May/Jun 2014 Issue
Kansas City, Kan., has stepped out of the shadows into spotlight.
Danish author Hans Christian Andersen wrote the story of Kansas City, Kan., although he didn’t know it at the time. Just like the famous author’s ugly duckling, this city on the Kansas side of the metropolis often came up short when being compared to Kansas City, Mo.
But in the last 12 years, Kansas City, Kan., (KCK) has blossomed into a veritable swan, a compelling destination with 400 acres of shopping, a NASCAR speedway, and so much to do that you might want to throw a couple extra outfits in your suitcase. You’ll be tempted to extend your stay.
In one long weekend, you could take in a NASCAR race, attend a T-Bones minor league baseball game, drive a Lamborghini around the professional track, catch a comedy show, and find so many shopping bargains that your Pinterest account could get jammed.
“Until we snatched the (Kansas) Speedway from Missouri, KCK was considered the black eye of the metro. Since 2002, when it opened, we have just gone through the roof,” says Bridgette Jobe, executive director of the Kansas City Kansas Convention & Visitors Bureau. “KCK is now a veritable destination with more than 10 million visitors per year.”
And it just keeps getting better.
In 2014, Kansas Speedway will host its first Sprint Cup Series night race on May 10. Nearby at Schlitterbahn Kansas City, what’s being billed as the world’s highest water slide will open this summer.
There’s also a Hollywood Casino, the Legends Outlets Mall (where you’re invited on a scavenger hunt to find famous Kansas musicians, athletes, and Nobel Prize winners), loads of restaurants, and the Sporting Kansas City soccer franchise that in 2013 won the MLS World Cup.
For the adrenaline seekers
Ever since October 1901, when a 63-year-old Michigan schoolteacher survived a plunge down Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel, daredevils have been dreaming up schemes to ride down the 167-foot monster waterfall.
In May, Schlitterbahn Kansas City is opening a waterslide that’s actually several feet taller. And while it’s illegal to mount an expedition down Niagara these days, anyone with the guts to climb the 264 stairs can make the 17-story drop on the Verrückt water slide, which means “insane” in German.
A suite place to stay
There’s a reason readers of this magazine chose the Chateau Avalon at Village West as one of the top boutique hotels in the Midwest (Best of the Midwest 2012). It looks more like a French chateau set in the countryside than a hotel in Village West, a retail, dining, and entertainment development. Each of 61 suites is one-of-a-kind, designed by owner Steve Beaumont who visited with many banks before finally convincing one that rooms themed for ancient Rome, Camelot, or an African safari would fly in the middle of a Kansas cornfield. Each suite has a two-person Jacuzzi. Breakfast is served in bed.
Chateau Avalon also has a spa, an Egyptian-themed wine bar called d’Nile, and Kansas City’s largest fountain.
For the history buffs
For all its new-fangled attractions, KCK is not bereft of history. Be sure to schedule some time in Strawberry Hill, KCK’s historic Slavic neighborhood that’s perched provocatively on bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers. In the late 1800s, masses of eastern European immigrants settled here to work the meat packing plants. Today, this charming neighborhood with its brick sidewalks and old churches is home to third- and fourth-generation Croatians.
Depending on the weekend, the tearoom at the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center, nestled inside a stately Queen Anne Victorian home, features authentic eastern European desserts. The tearoom is open weekends only from 1 to 4 p.m. Take cash; credit and debit cards are not accepted.
The accompanying museum has all sorts of fascinating, one-of-a-kind exhibits. For example, view the bed that Pope John Paul II, the first Polish pontiff, used on his three tours of the United States. It’s here, with the linens, pillows, table, and footstool that were used on the Shepherd 1, the plane that was customized for his American visits.
While in the neighborhood, stop by Kaw Point Riverfront Park for spectacular views, wooded trails, wildflowers, a boat ramp, and even more history. In 1806, Lewis and Clark camped for three days at Kaw Point to rest, repair their boats, and invoke martial law on a couple crewmembers who were illicitly drinking whiskey from the community barrel.
There’s an outdoor theater with limestone seats and a pavilion for learning more about this piece of land that was claimed by Spain, then France, before becoming part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Where Zagat sends barbecue lovers
It’s hard to decide which is longer–the line of Saturday afternoon customers at Oklahoma Joe’s or the list of accolades that tout this barbecue joint as the nation’s best. None other than the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain included it on his list of “13 places to eat before you die.”
Owners Jeff and Joy Stehney now have two other locations in the Kansas City metro. Jeff Stehney, who started the restaurant after their barbecue team (Slaughterhouse Five) kept winning all the summer competitions, says, “Our ambition was never to be the biggest. We only wanted to be the best.”
And you’re sure to have the best time visiting KCK this spring or summer
Pam Grout is a contributor from Lawrence, Kan.
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