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Explore Kansas’ Rich History in Kansas City

Embedded in the culture of Kansas City, Kansas, there’s a rich history waiting to be explored. 

Within the Strawberry Hill community, where Eastern Europeans once settled, traditions and food are still celebrated. During the Civil War era, the historic town of Quindaro became a significant stop on the Underground Railroad. Nestled within Wyandotte County, the nation’s second most diverse community, the city celebrates its current ethnic majorities with experiences such as the new Taco Trail, which features more than 50 local taquerias. 

Coupled with welcoming Midwestern hospitality and abundant sports events, cuisine and shopping, Kansas City is well-rounded and filled with interesting diversions.

“We’re a great stopover for group tours, and we like to work with Tour Kansas to tie in specific attractions all across the state,” said Kerry Green, services manager at Visit Kansas City Kansas.

At the epicenter of Kansas City lies Village West. Built around the Kansas Speedway, this district offers plentiful shopping from major retailers at Legends Outlets KC, as well as Cabela’s and Nebraska Furniture Mart. Restaurants within the district run the gamut from Asian to barbecue and Mexican cuisine. Lodging options include the Northwoods-style Great Wolf Lodge, which features a family-friendly indoor water park filled with waterslides, pools and whirlpools. 

Children’s Mercy Park in Village West is home to Sporting Kansas City, the 2013 Major League Soccer Champions. KC Current, a member of the National Women’s Soccer League, also competes there, and a future stadium for the team is in the works. In partnership with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team plays next door at Legends Field. Nearby, the Kansas Speedway hosts races throughout the year, plus more than 200 annual events, including the American Royal World Series of Barbeque. 

“As part of the larger Kansas City metropolitan area, our city within a city is a very accessible hub,” said Green. “Downtown Kansas City [Missouri] is just across the Missouri River. Lawrence and historic Leavenworth are less than 30 minutes away and make fun day trips.”

Strawberry Hill 

Decidedly unique, the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center celebrates the culture of the area’s Eastern European residents. Built in 1887, the Victorian Queen Anne-style home became an orphanage during World War I, and the lovely chapel used by local  nuns is still open. Guided tours highlight the many rooms, which are decorated to represent the various cultures and countries represented. During the Christmas season, the rooms showcase cultural traditions, and the chapel displays approximately 100 Nativity scenes. A traditional lunch can be served featuring cabbage rolls and Strawberry Hill povitica, a traditional Eastern European dessert bread served during the holiday season. Groups often visit the off-site Strawberry Hill Bakery before touring the museum.

Sports Galore

At Children’s Mercy Park, 90-minute guided tours highlight the pitch, locker room and press box. At Legends Field, each of the 6,500 seats is within 50 feet of the playing field. Zip KC soars high above the Kansas River bluffs on nine zip lines that reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, and its Night Flight tour zips under the stars with glow sticks, lasers and headlamps. Kansas Speedway fans can opt for a behind-the-scenes tour or the Richard Petty Driving Experience, riding shotgun in a NASCAR stock car driven by a professional instructor. 

Quindaro and the Underground Railroad 

The Underground Railroad Museum, John Brown statue and Quindaro ruins offer a glimpse into the past. The museum is housed in the former Vernon Elementary School, and local guides recount the history of the Underground Railroad and the story of Quindaro and its people. There, slaves forded the Missouri River to settle in the free state of Kansas. Across the street, the life-size, bronze statue of John Brown stands as an icon of the Kansas Underground Railroad. One block away, a scenic overlook offers views of the Missouri River and the town ruins. Wilson’s Pizza, owned by a longtime resident, makes a tasty lunch stop.

Culinary Notes

Highlighting the city’s Latin American community, the popular Taco Trail launched in 2020, featuring street tacos, Tex-Mex-style tacos and more. A smartphone app allows visitors to check out each spot and earn prizes. At Cider Hill Family Orchard, groups can hop on a hayride through the pick-your-own orchard filled with more than 1,000 apple trees, enjoy the pumpkin patch, fish in catch-and-release ponds, dine on barbecue and peruse the gift shop. Located on Southwest Boulevard, Spicin Foods creates specialty sauces, salsas and snacks for wholesale, retail and private label. Visitors tour the manufacturing facility and shop for “seconds” at bargain prices that aren’t available at retail.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.