The day after graduating from the University of Missouri, Katy Ryan headed west to Kansas City. More than five years later, the Moon Kansas City author freely proclaims her undying love for a city that continually reinvents itself. Ryan combines her two passions—Kansas City and writing—into covering business, real estate, and lifestyle topics for various publications, including The Kansas City Star. We talked with her about “The Paris of the Plains” and she was happy to fill us in on some insider tips. Enjoy!
Exploring Kansas City with Katy Ryan
1. What about Kansas City attracted you to move there, and what has made you stay?
I grew up in Columbia, and often traveled to Kansas City to visit family. I had no doubt I'd move to Kansas City right after college because I craved a bigger city that wasn't too far from home. Kansas City offers the best of a big city atmosphere—vibrant downtown, constant activities, fabulous shopping and dining—but really is a small town at heart.
2. If you had to choose one barbeque joint for your last plate of ribs (or brisket, or chicken), where would you go and what would you order?
Oh, wow—what a difficult question! Can I combine various barbecue items from several restaurants? I'd have to go to Fiorella's Jack Stack for a big plate of pulled pork and pork ribs with a side of baked beans and spicy barbecue sauce. It's a phenomenal plate of food that encompasses the quintessential flavors of Kansas City's beloved cuisine.
3. If barbeque isn’t your taste, what restaurant would locals recommend?
No matter what cuisine you're craving, Kansas City chefs can dish it up. Some non-barbecue favorites include Waldo Pizza; Happy Gillis (a gourmet sandwich shop); Bluestem (fine dining with a modern flair) and Blanc Burgers + Bottles (try the Boulevard beer-battered cheese curds!) Kansas City also offers a flavorful ethnic food scene—Indian, Ethiopian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Asian, French, Spanish—it's certainly possibly to eat your way through the world without leaving the city limits!
4. You’ve lived through all of the extreme season changes in Kansas City. When is the best time of year to visit?
Because the seasons can be brutal here, I always recommend mid-spring or mid-fall for visits. The weather is typically mild and somewhat dry, and there's enough going on outside so visitors can still take advantage of festivals, parks and al fresco dining. The foliage during both seasons is gorgeous—blooming flowers in the spring, brightly colored leaves in the fall—so make sure to bring your camera!
5. How can visitors’ best experience the benefits of Kansas City’s multibillion-dollar downtown renaissance makeover?
Planning an itinerary that revolves in and around downtown Kansas City is truly the best way to take advantage of the now-thriving area. What was formerly a ghost town has been revived in recent years to boast an entertainment district, new events arena and a number of shops, restaurants and businesses that bring a true local flavor to the urban core. Book a hotel room at the Hilton President, Aladdin or Savoy Hotel and you'll find yourself within walking distance of some of downtown's best attractions. And thanks to a well-connected highway system, you're never far from points of interest found in other parts of the metro area.
6. Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District is one of the most concentrated gallery districts in the nation. What galleries are a must see?
For the full Crossroads Arts District experience, time your visit to coincide with the first Friday of the month. During First Fridays, galleries and shops stay open late for a gallery crawl that boasts special events, art openings and receptions. But no matter when you go, make sure to stop at Arts Incubator, an arts education and expansion space that includes 47 active studios and a gallery. Fans of contemporary art should stop by Hilliard Gallery, which often features group shows that exhibit a variety of mediums from local, regional and national artists. Although it's not typically kid-friendly, the Slap-N-Tickle gallery is a thought-provoking stop for adults interested in evocative—and often provocative—artwork. And within the cleanly modern interior of the Blue Gallery, contemporary fine art demonstrates expressive techniques in a variety of mediums.
7. What are the best places for kids in Kansas City?
One of the great things about Kansas City is despite its cosmopolitan, cultural vibe, it's a wonderful city for families seeking kid-friendly entertainment and attractions. Notable stops include the Kansas City Zoo and Worlds of Fun/Oceans of Fun, but your kids will also have a blast touring the Hallmark Visitors Center or exploring the immense sculpture garden at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The interactive atmosphere at The College Basketball Experience is ideal for kids of all ages, or try the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City for an enlightening—and entertaining—look at currency. Need a break? Fritz's Railroad Restaurant is a beloved landmark in which hamburgers, sandwiches and sides are served by model trains.
8. Sometimes the most important part of the city you visit is the area around your hotel. What districts would you recommend tourists book their stays in?
If you're eager to see a number of attractions and want to be near Kansas City's nightlife scene, booking a hotel downtown or in the Westport/Midtown/Plaza district is your best option. The Plaza, said by many to be Kansas City's crown jewel, offers a variety of hotels, from affordable chains to boutique hotels to bed and breakfasts, meaning you'll find something for every budget. Most downtown, Westport and Plaza hotels offer free shuttles to stops within the surrounding area, meaning you can easily access sights in these districts if you opt not to rent a car.
9. What’s the best way to get around the city and see the sights?
Although Kansas City boasts an intricate highway network that makes car travel relatively simple, the converse result is a city that isn't terribly pedestrian-friendly. If you're eager to explore a large area of Kansas City, it's best to rent a car for the duration of your trip. If you prefer to walk, however, book a hotel downtown or in the Midtown/Westport/Plaza area to find yourself within blocks of shopping, dining, nightlife and leisure spots. Bus transportation is available, and for more efficient travel, consider the MAX transit, a bus line that makes fewer stops and is considered an express option.
10. What greater Kansas City attractions would you visit?
It's a bit of a drive from downtown Kansas City (about 35 minutes), but dining at Justus Drugstore: A Restaurant is a must-do while you're in town. The locally owned restaurant has earned critical acclaim from local food experts and national sources alike, and you're sure to enjoy an unforgettable meal when you go. And the numerous attractions/sights in western Wyandotte County (Kansas City, Kan.) are fun for the whole family—Kansas Speedway, Schlitterbahn Vacation Village, shopping district Legends at Village West and an under-construction destination casino await. A trip to Kansas City isn't complete without an excursion to the city's beloved amusement park, Worlds of Fun—brave the towering heights of the Mamba roller coaster for an incomparable view of the downtown skyline.
11. What are some of your favorite things about Kansas City? What’s the one place, or tradition, you feel is your own?
Well, let's be honest—I feel truly at home in any shop or boutique thanks to my shopaholic tendencies! In all seriousness, however, I've felt truly at home since I moved to downtown Kansas City's River Market. There are few things I love more than starting a sunny Saturday at the City Market, buying produce, stopping for lunch at Habashi House and leaving with a fresh-squeezed strawberry lemonade. An afternoon at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art always leaves me inspired, no matter how many times I've wandered the hushed, stately hallways. And in the evening, I love to unwind with friends and my fiance at Harry's Country Club, a casual bar that specializes in a lengthy beer list, inventive cocktails and one of the best jukeboxes in the city. Make your Kansas City travel plans and I'll be sure to save you a seat!