To the outsider, Kansas City may not seem like the most obvious hub for art and music. A little-known fact, however, is that Kansas City is home to some of the best art collections in the world. Indeed, Kansas City is home to the only museum dedicated solely to jazz. After speaking with a couple of KC-insiders, I became convinced that during an overnight trip to the city, I should take in as much art as possible.

Now, I admit that I’m not the most, shall we say, cultured when it comes to museums. On a vacation to Paris, I spent four hours at the Louvre, but if my hubby had his way, that would have been 12 hours. So for me to actually enjoy spending a day exploring museums, that says something. Here is a rundown on the Kansas City museums I liked best.

Viewfinder Tip: Spend the morning visiting Kansas City’s larger museums, and recharge with lunch before enjoying some of the smaller museums in the afternoon.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
I was pleasantly surprised by the breadth of works at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It houses a wide range of paintings and sculptures by such artists as Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh, and Willem de Kooning. The museum sprawls over 22 acres with plenty of space to stroll and enjoy the outdoor sculpture park and lawns. Also, its Chinese collection is considered one of the finest in the world.

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art has an impressive collection of modern works by the likes of Georgia O’Keefe, Robert Mapplethorpe, Dale Chihuly, Andrew Wyeth, and more.

The Kemper actually has three locations. The main building, near the Nelson-Atkins Museum, houses a permanent collection with works by the artists named above, special exhibits, as well as a café and museum shop. The second building, Kemper East, is nearby and also features works from the museum’s permanent collection. A third location downtown, Kemper at the Crossroads, features special exhibitions and is open on the first Fridays of the month from 12-10 p.m., but is closed in January and February. All three locations are free.

Entrance to American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

American Jazz Museum
I dig the American Jazz Museum because it’s more about the music than the “museum.” And I do love my music.

Located in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District (where you’ll find many other things “jazz”), the American Jazz Museum is the only museum in the U.S. that focuses solely on this musical genre. With changing exhibits, live performances, and educational programs for young students and adults, it’s a full-on feast of jazz.  

There’s live music every Friday night from 5-7:30 p.m., including drink specials, an appetizer buffet, and door prizes.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
In the same building (but separated from) the American Jazz Museum is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Sports are not my thing, but if you’re anything of a baseball buff, I’m sure you’d love this museum, as it documents the history of the African-American baseball leagues from the 1800s through the 1950s. It also spotlights African-American players, from the lesser-known to the more famous ones.

During my visit, I stayed at the newly renovated Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Plaza which is just three miles from the Nelson Atkins (my museum-tour starting point). The Sheraton has a few restaurants if you find yourself exhausted by all the museum-hopping and just want to grab easy-to-find meals. The property also sponsors a “Social Hour” (with wine!) three times a week; this is a great way to meet others if you happen to be traveling solo.

What are your favorite museums or pieces of artwork in Kansas City?