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20 Best Historical Sites in Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri is a cultural and historical metropolitan city that is home to the famous Kansas Chiefs who won the first Super Bowl.

Although the famous sports team has made a name for itself, this city on the Missouri River is a stunning jewel filled with cascading waterfalls, jazz, and historical sites.

kansas city missouri
Sean Pavone

The Kansas City parks and the historic district provide importance to the city’s establishment, enough to place them in the National Register of Historic Places.

Here’s the scoop on the best historical sites in Kansas City!

Kansas City Historical Landmarks

1. Union Station

union station kansas city missouri

An architectural masterpiece with 100 years of history, the Union Station in Kansas City is a great way to connect with the city’s cultural and historical roots.

For all ages, this historical marker provides lifelong learning opportunities with museums and exhibits. Once visitors walk inside the train station, they can almost picture thousands of people waiting for their train.

While the train station closed in the 1980s, there was a combined community effort to renovate the station in 1996 to preserve this majestic place.

2. Arabia Steamboat Museum

One of the most popular historical sites in Kansas City, the Arabia Steamboat Museum is a living time capsule with a modern treasure-hunting story.

While the steamboat sank in 1856, it wasn’t recovered until over 100 years later with artifacts preserved to connect visitors to a part of American History.

This museum in particular is only for the Arabia steamboat, but the city hopes to bring the National Steamboat Museum to life to retell the stories of hidden and lost boats in the Missouri River.

3. Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

baseballs laying on a field

Discover and learn about 200 years of African American baseball history at this famous museum in the downtown area.

While Jackie Robinson and Babe Ruth are considered historic figures of the sport, there are many other players in the Negro National League with exclusive merchandise.

To bring the Negro Leagues to the spotlight, there will be a Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center that offers visitors, students, and baseball fans educational opportunities from archives to state-of-the-art technology.

4. Vaile Mansion

While most of the historical sites in Kansas City provide a rich history of famous figures, the Vaile Museum is a great place to visit for architectural lovers.

The 31-room mansion was built by Colonel and Mrs. Harvey with a mixture of Italian and Gothic building designs.

Visitors can explore the mansion and attend upcoming events like the Strawberry Festival and Christmas tours.

5. The National Archives at Kansas City

archive files

Discover photo galleries, exhibits, and genealogy research at the National Archives! This underrated institution is 1 of the 13 buildings in the United States involving federal documents.

While the National Archives does hold guided tours for visitors, people interested in researching need to book an appointment. The most requested documents involve naturalization and inmate case files.

6. National WWI Museum and Memorial

Spend the whole day soaking up World War I history with interactive exhibits, artifacts, and relatable films.

This National World War I Memorial and Museum invite visitors on a journey to learn about the captured prisoners, troops, and the timeline of the war. Visitors can also dive into the lives of Native Americans during WWI.

7. Kansas City Gangster Tour

antique gangster car

Take a bus tour around Kansas City and learn about the city’s most notorious gangsters that helped shape the city’s rich history.

Compared to public walking tours, this Gangster tour takes visitors on an immersive experience with an engaging tour guide highlighting infamous crimes and mob homes.

8. Airline History Museum

Learn about some of the most famous aircraft and their stories at the National Airline History Museum!

Due to the recent renovations on the outside of the building, this museum is ready to show even more visitors an array of air crafts with some of them in flying condition. Daily walk-in tours are available Wednesday through Saturday.

9. National Frontier Trails Museum

antique wagon on Oregon trail

One of the best historical sites in Kansas City, the National Frontier Trails Museum goes back in time to inform visitors of the Westward Expansion with added artifacts and a narration of the local history.

The name of the museum connects to the trails that started in Independence, Missouri. In addition, the museum and research library dives deeper into the pioneers that struggled for a new life with the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe trail.

10. American Jazz Museum

This famous jazz museum doesn’t solely focus on artifacts but instead teaches visitors a variety of different jazz styles. Listen to endless jazz CDs and spend an hour or two with the classic genre.

While this historical building provides a gateway of information for the lively genre, the Blue room, and the Gem Theatre are two places where jazz music comes to life. Visit a jazz club while exploring Kansas City!

11. Loose Park

loose park kansas city

The third largest park in Kansas City, Loose Park is a picturesque place, especially during the fall and spring seasons. Don’t be surprised to come across professional photographers as they try to capture the beauty of the area.

This park is an outdoor recreation and preservation area featuring a lake, playground, horticultural exhibitions, and Civil War markers.

While the park has a stunning rose garden with 130 varieties, this historical significance draws in locals and visitors alike. Loose Park served as the major site for the Battle of Westport involving Confederate and Union forces.

12. Watkins Mill State Park

After exploring the museums in the downtown area, travel to Watkins Mill State Park for a relaxing afternoon with your furry friend.

This park is known for fishing and features a woolen mill dating back to the 19th century.

Take part in the bicycle path on the perimeter of the lake. If you’re looking for a small family adventure, reserve a space on the camping sites with select dates available.

13. Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden

Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden
Jon Kraft

The Ewing and Muriel Kauffman legacy continues with a beautiful garden free to the public. This memorial garden features perennial beds, unique trees, and seasonal displays inspired by parks in Europe.

To continue giving visitors the tranquility and peacefulness of the lush and colorful garden, all visitors must stick to the no-professional photography rule.

14. Culinary Center of Kansas City

While Kansas City has its fair share of delicious cuisines and restaurants, the Culinary Center of Kansas City is a women-owned business that inspires and educates visitors on how to cook unique dishes.

This culinary center offers cooking classes and events that bring ingredients and cooking techniques to every kind of foodie. Learn more about the basic foundations of cooking to cooking healthy dishes.

15. Lewis & Clark State Park

Lewis & Clark State Park

Just outside of Kansas City, Lewis and Clark State Park is both an outdoor recreation and nature preservation for fishing and camping with picnic areas.

While the park is a peaceful landscape, it does have historical significance involving the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. William Clark described this place as a bird haven with a number of bird species.

16. Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site

Thomas Benton is a well-known artist and writer who spent most of his time in politics pushing against the aristocracy.

He placed all his energy into creating art that displayed rural Western America and the way that people lived.

With his various mediums of art, Thomas is now one of the most influential artists in America. His home serves as an important historical site, allowing visitors a glimpse into his life.

17. Harry S Truman National Historic Site

inauguration of harry s truman
Library of Congress

Similar to the historic site of Thomas Hart Benton, the Harry S Truman house invites visitors of all ages to learn and explore the life of the 33rd president of the United States.

This two-story farmhouse brings to life his involvement in the shaping of present-day America.

He strived to pull America away from isolationism to a place that involves the rest of the world. Learn about his time as president and his involvement in WWI and WWII.

18. 1859 Jail Museum – Jackson County

Located in Independence, Missouri, the 1859 Jail Museum is an underrated historical site providing a glimpse into the military and civilian prisoners around the Civil War.

Although this Jail Museum has a less gruesome history compared to other famous prisons, there is still a fair amount of evidence indicating famous inmates and executions.

With the rising number of criminals, the jail couldn’t handle it due to space issues, so they built another cell block to accommodate them.

19. Independence Town Square

independence missouri vaile mansion
Jon Kraft

A 30-minute drive away from Kansas City, Independence Square provides a gateway to history and entertainment. Discover even more of the city with religious heritage sites involving the Mormon settlers.

Explore the Truman Courthouse, 1827 Log Courthouse, 3 Trails Brewing, and other historical sites. You can also visit the Truman Home Visitor Center to grab your tickets for the Truman Home.

20. Bingham Waggoner Mansion & Estate

This mansion is a historical site that is often used for special events despite the rich history seeped within the walls of the estate.

In the heart of Independence, the 19-acre mansion is home to George Bigham and the Waggoner family for nearly 100 years.

Walk around the Victorian-era house and visit the boutique. February through the end of March requires that all guests call ahead for reservations while the regular tour season starts April 1st.

Kansas City, MO History Buff Guide

Kansas City, Missouri is a popular destination giving visitors endless access to famous landmarks including museums, parks, statues, and institutions offering educational programs.

The rich history of this city is overflowing with special events and beautiful architecture on every corner.

You can easily spend a few days exploring downtown Kansas City with a generous amount of history and entertainment for the whole family.

That’s the scoop on the best historical sites in or near Kansas City!

kansas city historical sites

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