Kansas City, MO: A Budget Traveler's Midwest Paradise

by  Tommy Burson | Jul 18, 2014
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri / iStock

While vacationers often gravitate toward coastal paradises, America’s heartland is often missed as a vacation -- except for those on the Kerouacian road-trip. But Kansas City is ripe for exploration, firstly because it's a mere three-hour flight from either coast. It's also one of the cheapest Midwest destinations to fly into -- airfare is competitive because no airline has a hub and major claim there. Secondly, KC has tons to offer on countless cultural fronts, from its historic jazz foundation to epic barbecue spots to trendy boutiques galore. If you need proof, consider this: Both Google and Lego love the city enough to use it as fertile testing grounds (Google Fiber and Legoland, respectively). The cherry on top? All of the below adventures will hardly dent your wallet.

The Eats: With arguably the best BBQ in the nation, Kansas City locals argue which restaurant serves the best of this smoky delicacy. Among the top contenders, Jack Stack has gathered a very loyal following, thanks to its specialty of expounding upon traditional KC bbq by incorporating a European flair. Here, go with a “Burnt Ends” dinner, a full plate of bite-size barbecue beef, ham, pork, or sausage, for $15.95. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Oklahoma Joe’s relies on rustic appeal. Having transformed a corner gas station into an award winning restaurant, it prides on turning the worst cuts of meat into delectable dishes. Here, you’d be crazy if you ordered anything without a side of ribs, particularly the brisket ($13.49). And, vegans, don't despair -- FüD has a meatless barbecue sandwich featuring jackfruit for you. To cobble together an entire BBQ trail, other local favorites are: Gates and Sons, Arthur Bryant's, BB's Lawnside, Hayward's Pit, Brobekc's, Fiorella's, R.J.'s, Rosedale, LC's, and Danny Edwards.

The Beats: Responsible for the transformation from structured, big band jazz to the improvised Bebop style, Kansas City and its all-night lounges on 18th and Vine Streets -- now officially the Historical Jazz District -- has held a critical role in revolutionizing the music genre since the early 1900s. During the Prohibition, the city welcomed greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington, just to name a few. Today, jazz clubs like Blue Room, inside the American Jazz Museum, perform the same Bebop hits as if it’s a speakeasy operating during the ‘30s ($10-$15). For those looking to sip a cocktail in an elegant jazz lounge, Green Lady Lounge covers you with a mixture of mellow and class. Saturday night jazz has no cover, and the cocktails here run strong for roughly $10. And don't forget the Mutual Musicians Foundation, father of the "jam session," which hosts a few free festivals and events throughout the year.

The Sights:  This August marks the 100th anniversary of World War I. Delve into the era at Liberty Memorial, the country’s only WWI museum. Two day passes begin at $14 and include access to the top of the 207 foot Liberty Memorial. From there, it's a convenient distance to the Federal Reserve or Crown Center -- an 85-acre complex that's home to Legoland, the SEA LIFE Aquarium, and Hallmark's Kaleidoscope arts studio, as well as a whole host of shops, restaurants, and theaters. Headlining at Kansas City's Union Station, one of the State's most famous train terminals, is a new King Tut exhibit featuring more than 1,000 treasures replicated by Egyptian craftsmen and a tomb reconstructed to scale (through September 7). It's also the station's 100th anniversary, which will be celebrated with a weekend of live entertainment and education from October 30 to November 2.

The Retreat: Throughout the city, hotel prices tend to be very agreeable. Take for example the Sheraton and Westin Kansas City at Crown Center, built around a natural waterfall right within the Crown Center complex. Coming off $22 million renovation, rooms are $109-$149 in low season and still just $149-$209 at peak times. Both properties are also currently offering a King Tut package from $169 through September, including two tickets to the exhibit, free WiFi, and complimentary parking. They're walking distance to the Power & Light District -- the city's hip new neighborhood for eats and drinks -- but the hotel also provides free transportation within a five mile radius alongside a free shuttle service that runs until midnight.

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