Most North American vacationers prefer to go to exotic locales, usually with a nice beach nearby. We’re talking about places like Hawaii, Acapulco, and St. Thomas. Notice anything? That’s right, all of these places are Don’t Even Go There-worthy (and detailed in other posts on this blog).
So what should you do with your lone week of vacation time? Where can you find excitement and adventure within reach and within the budget of the average American? In other words, where can you go?
Believe it or not—and don’t think less of us for saying so—we’d recommend Kansas City, Missouri. Yes, it’s flat. Yes, it’s in the Midwest. Yes, it gets unbelievably hot and humid in the summer. But you have to look beyond all its obvious faults. It’s a beautiful little city with a rich history, great food (especially if you eat beef), a long heritage of great blues and jazz, plus a surprising number of water fountains.
It’s true. We used to think it strange that their baseball field had a “Waterworks Spectacular,” but it turns out the park just reflects the city around it. Kansas City, known as the City of Fountains to quite a few members of its Chamber of Commerce, has more fountains than any other city in the world, except for some backwater burg called Rome. All in all, KC boasts over 200 water fountains: large and small, ornate and simple, public and private. That’s more sprinklers than all of Nebraska, once you discount the ones used for irrigation.
Discovering every fountain on your own would take way too much time, but if you’re determined, you can find fountains celebrating mythology, history, and modern art. One fountain—the famous J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain—features four figures, including one of an American Indian riding a horse while fighting an alligator. You might not believe us, but it’s true. Even more bizarre: this figure is said to represent the mighty Mississippi River. Seems obvious to us. Who can forget the famous Indian-Alligator War of 1665?
Kansas City offers much more than just fountains, though. Its music scene is one of the best in the country, especially for blues and jazz (which you’d know already if you were paying attention). Live performances from the famous and near-famous thrill fans almost every night. And while Kansas City has its large venues, the best shows happen in the small nightclubs, where the musicians play so close to you that you’ll feel like you’re part of the band. You’re not; they’re just humoring you, but you can find an after-hours jam session if you’re so inclined.
The Country Club Plaza (which is less pretentious than its name) offers more traditional fare like restaurants and shopping amidst Spanish tile, early architecture, and of course, water fountains. During Plaza Lights, a holiday season event, the buildings come to life with music and light shows. Then there’s little Westport, a cross between Old Town and Hillcrest (to use San Diego references). In other words, the village evokes culture like a row of ferns evoke a gay bar. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.
But the highlight of our trip, the pièce de résistance, occurred on an excursion to a steak house. This place wasn’t one of those common chain restaurants, but a full-fledged Kansas City institution. Sadly, we can no longer recall its name, but it had a blues and jazz club in the basement. (Of course. Where else would you put it?)
After we were seated, our waitress brought by a dessert tray of meats—each pink, uncooked cut wrapped professionally in cellophane. All we had to do was pick the cut we wanted and tell our server how we wanted it cooked. The menu listed the descriptions, from Rare (“The meat will jump off the plate to shake your hand.”) to Well Done (“They say charcoal is good for your teeth.”)
Never before and never since, in any of our travels in any country, have we experienced this level of service. The meal, by the way, tasted exquisite—so good, it nearly made us swear off beef completely. Because after you’ve had the best, you see, everything else pales in comparison.
Lessons Learned: Missouri loves company, and Kansas City is the perfect example. It welcomes wayward wanderers with open arms and treats them to unexpected delights. You’ll enjoy Kansas City so much, you’ll forget you’re in the Midwest. We did.
How We Saw It
Communication Breakdown: 1
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 2
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 1
Spontaneous Consumption: 3
Fun Fraction: 3/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: Kansas City International Airport
Native Population: 447,000
Normal Attractions: Nightlife, sports, architecture, fine dining, museums, art, shopping.
Final Point of Interest: Some of the locals refer to the Liberty Memorial, a local landmark, as the “Big Dick in the Sky.”