Road Tripping, Traveling

Returning Home: Playing Tourist in Kansas City


I imagine it is the nature of a nomad to constantly be questioning What is home?

From the time I could crawl, my parents could probably tell that I always had my eye on the horizon. I wanted to explore, seek out, stumble, push, strive. Born smack dab in the middle of the country, there were more farms than skyscrapers. I read, and through reading, I traveled. But for most of my first 18 years, I stuck pretty close to “home,” while always wishing I was elsewhere.

Because of the way life has shaken out, I haven’t spent much time back in Kansas City, and when I have gone back it was usually to be with family, not to explore. During those short visits over the years, it has been obvious that while everything was not necessarily “up-to-date” in Kansas City, as that old musical theater standard would have us believe, things have advanced considerably since I left for college.

The grocery stores have massive organic sections. And the food! So much good food!

Rye Restaurant, Leawood
Rye Restaurant, Leawood

This holiday season presented a new opportunity to explore my former home with fresh eyes. For the first time in a long time, I had a full month to spend wandering, writing, and exploring. And, even better, a whole bevy of friends and close family have moved to KC over the last year so I would have company along the way!

After five years living in NYC, and eight before that in Chicago, it’s hard not to be charmed by this town. There is a lot of pride here – pride in the arts, in the incredibly rich history, in the architecture, in the sports, and in the unique opportunities presented by a post industrial landscape where space can be had for cheap and creativity is heavily rewarded.

Crossroads District, Kansas City, MO
Crossroads District

I’m not to a point in my life where I am quite ready to up and move back, and there would certainly be a culture shock if I did, but now that I have had a chance to eat, drink, and wander my way through this city, I’m not sure I can ever fully shake off that idea.

While I plan on writing more about these things in the future, here are 3 things that have really surprised me here:

1) The Coffee Culture

A few people had to mention to me that Kansas City has really embraced good coffee before I was willing to believe it, let alone explore it myself. Turns out, as is often the case, I am a fool. There IS good coffee to be had in KCMO and lots of it! A few of my favorite spots included Thou Mayest, The Quay, Post Coffee Co, and Oddly Correct.

Oddly Correct Coffee
Oddly Correct Coffee

2) The Public Art

There are so many murals here!  From the planned and professionally executed to the more spontaneous expressions of creativity, there is art everywhere.  Growing up, I remember the fountains (KCMO is way into their fountains, more than anywhere but Rome, blah blah blah) but all of the murals, sculpture, and other art took me by surprise. Even the main public library is painted to look like a gigantic shelf of books.

Graffiti, Crossroads District, KCMO
Crossroads District, KCMO

3) The Live Music

As I mentioned before, KCMO takes its history very, very seriously and music is a massively important component of that. Just ask any KC native where Charlie Parker is from (hint….it’s here). However, I wasn’t old enough to really explore this scene when I lived here growing up and its only been this visit that I’ve found a few amazing gems. I liked the Green Lady Lounge so much, I went back twice!  I also spent a terrific evening sitting at the bar at The Majestic, sipping my $5 Happy Hour gin martini and listening to some top-notch jazz piano. And, of course, there are always shows to be found around 18th & Vine, where that illustrious history was often made.

American Jazz Museum, 18th & Vine
One of my favorite old neons from the American Jazz Museum at 18th & Vine

Despite spending a month here, my list of things I WANT to do is already way longer than what I have actually done.  While I’ve got a lot of travel planned for the coming year, I have a feeling you’ll be hearing a lot more from me about Kansas City.


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