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Midwest Living
Midwest Living
5 Aug 2023
Allison Vancura


Memorial Tower Kansas City

A tunnel of trees bows in greeting as my husband and I enter the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden in Kansas City, Missouri. Locals conversing with friends or with noses buried in novels perch on wooden benches tucked between painstakingly cultivated beds. This October mid-morning visit is our first, yet something feels sentimental about the spheres of yellow and fuchsia mums, meandering brick paths, and graceful fountains. A few beats pass, and then we smile at each other in a cheesy, light bulb moment of recognition: This regal oasis down the road from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art reminds us of the Sunken and Italian gardens at Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, which we visited on our honeymoon almost four years ago to the day.

Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden

The memorial garden's design was inspired by the parks the Kauffmans, notable Kansas City philanthropists, encountered on their world travels. Today, KCMO's warmth and worldly influences can be felt through its burgeoning global restaurant scene and history-steeped neighborhoods that host more activities than we can fit into our weekend stay.

Droves of visitors are in town for a marathon, the Chiefs game, a Lizzo concert and fall festivals. At Cornucopia, a family-friendly carnival in the Power and Light District, parents bounce babies on hips to the rhythm of oldies, and the air smells like funnel cakes and barbecue. A crowd reverently gathers around a stage where an artist leans over a pumpkin as tall as my torso. I, too, fall under his spell and watch a row of jagged teeth emerge as it transforms into a monster.

Mural-splashed buildings signal our arrival in Crossroads Arts District, a creative enclave just south of downtown representing more than 400 local artists. Best explored on foot, the district's hyper-concentrated gallery and studio scene is the main draw, but you can also peruse eclectic vintage and wares shops, catch a stand-up show, or kick back at a distillery. 

Baba's Pantry Kansas City
Baba's Pantry Kansas City
Left: Yahia Kamal ("Baba") | Credit: Carson Downing
Right: Baba's Pantry | Credit: Carson Downing

When we pull up at Baba's Pantry, a tiny Palestinian deli on the south side, the line is out the door, and my stomach is rumbling so loudly it could disturb the underworld. It's a minor miracle that we poach a snug, upholstered bench by the refrigerator to wait for our shawarma and fries. A quiet voice behind me says, "You're in my office." Before I can spring up to apologize, Baba himself smiles warmly and says, "Best seat in the house." I couldn't agree more. 

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Kansas City

What to Do

You don't have to be a history buff to appreciate the National WWI Museum and Memorial. Catch powerful exhibits like Bespoke Bodies: The Design and Craft of Prosthetics, which explores innovations in prosthetic design, through April 2024. After visiting the museum, ride the elevator to the top of the 217-foot-tall Liberty Memorial Tower to see the city (and fall colors) from a spectacular vantage point.

The 22-acre park around the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a popular spot in the fall for minigolf and leaf-peeping among sculptures—including works like a cast of Rodin's The Thinker by Alexis Rudier. Inside, see more than 100 vintage photographs of American and European cities in Evelyn Hofer: Eyes on the City. (Exhibit opens September 16.) 

About a half-mile south of the museum, the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden features local and exotic botanicals, gathering spaces, an orangery and sculptural fountains.

Duet Kansas City
Verdant Kansas City
Left: Duet | Credit: Carson Downing
Right: Verdant | Credit: Carson Downing

Galleries, boutiques and award-winning restaurants speckle the Crossroads Arts District. Find houseplants and botanical-themed gifts at Verdant and a beautiful assortment of home decor and accessories at Duet. On the first Friday of every month, the district transforms into a full-blown street party with art and food vendors. 

Grünauer Kansas City

Where to Eat and Drink

Perennially packed Mildred's satisfies with hearty breakfast sandwiches (served in pie tins), invigorating coffee drinks and delectable baked goods. The line may seem long, but it moves fast. 

Once a humble freight house, Grünauer has been transformed into one of the city's most romantic fine-dining spots. Elevated pork schnitzel, Hungarian gulasch (goulash) and apple strudel transport you to Austria with each bite. A tipple is a thrilling mixology course (black pepper and mustard vodka with pickle and beet juice, anyone?). If beer's more your speed, find more than a dozen German and Austrian varieties on tap.

Cherry red-framed paintings adorn spice-colored walls at Baba's Pantry. The counter-service joint is best known for its delectable Palestinian dishes—comfort dishes like falafel, shawarma and baba ghanoush—but don't leave without stocking up on pickled veggies, spreads and sweets in to-go containers. 

On fall evenings at La Bodega, patio diners cozy up around firepits with Spanish tapas, paella and Rioja. 

Casual Animal Brewing, Kansas City

Tap into your wild side at Casual Animal Brewing Company. Inside this urban jungle, plants cascade from the ceiling, murals overtake walls, and there's guaranteed to be a heated shuffleboard match—all set to a score of hip-hop from the early 2000s. Look for the Local Motive beer on tap; a portion of proceeds from each pour supports a local nonprofit.

Seasonal brews—like Cinnamon Bun Ale, Nutcracker Ale, and Cranberry Apple Cinnamon Hard Seltzer—draw visitors to Boulevard Brewing Company's beer hall, located across the street from the brewery.

21c Museum Hotel Kansas City

Where to Stay

Not far from the Power and Light District, 21c Museum Hotel feels like a boutique hotel and an art gallery got hitched. Catch free exhibits on the main and second floors, plus original works in each room. 

The former home of Pabst Brewing Depot was reimagined as Crossroads Hotel, an industrial-cool 131-room boutique hotel in the Crossroads Arts District—complete with a seasonal rooftop bar.