Welcome to Kansas City, basketball fanatics!
You may not know it, but you’re now in a town that during the month of March becomes the nation’s No. 1 basketball mecca — hosting more tournament games than any other city in America.
More than during the NCAA’s march to the Final Four?
Yes. With 90 teams playing 85 games across 15 days, some 100,000 visitors will become fully crazed here before March Madness ends, convention and visitors officials estimate.
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That’s because Kansas City in March is host to not one but three national basketball tournaments. Last week the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball championship brought fans to Municipal Auditorium and an economic impact estimated around $2 million.
From March 16-22, 64 Division I men’s and women’s teams will pour into the city, adding $4 million to the local economy with National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) tournament games at Municipal and the Silverstein Eye Center Arena in Independence.
The big draw this week, from Wednesday to Saturday, is the Big 12 men’s basketball championship at Sprint Center. Many of the fans from Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and West Virginia, who collectively will pump more than $13 million into the economy, will arrive with a reasonable question:
When not watching hoops, where else can we whoop it up in this basketball bastion on the Plains?
In other words, what else in the name of James Naismith is there to do here? Where do we shop, eat, drink or dance? Are there cool museums, photo-ops or places to take the kids? And, oh, probably the most-asked question: Where’s the best barbecue?
What follows isn’t just the answer to all these questions, but also — in the spirit of the Big 12 tournament — a handy “12-within-12” map and guide to 12 great areas to visit in Kansas City. All are within about a 12-minute drive from the Sprint Center, 1407 Grand Blvd.
Basketball tournaments name a single winner. On this list, you’ll find more:
1. Power & Light District (100 feet west of Sprint Center, 13th Street and Grand Boulevard)
This area has become party central for KC sporting events, with the open-air KC Live patio surrounded by two levels of bars and restaurants in a multiblock area of the same. Thousands gather here for major events. Live or recorded music blasts out for blocks. Games air on a massive outdoor screen.
For kids and teens: The College Basketball Experience inside Sprint Center offers full-size basketball courts and other hoops games. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, 1400 Main St., shows first-run movies an easy walk away.
2. City Market (eight-tenths of a mile north of Sprint Center, 20 E. Fifth St.)
A bustling Saturday morning farmer’s market highlights this area, but it’s open throughout the week. Farmers and other vendors come Saturday from miles around, including Mennonite families who travel hours, to sell fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers, baked goods and more. Yes, those are real chickens. Every day, the market is home to produce vendors with permanent stalls, as well as an array of coffee shops, diners, delis and restaurants.
Worth it: The Arabia Steamboat Museum, housing a treasure trove of goods that in 1856 sunk with the paddler into the mire of the Missouri River before the boat could deliver its cargo to general stores supporting the Midwest’s early settlers. The story of the Arabia offers an eye-popping example of history and sunken treasure recovered.
3. Missouri River overlook, Riverfront Heritage Trail (1 mile north of Sprint Center, Third and Main streets)
Great photo opportunity. About 500 yards north of the City Market, at the foot of Main Street, stands an elevated pedestrian walkway and overlook that offers a great view of the river. Like to jog or pedal? The overlook is an access point for the 15-mile Riverfront Heritage Trail. Recommendation: Descend the overlook and jog or pedal east to take a pleasant path through Richard L. Berkley Riverfront Park, named for a former Kansas City mayor.
4. Case Park (1.1 miles northwest of Sprint Center, Eighth and Jefferson streets)
Great for shutterbugs. This downtown park, with its statues of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, offers a great elevated view of the convergence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers.
5. 17th and Summit streets (1 mile west-southwest of Sprint Center)
Locals relish this quiet, boutique eating and shopping area that often remains unknown to tourists, even though it is close to downtown. Here you’ll find a French cafe selling citron crepes stuffed with custard and strawberries.
6. Crossroads Arts District (starts just south of Sprint Center)
Cross the interstate bridge just south of Sprint Center and you’ve entered the Crossroads Arts District. Once a languishing area, its blocks of empty warehouses and storefronts gradually have transformed into art galleries, bars, music venues, high-end as well as trendy hipster eateries, martini and wine bars, with a growing number of breweries and other businesses. The area sprawls south to 22nd Street, between Broadway on the west and Oak Street on the east.
7. Crown Center (1 mile south of Sprint Center, 25th Street and Grand Boulevard)
Family-friendly area with shopping and a food court as well as a skating rink, Legoland Discovery Center and Sea Life Aquarium. Nearby, the restored Union Station houses the interactive Science City. Across the street sits Liberty Memorial, housing the National World War I Museum. The viewing platform at Liberty Memorial offers photographers what arguably is the best skyline view in town, and stunning when the sun sets.
Nearby: Southwest Boulevard to the west is home to multiple Mexican restaurants and, for beer lovers, KC’s Boulevard Brewing Co., offering free tours. Each day, tickets for various times become available at 10 a.m. at the brewery gift shop, and they go fast.
8. 18th & Vine (1 mile east of Sprint Center)
Epicenter of Kansas City’s jazz heyday. Area includes a number of live-music blues and jazz clubs as well as two museums. The American Jazz Museum, highlighting legends such as Charlie “Bird” Parker, sits alongside the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, honoring the league’s great teams and players such as Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson.
9. Westport (3 miles south of Sprint Center, Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue)
Before the rise of the Power & Light District, the Westport area of shops, bars, live music venues, the Tivoli Cinemas and restaurants had been, for generations of young people, Kansas City’s prime party area. For many, it’s still the place to go.
10. Country Club Plaza (4 miles south of Sprint Center, 47th and Main streets)
Since 1922, the Plaza has been Kansas City’s luxury shopping area. The district, with multiple fountains, is one of Spanish-style architecture that’s home to scores of shops that include Tiffany’s, Michael Kors and a Tesla dealership. It has bars, restaurants, coffee shops and the Cinemark Palace movie theater.
11. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (4 miles south of Sprint Center, just east of the Plaza)
Two of Kansas City’s premier art museums, the Nelson and the Kemper, sit within walking distance of each other. The Nelson, perched on a hill and fronted by a sprawling green lawn and the Henry Moore sculpture garden, offers classical art inside its Beaux Arts-style building. The museum’s contemporary works are shown in what’s known as the Bloch building, an addition of bluish-white opaque glass. At night, the entire building glows, making it a stunning subject for photographers. The Kemper, smaller and more intimate, offers up-to-date modern exhibits. Admission to both is free. Both museums also house noted eateries. The Kemper is home to the modern Cafe Sebastienne. The Nelson has the Rozzelle Court Restaurant inside the museum’s 15th-century Italian courtyard.
12. Barbecue: Locals will argue this point with red-hot passion, but there really is no single best barbecue joint in Kansas City. Individual tastes differ. The good news is that at least one such place exists close to pretty much every area mentioned on this list. Here are the names and addresses of some of the restaurants. Like basketball teams, each has its fans.
Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, 1727 Brooklyn Ave.
Danny Edwards Blvd Barbecue, 2900 Southwest Blvd.
Char Bar, 4050 Pennsylvania Ave.
Gates Bar-B-Q, 1221 Brooklyn Ave., 3205 Main St. and 1325 E. Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd.
Jack Stack Barbecue, 101 W. 22nd St. and 4747 Wyandotte St.
Joe’s Kansas City, 3002 W. 47th St., Kansas City, Kan.
Q39, 1000 W. 39th St.
Rosedale Bar-B-Q, 600 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Kan.