Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri are often confused with each other. Although the name Kansas ties them together, they have distinct and individual personalities as reflected in their food, culture and attractions that draw millions of visitors each year.
The confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, the same spot where Lewis and Clark once set up camp in 1804, divides these two urban centers. Today, the area has been transformed into a sprawling 10-acre Lewis and Clark Historic Park at Kaw Point, featuring an education pavilion, hiking trails and river access.
In order to highlight the similarities and differences, here are just a few of the best things to see and do on both sides of the river.
Kansas City, Missouri
National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial
With ground broken in 1921, the National World War I Museum was dedicated in 1926 and is a must-see while you are in Missouri. This is a world-class facility—the only one of its kind solely dedicated to preserving historical objects and memories from the Great War.
As you drive onto the grounds, the first thing that grabs your attention is the 217-foot tall Liberty Memorial, which honors all who have served their country. Entrance to the museum is via a glass bridge, which sits atop a field of 9 thousand poppies, each of which represents 1 thousand combatant deaths, totaling 9 million lives.
One might be reminded of the moving poem In Flanders Field penned by the Canadian physician John McCrae, who served as a lieutenant colonel at a field hospital in Belgium. An excerpt:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row.
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scare heard amid the guns below.
There are several wings of the museum featuring interactive exhibits, military uniforms and more militaria, including a headquarters flag belonging to General Pershing; circa 1900 rifles, firearms and tanks and thousands of artifacts. Several movies provide a background of WWI, which involved 36 nations and 65 million men and women who served their countries.
Arabia Steamboat Museum
One of the more amazing stories of Kansas City involves the discovery of the Arabia Steamboat, which ran aground along the Big Muddy Missouri River in 1856. While headed to St. Louis to deliver 200 tons of supplies, the ship hit a snag and sank in the treacherous waters in what today is Kansas City, Kansas.
Throughout history, many attempted to locate the steamboat and its valuable cargo but it wasn’t until 1988-89 that local steamboat lovers found it buried in a Kansas cornfield.As painstaking excavations discovered, the Arabia not only contained a king’s ransom of merchandise but also provided a tangible glimpse of what life was like on the frontier during that time. In fact, this find represents the largest single collection of pre-Civil war artifacts in the United States. To date, the museum contains an unbelievable amount of recovered items, including clothing, 4,000 leather boots and shoes, buttons, tools, more than 2,000 pieces of fine china, and even jars with edible pickles and blueberries.
Where to Eat
Barbecue is serious business in these parts. Perhaps this is the reason that Kansas City, Missouri has more barbecue restaurants per capita than any other city in the nation, with more than 100 in the greater metro area.
For many locals, however, there is one name that stands out among true connoisseurs, Arthur Bryant’s, located at 18th and Vine in the historic district. It isn’t unusual to see a line of hungry customers queued up outside the door, and after patiently waiting their turn, folks can pick from a simple menu offering barbecued brisket, ribs, burnt ends, sausage, and ham as well as side dishes.
Part of their success is their slow pit process of smoking meat over hickory wood for 14-16 hours. The result is tender and flavorful meat that, when combined with your choice of the three varieties of sauce, becomes a taste temptation hard to resist and easy to remember. One writer from The New Yorker called Arthur Bryant’s the best restaurant in the world—a sentiment that you might well agree with after your first visit.
La Bodega Tapas & Lounge
You might find it hard to believe that you don’t have to travel all the way to Spain to enjoy good tapas. Just drive over to the crosstown areas of Kansas City to La Bodega for some of the best tapas you will ever enjoy.
Locally owned for 16 years, La Bodega has won several awards for best ethnic food and happy hours, the latter of which features their very popular fruity and cold sangria by the glass or the pitcher.
You can choose from quite a variety of cold and warm tapas, and one of the most popular is their solomillo con Cabrales, made with grilled beef tenderloin encrusted with Spanish bleu cheese. Another is crespelle de feta y puerros, featuring ultra thin crepes layered with feta cheese, leeks and basil. This is smooth, creamy and delicious and will melt in your mouth.
With more than 30 selections plus mouth-watering desserts, La Bodega Tapas & Lounge won’t leave you hungry.
Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate
If you are in the mood for something sweet and chocolate, make your way to Christopher Elbow’s Artisanal Chocolates on the Missouri side. With a passion for all things cocoa, Elbow creates one-of-a-kind chocolates that are almost too pretty to eat. Each one is a work of art and has intense flavors such as Venezuelan spice, tequila lime, cherry pistachio, and caramel infused with French lavender.
Once you have indulged, head to Glacé, another Elbow creation featuring ice cream made with hormone free milk and fresh, natural ingredients. Try Farmer Bob’s Sweet Corn flavor as well as the coconut-lime sorbet.
Kansas City, Kansas
This is the newest attraction in Kansas City, Kansas and already one of the most popular. Schlitterbahn is a water lover’s paradise for the whole family featuring tubing slides, beaches with incoming waves, a mile long lazy river, and the insanely extreme Verruckt water slide—the tallest in the world. Standing at 168.7 feet, this skyscraper beats out Niagara Falls for height and is not for those faint of heart. After climbing 264 steps, enter a four person raft and down you go. So many people want to ride that reservations are necessary.
The park is open every weekend until Labor Day with free parking and free use of inter tubes, and unlike similar parks, here you can bring in your own food.
Strawberry Hill Museum
This Queen Anne style Victorian mansion was constructed in 1887 and was originally the home of John and Margaret Scroggs. During the 1918 influenza epidemic, many died leaving behind orphaned children. In response, the nuns of St. Francis of Christ the King purchased the home and used it as an orphanage for almost 70 years. It was then acquired by the Strawberry Hill Ethnic Cultural Society and converted into a museum for the preservation of Slavic heritage. Regular tours are provided and information can be found on their website.
This outlet mall is a popular attraction for visitors and locals alike. In addition to name brand retail stores, they have uniquely showcased more than 80 legends of Kansas in the form of medallions, murals, posters, and sculptures. These are strategically placed throughout the complex and honor Kansas-born legends in the fields of athletics, music, exploration, science, technology, politics, and art. You’ll see Wyatt Earp standing in tall grass, Dwight Eisenhower fishing in a pond and Amelia Earhart underneath the wings of an airplane.
Kansas City Speedway
The construction of the Kansas Speedway in 1999 was a welcome attraction for this community, which had been suffering economically. With a 1.5 tri-oval track and seating for 75,000, the speedway has
become one of the most popular sports complexes in the state, attracting thousands of race enthusiasts each year.
Where to Eat
Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ
While you are filling up at the Shamrock Gas station, you might notice the line of people spilling out the door of the adjacent building. Park your car and get in line for Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ, another Kansas City, Kansas tradition.
Many people seem devoted to their particular brand of smoked meats and this one certainly has a loyal following with wait times varying from 30 minutes to an hour.
Specialities include pulled pork and brisket, the latter of which is smoked over Missouri white oak for about 17 hours. One of their most popular items is the Z-Man sandwich made with slow cooked beef and smoked provolone cheese and topped with two crispy onion rings on a toasted kaiser roll. Of course, you will want to drench it all in their homemade KC-style sauce (Available also for purchase in their shop.) for the ultimate BBQ experience.
Enjoy a prehistoric dining adventure at the T-Rex Café, located in the Legends Outlets shopping center. As you enter, you are greeted by a gigantic, animated T-Rex, which will delight kids of all ages.
The entire restaurant is designed to look like a prehistoric rainforest, complete with tropical foliage and huge salt water fish tanks as well as moving dinosaurs, dragonflies and even lady bugs. Every half hour there is a meteor shower where things start glowing and changing colors and fire erupts from various parts of the volcanic-style walls.
The food at T-Rex is no less amazing with large portions and excellent quality and presentation. For dessert, be sure to try their Chocolate Extinction featuring brownies with gooey centers and ice cream served with a smoke erupting (dry ice) glass in the center.
One of the great things about visiting both Kansas cities is that they are close to other interesting destinations within a 30-minute drive.
Moon Marble Company- Bonner Springs, KS
Located in a nondescript gray building that you probably would drive right by is Moon Marble. Started almost by accident in 1996 as a woodworking shop selling things like game boards, Moon Marble slowly transitioned to the production of the more popular marble when the woodworking section was downsized. Today, not only can you buy all manner of machine and hand-made marbles but you can actually watch them being made.
The marbles vary in size, color and ornamentation from floral designs to those resembling a tornado vortex. The cost varies from $.20 up to $800 decorative spheres. The company also sells many varieties of vintage games that you may remember from your youth. Make sure you include this location on your visit as it is loved by kids and adults alike.
Strawberry Hill Povitica
You may not know what a povitica is, but this baked confection has millions of loyal fans. Originally located in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, the bakery relocated to Merriam, Kansas where you can watch the povitica being made and sample the 14 flavors.
This treat is made of sweet bread dough rolled into a very thin layer, spread with one of the 14 fillings (the most popular of which is English walnut) and baked to a golden brown. The loaves are lovingly packaged and sent all over the U.S. and Canada. Order them online or find them at many Costco stores across the nation.
Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art- Overland Park, KS
This is the largest contemporary art museum in the 4-state region and is on the campus of Johnson County Community College. Thanks to donations, a newly constructed building now houses the collection of art featuring regional, national and international artists. The works include an extensive amount of Native American art and about 400 sculptures, paintings and other items placed throughout the grounds of the college. The collection is free and open to the public.
Museum at Prairiefire- Overland Park, KS
Overland Park is the largest suburb in the metro area and the second largest city in Kansas after Wichita.
One of the first visuals that grabs your attention is the multi-colored façade of the Museum at Prairiefire. Various hues of European dichroic glass panels brilliantly reflect the sun, creating a rainbow of colors throughout the day. Collaborating with the Museum of Natural History in New York, Prairiefire has new rotating exhibits every six months, one of the only such museums in the U.S. to have that distinction.
The upper level has many interactive exhibits for kids, including displays from various scientific disciplines and one where kids zoom in on Earth or Mars to closely examine the topography.
Cocoa Dolce- at the Prairiefire Mall, Overland Park, KS
The Prairiefire has a number of retail shops and restaurants and offers a fun and unique shopping experience. Here, an artisan chocolate maker offers confections to satisfy your sweet tooth. Some of their top selling melt-in-your-mouth treats include salted caramel, crème brûlée and champagne.
The people of Kansas are very proud of their communities, regardless of which side of the river on which they reside. To locals, it isn’t even an issue as to them, it is one large metro area filled with fabulous attractions, culinary delights and cultural treasures that are just waiting to be shared. Find out for yourself why a visit to these Midwest cities will make your vacation experience fun and memorable.
Where to Stay
Country Inn & Suites
1805 N. 110th Street
Kansas City, Kansas
1 913 299 4700
Located in the newer section of Kansas City, Kansas near the speedway and the Legends Outlets, this property features bright and spacious suites with a complimentary breakfast. The staff is well trained and friendly and the property is centrally located and within about 30 minutes of most attractions.
National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial
Entrance fees: $14 Adults, $12 Seniors
Arabia Steamboat Museum
Seniors (60 and older) –$13.50
Children (ages 4 –14) – $5.50
Children (3 and under)- free
Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue
La Bodega Tapas & Lounge
Oklahoma Joes BBQ
Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates
GlacéArtisan Ice Cream
Strawberry Hill Museum
Legends Outlet Mall
Strawberry Hill Bakery
Moon Marble Company
Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art
Museum at Prairiefire