On a hot July afternoon in Kansas City, roughly 20 tourists escaped the thick-as-barbecue-sauce humidity in an air-conditioned bus outside Arthur Bryant’s.
Tour guide Arlin Pacheco, with a delicate butterfly tattoo on her wrist and a pink pig on her T-shirt, grabbed a mic and did her best to pump up the crowd before their four-hour barbecue binge.
“We are the king of barbecue,” Pacheco said. “I promise you will agree with me by the end of the day.”
Then, two important words of advice: “Pace yourselves.”
Most of the passengers aboard the KC Barbecue Tours bus were visiting from out of town, but Tyler Chase of Kearney bought tickets for his dad, Tim Chase, who loves barbecue but doesn’t eat it as often as he’d like. Tim’s favorite: LC’s Bar-B-Q.
“I like the brisket and the chicken,” he said, “but I haven’t been there in five years.”
After all, why should the out-of-towners have all the fun? To help you squeeze the most out of summer in Kansas City, we checked out the barbecue tour and eight other ways to feel like a tourist in your hometown.
No pressure, but Labor Day is only five weeks away.
KC Barbecue Tours
Bethanie and Karl Schemel came up with the tour idea after realizing that friends and family members visiting Kansas City were always hungry to know where to go for great ribs and brisket.
“What better way to show off what we’re known for than to do a barbecue food tour?” Bethanie said.
They started in 2012 with one small shuttle bus and now operate two 30-passenger buses for at least four public tours a week on Fridays and Saturdays, plus private tours for company outings, birthdays and bachelor parties. The tours cost $65 per person, which includes food, restaurant tips and transportation. They can be booked through kcbarbecuetours.com.
Our recent tour started with ribs, sausage and coleslaw at Arthur Bryant’s, 1727 Brooklyn Ave., and continued with saucy stops at LC’s Bar-B-Q, 5800 Blue Parkway, Original Juan Specialty Foods, 111 Southwest Blvd., Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ, 2900 Southwest Blvd., and Gates Bar-B-Q, 1221 Brooklyn Ave.
For $70, beer lovers can book a spot on the ’Cue & Brew tour, with stops at three restaurants, including beer.
Many passengers come from places where good smoked meat is rare. Tour driver Barry Immele, a retired firefighter, says he meets a lot of people from Minnesota and Wisconsin, where pine trees are plentiful but hardwood such as hickory and oak, the ideal barbecue fuel, is harder to come by.
As the tourists chow down on their ’cue, they’re treated to tasty tidbits of barbecue history. On that recent afternoon at Arthur Bryant’s, Pacheco told the group that legendary jazz pianist Count Basie hated it when sneaky bandmates stole his Bryant’s barbecue between sets. He put a stop to that by spitting on his plate.
“Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do,” said Leslie Barber of Seattle between bites of juicy, charred ribs drizzled with Sweet Heat sauce.
Barber’s husband, Edwin, who works as a caterer, preferred the peppery Rich & Spicy sauce. As he walked back to the bus, he told Leslie and their two kids that he wanted to add barbecue to his business.
“We gotta get that smoker going, guys,” he said.
For Adam Kirschenmann of Yakima, Wash., the tour also doubled as a family outing and business research. Kirschenmann wants to start his own smoked meats business and had never been to the Midwest or tried Kansas City barbecue before.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” he said.
After Arthur Bryant’s, the group piled back onto the bus and traveled seven miles south to LC’s. The Chases snagged a table with Derek and Katherine Richman of Miami, who said they were in hog heaven.
Katherine said she loved the smoky flavor of the ribs at Arthur Bryant’s because it was so different from the Cuban-style pork she’s used to eating, which is fried in a pan with onions and tomatoes.
At a table nearby, Yvette Hays and her son Quentin Campos, visiting from Willows, Calif., dove fork-first into plates loaded with smoky-sweet beans, golden fries and tender burnt ends.
“Oh, those beans are good,” Hays said. “This makes me want to move here.”
Her son agreed: “This is the best place in Kansas,” Campos declared, not realizing he was in Missouri.
The Great Car Show
National World War I Museum and Memorial
Calling all car nuts: Vehicles of all makes, models and years are rolling onto the southeast lawn of the National World War I Museum and Memorial from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, July 30, for a big honkin’ car show. The event, which benefits the museum and the Kansas City Automotive Museum, also features live music, food trucks, pinstriping demonstrations and ride-alongs. Just imagine the Instagram opportunities. Tickets start at $5 for adults or $2 for kids; for more info, go to thegreatcarshow.com.
Strawberry Swing Indie Craft Fair
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Crafty types should check out the Strawberry Swing Indie Craft Fair, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. More than 100 vendors will be selling handmade and vintage goods — you’ll also find a photo booth and craft projects for kids.
Go to the event’s website, thestrawberryswing.org, and you’ll see images of Pinterest-worthy objects such as handmade Batman dolls, all-natural soap, glazed pottery, woven tapestries, hammered jewelry and original KC T-shirts. Consider the fair a real-life version of Etsy.
Feast of Fountains
Anita B. Gorman Park
Get your forks out, Northland foodies: Kansas City Parks and Recreation is planning a food truck festival, Feast of Fountains, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 10 at Northland Fountain in Anita B. Gorman Park, North Holmes Street and Northeast Vivion Road.
The event benefits Kansas City’s famous fountains and features live music from Missouri Detour and all kinds of food, from boneless chicken wings to Mexican tacos, Belgian waffles and Filipino plates. Participating trucks include American Fusion, Bochi, KC Pinoy, the Waffler and Jazzy B’s.
Play Late Thursdays
Beat the heat of the day by heading out to Powell Gardens for a summer date night. The botanical garden will be open late from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 10 for Play Late Thursdays, which puts an outdoorsy spin on the traditional happy hour. Visitors get half-price tickets (which typically cost $10 to $12 for adults) and access to a cash bar. Light food will also be available for purchase.
The theme is Cocktails and Chrysalis because Powell Gardens’ Festival of Butterflies is Aug. 4-20. During the fest, the Martha Jane Phillips Starr Butterfly Conservatory will be aflutter with winged creatures and tropical plants. Romantic, right? For more info, go to powellgardens.org.
Other Kansas City tours
The owners of KC Barbecue Tours also operate a trolley and a pair of bright red double-decker buses under the company name KC Double Decker Tours. The tours transport sightseers to eight popular Kansas City neighborhoods and attractions, including Crown Center, the River Market, downtown, Westport, the Country Club Plaza, Boulevard Brewing Co., the National World War I Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
The double-deckers are manned by tour guides who share info about Kansas City, and they stop at each site once every hour. Passengers can hop on and off whenever they like. Tickets cost $28 for kids and $33 for adults (children 4 and under are free). For more info, go to kansascitydoubledeckertours.com.
If you’re into beer, book a seat on a Barley Bus brewery tour. The tours range from three and a half to five hours and stop at three Kansas City-area breweries. Ticketholders get a peek behind the scenes, light snacks and access to coolers and water on the bus.
Tour stops change every week but could include such sites as Boulevard Brewing Co., Cinder Block Brewery in North Kansas City, Crane Brewing in Raytown, Kansas City Bier Co. in Waldo and Torn Label Brewing Co. in the East Crossroads.
Tickets cost $65 per person. The company also offers tours that include wineries and breweries; for more info, go to barleybus.com.
Worlds of Fun
If you have outdoorsy thrill-seekers in your family, stake out a spot at Worlds of Fun’s Coaster Campout Aug. 11-12. The overnight adventure costs $200 per campsite, and each site can accommodate a 10-by-10-foot tent and up to four people. That fee gets you exclusive ride time on the Prowler and Boomerang roller coasters from 10 p.m. to midnight Aug. 11, an evening snack, breakfast and Mamba roller coaster rides before the park opens from 9 to 10 a.m. Aug. 12. Park admission on Aug. 12 is included. For more info, go to worldsoffun.com.
Humboldt Penguin March
Kansas City Zoo
Add a blast of the Antarctic to your summer with the penguins at the Kansas City Zoo. At 11 a.m. Aug. 26 and 27, the adorable tuxedo-sporting birds will be waddling in formation around the Helzberg Penguin Plaza. Attending the Penguin March requires no registration; zoo tickets cost $14.50 for adults or $11.50 for kids. Note: The Penguin March happens every fourth weekend, so if you can’t make it in August, mark your calendar for Sept. 23-24 or Oct. 28-29.
Can’t make it to the march? Consider visiting the zoo for elephant baths courtesy of the Kansas City Fire Department at 1 p.m. Aug. 5 and 6. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Aug. 19 and 20, zookeepers will feed many of the animals watermelons for the Watermelon Smash. The hippo feeding should be particularly explosive.
“Mummies of the World”
Interested in archaeology? Head to Union Station to see “Mummies of the World: The Exhibition.” It’s the largest collection of real mummified bodies and related artifacts ever assembled. The exhibition, which unwrapped in June and is at Union Station through the end of 2017, features Baron Von Holz, a German nobleman entombed in his family’s 14th century castle crypt, and the Vac Mummies, a mummified family from Hungary thought to have died of tuberculosis. There are also Egyptian animal mummies, including a dog and a baby crocodile. Some artifacts date back 4,500 years.
Also at the educational exhibition: 3-D animations and hands-on interactive stations for touchy types. Tickets cost $19.95 for adults or $15.95 for children ages 3 through 12.