By: Lindsay Wang
August 4, 2016
1. The better barbecue
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: Kansas City, Missouri, is king when it comes to the nation’s best barbecue. We do barbecue our own way — with our signature “burnt ends” and our specialty tomato-based, molasses-laced sauce. With over 100 barbecue restaurants in the KC metro area, there’s a spot for everyone — so if you ask 100 locals for their favorite, you’ll probably get 100 different answers.
For starters, Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque is the place of legends…quite literally — stars like Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford and even some former presidents (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton included) have eaten here. But the steadfast old favorites still leave room for newcomers. Q39 is quickly taking over as a new go-to — after just a year in business, these award-winning barbecue champs were looking to expand to not just one, but two new locations.
There’s a barbecue spot for basically every personality in KC, whether you’re more into classic, picnic-table-style barbecue, barbecue with a side of live music, or you’re looking for fancier dine-in restaurants — we’ve got ’em all.
2. The next-level internet
Kansas City isn’t sitting around while the tech future arrives — our internet is already among the fastest in the world. Google chose KC as the first-ever recipient of Google Fiber several years ago, and we’ve been running with it ever since.
We haven’t just used our super fast web access for streaming videos of cats, either. Earlier this year, Google, along with the Housing Authority of Kansas City, started to bring gigabit internet service to people living in public housing properties connected to Google Fiber. West Bluff became the first public housing property in the country whose residents logged on to free gigabit Internet, with more than 1,300 families in the KC metro area connected at no cost. And it just keeps going. Local ConnectHome partners have worked to provide discounted devices to these residents to help build computer skills, with the hope of promoting active learning and connectedness. If that’s not next level, nothing is.
3. The way we keep it local
We Kansas Citians love where we live — and we love supporting our community. KC Local Week, started in 2014, challenges us to take our support for local businesses to the extreme. For one week in August, everyone is encouraged to shop, eat, and drink as locally as possible. The organizers call it “one part farmers market with a dash of Restaurant Week, and a pinch of Small Business Saturday all rolled into one.” An ever-growing list of restaurants, bars, and shops can be found on the KC Local Week website, with the idea that our support doesn’t have to stop at the end of the event — we can eat, drink, and shop local year round.
While there are lots of places to shop local in KC, it’s worth checking out Urban Provisions General Store. They’re into the American Made movement — so into it that everything in UP is handmade by artists or craftspeople in the US. They specialize in KC goods, but also carefully curate from all across the country. The store is worth a visit if only to look at its awesome displays and design aesthetic — and to pick up anything from soap to art to specialty sauces. After you’ve worn yourself out, head next door to Pigwich for their signature sandwich layered with locally sourced, humanely raised smoked pork slathered in slaw and BBQ sauce.
4. The sports, the stadiums, and — most importantly — the fans
Our sports teams are officially taking the crown. The Royals are the reigning World Series Champions, and their second victory in the last 30 years seems to have the whole city in a constant state of excitement. Seeing a game (and the crowd’s energy) at Kauffman Stadium is well worth it, even for the least enthusiastic baseball fan — the fountains in the outfield make for what’s arguably the most picturesque stadium in the country.
Across the parking lot, Arrowhead Stadium is considered one of the NFL’s most daunting — just for the sheer volume of Chiefs fans. With a capacity of more than 76,000, it’s the fifth-largest stadium in the league. This massive crowd congregates not just within the stadium walls, but spreads into the parking lot, where the league’s best tailgating happens. A standard noon game means that by 8:30am, the smell of barbecue is wafting through the air and the lawn chairs are lined up. Complete strangers become fast friends — nothing speeds up a bond like sharing snacks, drinking beer, and playing a round of cornhole.
5. The celebrity love
Some celebrities leave their hometowns and never come back, but that’s not how it goes here in KC. Big names like Rob Riggle, Paul Rudd, Jason Sudeikis, Eric Stonestreet, and David Koechner, all from the KC area, come home every year — and not just to sign autographs. Together, they started Big Slick KC to help raise money for Children’s Mercy Hospital. This fame-filled weekend gets celebrities and their families and friends out spending time with kids in the hospital, and includes fundraisers for the children’s cancer center. Since its inception in 2010, Big Slick KC has raised well over $3 million.
6. The actually affordable culture
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art all offer free admission. And it isn’t a bunch of never-heard-of-them artists on display — Nelson-Atkins houses one of the only original works by Caravaggio in the United States, and the Kemper Museum’s permanent collection includes works by Georgia O’Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth.
The museums’ many family-friendly events aim to get everyone to embrace the idea of spending a weekend tucked inside one of the galleries’ quiet corners. With summer camps and free classes that get kids sculpting, painting, and critiquing their own masterpieces, there’s surely a new wave of Kansas City artists in the making.
7. The accessible fine dining
How often can you chat one-on-one with a James Beard Award-winning chef? In KC, the answer is seven nights a week. Chef Celina Tio is the owner of Collection, Julian, and The Belfry. She’s usually found on her restaurants’ floors being super approachable — she tries to remember the regulars by name, making for a cozy, neighborly feel.
But don’t just come here for the good vibes. At The Belfry, the decadent bar food menu — complete with chicken nachos doused in melted Manchego — might even take a backseat to the beer and whiskey options. Nearly an entire wall is devoted to whiskey, and as she’s a cicerone (like a sommelier, but for beer), Tio’s beer choices are definitely more than trustworthy.
8. The brewed-right-here beer
Speaking of beer — the largest specialty brewer in the Midwest, Boulevard Brewing Co., is right here in KC. It’s hard to come by someone who’s not a fan of their Unfiltered Wheat Beer, the bestselling of its kind in this part of the country. But Boulevard’s delicious seasonal releases are endlessly popular, too, and the Smokestack Series is worth seeking out a sample. Even Boulevard recognizes this limited release series as a “labor of love”; some of their brews are cellared for years, improving as they age.
But one wildly popular brewery doesn’t mean there’s not a line around the block for the rest of the brews made by our burgeoning craft beer industry. In the East Crossroads neighborhood, four breweries have set up shop within a few blocks of one another. Flights will give you the best range of samples — grab some in the taste and taprooms at Border Brewing Company, Double Shift Brewing Company, and Torn Label Brewing Company. Brewery Emperial will soon open its doors to provide another stop on this mini beer crawl.
Specifically, Third Thursdays at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, when once a month the museum opens for a late-night, adult-focused evening of revelry and art. There’s live local music, dancing, art activities, and access to the galleries. From yellow-brick-road photo booths to DJs, there’s plenty of options for adults of all ages — and art interest levels.
10. …and Fridays, too
First Fridays in the Crossroads seems to get bigger every month, with some 10,000 people now attending. In the last few years, the Crossroads Arts District has radically developed into a home for hip art and renovated lofts and galleries, and people are noticing. Every First Friday of the month, the streets of the area fill with evening visitors, and the nearby art galleries, shops, and restaurants open their doors to a late-night crowd.
The artists featured are both regional and national — musicians, street performers, live theater, and food trucks join the lineup as well. If you plan your schedule right, you can probably sneak in a free dinner of wine and cheese from one of the open galleries, or check out the surrounding restaurants, many of which offer drink and appetizer specials for the occasion.
11. The shopping
No need to head to Manhattan or LA to start shopping — Country Club Plaza, spanning 15 blocks and featuring Spanish-style architecture, is a high-end, outdoor shopping experience that will make you question where exactly in the world you are. Luxury brands like Burberry and Tiffany & Co. are tucked among stops like Gap and H&M, and there’s a movie theater and live music every Thursday through Sunday in the central courtyard.
If you’re in need of some mid-afternoon shopping fuel, stop by Panache Chocolatier and Café for handcrafted, artisanal chocolates — with a glass of chardonnay, perhaps.
12. The best coffee in the Midwest
An average cup of joe won’t suffice after tasting the coffee from KC’s local roasters, who consider creating caffeinated beverages an art form. Thou Mayest started in a garage in 2012 and has been improving their java ever since. With big windows, exposed brick walls, and lots of plants, it’s the perfect place to meditate on what really makes a good cup of coffee. They’ve even begun taking their craft beyond just coffee and into alcohol as well, making it a go-to choice both AM and PM.
For a coffee shop that never left the garage, head to Filling Station Coffee Garage. It’s just that — a refurbished old garage with a huge patio and lovingly brewed coffee. Plus, some pretty great food options — “old-school oatmeal,” croissants, and fresh-squeezed juice — and free wi-fi to boot.
Another KC favorite, Oddly Correct, is a local roaster focusing on small quantities of seasonal coffee made from “green sourced” beans. More brick walls, bar stools, and one extremely coveted cushy leather armchair — this is yet another great place to wile away a morning, and maybe the afternoon, too.
13. The live music
The variety of live music venues in KC is almost as extensive as the genres being played within them. Regardless of your music preferences, you can find somewhere to catch a live show — this city was built on jazz, after all.
Crossroads KC at Grinders is an outdoor venue with music ranging from reggae to pop, with recent performers including Walk the Moon, Wilco, and Umphrey’s McGee. Mutual Musicians Foundation, located in the heart of the 18th and Vine Historic Jazz District, holds jam sessions every Friday and Saturday night. They don’t start until after midnight and keep going until the sun is up — a rare find. And you never know what legend may unexpectedly appear on the MMF stage.Knuckleheads Saloon is redefining honkytonk with its open-air stage right next to railroad tracks, complete with passing trains that seem to get the crowd even more fired up.
14. The backdrops
In an age when it only counts if you can show it happened, KC has you covered. In the “City of Fountains,” every corner is practically waiting for an Insta. With over 200 registered water features, there are more fountains here than in any other city in the world (okay, except for Rome). The fountains might even trick you into thinking you’ve been temporarily transported to Europe — which makes sense, as the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, one of the most iconic in the city, was constructed in Paris.
When you go to snap a picture, find the nearest fountain, center it in the background, and thank this magical city when you can label it #nofilter. Some lesser known and highly recommended fountains are along Cliff Drive, but with so many to choose from, exploring the city and finding your own favorites is half the fun.
15. The urban street festival scene, aka Boulevardia
Boulevardia is KC’s three-day “urban street festival” in mid-June, founded on the idea of pulling together the best of food, drink, and music — this year’s lineup included Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness and Nate Reuss (from Fun). There are some 40 breweries from around the country bringing in samples, plenty of food trucks to check out, and local makers and crafters selling their products. You might find yourself coming home with anything from organic shaving cream to locally made leather goods to jars of dill pickles.
To top it off, Boulevardia also hosts a bike ride to help raise money and awareness for cancer research — and a family-friendly carnival that offers education on sustainability and recycling. This is one organization based on all things good, and one of many that are helping propel Kansas City forward.