Kansas City

Big Town on the Prairie

By Mary Pepitone


Artist's map of Kansas CityMost people think there are two Kansas Cities, in Missouri and Kansas. But a visit reveals that there are many more—cities within the city that straddles the state line. Begin at the fast-reviving Kansas City Power and Light district and downtown business district in Kansas City, Missouri, a stone’s throw from the Missouri riverbanks. From the Crossroads arts district at 19th Street, head through historic Westport to the 1920s-era Country Club Plaza, with its Spanish-inspired architecture, to Mission Hills in Kansas, a planned community. Developer J.C. Nichols bragged it was where “the formal meets the frontier.” These differently flavored districts share a passion for the arts, fed by the Kansas City Art Institute and the world-class Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

But for visitors it’s all about experience—and a gentle spelunk through vintage storefronts, galleries, and boutiques. Stopping for barbecue washed down with an artisanal beer, or a farm-to-fork fine dining experience in a classy restaurant, or a picnic harvested from one of the many urban farms and farmers’ markets, will set your compass for a memorable time.

Way downtown—any further and you’d be in the river—is City Market, with a farmers’ market every weekend, and nearby, the kind of old-fashioned general-store-cum-seed-merchant that gardeners love to poke around in. Called Planters Seed and Spice Company, and established in 1924, it still offers a wide range of practical and occasionally peculiar merchandise to the discerning garden shopper.

Head south, and tucked behind the train station and radiating out from the area between 19th and McGee streets is the Crossroads district (and also the area where an Irish farmer named McGee, one of the city’s founding fathers, built a log cabin and further extended the town’s boundaries).

First Friday weekends in the Crossroads are a monthly art festival, with gallery late-evening openings, street food, and live music. Here, too, is the Belger Arts Center; the Belger family’s Cartage Service corporate office is on the second floor of the century-old headquarters building, but the gallery, exhibiting contemporary American art, and the Red Star Studios, specializing in ceramic art, take up the rest of the space.

Just west of downtown is the West Bottoms Business District, where treasure seekers scout vintage shops like Bella Patina, Bottoms Up Antique Market, and Good Ju Ju.