20 in ’20: Top Reasons to Visit Kansas City in 2020
Named one of “16 Cities to Visit Before All Your Friends Catch On” by Conde Nast Traveler, Kansas City is poised to have its year in 2020. Among the monumental anniversaries worth celebrating stands a new addition to the burgeoning skyline, fresh expansions at world-class attractions and landmark exhibitions at some of the finest museums in the region. Each only proves that KC isn’t simply on the rise—it’s in the middle of something truly special.
Here are 20 reasons to visit Kansas City in 2020:
1. Toast 100 Years Since Prohibition
Of all the momentous anniversaries in 2020, Prohibition may just take the prize as the most influential on Kansas City culture. The U.S. abolition of alcohol in 1920 was largely ignored by the city—then controlled by “Boss” Tom Pendergast. KC flourished as a result, developing a reputation as the Paris of the Plains, thanks in part to a thriving jazz scene and free-flowing spirits of literal and figurative varieties. Raise a glass to the centennial at J. Rieger & Co., a pre-Prohibition relic that was revived in 2014 and recently opened a new distillery experience in the East Bottoms district as an ode to the past, present and future of the city. Then, keep the spirits flowing, thanks to other great purveyors like Tom’s Town, Holladay and Union Horse.
2. Celebrating Charlie Parker’s Centennial
If Prohibition heralded in Kansas City’s first Golden Age, Charlie Parker played its soundtrack. The much-admired saxophonist would’ve been 100 in 2020, marking a monumental birthday for a pioneer in the jazz scene. Celebrate Charlie and the rise of music travel by visiting the American Jazz Museum in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District to learn his story, see his memorial and pay tribute to countless other musicians of the era and beyond. Then, get out and experience KC’s signature sound at jumping joints like The Blue Room, B.B.’s Lawnside and The Phoenix.
3. Big Year for Baseball
A frequent stop for visiting dignitaries and celebrities, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League—the country’s first successful organized black baseball league. Enjoy special programming, new exhibits and more throughout the year, as well as the opening of the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center and the Feb. 13 debut of a special centennial art exhibition, featuring more than 200 works illustrating the visual history of the Negro Leagues.
4. “The Buck Stops Here”
Commemorating the 75th anniversary of his inauguration, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, MO, is scheduled to reopen in fall 2020 after a massive $25 million renovation—set in motion to preserve and enhance the impactful leader’s legacy. Visitors can expect an entirely new experience developed for 21st-century audiences, with fresh exhibits, expanded education programs and other essential updates celebrating America’s 33rd president just in time for the 2020 election.
NEW & NOVEL
5. Highly Anticipated Hotel Debut
Kansas City’s skyline—and, more importantly, its convention package—is forever changed with the debut of the 800-room Loews Kansas City Hotel. Opening April 2, 2020, this luxury property comes complete with a connector bridge adjoining the Kansas City Convention Center and 60,000 square feet of meeting space of its own, plus destination restaurants, a spa and plenty more that crown the hotel as the first major hotel built in Downtown Kansas City since 1985.
6. Free Rides for All
In 2020, Kansas City, MO, will become the largest major city in the country to offer complimentary bus fare throughout the city. It’s a gamechanger. Already home to the free-to-ride KC Streetcar, the city will become even more interconnected, meaning visitors and locals alike can soon shop, dine and entertain without worrying how to get there.
7. Preserving American Royal’s Legacy
Right on the cusp of the 150th anniversary of the Kansas City Stockyards in 2021, the American Royal recently announced its plan to break ground in 2020 on a new, $250 million facility in Kansas City, KS. Among the new features in the 1-million-square-foot construction are a new indoor event space, three performance arenas, exhibit space totaling 50,000-plus square feet and an educational area—further cementing KC’s spot as the country’s preeminent agriculture destination.
MUSEUMS ON THE MOVE
8. Genghis Khan Conquers Union Station
Union Station’s latest powerhouse exhibit takes guests back in time to learn about one of history’s most legendary conquerors. Genghis Khan: Bringing the Legend to Life lives up to its name, showcasing 13th-century Mongolian relics, jewels, clothing, weapons and more in an interactive experience on display in Kansas City through April 26.
9. A Kansas City Star
The long-awaited Historic Northeast return of the Kansas City Museum is set to debut in late 2020 after years of work. New exhibits, programs, events and gallery spaces will tell KC’s history, heritage and impact on the country and the world in the completely restored Corinthian Hall mansion. Expect art installations, a theater, historical artifacts from the museum’s permanent collection and more in this four-level institution.
10. Women in Art
Ancient Egypt is alive and well in Kansas City thanks to a new exhibit at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Now through March 29, explore 230 works in Queen Nefertari: Eternal Egypt, which celebrates the role of goddesses and women from 3,000 years ago and half a world away. A stone’s throw away, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art will present Summer Wheat: Blood, Sweat and Tears. The vibrant exhibition, running Feb. 6 to May 24, presents new context for advancing historical representations of women, community and labor, drawing inspirations from Native American imagery and Egyptian pictography.
FOR THE FAMILY
11. New at the Zoo
One of America’s most beloved zoos continues its renaissance in 2020. Expect a major upgrade to the Kansas City Zoo’s elephant exhibit to debut by Mother’s Day Weekend. Highlights include an expanded viewing area and added seating, plus other must-have amenities, while the elephants receive a new watering hole, waterfall feature and increased shading and sand spaces.
12. Pint-Sized Adventures
In North Kansas City, The Rabbit Hole will bring to life iconic children’s books like Where the Wild Things Are and Goodnight Moon with hands-on, immersive spaces handmade by local creators, dubbed the world’s first “explorastorium” (fall 2020). At Union Station, Science City keeps getting better. Three new, $8.2 million early learning areas offers interactive exhibits and rich environments designed to spark creativity and curiosity in children from ages 0 to 7 (spring 2020). And set to reopen after a $15 million upgrade and relocation, Wonderscope Children’s Museum uses dynamic STEM and arts exhibits and programming to inspire children up to 8 years old (fall 2020).
13. One for the Record Books
Thrill-seekers can’t get enough of Worlds of Fun, a perennial family attraction that looks to launch the five-story, four-tunnel Riptide Raceway—the longest mat racing water slide in the world—at Oceans of Fun by the 2020 summer season.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
14. Chef-Driven Comfort Food
KC’s comfort food palate goes far beyond smoked delicacies. Modern Midwest dining means that some of the finest restaurants in the city are also the most approachable, helmed by veteran chefs who’re serious about elevating casual cuisine. Michael Corvino upped his game with his casual cheeseburger concept Ravenous, Vaughn Good emphasizes local above all else at Fox and Pearl and chocolatier Christopher Elbow’s Fairway Creamery delivers some of the best ice cream and donuts in the city.
15. Vegan and Vegetarian Vibrancy
Plant-based dining isn’t just a flash in the pan. More affordable and more available than ever before, Kansas City’s vegan and vegetarian options offer healthy, sustainable menus without sacrificing flavor or taste. Recognized by Bon Appétit, Chef Zaid Renato Consuegra Sauza knocked it out of the park with Pirate’s Bone Burgers, a slider concept featuring his famous beet burger. Other community mainstays include the positive (and positively delicious) Café Gratitude, as well as baked goods shop Mud Pie Vegan Coffeehouse and Bakery. Even pitmasters have gotten in on the action, with smoked jackfruit and portabella accommodating plant-based diets at Char Bar and Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, respectively.
TRENDING AROUND TOWN
16. City of Champions
Before the Olympics return in summer 2020, get to know one of America’s most sports-crazed destinations. And KC’s passion for all things sports will leave you cheering, from America’s most beautiful ballpark to the loudest stadium in the NFL. In March 2020, Kansas City rolls out the red carpet for the Big 12 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships—the first time both competitions will be held in one city in nearly a decade. The winning tradition continues with returning tournaments for the NAIA and MIAA, plus The College Basketball Experience—a hands-on hoops hall of fame.
17. Women Shaping Kansas City
It’s only fitting in the 100th year since women’s suffrage that so many are driving a thriving, lasting culture in KC. Between high-end kitchens, handmade jewelry and underground cocktail bars—not to mention a longstanding local history of heroes such as Amelia Earhart and blues legend Julia Lee—dynamic women are leaving their marks on the metro. Among the notable movers and makers are Swordfish Tom’s Jill Cockson, jazz vocalist Eboni Fondren, award-winning pastry chef Megan Garrelts and even Tamara Day, star of HGTV’s reality hit Bargain Mansions.
18. Niche Neighborhoods Underground No More
With interconnectivity comes development—and even more destination neighborhoods. Don’t overlook hangouts like Downtown Overland Park and Delaware Street in the River Market, both of which have become go-to spots for everything from pie flights and exclusive dining opportunities to Neapolitan pizza and trendy caffeination stations.
19. Midwestern Style, Made for Men
Menswear and accessories for him are having their moment in Kansas City. From leather watchbands made by Foxtrot Supply Co. and retro T-shirts printed by Westside Storey to custom shoes crafted at Paolini Garment Company and wool hats stitched by BLDWN—plus plenty of grooming essentials—there’s no shortage of high-quality, locally made products that have men’s style needs covered, head to toe.
20. Live Music Lives On
Kansas City is known for a great many things—the world’s best barbecue, stellar museums and thrilling baseball all immediately come to mind—but the live music scene is not-so-quietly working its way up the list. Between intimate jazz shows at Black Dolphin, multiday concerts courtesy of Middle of the Map Festival and huge, weekend-long events like Boulevardia, there’s always a performance to be seen that, years later, you’ll be telling people, “I was there.”