Landing at Kansas City International Airport, you think you’re in Kansas —the airport’s shop boasts displays overflowing with Wicked and Wizard of Oz-themed merchandise. But you’re on the Missouri side of the split city. That’s just one of many surprises that await you. You’ll soon learn that people seem to live only on the Kansas side, and they’re crazy about fountains (the city has more than 200+). Here are 10 more things to discover in this town that’s a direct flight away.
1. Mighty KC and the K
Kauffman Stadium has hosted more than 67 million fans since it opened in 1973. Known affectionately as “The K,” the ballpark underwent a $250 million renovation in 2009 that added a gigantic HD scoreboard (with its own crown, of course), outfield box seats and a party porch that’s surrounded the stadium’s famous fountains (see if you can tell what they’re shaped like). If you’re traveling with a group, reserve a private party suite; the stadium has several. Kids might enjoy visiting the Hall of Fame and meeting “KC,” a costumed performer in a 1880s baseball uniform, who talks about the team’s origins. There’s also a kids’ zone play area and batting cages. Former Braves Jeff Francoeur, Melky Cabrera, Brayan Pena and Bruce Chen play for the Royals. Day and night games continue through Sept. 21. For a full schedule, visit kansascity.royals.mlb.com.
2. World-class wooden coaster
With more than 40 rides, including seven roller coasters, Worlds of Fun is legendary among coaster fans. Don’t believe us? Its wooden Prowler roller coaster was named “Best New Attraction in the World” at the amusement industry’s international 2009 Golden Ticket Awards. People come from all over the Midwest to visit the park. Inspired by Jules Verne’s book Around the World in Eighty Days, the park is divided into Scandanavia, Africa, Europa, Orient and Americana sections, each with its own themed rides, restaurants and entertainment. Next door is the water park Oceans of Fun. In September, a “double play” ticket good for park admission and a Royals game is available through visitkc.com or royals.com/DoublePlay.
3. The Rodeo Drive of the Midwest
Ask any local what to do and they’ll tell you to go to a shopping mall called Country Club Plaza. Don’t pooh-pooh the suggestion; it’s not just any mall. The Plaza opened in 1922 as America’s first suburban shopping district and the outdoor, open-air complex is an integral part of the city’s social life. In addition to high-end retailers like Michael Kors and Coach, the 15-block, 120-store plaza offers local shops and restaurants like Halls Department Store (owned by the Hallmark greeting card family) and Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue (one of the best places to try the local ‘cue) as well as an outdoor sculpture garden. Guided art and architecture walking tours are offered by the Historic Kansas City Foundation.
4. Bullet holes, trains and stars
On June 17, 1933, FBI agents got into a shootout at Union Station with Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Vernon Miller and Adam Richetti over custody of thug Frank Nash. The Kansas City Massacre left its scars on the building’s marble facade (see if you can find the bullet holes). During its heyday in the 1940s, more than million passengers passed through Union Station every year. It’s still an Amtrak stop, but Union Station’s real attractions today are its shops, restaurants and entertainment outlets, which include a planetarium, big-screen movie theater and the interactive Science City and KC Rail Experience museums.
5. Artistic adventures
On the first Friday of every month, the artist studios and galleries of the Crossroads Arts District throw open their doors and stay open late as people stroll through the streets, enjoying live music, wine tastings and other special events. Every second Saturday, intimate group tours are offered that allow visitors to interact one-on-one with the artists, merchants, musicians and chefs who make these streets so colorful.
6. Vibrant theaters
The Kansas City Repertory Theatre performs at Copaken Stage, presenting edgy new and classic work. Touring Broadway shows play the Music Hall. The historic Folly Theater presents comedians and concerts. Crown Center has three theaters — American Heartland Theatre, Coterie and the Off Center Theatre — as well as restaurants, shops and museums. Music tribute shows are a hallmark of the American Heartland Theatre. Time magazine ranked the Coterie among the top five U.S. theaters for young audiences. And the Off Center Theatre offers community theater, musicals, improv and festivals.
7. The country’s official WWI museum
The best view of the city is from the top of the 217-ft. tall Liberty Memorial Tower, which is part of the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. Inside, visitors walk over a field of poppies commemorating the 9 million people lost during the war and through galleries filled with personal stories, military artifacts and historic weapons. Interactive exhibits let guests create propaganda posters, and explore full-scale replicas of Europe’s trenches and blown-out farmhouses.
8. Parties at Power & Light
Looking to drink, dance and mingle? Locals will proudly point you toward the nine-block Power & Light District in the heart of downtown. There are more than 50 shops and entertainment venues here, but the focal point is the two-story KC Live complex, an open-air live music venue surrounded by bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
9. Riverboat gamblers
Back in the day, casinos were only allowed in Kansas City if they floated on the Missouri River. Even though casinos now boast land-based hotels and amenities, the game rooms remain riverboats at the Ameristar Casino, Argosy Casino Hotel & Spa, Isle of Capri and Harrah’s North Kansas City.
10. Birth of bebop
Jazz may have been born in New Orleans, but it grew up in Kansas City. In the 1930s, Count Basie (who played with Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra) and native son Charlie Parker took big-band syncopations and added an improvisational layer that became known as bebop. The American Jazz Museum celebrates the people and places that lit up the city’s historic 18th and Vine Jazz District from the 1920s to the 1940s. Live music and jazz poetry jams are presented nightly in the museum’s Blue Room, which is open Monday through Saturday.