When I planned a late March visit to Kansas City, Missouri, I had imagined that the trip would be a reprieve from the brutal winter weather of Chicago.
Oops! More than six inches of snow dropped on KC that weekend, as winter returned for one last blast.
But I embraced the challenge. It’s fun getting to know a new place in less than perfect conditions. If you’re going to let the weather get in your way, you’re not much of an adventurer!
The KC visit was a lot of fun despite the flurries. The snow provided some cool winter scenery and the indoor attractions had me hooked, from the unique museums to the famous barbecue.
Kansas City in winter isn’t so bad. Here’s a guide to how I braved the elements, and additional suggestions for KC winter activities to pass the time if you’re visiting during the coldest months of the year.
Quick Summary: The Best Kansas City Winter Activities
1 Kansas City barbecue
2 World War I Museum
3 Toy & Miniature Museum
4 Arabia Steamboat Museum
5 World’s Largest Shuttlecocks
6 18th & Vine District
7 Harry Truman Presidential Library
8 Hallmark Visitor Center
9 Ice Skating Outdoors
10 Kansas City Zoo
Kansas City barbecue!
For lunch, it was off to Gates BarBQ, one of the many barbecue hot spots in KC.
The best way to experience a new restaurant is to gorge on everything, so the table was loaded with BBQ chicken, ham, shredded beef and ribs, with fries and beans on the side.
The sauce had a nice kick without being too spicy. Great stuff. Gates was a total winner in my book.
World War I Museum
There’s only one museum in America dedicated entirely to World War I. The structure began in 1926 as the Liberty Memorial and expanded in 2006 to include an underground museum.
The Great War claimed the lives of more than nine million people worldwide, and the memorial tastefully documents the conflict with pictures, interactive touch-screen displays and artifacts.
The items on display at the World War I Museum included grenades from Austria-Hungary, and submarine torpedoes from the war.
The 217-foot high tower at the memorial can be seen throughout much of the city.
You can ride an old-fashioned elevator to the top of the tower, where you’ll find the best view of Kansas City and its skyline.
Several Quirky Museums
The WWI Museum is very heavy and powerful. For something a little more lighthearted, try the Arabia Steamboat Museum, the National Airline History Museum, or the Toy & Miniature Museum.
The Toy & Miniature Museum is a must-visit! This facility has popular toys from the past several decades, so no matter how old you are, you’ll find some toys from your youth.
Next, see the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which shines a light on an 1856 shipwreck in the Missouri River that was unearthed in 1988.
The cargo was incredibly well-preserved and feels right at home sitting in glass cases in this museum.
The National Airline History Museum provided a cool glimpse into the history of airplane travel, but the museum is unfortunately closed as of this writing.
The 18th & Vine District
Another idea for how to survive Kansas City in winter is to the visit the historic 18th and Vine District.
This neighborhood is rich in culture and history and features both the American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. I really enjoyed learning about the history of music and sports at these museums.
Harry Truman Presidential Library
Next, consider the Harry Truman Presidential Library in nearby Independence. Any chance to dig deep into the history of an American president is a worthwhile educational experience.
This library covers the life and administration of the 33rd American president, who brought the end of World War II. Truman was born in Missouri, served as a Senator here, and eventually passed away in Kansas City.
The Truman Library is just 10 miles east of downtown Kansas City.
Ice Skating Outdoors
You can’t beat the cold, so you might as well embrace it! During the coldest winter months (November to March), you can ice skate outdoors at Crown Center Ice Terrace.
Adult admission is only $9 as of this writing, with an extra $5 for skate rental.
The Giant Spider and Shuttlecocks
KC has some fun roadside attractions. Stop at the Kemper Museum of Modern Art along the way to see the giant spider statue out front, and feel free to explore the museum as well.
Then, proceed to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. That’s where you’ll see the giant badminton shuttlecocks outside.
They’re among the most famous artworks created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, who also did the spoonbridge and cherry in Minneapolis.
Hallmark Visitors Center
Then there’s the Hallmark Visitors Center. That’s right, the famous greeting card company has a facility with a gift shop and interactive exhibits about the history of the company.
It’s open Tuesday to Saturday, it’s right in the heart of downtown KC at the Crown Center complex, and it’s free!
Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium
There’s also the Kansas City Zoo. Some animals, like the penguins and polar bears, prefer these conditions.
Animals at the zoo and aquarium include orangutans, sting rays, elephants, leopards, flamingos, chimpanzees, hippos, and more. They have a lot of African animals!
Temporary Events and Exhibits in KC
Kansas City usually has some seasonal events, festivals, and exhibits you can check out.
During my visit, I found the Science of Rock & Roll exhibit at Union Station. This installation taught visitors about music and even allowed them to record themselves playing an instrument and watch the video online.
The display featured separate cases highlighting each decade in music history. Bust out those 8-track players and let’s play some Meat Loaf!
Among the exhibits was this doll signed by Alice Cooper, who gave it his signature eye paint. This is not creepy at all.
Meanwhile, it was also the opening round of March Madness when I visited, which meant that basketball teams from across the country were in town.
The North Carolina team stayed in my hotel, which led to a lobby pep rally featuring the team’s cheerleaders, mascot and band.
Hundreds gathered in the Power & Light District for a fan experience with live bands, basketball hoops for kids, and a big screen to watch all the games.
While these specific activities will not be available during your winter visit, keep an eye open for other city-wide events.
For instance, Winter Magic is a “drive-thru holiday party,” which is just a fancy way of saying that it’s a one-mile road with incredible Christmas lights.
Another winter event is Irish Winterfest, which takes place in February.
Kansas City in Winter: Photos From the Arctic Blast
After emerging from Union Station, the snow started to fall. The tower of the WWI Museum as seen through the flakes from a distance:
The next morning, Kansas City was a winter wonderland. Fortunately, the city was able to clear the roads rather quickly. Well done, KC road crew!
With the roads perfectly drivable, I headed off to see some of Kansas City’s coolest neighborhoods
Westport has a lot of history to its credit. It used to be its own city before KC took it over in 1897.
Back then, Westport was popular as a starting point for settlers heading off on the Oregon and Sante Fe Trails. Now it serves as a popular entertainment district with busy bars and restaurants.
You know you’re in a fun hipster ‘hood when you start seeing the bike shops.
Unfortunately, not every business appreciates that clientele.
Nobody was foolish enough to try to sit outside at the Mud Pie on this day, although the popular coffeehouse had plenty of customers inside.
The Westport neighborhood borders the state of Kansas, which means that you can walk from Missouri into Kansas.
When I finally replace my travel van, I want a VW just like this one, perhaps with a more elaborate color scheme.
Someone even constructed an actual igloo. I’ve seen halfhearted igloo attempts from time to time, but it’s been years since I witnessed a genuine, brick-by-brick winter igloo. Now that is how you enjoy a winter storm.
Finally, consider some day trips from Kansas City if the weather isn’t too bad. St. Louis, Omaha, and Des Moines are all within a few hours’ drive.
Or, for an off-the-beaten-path suggestion, consider a road trip into Topeka and Wichita, Kansas.
Typical Kansas City Winter Weather
How cold is it in Kansas City during winter? That totally depends. It can be freezing and snowing, or it can be just moderately chilly.
On average, high temperatures from December through February hang around the 42° F range, with lows averaging about 23° F.
Those months also see about 4 inches of snow, per month. Kansas City weather in December is probably the coldest and most difficult.
Note: I was a guest of Visit KC in Kansas City.