8 Kansas City Neighborhoods for Exploring the “City of Fountains” Like a Local
For travelers in search of a vibrant destination with culture, diversity, and personality, Kansas City hits all the marks. This bustling metropolitan city boasts storied history—as seen in its legendary jazz and blues clubs, museums, and sports arenas—plus a thriving restaurant scene, wide-open green spaces, and fun for all ages.
Known as the “City of Fountains” (it’s home to more than 200 of them), Kansas City teems with public parks and landscape architecture that lend themselves to gathering. It’s a place that breeds intercultural exchange by design, where people can pursue a kaleidoscope of interests—perhaps nowhere so well reflected as in the city’s vibrant neighborhoods. Here’s our take on local areas that will immerse you in this thriving Midwestern destination for an experience that goes beyond the surface of Kansas City.
Country Club Plaza
This 15-block stretch channels European vibes with its Spanish-inspired architecture, busy cafés, and dozens of fountains. One of the city’s most recognizable fountains—featuring four fierce horsemen who represent the Mississippi, Volga, Seine, and Rhine Rivers—welcomes visitors at the east entrance.
Country Club Plaza is known for its retail scene. Go local at Made in KC, a co-op filled with goods made by Kansas City makers. Cultural highlights include the nearby Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where visitors can view 5,000 years of human history, and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, whose award-winning Café Sebastienne serves creative, seasonal dishes.
Within the Country Club Plaza shopping district is Prime Social, whose lively rooftop lounge offers fantastic views of the area—with craft cocktails and a creative menu to match. For a sleek, sophisticated rooftop vibe, check out Parker at the Fontaine for small plates of elevated American classics. And a dreamy way to round out your time here is with a uniquely Kansas City experience, a Venetian-style gondola ride along Brush Creek.
Power & Light
Kansas City’s downtown is consistently rated among the best in the U.S., thanks to its expert revitalization plan. Located just east of the iconic Power & Light Building (the former headquarters of the Kansas City Power & Light Company) this part of town is the pièce de résistance of a $10 billion investment in the area.
Don’t miss the New York-style bagels, lox, and homemade schmears at Meshuggah Bagels for breakfast, then as the day moves on, post up at KC Live!, a sprawling two-story entertainment labyrinth that spans an entire city block. This is the hot spot for Chiefs and Royals watch parties, dining, or as a jumping-off spot for a night of dancing and club-hopping.
An ideal home base during your stay is Hotel Kansas City. Established as the Kansas City Social Club in 1882, it was originally a premier gathering spot for the KC business community. Design details chronicle the city’s history and in 2002, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, visitors can kick back in its luxurious guest rooms and soak up the energy emanating from the heart of the city. The onsite restaurant, The Town Company, makes a worthy spot for celebrating special occasions.
A hallmark of Kansas City is the historic River Market, which dates to the 1850s. In addition to hosting an impressive farmer’s market—one of the largest and longest-lasting in the nation— and residential lofts, on weekends, it’s home to restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, international markets, and some of the city’s most innovative small businesses.
Visitors can also tour the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which displays thousands of artifacts from the Arabia, a massive steamboat that sank nearby on the Missouri River in 1856. Hop on the free KC Streetcar and enjoy the scenery on the way to the next fun stop.
Crown Center District
Billed as a “city within a city” this family-friendly neighborhood boasts sites and activities for kids of all ages. Visitors will notice the heavy Hallmark presence as Crown Center is the location of the legendary greeting card company’s world headquarters.
Let kids unleash their curiosity and creativity at LEGOLAND Discovery Center, SEA LIFE aquarium, the Federal Reserve Money Museum, and Union Station, an historic train station that houses a children’s science center, theaters, educational exhibits, and more. Plus, a variety of creative, family-friendly restaurants is never more than a few steps away.
18th & Vine Historic Jazz District
One of KC’s many claims to fame is its legacy as a jazz and blues hub. In fact, UNESCO designated it a “City of Music”—the only U.S. city to receive the honor—in 2017. In the 18th & Vine neighborhood, musicians and music lovers will feel right at home.
Immerse yourself in music history at the American Jazz Museum, where visitors can enjoy listening stations, practice mixing on custom soundboards, and even see Charlie Parker’s saxophone, a gift to the museum from former President Bill Clinton. The museum opens its legendary Blue Room to local, national, and international talent in the evenings. Another classic blues spot is Mutual Musicians Foundation, where guests are welcome to bring their own instruments and join in on late-night jam sessions.
Next door to the American Jazz Museum is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which chronicles the history and heroes of the leagues from their origin after the Civil War to when they folded in the 1960s. Round out your experience with any of several notable restaurants that call 18th & Vine home, including Arthur Bryant’s (a favorite destination for barbecue fans ranging from presidents to A-list celebrities) and Soiree Steak & Oyster House, whose incredibly decadent menu—think upscale Southern with a heavy seafood selection—will blow even the most discerning diner’s mind. Vine Street Brewing Co., KC’s first Black-owned brewery, opens its doors this summer.
The Crossroads Arts District
If 18th & Vine is the musician’s haven, the Crossroads Arts District is its visual arts counterpart. Along with larger-than-life murals, visitors will find a plethora of galleries and art venues, many of which once served as industrial warehouses which sat vacant for years. First Fridays is a lively monthly event with pop-up galleries, food trucks, art sales, and music where visitors can meander through the galleries, sip wine, and nibble on refreshments served by many along the way.
The Crossroads also has excellent shops and cafés, and if rooftops are your thing, you’re in luck. One of the best rooftop bars in the city, Percheron, is located atop the gorgeous Crossroads Hotel. Here you can sip artisan cocktails and snack on small plates as you take in the city views. For a daytime rooftop scene, head to Messenger Coffee Co., where young professionals soak in sunshine and city views, ethically-sourced beans, and on chilly mornings, the outdoor fireplace.
At Up-Down KC, guests 21 and older can play more than 50 arcade games from the ‘80s and ‘90s, pinball machines, classic Skee-Ball alleys, Nintendo 64 console gaming, and life-size Jenga and Connect Four, while sipping on cold craft beer. All games cost just 25 cents, making this an economical, nostalgic, and stand-out activity for all.
North Kansas City
For a slightly slower, more outdoorsy experience away from the hustle and bustle, North Kansas City is an oasis with public parks, green spaces, and dog-friendly options. Macken Park, a 60-acre crowd-pleasing park, has tennis, basketball, soccer, and baseball facilities, plus playgrounds for the kids. Another option if your babies happen to have fur and paws, Waggin’ Trail Off-Leash Dog Park is a doggie paradise with walking trails, an agility course, tunnel runs, and ADA water fountains.
A good lunch or brunch spot in the neighborhood is Chicken N Pickle. Here, visitors can play pickleball—America’s fastest-growing sport—a mashup of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. The chef-driven, chicken-focused menu and multiple pickleball courts live up to the venue’s name. But health-conscious diners will find plenty to eat here, too, like the Skinny Cobb Salad and savory Brussels sprouts with maple-bacon vinaigrette and pickled mustard seeds. Yard games, outdoor tables, a rooftop terrace, fire pits, and big screens are available as well for you and your crew to enjoy some quality hangout time.
You’ll also find plenty of breweries, distilleries, and activities in this area. Take a self-guided wine tasting at Sail Away Wine or meander through Cultivar, a bustling food hall and entertainment venue. Here you can nosh on vegan hot dogs and smash burgers at Dead Beet Eats, indulge your inner kid with plant-based ice cream at Sweet EMOtion, or sip coffee from one of the area’s most popular local roasters at Post Coffee Co.
The Iron District is a retail, dining, and shopping venue focused on local startups. Constructed from colorful repurposed shipping containers, this family-friendly complex boasts an airy outdoor food court and popup vendor shows on select weekends.
Every major metro area has its up-and-coming hotspot, and for KC, that’s West Bottoms. Formerly a stockyard and industrial area, it’s now a magnet for those that love the hunt with its many thrift shops and antique stores. On First Weekends, shop owners and cafés open their doors for locals and visitors to revel in the festive atmosphere.
You can also admire the century-old architecture of the former Daily Drover Telegram Newspaper building while sipping on house-made wines at Amigoni Urban Winery or enjoy a classic cocktail bar atmosphere with stellar food and nightly musical entertainment (like rare record parties) at The Ship. For a quintessential Kansas City dining experience, check out Golden Ox, a classic steakhouse where decadent sides like lobster mac and cheese and grilled broccolini are as impressive as the house-aged-and-cut meats.
The neighborhood, like all of Kansas City, is one of those rare destinations that makes tourists feel, well, not so much like tourists. Instead, visitors are invited on an immersive journey that can take many turns. From sports, nightlife, and fantastic dining to legendary jazz and blues clubs and impressive outdoor spaces, there’s an abundance of reasons to put KC at the top of your list of U.S. destinations to visit next.