I have a soft spot for Midwestern travel destinations -- what can I say, I’m true to my roots! One of my favorite cities for a weekend trip in the Midwest is Kansas City. Sitting at the literal and historic crossroads of the United States, KC lies at the heart of the United States, offering a unique intersection of gastronomy, arts, and culture. Kansas City is one of the US cities that regularly pops up on my lists of favorite places. Whether it is the food, art, shopping or local people, Kansas City is a memorable destination for a city break getaway.
I have visited Kansas CIty four times over the last few years (thanks to a close friend who lives there), and with each visit, I discover something new to love about KC. Kansas City is bisected by the Kansas and Missouri rivers, so you will see KCMO (Kansas City, Missouri) and KCK (Kansas City, Kansas) referenced in this blog post. For the most part, a majority of the visitor-friendly attractions reside in KCMO but don’t sleep on KCK. I did a whole write up of some of the interesting historical sights you can see in Kansas City, Kansas! Created in collaboration with my friend Jessica, a KC native, this is the ideal itinerary for 2 perfect days in Kansas City!
How to Spend 48 Hours in Kansas City Like a Local
Morning: Artistic Explorations
It may come as a surprise to many that Kansas City is an incredibly artistic city. With top tier museums as well as a thriving local art culture, you should start your 48 hour trip to Kansas City with a visit to one (or more!) of the city’s artistic institutions. Offering one of the most comprehensive collections in the country, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a worthwhile stop. Plus it is free of charge! Your art viewing starts before you even step inside, thanks to the museum's iconic Shuttlecock lawn art. Once inside the museum, you’ll find more than 34,000 pieces spanning 5,000 years of art history. I particularly liked the beautiful modem art wing as well as a classic renaissance and sculpture exhibit.
Conveniently located just a 5 minute walk away, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is another excellent choice for art lovers. Focused on an exquisite collection of modern art, you will find works by some of the world’s most famous contemporary artists, including Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Georgia O’Keeffe. If you get hungry while wandering the museum, pop into the delightfully styled Cafe Sebastienne. You’ll enjoy classic lunch dishes like a croque madame or cobb salad while surrounded by a floor to ceiling display of art. It makes for a great Instagram backdrop!
You can finish off your art appreciation with a wander through the nearby Country Club Plaza, or just The Plaza for short. Stretching across 15 city blocks, this shopping district was designed in a traditional Spanish architecture modeled off of Seville, Spain which is KC’s sister city. While the shop selection at the Plaza leaves a lot to be desired in my opinion (it is predominantly chain stores), the 138-foot Giralda Tower is lovely as is the JC Nichols Memorial Fountain. Kansas City is known as the "City of Fountains" thanks to the 200+ fountains around the city, and this one is the most photographed piece of public art in KCMO.
Early Afternoon: Union Station and WWI Memorial
To get a panoramic view on Kansas City including its iconic ‘Western Auto’ sign, make your way to the WWI Memorial in central KCMO. You’ll immediately notice that 230 foot tall tower dedicated to the veterans of WWI. At the top is an observation deck where you can get a 360 degree view; but don’t just visit for the lookout. This museum and memorial is actually the USA's only public museum dedicated to WWI, and inside the museum beneath the tower, you can learn about the war with a large collection of photos, weapons and relics. It is a somber and reverent museum where you can really get a sense for the impact of WWI on American culture and history.
Just down the hill from the memorial is the beautifully restored Union Station. Opened in 1914, this train station served as a primary transfer point for hundreds of thousands of travelers during its heyday. Of course cross-country train travel has largely disappear from the USA today, but the station remains a lively mixed-used space with a museum, planetarium, live theater, and cinema inside. It is also a dream for photographers thanks to its majestic 95-foot ceilings and swoon-worthy Beaux-Arts architecture. If you’re parched, grab a coffee at Parisi Coffee’s flagship location inside.
Late Afternoon: Boutique Shopping and Street Art Viewing
Plan to spend the remainder of your first day in Kansas City in the city’s coolest neighborhood -- Crossroads. Home to some of the most delicious restaurants, cutest boutiques and quirkiest street art, I absolutely loved wandering around Crossroads and you will too! I think this neighborhood really captures the young and trendy spirit that characterizes modern KCMO.
One of the things that always stands out to me on my visits to Kansas City is the sheer amount of independently-owned boutiques and shops. I even wrote a whole post about my favorite boutiques in Kansas City! I never expected to discover so many beautifully designed shops in a city like KC, but Kansas City is a creative place—you can just feel the artistic energy in the air! Several of my favorites, including Hammerpress and Made in KC, are located in the Crossroads. Get ready to drop from cash supporting local businesses!
If you get hungry while wandering around Crossroads, enjoy a truffle (or 10) at what might be the best chocolate shop in the US, Christopher Elbow Chocolates. You can also grab a coffee or delicious baked treat at the massive Messenger Coffee Co. + Ibis Bakery. Hop on the food hall trend at Parlor, a 3 story food emporium offering a variety of casual dining options, plus 2 bars.
Wandering along 18th and 19th street, you’ll see plenty of street art murals, some of which are tucked into alleys or parking lots. If you take a picture in front of the famous ‘Kansas City, I’m So In Love” street art mural, PLEASE go inside the attached gallery, which is home to Imagine That, a non-profit organization that supports and empowers artists with disabilities to create and showcase their work. My friend used to work there and they do wonderful work in the community, but Instagram-hungry tourists often come only to take a picture and then leave. Support local artists with a visit!
Evening: Dinner and Drinks in Crossroads
If you happen to be in KC on the first Friday of the month, take part in a locally loved tradition -- First Fridays. The Crossroads floods with locals who wander between galleries to view the latest art collections, hear local bands perform in cafes, and join pop-up events and eateries that line the streets. This was one of my favorite things that I ever did in Kansas City!
For dinner in Crossroads, there are many good options but it is best to reserve a table ahead of time especially on the weekends. This is where KC locals go for a good dinner on the town, so you can expect long waits without a reservation. The Rieger is a cool hangout that offers a bar, restaurant and secret basement speakeasy. Their open kitchen and modern menu makes it a fun place to spend a few hours. Grünauer is an unexpectedly fun Austrian-German restaurant housed in a historic freight house. The cavernous wood and brick interior is the exact backdrop you would expect as you chow down on wiener schnitzel and wash it down with a European beer. In a swanky, well-designed space, Novel is bringing new American food to KC in innovative and creative ways. Their menu changes regularly, but you are sure to find some interesting combinations of flavors to spark your interest.
Morning: Coffee + Brunch in Midtown Westport
Kansas City is well-known for a lot of things but one thing a lot of people might not think of is their local coffee culture. Like many other cities around the Midwest, millennials are moving back to Kansas City and with them comes their desire for delicious coffee shops paired with Instagrammable brunches. I recommend starting your second day in Kansas city with a visit to one of the city’s many memorable cafes.
I personally like the Midtown Westport neighborhood for its cafe culture, but I summarize all of my favorite coffee shops in a separate post. You can’t go wrong with any of the places listed on that coffee guide! For brunch food in Midtown Westport, Bistro 303 is a cozy, upscale option classic AM fare menu. Westport Cafe is another great choice with a small but mighty French menu.
You might also want to pop into a few of the charming shops in this neighborhood. I actually spent a whole afternoon shopping the secondhand shops in Midtown Westport. I was drawn to the vintage clothing at Clothz Minded, but a more thrifty option is Arizona Trading Company and neighboring Wonderland. Across the street is the eclectic Monkey Wrench Clothing where you can find a mix of new and vintage items.
Afternoon: Learn About African American History
The long, if not often overlooked, history of African Americans in Kansas City makes the Black community an essential part of the city’s cultural fabric. Learn about the influence of African Americans on music and sports with a visit to the wonderful museums at 18th & Vine. During the Jim Crow era, Black baseball players were relegated to their own league and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum follows the 27 year history of the segregated league. In the 1920s, Kansas City was a major center of influence on jazz music which you can learn about at the American Jazz Museum.
Further flung but not less important African American historical attractions to visit in Kansas City are the Quindaro Ruins + Museum and Underground Railroad Museum, both of which are located in KCK. I discuss these attractions in depth in my post about the 7 Historical Attractions to Visit in KCK. For a short summary, Quindaro was an important outpost for slaves escaping to the free state of Kansas during the 1800s, and housed a thriving Black community in the late 1800s. To this day, Western University, which was located in Quindaro, was the only black college to ever operate in the state of Kansas and provided rare educational opportunities to the children of escaped slaves and black families who had begun to settle in the area.
Evening: Eat Kansas City Barbecue
No trip to Kansas City would be complete without sampling some of the city’s famed BBQ. Eating barbecue is absolutely a must-do activity during your 2 day visit to Kansas City! Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a number of suggestions as to what the best BBQ in Kansas City is. I have sampled several, and honestly, they’re all pretty spectacular. There are lots of great choices (the bad ones simply can’t survive in this competitive market), and I was just happy to eat some of the authentic local cuisine!
Arthur Bryant is often called the king of KC barbecue and many of the other famous pitmasters in KC learned from him before starting their own restaurants. Part gas station, part restaurant, another good choice for BBQ is Joe’s Kansas City. Anthony Bourdain featured this place on his show, and there is almost always a line for Joe’s. Newer to the scene, Slapps in KCK is a no nonsense kind of place where locals gather on their spacious outdoor patio. I think my personal favorite for Kansas City barbecue is Q39. Slightly more upscale, I loved the tender meat and delicious sauces that they offer.
Day 3: Bonus!
Morning: City Market
Depending on your schedule, you might have an extra morning to fill during your 2 day visit to Kansas City. In that case, hop in the car and head down to the riverfront area just north of downtown. The City Market is Kansas City’s main farmer’s market with daily produce available, as well as a number of stores that surround the market. The Tikka House, in particular, is worth a stop thanks to their amazing Indian food and bulk spices.
Also nearby is the riverfront area. For a nice view of the Kansas City skyline, Kaw Point sits at the confluence of two rivers and pays homage to Lewis & Clark with a heritage trail. Its small park has beautiful large trees and nice pathways for a leisurely way to end your 48 hour trip to Kansas City.
Where to Eat in Kansas City
While KC may be well known for its barbeque, that is by no means the only type of cuisine you can eat on your two day visit to Kansas City. There is an abundance of great restaurants and watering holes in KCMO. As a foodie, I think Kansas City is one of the most underrated culinary destinations in the USA! This is definitely a city with deep culinary roots that have been refined over the years, and I can almost guarantee you will eat well here. Because there are so many restaurants and eateries worth mentioning, I created an entire food guide dedicated to helping you discover the best restaurants in Kansas City.
Where to Stay in Kansas City
Hotel Phillips is a stylish spot in a good location, with a subterranean speakeasy and an inviting lobby lounge with a shuffleboard table. The Ambassador Kansas City is a charming Art Deco option inside a 1906 bank building, serving up a healthy dose of sophistication. For a splurge, stay at the Rafael Hotel, a historic Renaissance revival hotel originally opened in 1928. For more affordable accommodations, check out the 816 Hotel in Old Westport. This modern hotel is an homage to KCMO, with rooms themed with different icons from the city’s history.
This post was originally published in October 2018 and updated in January 2021.
Do you have thoughts or questions about this KC travel guide? Tell me in the comments.
Share this story