Kansas City, Kansas, offers visitors an abundance of cultural experiences because of its diverse community. Immigrants journeyed to the heart of America, looking for a future for themselves and their families. The city’s cultural traditions and food scene are rich with heritage. Plan an overnight stay to take advantage of authentic experiences, from following The Legacy Trail to feasting on flavorful food.
I visited the city with a group of travel writers to the area to experience the city’s culture first-hand. How many of the following experiences will you check off the list?
1. VOLER – THIEVES OF FLIGHT
If you’ve witnessed aerial acrobatics and wondered if you were capable of such feats, Voler – Thieves of Flight (558 Lowell Ave.) is your chance to find out. Part of the Eastern European Journey, the academy teaches students a combination of aerial dance and acrobatics using ceiling-suspended silks. Located in a one-time Russian Orthodox Church, instructors guide students step-by-step through maneuvers to lift themselves into the air.
Although I had to sit out during the class, I watched as my travel friends warmed up by stretching and conducting breathing exercises. Soon, they were standing with colorful silk fabric in hand learning the basics of foot locks and climbing. It was a major test of strength and flexibility.
Do you think you’ve got what it takes to test your balance and core strength? Voler – Thieves of Flight Voler offers private group classes and ongoing classes on a weekly basis. To sign up for an Aerial Silks session, click here.
2. VIETNAM CAFÉ
Vietnam Café (39324 Rainbow Blvd) is the story of success. The new location opened its doors on May 2022 to serve loyal customers heaping bowls of pho, curry, and rice platters. I ordered a large bowl of piping hot pho with beef without hesitation. It arrived with a side plate of Thai basil and sprouts to add to the pho at my discretion.
Our table’s conversation was lively between bites of shared appetizers and dinner entreés. I learned that Vietnamese families represent a large portion of the community having immigrated to the area at the end of the Vietnam War. Further study taught me that Vietnamese refugees to the American Great Plains sought manufacturing or other jobs in Kansas City.
I encourage you to dine at Vietnam Café to try a food you’ve never tried while learning more about the culture. View the restaurant’s Facebook page for details.
3. Three Bees Pottery & Coffee Shop
I can’t think of a better way to start a day of exploring Kansas City, Kansas than dining at a locally-owned coffee shop. Oh, wait! Yes, I can. Add authentic tamales and it’s way better. Three Bees Pottery & Coffee Shop (925 Southwest Blvd) is a quaint eatery specializing in homemade meat and vegan tamales paired with gourmet coffee drinks.
If you’ve not enjoyed tamale, you can expect shredded chicken, pork, or beef in sauce wrapped in masa inside a corn husk. The dish is representative of traditional food brought to the states by Mexican immigrant populations. Masa is a soft dough made from ground corn that takes on a slightly sweet yet savory flavor.
I ordered a Dirty Horchata served hot to accompany my meal. A cinnamon vanilla rice drink with a double espresso was served in a vibrant handmade coffee cup. The interior of the cafe is visually stunning as it is filled with colorful pottery from Mexico. All of it is marked for sale, so keep your eyes peeled for a gem to take home with you.
View the coffee shop’s hours and menu via its Facebook page.
4. The Legacy Trail
Visit Kansas City created The Legacy Trail, a mapped-out journey used for self-guided audio tours throughout the city. At each location, users of the app simply tap the screen to play back narrated stories that explain the site’s cultural significance. Latino, Eastern European, Black Heritage, Indigenous People, and Modern Immigrants are referenced on the trail.
To access The Legacy Trail, visit this website. Complete all five journeys and you can win a KCK t-shirt and your name will be included on the KCK Legacy Trail Wall of Fame.
Our group visited the Central Avenue Betterment Association (CABA) (1303 Central Ave.) Anthology of Argentine Mural, and Eagles Nest. At CABA, we learned how a small staff works diligently with the help of community sponsors to support diverse and inclusive programs and events like the Day of the Dead Celebration. On the day of our visit, staff member and volunteers hurriedly prepared for the Dia De Los Muertos parade. A makeup artist was on-hand to apply face paint to Catrinas who planned to walk in the parade. When our bus stopped at the Anthology of Argentine Mural (30th & Woodland), my jaw dropped open in shock. The massive mural is a city block long and uses vivid imagery to tell the tale of the Argentine neighborhood and its history. The narrative story sets the scene complete with natural sounds like railroad trains, industrialization, and rainfall. Its imagery will give you pause and like me, may evoke an emotional response.
We drove to a historic two-story stone building near railroad tracks and a baseball field, which has served as the headquarters for American Legion Post 213 “Eagles Nest” since the 1940s.The nondescript building was constructed because the community needed a place where Latinos could gather without discrimination. In the early 1900s, it served as a Methodist mission and school. Years later, the outside of the building contrasts greatly with the interior’s design which features a sports bar where locals gather to enjoy game day.
5. Jarocho’s Pescados y Mariscos
Continue the cultural journey to a cozy spot where high-quality Mexican seafood is served, Jarocho’s (719 Kansas Ave.). You can’t miss the building’s brightly painted facade featuring murals with ocean scenes.
It’s a hidden gem, or the kind of restaurant locals know and dare not tell others about because then their go-to places become crowded. Bring your appetite and prepare to be wowed by fresh seafood dishes like Shrimp Chipotle, Fire Grilled Trout, and Seafood Paella. They didn’t win Best Seafood and Best Mexican food by Feast magazine for nothing.
6. Day of the Dead Celebration
Dia De Los Muertos translated to Day of the Dead is a time of celebration for the Latino community in Kansas City, Kansas. The day remembers friends and family members who have died and the life they lived. In fact, the Mexican holiday dates back hundreds of years.
It’s one of the most festive celebrations I’ve attended. Vendors line both sides of Central Avenue offering the best in gifts and authentic Mexican food dinners. The smell of freshly grilled meat lingers in the air.As you walk the route, you encounter live bands performing Latin pop and regional Mexican music in front of small groups of onlookers. Women dressed as Catrinas wear makeup resembling skeletons ad flowing gowns with hats or elaborate headdresses.I was asked if I wanted to ride in the parade inside a decorated bus that played authentic music (see pictured). “Yes, of course!” From the bus, we threw candy to eager children and waved at families. Dancers led our path down the street. Everyone was in good spirits laughing, eating authentic food, dancing, and singing. The festival is one you don’t want to miss.
7. URBAN HIKE THROUGH STRAWBERRY HILL & DOWNTOWN KCK
The following morning, our group enjoyed coffee and pastries at Splitlog Coffee Co. (548 Central Ave.) before meeting our Urban Hikes KC tour guide. The plan? To walk a 4.5-mile hike through the city’s Eastern European neighborhood along the Legacy Trail and learn about the immigrants who founded businesses and churches in the area.
The guided tour is the best way to explore the city’s history while learning in-depth historical facts about each destination. While the route may be long, the pace is moderate and there are only a couple of steep streets – and it offers some of the best views of the Kansas City skyline.
From Russian Hill to Strawberry Hill and downtown Kansas City to the Wyandotte Native American National Burial Ground, the guide highlights the stories of ethnic groups. It is the most effective way to learn about the city’s culture.
A number of churches were erected during the time of European immigration to the area. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, built in 1890, is the oldest Catholic parish in Kansas City. At present day, it is a parish that is known for its cultural diversity. A community-driven garden sits in its shadow where fruits and vegetables are grown and donated to residents.
I appreciate learning about the hard-working families who made the location what it is today, including the Loose Brothers who opened the Takhoma Biscuit Company. The name was updated to Sunshine Biscuit Company in 1946 and was considered the largest bakery in the city. Keebler eventually bought it, and now it is owned by Kellogg’s.
Time permitting, you should plan extra time to take a guided tour of Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center (720 N. 4th St.) where you can learn about the ethnic groups that settled in the area. Each room of the mansion built in 1887 tells the story of the city’s earliest residents. Note: You can buy tickets to the Olde World Christmas Tour during the holidays.
I have no doubt that you’ll appreciate Kansas City’s traditions and food scene as much as I did. To truly get to know a place, you have to understand its history. Of course, these seven cultural experiences merely scratch the surface of Kansas City’s can’t-miss destinations. Endless learning awaits. Take a moment to downtown The Taco Trail app and The Legacy Trail app created by Visit Kansas City, Kansas prior to your visit. Let this guide and the mobile apps help you enjoy an immersive cultural tour of the city – an unforgettable experience.
If you appreciated this post, you may also want to check out a second blog post “Essential Stops in Kansas City, Kansas” that features more attractions, restaurants, and notable shopping destinations.