Thanks to a revitalization of activity downtown, recently-realized world-class architecture, and solid staples that have been around for decades, Kansas City is a not-to-miss destination for design lovers. Known as "Cowtown" to many, for in-the-know residents and visitors, Kansas City is anything but:
• Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (pictured up top): With its recent addition by architect Steven Holl, the already-noteworthy museum is also a world-renowned piece of contemporary architecture. Visitors can now check out the plank glass addition to the original 1930s limestone building, as well as the museum's renowned Asian art collection and the adjacent sculpture park's infamous shuttlecocks by Claus Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.
• Kauffman Center for Performing Arts (pictured above): An even more recent addition to the Kansas City skyline, from architect Moshe Safdie, is the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts. Free open houses have brought crowds that circle multiple city blocks just to get a glimpse inside the steel-and-glass structure. Better yet, catch a performance by the Kansas City Ballet, the Lyric Opera or the Kansas City Symphony.
• Crossroads Arts District: Visit this neighborhood that's teeming with galleries to view the work local artists. If you're in town on the first Friday of any given month, be sure to attend First Fridays, the area's open gallery night.
• Liberty Memorial (above): Housing the WWI museum, the Liberty Memorial is a well-loved place for taking in the view of the city from on high. A National Historic Landmark, the memorial to WWI soldiers was built in an Egyptian Revival style in the 1920s and hearkens to the Art Deco style of that age.
• Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art: In a suburb south of downtown is the city's largest collection of contemporary art. Housed in a beautiful, box-shaped building designed by architect Kyu Sung Woo, docent-led and self-guided tours are available.
• Boulevard Brewing Co.: Tour one of Kansas City's oldest and most-loved breweries for a taste (literally) of what they have to offer. Their seasonal Chocolate Ale sells out fast.
• Good Juju (above): An amazing antique shop located in the city's West Bottoms, you've got to be here on the first Friday of the month to shop at Good Juju. Since they're only open on a monthly basis, the selection is fresh every time you go!
• Retro Inferno (below): This is one of the best places anywhere to find authentic mid-century modern furnishings. As a bonus, you get to shop in an equally-cool building of the same vintage.
• River Market: At the very north end of downtown you'll find the River Market. This is where the city's farmers' market is held, as well as shops open daily with local food, artwork, housewares, and more.
• Country Club Plaza: The high-end shopping district was developed by J.C. Nichols as the first of its kind in 1922. Its many fountains put Kansas City on the map as the City of Fountains, second only to Rome in the world.
• Christopher Elbow Chocolates: Pick up some Christopher Elbow artisan chocolates (found only here and in San Francisco) to bring a sweet taste of Kansas City back home.
• Pryde's of Westport: Pryde's is an area staple for gourmet kitchenware and home accessories. It's in a gorgeous old brick building where you can spend hours browsing and more than likely find a must-have item to take home with you. And don't forget to grab a slice from The Upper Crust pie bakery in the lower floor.
• Blue Bird Bistro (below): An organic restaurant located on the city's west side, Blue Bird Bistro is the source for local, sustainable ingredients prepared from the freshest ingredients from the farms of the heartland. For a special treat, attend a Farmers' Table dinner, where you can sit down and eat a five-course meal with the area farmers who provided the ingredients.
• Lill's on 17th: Hidden away in an old house, Lill's is a treasure. Says a friend: "Their bacon-wrapped dates are truly one of the best things I have tasted". Good food in a cozy atmosphere like this is exactly the kind of hospitality that makes Kansas City special.
• Bluestem: The husband-wife chef team behind Bluestem shops local markets and keeps the restaurant's aesthetic simple and clean, all of which is appealing to the foodie and design set.
• Prairie Fire Oven: If you can track it down, be sure to eat from this unique kind of food truck, which is actually a mobile wood-fired oven.
• Arthur Bryant's Don't go home from Kansas City without having tried the barbecue. Most say Arthur Bryant's is the best, though the topic is hotly contested 'round here!
• Hotel Phillips: A completely revamped art deco hotel located downtown is a great place to stay if you want to be near the action. Gilded common spaces and contemporary rooms feel luxurious but contemporary.
• Raphael Hotel: This hotel is located closer to the Country Club Plaza, so it's the perfect place to stay if you're a shopaholic who wants great views of the district's beautiful, Italianate streets.
• Southmoreland on the Plaza: This cozy bed and breakfast is within walking distance to the Nelson-Atkins. Its many bedrooms are cozy just like grandma's house and breakfast served in the intimate sunroom is divine.
Are you from Kansas City or have you visited and found a real gem that we forgot to include here? Please help us out by adding to our guide in the comments below!
(Images: Flickr member fudgealicious licensed for use under Creative Commons, Safdie Architects, Wikipedia Commons user Charvex, Good Juju, Retro Inferno, Blue Bird Bistro)