Kansas City is home of the mundane and the magnificent. Former President Harry Truman grew up just 10 miles east of Cow Town, in America's heartland, and despite his mandate that no roads, bridges or buildings be named for him, legacy reminders live on in the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and National Historic Site, as well as the Truman Sports Complex.
Sited along the Mississippi and Kansas Rivers, the City of Fountains is steeped in a rich history that includes stockyards, trains and even a little Walt Disney magic.
If the Heart of America is calling, check out these 5 travel tips from GET.com to get more for your money in Kansas City.
Using Kayak and checking date ranges 3 days before and after our target dates, we discovered that Tuesdays had our most economical round-trip nonstop fares from Philadelphia.
A set of American Airlines basic economy, or Choice, tickets was $222, with convenient morning takeoff times and travel less than 3 hours each way. Had we been willing to depart on a Thursday and return on Tuesday, we could have gotten that down to $168, but departing on Friday and returning on Sunday would have cost at least $391. Choice Essential fares started at $338, with most running closer to $700. Choice Plus averaged closer to $850, and first class fares ran $900 to $1,200.
From Las Vegas' McCarran International, our best nonstop fare had a redeye Thursday departure and early morning Wednesday return on Spirit for $97. Our next-best option was still with Spirit but traveled on Saturdays at similar takeoff times for $112. After that, Spirit fares went to $165, with American following up at $240. Shifting over to Spirit's website, we found that our flight was eligible for $9 Fare Club discounts, so members could fly for $34 each way. We were able to reduce our total to $87. By the way, Monday-departure-Friday-return round trips started at $267.
From Boise, Idaho, in our country's northwestern corner, Wednesdays were our best day for travel, with our lowest fare $357. Nonstop wasn't an option, but early morning United flights kept time under 5 hours each way despite quick plane changes in Denver. Had we wanted to depart on Tuesday and return on Sunday (which can sometimes be an economical strategy) our basic economy ticket would have cost at least $390. Checking on upgrade strategies, we could easily have paid double, with flexible tickets exceeding $1,000, a minimal first class fare closer to $800 and travel durations lasting 8 or 9 hours.
If your credit card gives you complimentary travel insurance, free checked baggage or discounts on in-flight expenses, make sure to take full advantage of these. In the GET.com guide to finding cheap flights, we list a number of other ways to get cheaper flights.
Affordable LodgingImage courtesy of IHG.
If you're determined to stay in the Power and Light District, be prepared to pay for the privilege, starting around a minimum $200 a night for a room with one double bed. A king room with a refundable booking often starts at $250 a night and two double beds at least $220, with the only perk free Wi-Fi; parking is likely to cost extra. Several blocks distant, Hampton Inn and Comfort Inn both started between $120 and $130 – $10 more for refundable bookings – but at least they provided a king bed and free breakfast.
For Country Club Plaza frequenters, the Best Western Plus Seville Plaza Hotel had deals starting at $105 a night – about half of what nearby hotels were charging. You could get a room with two queen beds and free breakfast, in-room Wi-Fi, amenities and parking for $860 for the week with taxes and fees.
Since quality affordable hotels seemed to be hard to find, we checked on BedandBreakfast.com's listings. We could stay at some charming B&Bs in nearby Independence, Parkville, Pleasant Hill or Kansas City starting around $100, sometimes less. All were well-reviewed and beautifully appointed, and most had Wi-Fi and "bountiful breakfasts." One just a bit more expensive ($125 a night) and a few more miles out was at a vineyard.
Rounding out our options, we checked Airbnb for private individuals' rental offerings (and a chance to redeem our American Express Membership Rewards for an Airbnb stay.
Think big rambling arts and crafts homes with beautiful guest suites for around $60 to $70 a night. We could stay for $475 to $550 for the week in accommodations able to handle up to five people. An entire, stunningly decorated vintage condo near Roanoke Park was $102 a night (under $800 for the week) and in high demand. All had excellent reviews, Wi-Fi, laundry access and free parking.
Finding vegan in a stockyard town can be difficult, but Mud Pie Vegan Bakery & Coffee on West 39th Street is allergy-sensitive and health-conscious. They roast their coffee themselves, and baked goods cover the full gamut, from cakes, cupcakes and muffins to savory scones, stuffed pretzels, biscotti and bars.
Downtown, on Southwest Boulevard, The Mixing Bowl Noshery loads plates with farm favorites for breakfast, lunch and dinner, providing a wide selection while keeping prices under $10. From rashers of bacon, loaded hashers and scratch flapjack stacks to swirl-bread sandwiches, supper platters or bowls of fresh fruit, it's a go-to spot.
Also downtown, on Gillis Street, Happy Gillis Café & Hangout offers craft breakfast and lunch fare, with most under $10; the "Everything Salmon" with soft egg and crème fraîche is $11. You can order a pastrami sandwich or a kale Caesar and accompany it with your choice of beer, bubbles, cocktails or other assorted beverages.
For serious barbeque in one of America's Barbeque capitals, we'll start you off with 3 that offer great taste for money, but don't hesitate to conduct your own barbeque survey:
- Smokin' Guns BBQ on Swift Avenue in North Kansas City "took the Grand Champion title at the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue contest" in 1999. You can order single plates or platters for four, six or eight people.
- Woodyard Bar-B-Que on Merriam Lane across the Kansas state line serves up baby-backs and spares, with half a slab under $11. Choose up to three meats from the famed burnt ends, pulled pork, brisket, turkey, sausage or ham, and savor.
- RJ's Bob-Be-Que Shack in suburb Mission, Kansas, highlights its "Really Big Rib and Meat Platter." It's $23.95 and meant for sharing, with "a huge portion of meat" – "four St. Louis-style ribs" and three smoked meats. Assorted platters for one run $11 to $15.
A good restaurant credit card and a wad of small cash are must-brings for any serious food lover. Check Groupon for deals if you like to book your meals in advance.
Things To Do
For art lovers, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art on Warwick Boulevard is always free. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art also has free admission every day, but the parking garage costs $8, and some exhibits may have a fee.
At Hallmark's Kaleidoscope at Crown Center, junior artists can turn surplus Hallmark supplies into craft projects. You can see and book available sessions on the website for groups of 15 or more for nothing. Otherwise, free tickets are available on a first-come daily basis. If you're there during winter months, you can take a few turns on the Crown Center Ice Terrace; admission is $6, and skates are $3, but Two-for-One Tuesdays are a bargain.
The Kansas City Northern Railroad at Line Creek Park is a volunteer organization dedicated to restoring, preserving and operating "fine antique miniature trains." Their three main trains originated at zoos in Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Binghamton, New York. The railroad is open on Saturdays and Sundays and by scheduled charter.
Financially minded teens may enjoy the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and an inside view of international wheat commodity trading at the Kansas City Board of Trade on Main Street. Also open for free tours are the Harley-Davidson Vehicle and Powertrain Operations on North Congress Avenue and the Boulevard Brewing Company on Southwest Boulevard. You can also walk real estate developer Hunt Midwest's SubTropolis underground industrial site from 8300 Northeast Underground Drive; the tunnels extend for miles, providing workspace for many well-known companies.
For the nature-minded, Lakeside Nature Center in Swope Park has a wildlife rehabilitation center; you can visit birds of prey, learn about Missouri wildlife, and explore the park's trails and disc golf course. William M. Klein Park, also known as Cave Spring Park, has fantastic hiking trails. Enjoy the nature center, water garden, pond, waterfall, cave and historic ruins, or view the new Truman Room. Kessler Park has a disc golf course, and its Cliff Drive – a state scenic byway – closes to vehicle traffic Friday at 2 p.m. until Monday morning at 8 in favor of walkers, runners and bicyclists.
In fact, the westbound lane is always dedicated to bike and pedestrian traffic. Have your camera ready for pictures at the Colonnade and its John F. Kennedy Memorial. Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens charges a mere $3 for adults and $1 for kids, but the G-scale Train Garden alone is worth it. Check the website for scheduled special events like the Kite Fest, Grandparents Day Concert, Hedge Apple Day or Holiday Luminary Walk.
If you're willing to plan your visit around saving, it's worth noting that on the first full weekend of each month, Bank of America credit card holders can enjoy free entry at the National World War I Museum And Memorial. The Science City, a science center at Union Center designed to make science an interactive experience for kids, also participates in Bank of America's Museums on Us® program.
Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead is a 1900s-style farm set up for children less than 20 minutes from downtown. While general admission is just $2, the farm's $3 wagon rides, $3 pony rides, $8 mining camp, $3 fishing pond and $1 bottles of milk to feed the baby goats can add up quickly. If you go, the combination package for $12 provides one of each, but your wallet will still have to survive the general store, ice cream parlor and other food concessions, as no outside food is permitted. It's a great place to have fun with the kids, but keep your wallet tight or bring a limited amount of cash.
Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, Crown Center Shops, Power and Light District, Union Station and City Market are all high-entertainment venues, but they're also saturated in financial temptation. Strolling and browsing can cost nothing, something or everything, depending on your traveling companions' inclinations.
Keeping that in mind, however, on Third Fridays from 5:30 p.m. to 9, the Englewood Station Arts District hosts a free art walk. It's a great opportunity to enjoy free live music, entertainment and exhibits, and maybe a few small Kansas City treats, too.