You'll heat up with sizzling barbecue and cool down at the sight of more than 200 fountains when you visit Kansas City, Mo., in the heart of the nation. Much of downtown is undergoing renovation, including, the eight-square-block Kansas City Power & Light District. And then there are the museums, so many and so good that you may have to settle for seeing just a few, and leave some for the next time you're in town.
[photo Hallmark-Visitors-Center max-width=150 align=right]The world's largest greeting card company, Hallmark, has made its headquarters in Kansas City since 1910. Stroll through the free Hallmark Visitors Center to interact with artists at work and see an art collection that includes works by Grandma Moses and Winston Churchill. The Kaleidoscope area schedules free art sessions for kids, ages 5 to 12; reservations are required.
On the University of Missouri campus, the Toy & Miniature Museum of Kansas City operates inside a 33-room mansion. Its magnificent collection of antique Victorian toys, including cast-iron mechanical banks; more than 100 dollhouses featuring the classic and well-used; and artist-made miniatures that chidren have rarely touched are sure to captivate you as much as they do all the kids who enjoy this museum. Museum Educator Laura Taylor says, "I've seen boys stand in front of a dollhouse and just be mesmerized." If possible, visit on Saturday for a guided tour.
[photo Arabia-Steamboat-Museum max-width=150 align=left]In 1856, the side-wheel steamboat Arabia sank in the Missouri River with a hold full of household goods, clothing, rifles, hardware, ceramic dishes, buttons, and more. After being buried for more than 100 years, the steamboat was recovered from its grave beneath a cornfield. Amazingly, the load was in spectacular shape and is now on display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum. It is the world's largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts.
The town's 1914 Union Station is the second-largest railroad depot in the country (New York City's Grand Central Terminal is the largest). It holds two other attractions: Science City, which has a crime lab, helicopter, and dinosaur-bone dig site waiting for kids to explore; and KC Rail Experience, home to a model train layout, a display of antique rail cars, and a train simulator where visitors can play the role of conductor.
[photo National-World-War-I-Museum max-width=150 align=right]The imposing Liberty Memorial tower was consecrated in 1926 to commemorate WWI. The National World War I Museum, opened in 2006, is the first and only U.S. museum dedicated to exhibiting artifacts and memoribilia of WWI. Introducing grandkids to military history gives you the opportunity to shape the discussion. Among the realistic exhibits is a walk-in shell crater. And children can make their own propaganda poster. Take the elevator to the top of the memorial for a 360-degree view of the area.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tells the story of the Leagues' history and the way one of its players, Jackie Robinson, ultimately desegregated Major League baseball when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Exhibits circle a mock baseball field featuring bronze players.
[photo American-Jazz-Museum max-width=150 align=left]In the same complex, the American Jazz Museum pays tribute to the greats. Listening stations allow you to introduce the grandkids to Louis Armstrong, Charlie "Bird" Parker, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald. Designed just for kids, the Wee-Bop Room features hands-on activities and story sessions.
When it's time for kids to let off a little steam, head to the lively College Basketball Experience and shoot some hoops. You can actually get on the floor and shoot. A Kid's Court has appropriate equipment for ages 2 through 9. The museum here houses the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Any of the above indoor venues are worth your time, and all are enjoyable at any time of year. But if you are in K.C. in good weather, plan on some outdoor time at the Kansas City Zoo, the Lakeside Nature Center, and the Cave Spring Interpretive Center.
Best time to visit:
Spring and fall, early and late summer, and early winter. The holiday season is spectacular.
More than 50 million people reach the city in less than one day's driving time. By air, it is a three-hour flight from either coast. Eleven major air carriers fly into Kansas City International Airport (MCI), which is only 25 minutes from downtown.
MAX, Kansas City's rapid bus transit system, takes you quickly to the city's River Market, Crown Center, or Country Club Plaza entertainment districts, and the fare is only $1.50.
Where to Stay:
The whole side of the Marriott Kansas City Downtown lights up outside each night, so you won't have any trouble finding your way back. The luxury Hyatt Regency Crown Center is also well situated to activities, as is the tony downtown Art Deco landmark, Hotel Phillips.
Where to Eat:
Don't miss tasting that famous K.C. barbecue. Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue makes some of the best, and it has a family-friendly atmosphere with plenty of comfy booths. For lunch in the Crown Center, try Fritz's Railroad Restaurant, where you phone in your order from the table and a model train delivers your food, or the Crayola Café, where the food is kid-oriented and everyone has a coloring place mat.
The Toy and Miniature Museum of Kansas City claims to house the largest permanent collection of marbles in the United States.
Jackie Robinson started in the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers, but later played for the Kansas City Monarchs.
For more info, visit the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association.
For tips on reproducing the taste of Kansas City barbecue, try Fire it Up. And those interested in Major League baseball may want to explore baseball's hometown.
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