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New to Kansas City? We made you a guide of things to do, places to go and food to eat

A wide view of the skyline of Kansas City shows several hot air balloons in the foreground and the cityscape extending into the background. It's a late evening hour and streetlights illuminate the roadways with an orange glow.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Ah, Kansas City, Missouri. Home, sweet home.

Moved to town or just visiting? Don't worry! Read KCUR's guide to Kansas City and pretty soon you’ll be arguing about barbecue, the proper way to pronounce “Plaza,” and crazy Missouri/Kansas drivers just like the rest of us.

Welcome to Kansas City! You may not know KCMO from KCK or burnt ends from a short end, but we are happy to have you here.

The Kansas City metro may sprawl nearly 8,000 square miles — across two separate states, multiple cities and then some — but all you need are a few pointers and you’ll be fine.

Pretty soon you’ll be arguing about barbecue, the proper way to pronounce “Plaza,” and crazy Missouri/Kansas drivers just like the rest of us.

Whether you’re here just for a short visit or sticking around for the long-term, KCUR made you a beginner’s guide to help understand this city of ours.

One final note: This guide and its recommendations are by no means exhaustive. Consider this a starting place, and let us know what you think should be included too!

Get to know the metro

First on your list will be choosing a place to live or stay, which means picking between almost 150 neighborhoods across the metro. 

Here’s one thing to know right off the bat. We’re three Kansas Cities in two separate states. You might know about Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO), and Kansas City, Kansas (KCK).

But don’t forget about the city of North Kansas City, Missouri (NKC) which is — you guessed it — north of KCMO. That’s not to be confused with KCMO’s Northland neighborhood, which is an area of the city proper that’s north of the Missouri River but separate from North Kansas City. Phew.

Most of the suburbs of Kansas City, Missouri, are actually in Kansas, where half of the metro’s residents reside. In fact, we are one of the only metros in the country for which State Line, the actual dividing line between Missouri and Kansas, is a residential street.

Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
Fans gathered at the Power & Light District react to FIFA's selection of Kansas City as one of 16 North American sites for the 2026 men's World Cup matches.

If you have a family or want one, you might look at Brookside and Waldo, or at North Kansas City (which is a separate city of its very own, north of the river). There’s fewer apartment options, and if you want a house, don’t dawdle. Homes are selling within a day or two of coming on the market, for over the asking price.

But for the younger crowd, downtown Kansas City, Missouri, may be a good place to start: lots of new lofts and apartments, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and stores. You have the River Market with its bustling farmers market and the Crossroads with its breweries and bustling nightlife — both will be fun but also a bit on the pricey side.

You’ll also come across three “west” neighborhoods with very different vibes: Westport is a quickly-gentrifying entertainment district, the Westside is a historic Latino neighborhoods with a lot of cute food and drink spots, and the West Bottoms is grungier and slightly more industrial.

On the other side of Kansas City, you might hear talk – often negative – about the areas “east of Troost.” As KCUR has reported, that’s because Troost has historically been the city’s racial and economic dividing line.

While that dynamic is still true, strong neighborhood associations and affordable homes are bringing people of all races and ethnicities back to the city’s urban core. Both the city and private businesses are investing in revitalizing those neighborhoods, although it’s a long and complicated process.

Wide angle photo of a city street. On the right side is a colorful mural depicting a person playing a saxophone and a sign for the Gem theater. On the left is a brick facade  of the American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The American Jazz Museum, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Gem Theater sit on 18th Street.

One thing you probably won’t know until someone tells you: There’s a lot of hidden gems to be found in Kansas City, Kansas (or KCK as the locals call it). It’s the smaller city across the Missouri River, and the third-largest city in the state of Kansas.

Kansas City, Kansas, consolidated with Wyandotte County in 1997, and the government is now referred to as The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas. But don’t worry about it unless you need to register your car, go to court or pay your property taxes.

KCK has several up-and-coming neighborhoods and significantly cheaper housing than the Missouri side. The Latinx community makes up almost 30% of Wyandotte County, where KCK is located, that influence can be felt in neighborhoods including Armourdale and Argentine. Also check out Strawberry Hill, a community built up by Eastern Europeans coming to the Midwest that’s seeing a burst of activity.

You’ll also be interested to know that the Kansas City metro stretches across the ancestral lands of the Osage, Kaw/Kansa, and Otoe-Missouria people. And locations on both sides of the state line still reflect the names, traditions and influences of the Shawnee, Wyandot and other Native American nations.

A sports town through and through

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Holly Hayden, Sike Style executive director, and Phil Shafer, owner and lead artist of Sike Style, demonstrate the poses they hope people will emulate from their Chiefs murals around town.

You’ve found yourself in a city of winners. Kansas City has die-hard loyalties to our sports teams — from high school to the professional level.

Obviously, the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl most recently in 2020, and they’ve been serious contenders ever since. You might be familiar with star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Sports Illustrated sportsperson of the year.

Then there are the Kansas City Royals. Even though this isn’t their year, they’re two time world champions (most recently in 2015) and the town never gives up on them.

Kansas City is also putting itself on the map as a soccer town. The city just won a contest to host some of the FIFA World Cup events in 2026. And there’s not one but two professional soccer teams at home: Sporting Kansas City, a founding member of the MLS, and the KC Current, which joined the National Women’s Soccer League in 2020.

Finally, our weird bi-state situation extends to crazy commitment to college sports. Passions run so high that loyalties to the Kansas Jayhawks and Missouri Tigers fans have been known to divide families.

Barbecue, tacos and other great food

Kansas City is a major food town, where you can get just about anything your heart desires – and some cuisines that we do better than anywhere else in the world.

KCUR’s panel of food critics regularly appear on Up To Date to give their recommendations, ranging from dishes to honor Juneteenth to the city’s best kids meals to Kansas City’s best Mexican and Latin American dishes.

In fact, KCUR has an entire hub of the "best of" foods in Kansas City right here.

We’ll start with Kansas City’s biggest claim to fame: Barbecue. As a new Kansas Citian, the most important thing is for you to develop a taste for smoked meats (or portobellos) ASAP.

Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Tausha Hammett inherited ownership of LC's Bar-B-Q from her grandfather, LC Richardson, after he died in 2021. The beloved, no-frills joint opened in 1986.

For a primer on Missouri’s barbecue history, and Kansas City’s iconic burnt ends, KCUR’s podcast Hungry For MO has you covered.

If you want old school 'que, check out Arthur Bryant’s or Gates. They’re both quality establishments that have stood the test of time. LC’s Bar-B-Q was a favorite of Anthony Bourdain when he came to town, while Ted Lasso (aka Kansas City native Jason Sudeikis) recommends Joe’s Kansas City, although be ready for a line that can literally stretch around the building.

Newer joints like Q39 are making good impressions on Kansas Citians as well, and Char Bar offers jackfruit BBQ for vegetarians too. And don’t forget about Slaps in Kansas City, Kansas.

Kansas City’s other major food phenomenon is tacos. There’s an abundance of choices along the historically Mexican hub of Southwest Boulevard, like Tacos El Gallo and El Pueblito.

Celisa Calacal
KCUR 89.3
Rogelio Avila and Pablo Muñoz are preparing Mexican tacos on a Thursday evening for customers inside Casual Animal Brewing Co. The team usually pops up at the Crossroads brewery every week.

And did you know that Kansas City, Kansas, was named the “true taco capital” of the whole country? There’s dozens and dozens of spots, each with their own specialty. For a primer on where to go, check out the official KCK Taco Trail.

Have a hankering for Asian food? Check out the hearty bowls of pho at Vietnam Cafe in Kansas City, Kansas, or the numerous Vietnamese restaurants in the River Market. On the weekends, don’t miss the dim sum at Bo Lings in Country Club Plaza or at ABC Cafe in Overland Park.

To really become a local, you’ll need to hit up the iconic 24-hour burger joint Town Topic on Broadway, which boasts tasty, greasy smashburgers with grilled onions.

Bonus: In 2022, the Palestinian deli Baba's Pantry — located on Troost Avenue — was named one of the best new restaurants in the U.S.

Stay caffeinated

Kansas City also prides itself on its local caffeine scene. In nearly every part of the city, there’s a great coffee shop to check out, with specialty lattes, housemade syrups and beans roasted in-house.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Lesley Reyes and her mom, Irma Hernandez, bring their story full circle at Ollama on Southwest Boulevard.

In downtown Kansas City, the three-floor Messenger coffee shop is a mainstay (they also have another location in the Plaza). Not only is the coffee delicious, you can also grab a sweet or savory pastry from Ibis Bakery.

If you’re in the West Bottoms, check out Blip Roasters, where coffee and motorcycle culture collide in a previously empty warehouse on Mulberry Street.

On Southwest Boulevard, you'll find Latin cultures collide with coffee culture at Café Corazón (where you can grab Argentinian empanadas with your horchata latte) and Café Ollama (known for its Mexican café de olla).

And Cafe Cà Phê is making waves as Kansas City's first Vietnamese coffee shop — it began as a pop-up and food truck, and will open its first brick-and-mortar soon in Columbus Park.

Don’t sleep on PH Coffee in Pendleton Heights, either. Other great options around town include Oddly Correct, The Roasterie and Broadway Cafe.

Café Cà Phê
Emily Standlee
Kansas City’s first Vietnamese coffee shop Café Cà Phê is adding a brick-and-mortar location to its beloved rolling coffee truck.

What pairs best with coffee? Pastries, of course — and Kansas City does not skimp on the baked goods. On Troost Avenue, Blackhole Bakery is a new arrival on the scene, with its mochi donut balls and flaky croissants. Further south, Waldo is home to both McLain’s Bakery and Heirloom Bakery & Hearth.

If coffee isn’t your thing, check out Ruby Jean’s Juicery on Troost, where you can get handcrafted juices. For tea lovers, check out Emilie’s French Teas in Waldo.

To get your boba fix, there’s options stretching from downtown into the suburbs, from Bruú Café in the Plaza to Dragonfly Tea Zone on 39th Street to Ding Tea in Lenexa.

Drinks and night life

Now you’re ready to hit the town. Whether you want a locally brewed beer or a balanced cocktail, Kansas City has plenty of options for going out.

There’s plenty of independent breweries boasting their own selection of IPAs, fruited sours, lagers and everything in between. The big name is Boulevard Brewing Company, which offers tours of their brewery that end with a flight of your choosing. Torn Label Brewing in the East Crossroads also boasts a hearty selection of brews and a full food menu (get the tallow fries, you won’t regret it).

Head to North Kansas City for a village of other great breweries, like Big Rip Brewing and Cinder Block Brewing. You can find a more comprehensive guide to great local beer right here.

The Crossroads District is a popular neighborhood that encompasses blocks of cocktail bars, microbreweries, fine dining restaurants, art galleries, and vintage shops.

courtesy: Crossroads Community Association
In August 2018, tens of thousands of people packed the streets for First Fridays in the Crossroads.

For hand-crafted cocktails, check out Afterword Tavern & Shelves, a combination bookstore-bar where you can pick up a new book and sip a tasty drink all in one sitting. Mean Mule is home to locally-made agave spirits (they can’t technically call it tequila, but you get the idea), or Tom’s Town Distilling, where you can try their gins and bourbons in a swanky art deco lounge.

And every first Friday of the month, you’ll find crowds of people enjoying food trucks and art showings throughout the Crossroads — especially in the warmer months.

For the late-night partiers, head to Westport for a chill time at Harry’s Bar and Tables, or go dancing at the country music bar Tin Roof or the LGBTQ+ nightclub Fountain Haus. Kansas City has drag shows galore at Missie B’s, plus the iconic gay bars Woody’s and Hamburger Mary’s.

If you like to listen to live music with your drink, try The Ship, a lounge and venue in the West Bottoms that’s been around since 1935. The West Bottoms also boasts the dive bar Lucky Boys and the outdoor-themed The Campground.

Nine people, all wearing surgical-type masks, gather around a restaurant bar. Some stand some sit. Lots of bottles of liquor and stemware are seen in the background.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The Campground in Kansas City's West Bottoms neighborhood still requires proof of vaccination for indoor diners.

Looking to nerd out? Check out trivia nights throughout the city, featuring a number run by Geeks Who Drink. Another great place to find like-minded friends is Meetup.

But most of all, do not sleep on Kansas City jazz. This city was a rich incubator for pioneering musicians like Charlie Parker and Count Basie, and that legacy lives on every night in the city.

Kansas City’s most popular club, the Green Lady Lounge in the Crossroads, offers live jazz every single day of the year, and on weekends you can find more music next door at its sister club Black Dolphin.

Downtown boasts The Majestic Restaurant and Jazz Club and The Phoenix which offers a jazz brunch on the weekends, while the 18th and Vine district — the historic center of jazz in Kansas City — has bustling venues such as The Blue Room and the Juke House.

Things to do around town

Julie Denesha
Singer Lee Langston entertains the Friday night happy hour crowd at The Phoenix night club in downtown Kansas City.

During the day, you’ll likely be ready to stretch your legs a bit.

Don’t miss out on the renowned Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where admission inside is free, but it’s worth it to pay for mini golfing in the sculpture garden.

The Nelson isn’t the only museum you can get lost in. Just one mile south is The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, because who doesn’t love tiny things? At the edge of downtown is the National WWI Museum, which also boasts an incredible view of the skyline.

In the historic 18th and Vine district, don’t miss out on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum or the American Jazz Museum, You can learn about this city’s history at the Kansas City Museum in the Historic Northeast.

For families with kids, Crown Center is a great spot, where you’ll find the LegoLand Discovery Center, the Sea Life aquarium and the nationally recognized Coterie Theater. To the southeast you’ll find the Kansas City Zoo and the outdoor Starlight Theatre.

A blue streetcar is shown at left with doors open and people are getting on and off the car at a stop.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Passengers enter and leave a KC Streetcar at 4th Street and Delaware on a Monday morning.

Fans of the outdoors will have plenty to explore, and KCUR put together this beginner’s guide to the best hiking trails in the city. Some of our favorites include Fox Hollow Trail in Swope Park, the Riverfront Heritage Trail for a decidedly more urban hike, the Parkville Nature Sanctuary, and Wyandotte County Lake.

Bring your dog along to Bar K, a two-acre, enclosed dog park-slash-bar by the Berkeley Riverfront (a membership or paid pass is required for each dog), or the 44-acre Shawnee Mission Off-Leash Dog Park, where your furry friend can cool off in the lake for free. (There’s a ton of other great and free dog parks to explore, too.)

Kansas City also has a burgeoning climbing community. If you like bouldering, check out Sequence Climb on the West Side or RoKC Underground, where, yes, you’ll get to climb underground. If you like top rope, check out the RoKC location in North Kansas City.

Maybe it’s a hot summer day and you’d rather stay inside with a good film. There’s the B&B Theaters downtown and the independent movie theater Screenland Armour in North Kansas City.

Julie Denesha
Artist Steve Snell makes a 12-mile test run in his new canoe on the Missouri River through downtown Kansas City. This summer, he'll create paintings and videos as he travels more than two thousand miles on the river.

Ways to keep up on Kansas City

Getting all the way through this guide means you’re now quite familiar with KCUR — that’s us! We’re a nonprofit and independent news organization that serves the Kansas City region.

You can find us on the air at 89.3 FM or streaming online at KCUR.org. But there’s other great ways you can connect with us, learn about Kansas City, and stay in the loop about what’s happening here.

  • Kansas City Today. Every weekday, KCUR’s news podcast brings you all the news you need about Kansas City, wrapped up in 15 minutes or less. Wherever you get podcasts!
  • Early Bird. The city’s top stories of the day, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning by 6 a.m.
  • Creative Adventure. Get out and about with our weekly newsletter, offering new and fun ways to explore the Kansas City region, from road trips to food recs.
  • A People’s History of Kansas City. KCUR’s flagship history podcast, diving deep into the everyday heroes, renegades and visionaries who shaped this city.
  • Classical KC. KCUR's sister station opens the door to Kansas City's classical music scene, spotlights local musicians and keeps you up to date on the latest arts events.

Kansas City is excited to have you here. After all, we’re apparently the "coolest" city in America.

Updated: July 4, 2022 at 4:00 AM CDT
This guide was originally published in 2016 has been updated.
As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
As KCUR’s Audience Editor, I ask the questions: What do people need from us, and how can we best deliver it? I work across departments and projects to ensure our entire community is represented in and best served by our journalism. I help lead KCUR’s digital efforts to make our station more responsive, more competitive and more engaging. Contact me at gabe@kcur.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
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