This Midwestern town is sizzling.

By By Melanie Radzicki McManus / Photography: Douglas Merriam
April 25, 2006
Douglas Merriam

May 2006

Kansas City came of age during America's westward expansion androse to prominence as a meatpacking center. But today in this leafyMidwestern city, which straddles both Kansas and Missouri, you'llfind the world's finest jazz and barbecue, stunning art deco andMediterranean-inspired architecture, and more than 200 ornatefountains. And that's just the beginning.

Drop in now, when the 70- or 80-degree temps are ideal. Anddon't fret about crowds; although the metro area approaches twomillion, there's plenty of room to roam. Jump-start your planningwith the following three-day itinerary, which takes you from oneend of the city to the other-with plenty of time to enjoy thesights, sounds, and tastes of this heartland metropolis.

Day One: Cruising the Central City

Begin your exploration in the historic 18th and Vine JazzDistrict, where jazz legends Charlie Parker, Count Basie, and BigJoe Turner once jammed. At the American Jazz Museum (816-474-8463, www.americanjazzmuseum.com),you can see a bronze sequined sheath Ella Fitzgerald wore as shebelted out the blues, listen to more than 100 jazz recordings, andtinker with rhythms on studio equipment. The museum's Blue Room, apopular smoke-free jazz club, is open four nights a week.

Just across the lobby from the jazz museum is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (816-221-1920, www.nlbm.com),which showcases the history of the leagues through a wealth ofmemorabilia and a re-created field featuring 12 life-size bronzesculptures of league legends. If you're lucky, you'll run intofamed player John "Buck" O'Neil, 94; the Kansas City resident andmuseum chairperson stops in regularly.

When it's time for lunch, stroll down to the original Arthur Bryant's (816-231-1123; www.arthurbryantsbbq.com),a favorite barbecue joint. The place looks like a bit of a dive,but you'll need to arrive before noon to avoid a line that snakesout the door. Try the burnt ends, a local favorite consisting ofthe blackened portions of lean beef brisket slow-smoked with acombination of hickory and oak woods, then slathered with therestaurant's spicy sauce and served over white bread.

Walk off lunch with a stroll through the city's Crossroads Arts District (816-472-5701, www.kccrossroads.org). Thismile-square swath south of downtown, once full of abandonedbuildings, is now home to more than 60 art galleries, one-of-a-kindboutiques, and top-notch restaurants, such as Webster House (816-221-4713), a 19th-century school nowhousing an antiques shop. On the first Friday of every month, mostgalleries and shops stay open past dark as the streets fill withperformers, concessionaires, and shoppers.

Before dinner, pop into Union Station (816-460-2020, www.unionstation.org), oncethe third-largest train station in the nation. Recently renovated,it's filled with theaters, restaurants, and a science center.Afterward, head to frequent Cooking Light contributor Lidia Bastianich's restaurant, Lidia's Kansas City (816-221-3722, www.lidiasitaly.com), behindthe station. If you're hungry enough, order the daily "pastatasting," an all-you-can-eat spree through three freshly made pastadishes.

If you visit this summer, toss a blanket on the grass inSouthmoreland Park after dinner and catch a free play. The city'sfour-week Heart of America Shakespeare Festival (816-531-7728, www.kcshakes.org) runs nightly(except Mondays) June 20th through July 16th.

Day Two: Strolling the Market and thePlaza

Lace up your walking shoes, and head for the City Market (816-842-1271, www.kc-citymarket.com),five blocks from the banks of the Missouri River. An eclectic mixof international shops and restaurants borders a four-block plot,peddling everything from local wildflower honey to Yucatanceramics. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, more than 120vendors crowd the center of the square, offering the season'sfreshest fruits, vegetables, and herbs. At night, the area hosts athriving social scene.

You may also want to tour the Arabia Steamboat Museum (816-471-1856, www.1856.com),which houses more than 100 tons of pristine 1856 merchandiserecovered from the Arabia's sunken remains in the nearby river. Youcan watch as workers continue the meticulous cleaning andpreservation process used on the remaining cargo yet to bedisplayed.

For lunch, duck into Blue Bird Bistro (816-221-7559). The unassuming café islocated in a brightly painted 1890s building where vegetarians haveplenty of choices, such as the green curry ladled over jasmine riceand garnished with fresh tomato.

Afterward, visit the historic Country Club Plaza (816-753-0100, www.countryclubplaza.com),America's first suburban shopping center. The 14-block plaza wascreated in 1922 and modeled after Spain's marketplaces. Today, itcontains nearly 200 stores and restaurants, plus more than onemillion dollars in outdoor artwork and sculpture. Grab an art andarchitecture guide at the customer service office, and keep youreyes peeled for Giralda Tower, a small-scale replica of a famous300-year-old Seville landmark, and its three graceful mermaids,which frolic in a ceramic-tile-lined pool. As you stroll the plaza,take notice of the dozen or so ceramic heads topping the apartmentbuilding on Summit and 48th. The pieces are self-portrait bustscreated by past students of the Kansas City Art Institute that thebuilding's owner mischievously impaled atop his building.

For dinner try the Grand Street Café (816-561-8000, www.grandstreetcafe.com),and enjoy the Maryland blue crab cakes served with tomato salad,followed by the popular grilled pork chop marinated in olive oil,onions, and fresh herbs from the restaurant's own garden. Thencatch some tunes at cozy Jardine's (816-561-6480, www.jardines4jazz.com), oneof only a handful of Kansas City's 20 or so jazz clubs that havelive music seven nights a week.

Day Three: In Search of Artwork andFountains

Start the day with a jog or bike ride along the Harry Wiggins Trolley Track Trail (816-346-0200), whichwinds through scenic southern sections of the city and theUniversity of Missouri. Grab a latte and a chocolate-filledcroissant at Aixois (816-333-3305, www.aixois.com), with outdoorseating adjacent to the northern trailhead, then head for The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (816-751-1278, www.nelson-atkins.org),considered one of America's finest art museums. Though a $200million expansion is underway, you can still view the facility'srenowned collection of Asian art and European paintings. Admissionis free, and the museum is closed on Mondays.

The Nelson-Atkins is also home to Rozzelle Court (816-751-1278, www.nelson-atkins.org), anopen-air courtyard restaurant featuring columned arches, cloisteredwalkways, and an 1,800-year-old fountain imported from Rome.

After lunch, tour the neighboring Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (816-753-5784, www.kemperart.org). The smallmuseum boasts works from Dale Chihuly, Andy Warhol, and FranzKline. Don't miss walking among the bronze legs of the giant Spidersculpture or the feet of the Crying Giant, both on the frontlawn.

At this point in your visit, you'll have noticed a lot offountains in Kansas City. In fact, it is home to more fountainsthan any city in the world except Rome. And as the number offountains has proliferated, it's become an unwritten rule that newcommercial buildings incorporate a fountain into their designs. Youcan learn more by obtaining a fountain walking tour brochure fromthe Country Club Plaza's customer service center. Many of thecity's fountains are clustered in the Plaza, including the landmarkJ.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain.

Top off your visit the way many residents welcome the weekend:with a pint of brew on the rooftop deck of O'Dowd's Little Dublin (816-561-2700, www.odowdslittledublin.com),where people-watching is premium.

Where to Stay

Most of the best lodging can be found in the Country Club Plazaor downtown area, including the following:

Hotel Phillips (800-433-1426, www.hotelphillips.com; $109to $229), adjacent to the new entertainment district, is one of thecity's top boutique hotels. The recently renovated art decolandmark was built in 1931.

The Intercontinental Kansas City at the Plaza (866-856-9717,www.intercontinental.com;$219 to $289) offers a bed-and-breakfast package, starting at $169,which includes accommodations and a full breakfast for two.

Melanie Radzicki McManus, a travel writer, lives in Sun Prairie,Wisconsin.

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