Ideal long weekend? Visit a great All-American city. Stay in an exquisitely renovated boutique hotel. Dine on fabulous ribs, cupcakes, steaks and artisan chocolates. Gaze upon a dynamic skyline.
Take in a pro baseball game. Wander through upscale shops along the water. Play 18 holes on an iconic course. See some incredible museums. Play a few slot machines. Listen to jazz. Does that sound like heaven? It is. Kansas City - heaven on earth!
We flew into the City of Fountains (no one knows exactly how many there are but more than 200) and checked into the delightful Raphael Hotel. Originally constructed in 1927 as the Villa Serena Apartments, the building was renovated in 1975, retaining the Spanish and Mediterranean style of the nearby Country Club shopping area.
Two courtyards and Italian art greet guests who stop to munch on complimentary gourmet cookies as they come and go. Our grand room was thoughtful in every way - from artistic brushed aluminum lamps to the heavy carved wooden desk to crisp high-thread cotton sheets. We had three sitting areas in our spacious room and our closet had a window! Chaz on the Plaza, the hotel's lovely restaurant, provided an amazing steak, with shrimp and grits and truffle mac and cheese as sides. Breakfast was scrumptious, too.
Watching the Kansas City Royals vs. Arizona Diamondbacks at Kauffman Stadium on a sunny, cool afternoon was delightful. I particularly admired the crown-shaped scoreboard. After the game, we headed over to the AmeriStar casino for some evening gambling. The hotel-casino is one of the largest in the U.S. and offers both slots and table games. Yes, I won!
Kansas City is home to the stunning, and free, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. This impressive museum showcases thoughtful and interesting special exhibits while proudly featuring its permanent collection from every culture, especially Asian, and period of the world, spanning over 5,000 years. Effort is made to offer interactive elements, all the modern (mobile apps) technology and the 430,000 annual visitors enjoy numerous tours, concerts, lectures, discussions and classes.
You can't come to Kansas City without trying the world famous barbecue. There are more than 100 BBQ serving restaurants in the city and we managed to try two: Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue at the Freight House and Gates Bar-B-Q. Gates is a third-generation, family-owned casual place where every plate is piled high with all the favorites. Jack Stack is a bit more upscale and rated as No. 1 in the U.S. by Zagat's. Every sauce, soup, salad dressing, vegetable dish and dessert is made from scratch. The barbecue is tender and tasty at both.
For those who may shrug at modern art, just this once, try it. Spend an hour at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and you will be charmed. The exhibits are in manageable sizes and change frequently. One featured artist is thoughtfully prominent. And it's free. We loved lunch at Cafe Sebastienne where truly exceptional cuisine is served among 110 canvases which hang together as one large presentation called "The History of Art." The sleek exterior of the Kemper was designed by Gunnar Birkerts who also designed Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
The only museum in the U.S. dedicated to World War I is in Kansas City. The "Great War" changed the world forever as 36 nations eventually joined the first global conflict which took the lives of 9 million people. Visitors experience the war through smart interactive exhibits, more than 75,000 artifacts and rare objects, evocative photographs and moving eyewitness accounts. The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial opened beneath the Liberty Monument Tower (take in the sweeping view from the top) in December 2006. The centennial of WWI will occur in 2018; the museum has many commemorative events planned. Hard to believe, but after that wonderful day, there was more to come.
At the very famous corner of 18th & Vine, where history has been made many times in this iconic "Jazz District," we stepped into the cool and mellow American Jazz Museum's Blue Room for drinks and jazz. The Blue Room is a museum by day and a working jazz club four nights a week. The music can only be described as a magical tonic for the soul. I'd still be sitting there if we hadn't made dinner reservations at the trendy, elegant American Restaurant where a quick elevator ride takes you to the top of downtown. Wow - the view! Bartender Willie Grandsion served us his award-winning "Stinging Bee" cocktails, a thrilling prelude to the steak dinners prepared by James Beard Award-winning Chef Debbie Gold. We ended the day with a walk in the cool evening air around the Country Club Plaza, just a block from our hotel. The Plaza is filled with Spanish architecture, hundreds of upscale shops and restaurants and numerous fountains. Hardier souls than we were enjoying the plush bars, nightclubs and outdoor cafes. All we could manage was to share a tiny and perfect salty carmella cupcake from Cupcake A La Mode and head for the room.
The next day, Larry drove over to Leawood South Country Club located throughout the beautiful rolling hills of southern Leawood, Kansas. Architect Bob Dunning designed the 18-hole championship golf course that provides a great challenge for all levels of play. Leawood South also offers an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a variety of social activities for the entire family. Ask for pro Ryan Fitzpatrick. Meanwhile, I dashed into Christopher Elbow Chocolates where delectable little works of chocolate art are admired and then poof - they disappear! Next was the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, a thrilling glass structure (a glass roof and glass walls) which is just a year old. The privately owned facility has two performance spaces and is home to the Kansas City Symphony, the Kansas City Ballet and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.
Next, I spent an hour at Webster House; the building, a former public school building, is a now beautiful and elegant restaurant and shop. I drooled over the jewelry and antiques. Quite unexpectedly, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum proved to be my Kansas City favorite. Even if you don't particularly like baseball, the whole family will find this treasure trove of artifacts and photos (95 percent donated by players or their families) of the history of the Negro Leagues fascinating. Visitors enter an old ballpark, "The Field of Legends," where nine of the greats of history stand immortalized, ready for the next crack of the bat.
I came away impressed in many ways but particularly at the business savvy, persistence and innovation of the early baseball team owners. Before we flew home, we drove to Independence to admire the Harry S. Truman Home Historic Site and the Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Does it sound like a cliché to say they just don't make them like that anymore? The frugal Trumans supposedly never threw anything away and lived at 219 North Delaware for 53 years. After he left the White House, which he called "The Great White Jail," they returned there and lived out their lives. Bess Truman's kitchen clock is still running; their rotary dial phone shows their number (816-252-7107) and their 1972 Newport is parked in the garage.
The farm where Truman grew up is 20 miles south of town but the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum is just a few blocks away. "The Buck Stops Here" is probably the most famous saying of Truman's and denotes the strong sense of personal responsibility he had. He had plenty of serious decisions - he formally recognized Israel because "it was the right thing to do," desegregated the U.S. military, organized and sustained the Berlin Airlift and wrenchingly decided to drop the two atomic bombs on Japan. Truman walked to the museum six days a week for 10 years. You can hear his personally recorded welcome message near the beginning of the tour.
Our Kansas City weekend was filled with enjoyable activities; hard to believe, but there is much more we didn't do. If you plan a visit, be sure to use the resources of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association by calling 800-767-7700 or online at VisitKC.com.