99 Great Things About Kansas City

The world’s spotlight has been on Kansas City in recent weeks due to the Royals’ thrilling post-season run and dominant victory over the New York Mets to win KC’s first World Series since 1985. As a former Kansas Citian (now Southern Californian) who still calls the city “home,” it brought me great joy to watch KC rally around a team whose never-give-up spirit and humble, hardworking ethos matched its city so well. The astonishing crowd (estimates of 800,000+) at this week’s victory parade and rally in downtown KC is a testament to the unifying pride Kansas Citians have in their town. And it goes beyond baseball. There is a lot about this city that makes it a special place, an American gem of a metropolis in the midst of “flyover country.”

Here are 99 of the best things about this wonderful city:

  1. Being a border city. Contrary to many in the world who assume Kansas City is in Kansas, it’s actually a border city with parts in Missouri (downtown) and parts in Kansas (many of the suburbs, like Shawnee where I lived).
  2. Kansas-Missouri rivalry. The “border war” between Kansas and Missouri used to be a big deal (things were rocky to say the least in the 19th century) and some bad blood remains, but for the most part the Sunflower State (KS) is on good terms with the Show Me State.
  3. Unity. Nothing brings Kansans and Missourians together quite like… Kansas City. See here.
  4. The Royals! Enough said.
  5. The Chiefs. No exclamation mark this year, and they last won the Super Bowl in 1969, but we still love them.
  6. Sporting KC. Formerly the Wizards, Sporting Kansas City has a new stadium on the Kansas side and has won the MLS Cup twice (2000, 2013).
  7. College sports. With Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri universities all within a few hours’ drive, Kansas City is something of a hub of major college athletics.
  8. Kansas Jayhawks basketball. Worthy of its own mention. One of college basketball’s most storied programs (basketball was invented here) and the reason Kansas Citians don’t feel the need to have an NBA franchise.
  9. Lawrence, Kansas. A 45-minute drive from the Kansas City suburbs, Lawrence is a history-rich town on the plains and home to the beautiful KU campus (including basketball Mecca Allen Fieldhouse).
  10. Big XII tournament. Held annually in the Sprint Center (see #52) in downtown Kansas City, this March Madness tradition underscores just how much KC is a college basketball town.
  11. Friendliness. I didn’t realize how friendly Kansas Citians were until I moved to Los Angeles. I’m not at all surprised that KC was recently ranked 4th on Travel and Leisure’s list of America's friendliest cities.
  12. Barbecue. Gates, Arthur Bryant’s, Jack Stack, Oklahoma Joe’s, Q39. There are too many amazing barbecue restaurants in KC to mention.
  13. Burnt Ends. Smoky, crispy, juicy and delicious, burnt ends are Kansas City’s trademark contribution to the barbecue world.
  14. Steakhouses. Beyond barbecue, KC also perfected the art of the classy steakhouse. The Savoy Grill, Pierponts, Plaza III, J. Gilbert’s and Hereford House are just some of the local favorites.
  15. Kansas City Strip Steak. This iconic cut of meat originated in KC.
  16. Cowtown. One of KC’s nicknames, “Cowtown” refers to the massive stockyards which for more than a century made Kansas City one of the nation’s biggest meat suppliers. Aside from barbecue, KC’s cattle-centric culture can be seen in the American Royal, an annual livestock show dating back to 1899.
  17. Cultured. One of the paradoxes of KC is that it is as comfortable for cowboys as it is for curators. It is at once “Cowtown” and “Paris of the Plains.” Ranked by Travel and Leisure as the 4th most cultured city in America, KC has a thriving arts, music, theater and food scene.
  18. Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. Exhibit A for KC’s “Paris of the Plains” claim is the “Nelson,” a world-class art museum whose 2007 Bloch addition (pictured above) was listed by Time among the world’s “10 Best (New and Upcoming) Architectural Marvels.”
  19. Shuttlecocks. The iconic sculptures of massive badminton shuttlecocks are the zany but irreplaceable icons of the Nelson museum’s lawn.
  20. Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Contains a century’s worth of work from a who’s who of contemporary artists like Jasper Johns and Wayne Thiebaud.
  21. Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. Only in KC does a community college get a contemporary art museum as nice as this.
  22. Crossroads Arts District. Historic part of downtown full of galleries, lofts, trendy restaurants and stores.
  23. Kauffman Center for Performing Arts. A new architectural icon in KC, the Kauffman Center is home to the Kansas City Symphony, the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and the Kansas City Ballet.
  24. Fine dining. For a sampling of KC’s thriving foodie scene, look no further than Bluestem (Westport) and rye (Leawood, Kan.), both from chef-owners Megan and Colby Garrelts.
  25. Italian food. For whatever reason (Italian mafia heritage?), KC has an excellent Italian food scene. Witness: Lidia’s, Cascone’s, Paulo & Bill, Garozzo’s and NoRTH Italia.
  26. Christopher Elbow. KC’s best chocolatier.
  27. Andre’s Confiserie Suisse. A little bit of Switzerland in Kansas City.
  28. Boulevard Brewing Co. One of the reasons why KC was ranked 2nd on Travel and Leisure’s recent "Best Cities for Beer Lovers" list.
  29. Manifesto. A non-gimmicky speakeasy bar in the basement of downtown KC’s Rieger Hotel Grill.
  30. Good coffee. From Oddly Correct to The Roasterie to Topeka’s PT’s Coffee, Kansas City deserves the recognition it just received from GQ as one of the “9 Best Places to Drink Coffee in 2015.”
  31. Dean & Deluca. This foodie paradise has U.S. locations in Napa Valley, New York City, Charlotte, D.C. and… Leawood, Kansas? And it totally fits.
  32. Fritz’s. Your burgers arrive at your table on a train.
  33. Sheridan’s Frozen Custard. Nothing beats Sheridan’s on a humid summer night.
  34. The Country Club Plaza. Modeled architecturally after Seville, Spain and one of the oldest outdoor shopping centers in the world, this iconic part of town is a gem in KC’s architectural crown.
  35. The Plaza at Christmas. You have to see it.
  36. The Plaza Art Fair. Annual September art festival featuring exhibits, music, food and events.
  37. Brush Creek. The creek that winds along the southern edge of The Plaza is picturesque, except when it threatens to flood.
  38. Mission Hills at Christmas. The old money mansions around the Plaza are a sight to see during the holidays.
  39. Crown Center. An aquarium, Legoland, ice skating, children’s theater, shops, restaurants and other things make this a field trip favorite. Home to KC’s tallest Christmas tree during the holidays.
  40. Hallmark Cards. The KC-based card company has a museum and department store at Crown Center.
  41. Town Center Plaza. For outdoor shopping needs on the Kansas side.
  42. Local retailers.Hammerpress Print Shop, Baldwin Denim and Trapp Candles are just a few.
  43. Rainy Day Books. A dreamy independent bookstore in picturesque Fairway, Kansas.
  44. AMC Theaters. The theater chain is headquartered in Kansas City and thus movie theaters are everywhere.
  45. The world’s tallest waterslide. That would be the terrifying Verruckt at KC’s Schlitterbahn waterpark.
  46. World’s of Fun. A theme park originally inspired by Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days
  47. Electric Park (1907-25). Though short-lived before it burned down, Electric Park was an enchanting amusement park in late Victorian Kansas City. With its buildings adorned by 100,000 light bulbs, Electric Park was known as “Kansas City’s Coney Island” and served as Walt Disney’s primary inspiration for the Main St. USA section of Disneyland.
  48. Fountains. More than 200 in the city (second only to Rome), turned on each year in April on “Fountain Day.”
  49. Boulevards. KC is said to have more boulevards than any city in the world aside from Paris. Hence another reason for “Paris of the Plains.”
  50. The Kansas City Star. High quality newspaper.
  51. Sam Mellinger. High quality sportswriter for The Star.
  52. Sprint Center. Excellent indoor sports and concert arena and a key piece in downtown KC’s recent resurgence.
  53. College Basketball Experience. Only in KC does college basketball get its own cool, interactive museum.
  54. Power and Light District. KC’s appropriately modest version of Time’s Square.
  55. Classic Art Deco architecture. KC boasts some of the best examples of Art Deco in the U.S., with buildings like the Kansas City Power and Light building, 909 Walnut, Municipal Auditorium, and the Jackson Country Courthouse.
  56. Westport: Food and drink (and hipster) center of KC.
  57. 18th & Vine Jazz District. One of the key locations in the early history of jazz and current home to the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
  58. WWI Museum and Liberty Memorial. One of the best (and only) American war museums dedicated to World War I; sits beneath the iconic Liberty Memorial, dedicated in 1926 to those who served in the Great War.
  59. The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve. Nerdy but educational!
  60. The National Museum of Toys/Miniatures. There are literally museums everywhere in KC.
  61. Proud celebrities who hail form KC: Paul Rudd, Eric Stonestreet, Don Cheadle, Rob Riggle, Jason Sudeikis, Janelle Monae, Kate Spade, to name a few.
  62. No traffic! Once you’ve lived in Southern California you know how lucky Kansas Citians are when it comes to traffic. Namely: there isn’t any.
  63. Seasons. You get all four of them in KC, and they are lovely.
  64. Weather. Weather can change fast in KC, with 40 degree temperature swings from day-to-day a not uncommon occurrence. Naturally, weather is a major conversation topic for Kansas Citians (not so in So Cal).
  65. Thunderstorms. There really is nothing like a line of summer thunderstorms moving in with a cold front.
  66. Gary Lezak. I’ve never seen a local news weatherman as in love with weather as Gary Lezak of NBC 41 is. The guy names his dogs things like Sunny, Windy and Stormy.
  67. Sunsets over the Kansas plains. Worth the plane ticket.
  68. Forests, hills, rivers. KC’s topography is far more than desolate plains.
  69. Farms. You don’t have to travel far to get farm-fresh anything. “Farm-to-table” is actually more than just a yuppie buzzword here.
  70. Powell Gardens. Everything you would want from a prairie habitat botanical garden.
  71. Kansas City International Airport. Despite being needlessly far from most of the city, MCI is tops in terms of ease of use. At what other airport in America can you exit your flight and be in your car on the highway before the last person on your flight has de-planed?
  72. Proximity to everywhere else. With its location in the geographical center of the U.S., KC is a great jumping off place for exploring all corners of America.
  73. Union Station. This icon of KC was built in 1914, magnificently restored in the late 1990s, and now houses museums and restaurants.
  74. Gangster history. Includes such things as the Union Station Massacre (1933), the Sicilian mafia, Prohibition bootlegging and a political machine run by “Boss Tom” Pendergast.
  75. “Border War” Civil War history. Things got ugly in the Civil War era between Kansas (free state, Union sympathizing) and Missouri (slave state, Confederate sympathizing). Watch Ang Lee’s beautiful 1999 film Ride With the Devil (filmed in the Kansas City area) for a primer on this.
  76. Historical figures who lived in KC. Ernest Hemingway, Walt Disney, Harry Truman, Charlie Parker, Thomas Hart Benton, Amelia Earhart, Walter Cronkite, among others.
  77. Westward expansion history. Most major trails for pioneers in the 1800s went through the KC area, including the California Trail, Oregon Trail and Santa Fe Trail.
  78. Steamboat Arabia Museum. A tribute to the frontier era of American history, this museum showcases a treasure trove of artifacts recovered from the 1856 shipwreck of a steamboat on the Missouri River.
  79. City Market. In operation since 1857, the City Market is the largest farmers’ market in the region.
  80. Johnson County, KS. The most populous county in Kansas and one of the most affluent counties in the U.S., Johnson County is Midwestern suburban life at its best.
  81. Christian hipsters. KC's fusion of Bible Belt evangelical fervor and trendy artisan tendencies makes it a particularly fertile spot for the development of Christian hipster enclaves. That’s why I included KC as one of the top 10 cities for Christian hipsters in my book Hipster Christianity
  82. Foodpreneur-friendliness. KC is emerging as one of the nation’s best cities for specialty food startups. In the past two years more than 70 food companies have started in KC.
  83. Louisburg Cider Mill. Apple cider, pumpkins, hayrides and more make this an autumnal favorite for Kansas Citians.
  84. Shatto Milk Company. Local dairy with farm tours and delicious milk tastings.
  85. Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead. Petting zoo, pony rides, fun for the family.
  86. Amelia Earhart Birthplace. A museum worth visiting in Atchison, Kan. just north of KC.
  87. Harry S. Truman Library. In Independence, Mo. on the outskirts of KC.
  88. The Spurgeon Center at Midwestern Seminary. A research library featuring 6,000 volumes from Charles H. Spurgeon’s personal library.
  89. Robust economy. KC weathered the recession well and was ranked 2nd this year by CBS among “9 best U.S. cities for jobs.”
  90. Tech Boom: According to Forbes, “Kansas City is becoming a mecca for big technology companies.” From 1990-2010, KC had the third-highest increase in high-tech startup density among large U.S. metropolitan areas and the very highest increase in information and communications technology start-up density. Inclisted KC among America’s 7 best cities for startups outside Silicon Valley.
  91. Sprint. The telecom giant Sprint has its world headquarters on a 200-acre campus in KC suburb Overland Park, Kan.
  92. Google Fiber! The super-fast Internet of Google Fiber debuted in Kansas City, Kan. in 2012 and is still only available in a few other cities beyond KC. Oklahoma! had it right: “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.”
  93. Cost-of-living. KC is extremely affordable. For just $150,000 you can buy a nice house with a yard!
  94. Fireworks. People can actually buy them and set them off legally, and they do (especially when the Royals win the World Series).
  95. Neighborhood parks and pools. Every block seems to have them.
  96. Swope Park. Sprawling park that is home to the KC Zoo, Starlight Theater, and more.
  97. Snow Creek. In winter months you can actually go skiing on this modest hill in Weston, Mo.
  98. Good schools. Many local school districts rate among the best in the nation.
  99. Good values. Midwestern, Bible Belt values are a thing. People aren’t perfect in KC, of course, and brokenness is still everywhere. But traditional family values, politeness, groundedness and kindness are the norm.

If you love Kansas City, what other things would you add to the list?