15 Best Things to Do in Downtown Kansas City, MO

This article is written by local contributor Emily Zhang & edited by the Travel Lens team.

Downtown Kansas City, MO
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Downtown Kansas City in Jackson County is the heart of my city.

I've always been proud of how it houses important government buildings, businesses, and upscale retail shops, making it one of the best downtowns in the country.

Aside from its skyscrapers and art deco buildings, I've always appreciated how the district is also known as an arts and culture hub.

Museums such as the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Black Archives of Mid-America provide insight into what life was like for African Americans in the Midwest during the early 1900s.

Also within the area is the historic Union Station that’s witnessed the history and development of Kansas City in the past 100 years.

Interested to know more about this place?

Here are the best things to do in Downtown Kansas City, Missouri:

Commemorate Fallen Heroes at the National WWI Museum and Memorial

View of the National WWI Museum and Memorial at night
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Located on Memorial Drive, the National WWI Museum and Memorial opened in 1926 as Liberty Memorial to commemorate the history of World War I.

I've visited this place several times, and it never ceases to amaze me.

It was designated by the United States Congress as the country’s official WWI memorial and museum in 2004.

The 32,000-square-foot facility is surrounded by 9,000 red poppies, each representing the 1,000 soldiers who lost their lives during the war.

The North Wall of the main museum building features The Great Frieze by sculptor Edmund Amateis, representing the progression of mankind.

Building sign of the National WWI Museum and Memorial
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The museum has two main galleries showcasing exhibitions with period artifacts: the first focuses on the beginnings of the Great War, while the second is about US involvement in the war and peace efforts.

I've always found the museum to be well-curated and chronologically laid out, making it easy to follow the "road to war."

It's also interactive, with multiple sound booths and a couple of introductory/amplifying videos to get you immersed in the context of how the Great War began.

Visiting the National WWI Museum and Memorial is a great way to commemorate the men and women who sacrificed their lives for peace.

Interior of the National WWI Museum and Memorial
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It's a fantastic place to go with your family, take pictures, and enjoy the view of downtown Kansas City.

The service at the museum is exceptional, made up mostly of knowledgeable volunteers who are always willing to share their insights.

The venue is clean and deceivingly big, so make sure to set aside enough time to explore everything it has to offer.

Learn about the History of the Negro Leagues at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was founded in 1990 by former players to commemorate the league’s heydays and its superstars.

I recently visited the museum and was amazed by the pictures of players, team owners, and officials lining its walls, as well as reconstructed lockers where original uniforms, gloves, and other mementos from legends like Josh Gibson and George Herman Jr., also known as “Black Baby Ruth,” are on display.

One of the museum’s highlights is the Field of Legends, which has 12 life-sized bronze statues of 12 important figures in the Negro league history.

I was particularly impressed by the great Dihigo and good ole Satch on the bump.

The recreated playing field is amazing and really takes you back in time.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Kendrick at last year's All-Star game in L.A., and visiting the museum was a bucket list option for me.

I needed to complete my research for a book I am writing, which deals with the impact of the Negro Leagues while playing in Cuba.

See Salvaged Artifacts at the Arabia Steamboat Museum

Exterior of the Arabia Steamboat Museum
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The Arabia steamboat is a side-wheeler steamboat that sank in the Missouri River in 1856.

Located on Grand Boulevard, the Arabia Steamboat Museum is a 30,000-square-foot facility that features pre-Civil War artifacts excavated from the steamboat in 1988.

Upon entering the museum, I was greeted by a series of five-minute videos recounting the history of Arabia.

At the same time, I watched a 14-minute film called “The Fall and Rise of the Steamboat Arabia” in the theater.

The presentation of all the treasures was impressive, and there were hundreds of them on display.

Paddle of the Arabia boat in Arabia Steamboat Museum
Johnmaxmena2, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I saw artifacts on display and watched staff members work on cleaning artifacts in the museum’s open preservation lab.

There’s also a 171-foot-long full-scale reproduction of the steamboat where I saw archival footage documenting the excavation process.

The original boilers, engine, anchor, six-ton stern, and a reconstructed paddle wheel are also displayed.

During my visit, I was lucky enough to meet one of the men who found the ship, Jerry Mackey, who gave me a personal tour of the artifacts they found.

It was definitely worth the $14.00 admission fee, and it took me about 2.5 hours to go through it all.

Exhibit in Arabia Steamboat Museum
Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Peek into Jazz History at the American Jazz Museum

Located on East 18th Street, the American Jazz Museum was founded in 1997 with a mission to promote American jazz through performances, exhibitions, education, and research.

Originally called the Kansas City Jazz Museum, it features exhibitions featuring notable artists in the industry, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, and many more.

One of the museum’s prized possessions is the Graphon alto saxophone used by Charlie Parker at his Massey Hall concert in 1953.

As a college student studying jazz, I was thrilled to see this iconic instrument up close.

The museum offers multiple listening station exhibits where you can learn about jazz’s different styles and rhythms.

I've spent hours exploring these stations, immersing myself in the rich history of jazz music.

One of my favorite parts of the museum is The Blue Room, a live performance venue designed to look like a 1930s nightclub.

Named after the Street Hotel’s Blue Room, it's the perfect spot to catch live jazz performances.

I've seen some incredible shows here, and it's always a treat to experience the music in such an intimate and historic setting.

After exploring the museum, I always make sure to stop by the gift shop.

They have a great selection of jazz-related items, and I've picked up a few shirts and other souvenirs to show my support for the arts.

See Hands-on Science Exhibitions at Science City at Union Station

Interior of the Science City at Union Station
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The Science City at Union Station is a science museum on West Pershing Road.

The 92,000-square-foot complex features more than 120 hands-on displays and traveling exhibitions.

There’s also the Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium, where you can experience guided telescope viewing and live star tours.

Courses inside the Science City at Union Station
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I recently visited Union Station and was amazed by the gorgeous architecture, high ceilings, and arches.

It's not just a place to catch the Amtrak, but it also offers several restaurants and entertainment options within the station.

I was lucky enough to visit shortly after the Super Bowl, so there was a huge homage to Patrick Mahomes with his jersey and a massive photo with the Super Bowl trophy.

People inside the Science City at Union Station
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The WW1 museum is also located right across from the station, and the whole area is easily accessible by the free KC rail.

The historic building, built in 1914 as the third-largest rail station in the country, is truly a sight to behold.

Downstairs, you'll find a whole bunch of touristy things to do, like an escape room, the science center, and souvenir stores.

The Science City at Union Station is a must-visit for anyone looking for a fun and educational experience.

Learn about Winemaking at Amigoni Urban Winery

Located on Genessee Street, Amigoni Urban Winery is a family-run winery housed in a historic 1909 building.

I've been visiting this place since it was founded in 2006 when Michael Amigoni started it as a hobby by planting Cabernet Franc vines in his backyard.

Today, the winery produces small batches of dry handcrafted wines, focusing on traditional European grape varieties like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Viognier.

Their tasting room is in the historic Daily Drover Telegram Building, which is a treasure in and of itself.

The decor pairs well with the overall architectural style, featuring arched doorways and rod iron accents.

I've always been impressed by the ambiance, especially the pretty, old-fashioned chandeliers.

I recently met up with some friends at Amigoni to start my birthday celebrations.

We ordered the cheese plate. It had only two actual slices of cheese, bread, and pickles instead of olives.

Also, the Pinot Grigio we tried was fantastic, even according to my friends who are fluent in the wine language.

Amigoni hosts wine tastings and tours of the facility, where you can learn about the winemaking process from grape to bottle.

I've always enjoyed learning about the art of winemaking during my visits.

Shop till You Drop at Crown Center

Exterior of the Crown Center
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Located on Grand Boulevard, Crown Center is a three-level shopping center with more than 30 shops and restaurants.

As a local, I love spending time in the shopping district, which has a plaza with an ice rink and houses the LEGOLAND Discovery Center and SEA LIFE Aquarium.

Whenever I take my kids to Crown Center, they always have a blast at LEGOLAND.

They enjoy the LEGO rides and the LEGO build-and-play zones.

We also love watching LEGO movies at the 4D cinema, where special effects bring the films to life.

At SEA LIFE, we always make sure to enter the 180-degree underground tunnel, where we come face-to-face with sharks and rescued sea turtles.

It's an incredible experience that we never get tired of.

LEGOLAND discovery center in the Crown Center
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One of the best things about Crown Center is the luxury hotel with great amenities.

I've stayed at the Westin a few times, and I can't recommend it enough.

The outdoor heated pool is fantastic and open year-round, which my kids absolutely love.

The fitness facility is top-notch, and the locker rooms are wonderful.

I also appreciate that Westin partners with the Ronald McDonald House, allowing their guests to use the Westin pool free of charge.

It's a lovely gesture that makes me proud to support this hotel.

Discover Hallmark’s Humble Beginnings at the Hallmark Visitors Center

Located in the Crown Center complex on Grand Boulevard, the Hallmark Visitors Center offers free tours and exhibits about the company’s history.

I've been living in Kansas City for years, and I always like to take visitors here if they are interested in the Crown Center.

The company was founded in 1910 by Kansas native Joyce Hall and has become the world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of greeting cards.

Interactive displays give you a peek at the company’s colorful history and creative spirit.

I particularly enjoyed the nostalgic Hallmark products on display.

My kids loved seeing all the Hallmark Harry Potter stuff.

There's a collection of life-size Christmas trees that were decorated by employees as part of company tradition, which is always a treat to see.

One of my favorite parts of the visit is the bow machine, which gives you a star-shaped bow with one push of a button.

Go around the World in a Day at Worlds of Fun

Boomerang rollercoaster at Worlds of Fun
Robert Herschede from Kansas City, MO, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on Worlds of Fun Avenue, Worlds of Fun is a 235-acre amusement park, which is the largest in the Midwest.

It was founded in 1973 by businessmen Lamar Hunt and Jack Steadman.

Oceans of Fun, the largest water park in the region, was added in 1982 adjacent to the amusement park.

Mamba rollercoaster at Worlds of Fun
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The takes inspiration from the Jules Vern book, Around the World in Eighty Days, and is divided into eight major sections representing eight different regions of the world.

Rides, attractions, and shops are named according to the area theme, like the Australian-themed Boomerang roller coaster and the Viking Voyager log fume in the Scandinavian section.

I recently visited Worlds of Fun on opening day and then again on Sunday.

Spinning dragon rollercoaster at Worlds of Fun
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The opening day experience was a bit disappointing as most of the rides were closed or running one train, and the rides opened an hour late.

It reminded me of my visit to Six Flags Over Texas, where I had to walk around the park to find what was open at the time.

They opened up the spinning rides first in the front of the park and at the back.

Celebrate Black Identity at the Black Archives of Mid-America

Just around the corner on East 17th Terrace, you'll find the Black Archives of Mid-America, a remarkable multimedia museum that brings to life the narrative of Black existence.

Established in 1974 by Horace M. Peterson III, this non-profit institution plays an essential role in our community.

As a local, I value how it opens its extensive collections for research, exhibitions, and publications, effectively broadening public consciousness.

Its core mission is to gather, safeguard, and display materials that capture the social, economic, political, and cultural journey of African Americans in Mid-America, with a particular focus on our home state, Kansas.

More than just a museum, the Black Archives of Mid-America functions as a comprehensive educational resource and a custodian of African American culture across numerous fields.

Be it music, art, sports, theater, or education, it's a veritable treasure trove of our rich and diverse heritage.

Discover the History of Union Station Kansas City

Aerial view of Union Station Kansas City
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Located on West Pershing Road, Union Station Kansas City opened in 1914, serving Kansas and the surrounding metropolitan area.

I've been living in the area for years and have seen the station go through its ups and downs.

It peaked in 1945 at the end of World War II but quickly declined in the 1950s, eventually closing in 1985.

Thankfully, a $250 million restoration took place in 1996, and by 1999, it served as a museum and other public attractions until it was reactivated in 2002 by Amtrak.

The restored station has theaters, the Irish Museum and Cultural Center, and the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity.

Exterior of Union Station Kansas City
Josh Forden / Shutterstock.com

I love the high ceilings and arches of the Beaux-Arts-style building, which consists of the Grand Hall with ornate ceiling work and the Grand Plaza or North Waiting Room.

The two sections of the building are divided by a central arch decorated with a large hanging clock.

I remember visiting Union Station shortly after the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, and they had a huge homage to Patrick Mahomes with his jersey and a huge photo with the Super Bowl trophy.

Interior of Union Station Kansas City
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Right across from the station is the WW1 museum, and this place is easily accessible by the free KC rail.

Downstairs, there are a whole bunch of touristy things to do, like an escape room and the science center.

There's also a bunch of souvenir stores, which are perfect for picking up gifts for friends and family.

Lift a Gold Bar at Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Money Museum

Exterior of Kansas City’s Money Museum
Josh Forden / Shutterstock.com

Located on Memorial Drive, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s Money Museum will give you a million-dollar experience for free.

I watched how the bank processes millions of dollars in currency daily and even got a chance to lift a gold bar worth nearly $400,000.

There was an interactive display where I learned about the economy.

I also saw the 450-piece collection of rare coins on loan from the Harry S. Truman Library.

As a guest, I received a souvenir bag filled with shredded US currency.

Visiting the Money Museum allowed me to see the nation’s financial system in action.

The museum was super interactive for little ones and had tons of informational stops along the way.

The gold bar was neat, and the view of the vault was worth a stop.

It was super interesting to see the coin collection and learn about the history of money!

Have Dinner at Bristol

The perfect cap-off for a day of touring the city is a sumptuous dinner at Bristol.

Located on East 14th Street, it’s known for its wood-fired steaks, market-fresh seafood, and a wide selection of wines.

I always enjoy dining here, and it's one of my favorite restaurants in Overland Park.

I highly recommend trying the Lobster Bisque and Maple Plank Salmon.

For meat lovers like myself, the 14oz Prime Bone-In Kansas City Strip served with two seasonal sides is a must-try.

The wines come from all over the world, but Bristol puts the spotlight on Orin Swift Cellars.

I've also enjoyed their handcrafted cocktails and after-dinner drinks when I'm not in the mood for wine.

The atmosphere is upscale enough to make for a nice evening of dining, and they even have space for large party dining.

I've had consistently great food here, including fresh oysters and super-fresh seafood.

Their patio happy hour is also a great time to enjoy their craft cocktails.

Hop on the KC Streetcar and Explore Downtown Kansas City

Daytime view of a KC Streetcar
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The KC Streetcar is a streetcar system in Downtown Kansas City.

It runs along a 2.2-mile-long route, taking you from the River Market to Union Station through the central business district.

The best part is that it's completely free to ride!

The line is directly connected to Amtrak and the RideKC bus services, making it super convenient for me to get around the city.

There are 10 designated stops along the route, and the streetcar makes stops about every two blocks.

I often take my bicycle onboard, and I've noticed that wheelchairs and strollers can also be accommodated through the middle car.

It's great to see a public transportation system that's so accessible to everyone.

KC Streetcar along Downtown Kansas City
Jason Doss from Kansas City, MO, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of my favorite things to do is hop on the KC Streetcar and explore Downtown Kansas City from a different angle.

I've found it to be a convenient way to get to the River Market area from downtown, especially since it runs consistently every 12 minutes or so.

All I have to do is jump on at a specific stop and press the button for my destination.

I've always been impressed by how clean the streetcar is for public use transport.

There are priority seats for the elderly and disabled riders and designated areas for bikes in the middle of the car.

Shop Locally Grown Produce at the Historic City Market

Entryway of the Historic City Market
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The Historic City Market on East 5th Street is a beloved institution in our community.

With a legacy spanning over 160 years, it holds the distinction of being our region's most extensive farmer’s market.

As a resident, it's my go-to place to shop for an array of fresh produce from local farmers and even some unique treasures from far-flung corners of the globe.

You can snag imported ingredients and stock up on a variety of spices from specialty grocers and produce stalls.

Shoppers at the Historic City Market
Rachael Martin / Shutterstock.com

And it's not just about food - there's a fantastic selection of vintage knickknacks and handcrafted items.

These keepsakes make a perfect memento of your Kansas City experience.

One of my favorite things about the City Market is its location.

It's right along the KC Streetcar route, making it super convenient to visit.

Fresh produce at the Historic City Market
Gretchen Gunda Enger / Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

As a resident, I can tell you that downtown Kansas City is a cultural gem waiting to be discovered.

It's the ideal spot for anyone eager to dive into the heart of American culture.

What sets our district apart is its unique fusion of history and the arts.

Here, African American heritage mingles with the rhythmic cadences of classic jazz, creating an experience unlike any other.

So if you're craving a cultural adventure, I invite you to come and explore the very best that downtown Kansas City, Missouri, has to offer.

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