Kansas City’s Heartland Bargains

Want to find a bargain travel destination in the U.S.? Head to a small or mid-sized city that’s not on the east or west coast. In general, blue states are more prosperous than the red ones–and pricier. Big cities are more expensive than small ones. And at times it even feels like the smaller towns and cities try harder.

Which brings me to Kansas City.

I always say that if you see a great cheap fare to somewhere you weren’t planning on going, maybe you should go there and be pleasantly surprised. If you ask someone what Kansas City is all about, they’ll probably struggle. Barbeque? The Chiefs? That “Goin’ to Kansas City” song?

The city has a lot going for it though. You’ve got sports teams, an amusement park, a very good zoo, and the terrific Nelson-Atkins Art Museum (pictured above). And hey, how can you not have fun at Oceans of Fun – “the largest tropically themed water park in the Midwest”? Throw in some history in nearby Independence, the Negro Leagues baseball museum, and on and on. Most of it is easy on the wallet, much of it free even.

When I was there last week, the local visitors’ bureau gave me a list that’s right up my alley: “Kansas City’s Free Attractions.” Besides the expanding Nelson-Atkins museum, here are a few other selections from the list:

– Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
– Hallmark Visitor’s Center
– Kaleidoscope children’s center
– Harley-Davidson Final Assembly Plant
– Boulevard Brewing Company (on Saturdays)
– The Woodlands race track

Kansas City’s sleepy downtown has always been puzzling though. While many interesting old buildings have been converted to loft space condos, there’s still very little to do after the office workers go home. Thankfully that’s in the midst of changing. There’s a major construction project going on near the convention center, with retail, a sporting event and concert center, a renovated live performance theater, a renovated movie theater, and more. I’m not sure it’ll ever turn out as well as the downtown renewals in Atlanta, Memphis, or Nashville–the area is far more spread out for one thing–but there’s definitely a whiff of improvement in the air.

So if you see a fare for $79 round trip pop up in your e-mail box, like the one I just took advantage of, go eat some barbeque!

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