From Oz to Kansas City
It was a “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment as we drove across the state line and the Australian accent of the GPS welcomed us to Missouri. It seems bizarre to me to have two separate cities of the exact same name, in the two different states, right next to each other.
Kansas City, Missouri, lies just across the Missouri River from Kansas City, Kansas. They are the same part of the same metropolitan area but the Missouri side is bigger and more happening.
Coming from Downunder, I hadn’t heard too much about these Great Plains cities in the heart of America. I had a couple of friends from the area but I’d never had any desire to visit them because, not going to lie, it kind of just sounds like a hole! However, this city bursting with bubbling fountains, and soaked with the sweet smell of smoky barbecue proved me wrong. Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO) is the most underrated city I’ve ever visited!
The city is under constant revitalisation to make it bigger and better but it is already packed full of cool things to see and do. I was only there for a couple of days, passing through with a touring band. These were our rest days, so we really got to make the most of what the city had to offer. Here’s what I got up to:
JACK STACK BARBECUE
The main attraction in Kansas City is, of course, its famous Kansas City BBQ! By the time we pulled into town, we were huuuuuuungry and with 100 barbecue joints in the city, it would have been almost impossible for us to settle on one. Luckily, we were travelling with a Kansas City local, who showed us to his favourite - Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue. Apparently, this is one of the more upscale places to go for melt-in-your-mouth meats paired with indulgently delicious sides. According to the heavily-accented waitor’s recommendations, I ordered the burnt ends and pork spare ribs with sides of hickory pit beans and cheesy corn bake. The flavours were rich and bold but, daaaaaaaaang, it was delicious! I’m pretty sure I licked that plate clean.
While the number of barbecue joints in Kansas City is impressive, the number of fountains is even more so! There are over 200 intricate and artful pieces in the “City of Fountains”, which is apparently more than Rome! The first fountains were built to quench the thirst of passing dogs, horses and birds but then the city began installing drinking fountains for the citizens - each with a unique design. Soon, they were all over the city, in all shapes and sizes - in almost every street, square and public space in the city! Today, they are built for design purposes and sure are a delight to walk by!
COUNTRY CLUB PLAZA
This upscale shopping and dining district in the heart of Kansas City spans for 15 blocks. It is so much more than just an outdoor mall though, it is a living, breathing museum of Spanish-style architecture and European-inspired potted plants and ornamental fountains. People go about their lives amidst the beauty of it - often accompanied by live music on the streets. It was dreamy, and not what I was expecting shopping in Middle America to look like at all!
Yes, we have Cafe Gratitude in Los Angeles but after a heavy lunch at Jack Stack, and a whole lot of shopping at the Plaza, we were even more grateful for it! Kansas City seems like a random spot for this Southern California cult-classic but we zenned out as soon as we sat down amidst its earthy interior. The food is all plant-based, farm-to-table and organic. The menu begins with the words “I Am” and consists of a variety of salads, sandwiches, entrees, bowls, juices and smoothies. Each item on the menu is called something positive and uplifting and when they bring your meal to you, they literally tell you, you are what you eat. “You are whole, you are humble, you are pure” or sweet waitress said as she delivered our delicious mountains of green and goodness. After satisfying our appetites and stroking our egos, she left us with questions to ponder - making for an interesting dinner table discussion.
In stark contrast to Cafe Gratitude, our next stop was this neon-lit bar, social lounge and driving range, across the bridge in Kansas City, Kansas. The tour boys and I booked out a booth, (213, like our Los Angeles Area Code!), ordered some tater tots and tried to hit a hole in one. Despite my terrible swing, it made for a super fun night out!
Over the bridge in Kansas City, Kansas is another fantastic shopping mall. Unlike the European-style Country Club Plaza, Legends has a very all-American feel to it. This outdoor outlet mall has over 100 of the big brands and chain retail stores that Americans know and love. The centre itself is beautiful, with each courtyard and corridor telling the story of a different Kansas legend in fields ranging from athletics to politics. It is a great place to bag a bargain, hang out and sharpen your knowledge of famous Kansan figures.
CROSSROADS ART DISTRICT
This area of Greater Downtown KCMO is a beautiful collision of creative businesses and innovative individuals. Between the studio-lined streets, you’ll find awesome places to eat, great galleries and interesting things to fossick through. From breakfast at the cult-classic cafe, Messenger Coffee, to nights at Green Lady Lounge - one of KCMO’s most renowned jazz bars - you could make a day of this area and a night too! The centrepiece of The Crossroads is the jaw-dropping Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts, whose stunning architecture encloses even more artistic expression - from ballet performances to opera and theatre.
I wasn’t in the Crossroads area for a First Friday but apparently on the first Friday of each month, hundreds of people walk the streets of this already vibrant and bustling area which comes even more alive with food trucks, live music, performances, sidewalk vendors, art exhibits and “open house” events inside local businesses.
THE MISSOURI RIVER
One of my favourite experiences in Kansas City was packing a picnic rug and just hanging out by the Missouri River. It was chilled out, didn't feel touristy at all and I really got to know the local environment. I even met some local farmers on a bobcat and we went chasing snapping turtles! It was, for sure, my most authentic Kansas City experience!