magnetic cultures. We found wonderful situations in St. Louis (click HERE for article), Salt Lake City (click HERE for article), the Black Hills of South Dakota (click HERE for article), and now KC.
In an honest assessment, one could spend 4-7 days in KC and feel very good about the experience. It could go something like this:
River Market, Steamboat Arabia, BBQ
WWI Museum, BBQ
KC Royals/Chiefs game, Powell Gardens, BBQ
Day trip to Topeka (Dome tour + Board of Education or Evel Knievel Museums).
That’s four solid days of fun and interesting travel in clean, safe environments. From there you could add any other excursions that catch your fancy.
It cannot be said enough how impressive the people are in this part of the country. We aren’t saying every last soul is a peach. At large, however, they are a clean, well-dressed, and generally pleasant mixed-race population. In our hometown (Seattle) and some of the towns we visit around the country we find an outsized number rough-looking and unfriendly folks, as well as obvious drug addicts, hipsters, emotionally damaged souls, and those who cannot make eye contact or treat people with genuine consideration. KC does not suffer from this problem and we love that.
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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