Kansas City, Mo. may seem like a baseball town thanks to the Royals, but basketball (especially the college variety) is the other official sport. Create a family vacation all around it – or take your crew to enjoy unique attractions you won't find anywhere else.
KC has hosted more college basketball championships and tournaments than any other town. This year it's home to the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Basketball Championship held at the Sprint Center. These games are March 12-15. However, tickets may be easier to come by for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) games, set for March 19-25 at Municipal Auditorium.
Or get taste without even going to a game. Part of the Sprint Center houses the College Basketball Experience (CBE), which immerses your kid in every part of the game. At the Beat the Clock exhibit, famous moments in college b-ball are broadcast over speakers while you try to reenact them on the court. There's even a roving circle projected on the floor, so you know where to stand to make your shot. At Call the Highlights, your future ESPN commentator can sit behind the TV desk to go over game highlights.
Other displays delve into the sport's history and hall of fame. Several additional interactive exhibits fill the 41,500-square-foot complex that opened in 2007. Tickets are $10/ages 4-17, $13/18-plus and free/3 and under. CBE is open Wednesdays-Sundays. The website also offers family pricing on Sundays.
Keeping kids busy
Kansas City is also home to another "hall of fame" of sorts – Hallmark. Headquartered on the outskirts of downtown, the Crown Center area is a hot spot for kid-friendly fun.
The complex, which is almost a city within a city, includes the SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium, Hallmark Visitors Center and two other destinations that are must-sees. The first, Kaleidoscope (hallmarkkaleidoscope.com), is a free creativity center, where kids ages 5-12 make projects with colored paper, crayons, glue, stickers and tons more (many are leftovers from greeting cards!). The whimsical spaces and colors beg kids to use their imagination to make something neat.
Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis for timed sessions; open 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. CST Monday-Friday. The second, LEGOLAND Discovery Center welcomes children to step into its world of building blocks. While there are free play areas filled with an endless supply of Legos, there are several rides, too. Tickets are $14.45/person online, free/ages 2 and under.
Other area attractions
Round out your at some of the city's top attractions. The Kansas City Zoo recently opened its new Helzberg Penguin Plaza habitat, where you can watch nearly 40 penguins swim and play.
The American Jazz Museum pays homage to music legends, while the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum includes exhibits and displays to help kids learn more about baseball through the experiences of African-American players.
And the National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial goes beyond the history books, unveiling more about the men and women who served in Word War I.
Great barbecue joints
Kansas City is also known for having some of the top barbecue in the world. The smoky, peppery, rich barbecue style differs from the more vinegar-based North Carolina sauce or the chili-speckled Texas fare. These six places will have you in barbecue heaven.
- Arthur Bryant's BBQ (3 locations): This is the legendary barbecue restaurant that made Kansas City famous.
- Gates Bar-B-Q (6 locations): Often going head-to-head with Arthur Bryant's in barbecue battles, this is another legendary name in KC barbecue.
- Oklahoma Joe's (3 locations): This no-nonsense eatery (the original is in a gas station) has long lines and a devoted following. Barbecue rib lovers, this one is for you.
- Famous Dave's (1 location in metro KC): Started in Kansas City, this chain now has multiple locals outside of Missouri, including Michigan.
- Danny Edwards Blvd. BBQ (1 location): Hickory-smoked, juicy brisket is the star on the menu of this downtown favorite.
- Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue (4 locations): Order the burnt ends to sample a Kansas City original.
There are a variety of hotels to choose from that dot the city. Your best bet on rates may be to go through Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association at VisitKC.com, which includes special offers on lodging, dining and area attractions.
If you plan on spending a good part of your time at Crown Center, there are two hotels, the Sheraton and the Westin, within the complex. Parking is free for three hours at Crown Center during weekdays and free all day on weekends. In the rest of the downtown area there is street, metered parking.