Kansas City is regarded as one of the most cosmopolitan cities of its size in the United States. Second only to Rome, Italy, in the number of its fountains (more than 200), Kansas City also has more miles of boulevards than Paris, France. Country Club Plaza, the nation's first planned community, boasts Spanish-style architecture, beautiful landscaping, and a plethora of shops, restaurants, hotels, and apartments. More than 1,000 of the city's structures are included on the National Register of Historic Places; among them are the Scarritt Building and Arcade, the Kansas City Star Building, Union Station, and the Kansas City Power and Light Building. The Mutual Musicians Foundation, a hot-pink bungalow acquired by the Black Musicians Union Local 627 in 1928, received a National Historic Landmark designation.
A unique feature of the city is a system of underground limestone caves that were formerly quarries. This 20-million-square-foot "subtropolis" is now a commercial complex used for offices and warehouses. The Hallmark Visitors Center showcases the history and most recent developments of the Hallmark Greeting Card Company. The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, captures Truman's political career and years as 33rd President of the United States. The nation's second largest urban park, Swope Park, includes the Kansas City Zoo and a braille trail.
One of the city's most popular attractions is Worlds of Fun, a 175-acre theme park featuring MAMBA, one of the tallest, longest, fastest steel coasters in the world. Also extremely popular are the Sprint IMAX Theatre in Swope Park and Oceans of Fun, a tropically-themed water park featuring a million-gallon wave pool and giant water slides.
The towns around Kansas City are full of historic homes and sites, including the home and presidential library of Harry S. Truman in Independence. One of the more unusual sites is the Jesse JamesBank Museum in Liberty, the site of the first daylight bank robbery in the United States. History aficionados can still see ruts created by covered wagons along the Santa Fe Trail, established in 1821, and the Quindaro Ruins in Kansas City, Kansas, represent the largest underground-railroad archeological site in the nation.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City's 18th and Vine District honors the history of African American baseball before 1947, when Kansas City Monarchs shortstop Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by joining major league baseball. Sports fans will also enjoy a tour of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Hall of Champions in Overland Park, Kansas, to commemorate great moments in intercollegiate athletics through multi-image and video presentations, displays, and exhibits.
Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the largest museums in the United States and ranked in the top 15, maintains a permanent collection that represents art from all civilizations and periods, from Sumeria to the present. Opened in 1933, the museum covers 20 landscaped acres and is home to the only Henry Moore Sculpture Garden outside the artist's native England. A new 165,000-square-foot expansion designed by internationally acclaimed architect Steven Holl is slated to open in 2007.
The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, built in 1994, presents rotating contemporary exhibits free of charge to the public. The Liberty Memorial Museum, conceived as a "monument to peace," is the nation's only public museum devoted solely to World War I and America's involvement in that conflict. Its dedication in 1921 brought together five Allied commanders who met for the first and only time in their lives. The Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City is one of only three museums of its kind in the country. The Kansas City Museum features hands-on science and history exhibits; its "If I Had a Hammer" program gives fourth through twelfth graders hands-on experience assembling a house. The museum's Science City at Union Station, a $234 million project that opened in 1999, combines the best of a museum, science center, theme park, and theater. Other museums in the city include the Black Archives of Mid-America, the Federal Reserve Bank Visitors Center, and the home and studio of the late painter, Thomas Hart Benton.
Kansas City, "the mother of swing and the nurturer of bebop," is noted for a distinctive jazz musical style, which consists of a two-four beat, predominance of saxophones, and background riffs. It has been played by musicians in local clubs since the early 1900s. The late Count Basie and Charlie "Bird" Parker, regarded as two of the greatest practitioners of the genre, began their careers in Kansas City. The Museums at 18th and Vine celebrate this heritage. The American Jazz Museum section is the first museum in the country devoted exclusively to this art form. The museum's interactive exhibits tell the story of "America's classical music" in an entertaining and educational format. In addition to in-depth exhibits on such greats as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Charlie Parker, the museum includes artifacts such as a Charlie Parker saxophone and a discovery room where visitors can listen to jazz performances. In the evenings, visitors can swing into the Blue Room, a jazz club recognized by Downbeat Magazine in 2004 as one of the 100 greatest jazz clubs in the world.
Kansas City ranks third in the nation for professional theaters per capita, boasting more than 20 equity and community theater companies. The Gem Theater Cultural and Performing Arts Center, one of the Museums at 18th and Vine, is a historic structure. With its neon marquee, it has been transformed into a 500-seat state-of-the-art facility for musical and theatrical performances. The center also hosts dance theaters and multimedia events for the public.
The Missouri Repertory Theatre performs a seven-show season, hosting nationally known actors and performing a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol each holiday season. Among the other theater companies in Kansas City are the Coterie Family Theatre, American Heartland Theatre, Quality Hill Playhouse, Unicorn Theatre, and Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
Folly Theatre, a former burlesque house refurbished in 1981, is the first theater to appear on the National Historic Register; it hosts professional theater productions. The Midland Center for the Performing Arts, also on the National Historic Register, is a 1920s movie palace that was refurbished and reopened in 1981. Touring Broadway shows are presented in this ornate structure, which is decorated with gold leaf overlays, Tiffany glass, and bronze chandeliers.
The Lyric Theater is the home of the Kansas City Symphony and Lyric Opera, which presents all of its performances in English, as well as the headquarters of the State Ballet of Missouri. The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival presents professional productions of Shakespeare's plays in Southmoreland Park in June and July. One of the nation's largest outdoor amphitheaters, the 7,795-seat Starlight Theatre is located in Swope Park and presents musicals and concerts in the summer.
Kansas City offers entertaining, educational, and flavorful festivals and events year-round. The culture and unique foods of many different countries are celebrated at the Northland Ethnic Festival (April), Taiwanese Festival (May), Annual Greek Festival (June), Sugar Creek Slavic Festival (June), and Ethnic Enrichment Festival (August), and Kansas City Irish Festival (September). The "Rhythm&Ribs" Jazz Festival in June combines two of Kansas City's favorite things—barbeque and jazz. Food is also the theme of the Platte City BBQ Fest (June) and a festival introduced in 2005 that is sure to become a favorite: the Kansas City Chocolate Festival on October 1.
Other events celebrate Kansas City's Midwestern heritage: notably the Prairie Village Art Show (June), Heart of America Quilt Festival (October), and Missouri Town 1855 Festival of Arts, Crafts, and Music (October). There are fairs aplenty, including the Platte County Fair (July), the oldest continuously running fair west of the Mississippi. The more arts-minded visitor will appreciate the Women' Playwriting Festival and the Kansas City Comedy Arts Fest in March, the Filmmakers Jubilee Film Festival in April, and the variety of music and theater festivals throughout the summer.
Autumn brings a full calendar of harvest festivals and horse racing. In November the 100-foot-tall Mayor's Christmas Tree is illuminated by 7,200 white lights, with 47,500 more strung throughout Crown Center Square. After Christmas the tree is made into ornaments for the next year, which are sold with proceeds going to the Mayor's Christmas Tree Fund. Christmas in Kansas City would not be the same without the annual production of "A Christmas Carol" by the Kansas City Repertory Theatre or the "Festival of Lights" at Country Club Plaza.
Kansas City athletes compete in three of the most modern sports facilities in the United States. The Truman Sports Complex consists of 40,000-seat Kauffman Stadium and 79,000-seat Arrowhead Stadium. Arrowhead is the home of the Kansas City Chiefs in the Western Division of the American Conference of the National Football League, and of the Major League Soccer team the Kansas City Wizards, MLS Cup Champions in 2000. Kauffman Stadium is the home of the Kansas City Royals of the Central Division of baseball's American League. Kemper Arena, close to downtown Kansas City, features an award-winning circular and pillarless structure that allows unobstructed and intimate viewing from all locations. The Kansas City Blades of the International Hockey League play home games at Kemper Arena. Professional golfer Tom Watson, a Kansas City native, is affectionately known as the city's "fourth sports franchise."
Sprint Center, the 20,000-seat arena scheduled to open in 2007, will house the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Kansas City is also headquarters of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Since the Kansas City Speedway was inaugurated in 2001, racing fans have enjoyed NASCAR, Indy Racing, and Truck series events at the 1.5 mile tri-oval track.
The beautiful and popular Kansas City parks offer an outlet for sports enthusiasts who enjoy fishing, golf, hiking, jogging, swimming, boating, ice skating, or tennis. Swope Park, the second largest city park in the nation, provides two 18-hole golf courses, a swimming pool, and a braille trail. The 250-acre Shawnee Mission Park is one of the best spots for sailing and canoeing. Fishing and sailing are available at nine public access lakes within an hour's drive. The area has facilities for amateur auto racing as well as horse- and dog-race tracks.
Those who enjoy gambling spend time on the Missouri River just north of downtown, where four riverboats offer a number of opportunities to court Lady Luck. There is no admission charge to board the boats, most of which have cruise times every two hours from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. and offer numerous dining choices and virtually nonstop entertainment.
The City Market, at the north end of Main Street, offers shopping in a bazaar-like atmosphere. A Saturday morning trip to City Market for produce is a local tradition. Further south on Main Street, the Country Club Plaza, developed by Jessie Clyde Nichols in 1922, enjoys the distinctions of being "America's Original Shopping Center" and Kansas City's most popular tourist attraction, welcoming 10 million visitors each year. Located five miles south of downtown, the Plaza covers 55 acres and contains almost 200 retail and service businesses, including 40 restaurants. The Plaza, with its tile-roofed, pastel-colored buildings and imported filigree ironwork, borrows heavily from Hispanic architecture in honor of Seville, Spain, Kansas City's sister city. The European ambiance is enhanced with a number of towers, fountains, and horse-drawn carriages. The Plaza inaugurated America's outdoor Christmas lighting tradition in 1926.
Hallmark Cards's Crown Center, described as a city within a city, is a one-half billion-dollar downtown complex of shops, restaurants, hotels, offices, apartments, and condominiums over 85 acres. The Crown Center Shops occupy three levels topped by Halls Crown Center, a 100,000-square-foot specialty store. Crown Center revitalized the inner city by creating a downtown suburb where families can live and work. Town Pavilion, a tri-level shopping complex at the base of a major office building downtown, is connected by walkways to other office complexes. Just a couple miles from downtown lies Westport, Kansas City's historic district, featuring boutiques, restaurants, and nightly entertainment. In nearby Olathe, Kansas, shoppers converge at the 130 outlet stores of the Olathe Great Mall of the Great Plains.
Kansas City barbecue is one of America's most savory contributions to world cuisine. Since 1908, when Henry Perry first started selling 25-cent slabs of barbecued meat cooked on an outdoor pit and wrapped in newspaper, Kansas City barbecue has held its own alongside traditional Texas and Carolina versions. The process requires that the meat be dry rub-spiced, cooked slowly over wood—preferably hickory—for as long as 18 hours, and slathered with rich, sweet-tangy sauce. More than 90 Kansas City barbecue establishments serve ribs, pork, ham, mutton, sausage, and even fish. Each establishment prides itself on its own unique recipe for sauce; the most famous sauce, KC Masterpiece, was developed in the 1980s by Rich Davis. The barbecue restaurant owned by the legendary Arthur Bryant has been described by food critic Calvin Trillin as "the single, best restaurant in the world."
Kansas City ranks number three in the United States for sheer number of restaurants. Elegant dining is possible at establishments like the Savoy Grill, Le Fou Frog, Fedora Café & Bar, and the Peppercorn Duck Club, famous for its rotisserie duck and ultra chocolatta bar.
Visitor Information: Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association, 1100 Main St., Ste. 2200, Kansas City, MO 64105; telephone (816)221-5242; toll-free (800)767-7700