51 Best Museums in Kansas City for Families

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Museum Central!

I’d never thought much of Kansas City, but I was stunned when we planned our upcoming visit. The Kansas City region offers some of the best museums in the country! This state line city is spread over Missouri and Kansas and brings out the best of both. 

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view of Kansas City from the Liberty Memorial Tower at the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, MO.
Above: Kansas City as seen from the top of the Liberty Memorial Tower at the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial

What’s more, the “Heart of America” has played a pivotal role in American history, making it a hub of important sites and quality exhibits. 

Here’s our picks of 51 best museums in Kansas City, starting with the top five.

Kansas City’s Five Best Museums

What did it take to make the top five? Well, all of these museums are well reviewed and highly rated on several websites. Furthermore, these locales are unique and representative of the Kansas City experience. 

Each of them offers a wide range of options, providing something for everyone in your family. 

Finally, each museum has a prime location in an important part of Kansas City. That means that the fun doesn’t have to stop when you’ve left the museum grounds.

Please note that hours and availability are subject to change. Check museum websites for current hours and COVID-19 guidelines.

#1: National World War I History Museum and Memorial

Incredible is the word for this place! I’m not sure if I’ve been to a museum that presents its subject with such power, relevance, and grace. 

(This is a non-sponsored review, and the National WWI History Museum and Memorial was not notified that we would be reviewing their museum. As always, all opinions are our own.)

Kids in front of the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial. One of the best museums in Kansas City, and one of the best museums in the world on the subject of World War 1.
Above: Our kids on the lawn in front of the National World War I Museum and Liberty Memorial Tower in Kansas City, MO

World War I is a complex subject because the war’s origin and impact are difficult to trace and comprehend. Even as a history major, I found this war difficult to take in. 

The fact that the war took place over a century ago makes the subject even harder to appreciate and understand. But we can’t afford to ignore WWI, as this war did more to shape the modern world than nearly any other conflict of the last three centuries. 

The superb design of this museum allows you remarkable access into the world that created World War I, the war itself, and the world that emerged from the ashes. 

Jenn in front of a life-sized replica of a bomb crater inside the National WW1 Museum- one of the best museums in Kansas City, MO.
Above: The National WWI Museum has several life-size displays.

I definitely recommend a stop at the introductory theater. The short movie not only gives context to the museum, but provides a fantastic explanation of the various political and social forces that resulted in the catastrophic conflict. 

The Liberty Memorial provides a perfect setting for the museum, giving gravity to the subject and drawing attention to its direct connection with Kansas City and the American Heartland.

Let’s take a look at the museum before exploring the memorial.

National World War I Museum

The National World War I History Museum began collecting objects and documents about WWI in 1920, only two years after the war ended. Today, the museum houses over 35,000 WWI items, making it one of the largest museums on the subject. 

The strength of the collection is a boon for every visitor. It allows visitors an immersive experience into the nations, issues, and events of the World War I time period. From airplanes to enlistment posters, from personal letters to poetry, it’s hard to find something missing at this museum. 

Child listening to the audio tour at the WW1 Museum. The excellent and detailed exhibits at this museum make it one of the top museums in Kansas City.
Above: The museum’s audio guide was a big plus for our children.

But what really makes this museum is its expert curation. Exceptional exhibits, life-size dioramas, a comprehensive audio tour, engaging movies, interactive displays, and children’s activity books provide a wide range of ways to comprehend the war and its significance. 

On the whole, this truly interactive museum ensures that every visitor is served, not just the history buffs.

An intense experience

That said, be aware that the museum is intense, and not just because of the subject matter. The exhibit hall plays a background music that is remarkably tense and anxious. The music succeeds at setting a sober and serious tone, but it can also be overwhelming. 

Father and son exploring the exhibits at the National World War 1 Museum.
Above: The activity book and scavenger hunt provides structure and guidance through the sea of information.

Life-sized dioramas allow you to observe the hellish trenches while hearing the accounts of the men who lived and died there. The museum doesn’t go out of its way to be grotesque, but there’s no way to get around the horror of what this war was for those who experienced it.

I found that the combination of the music, the abundance of items, and the heavy subject matter made it difficult to think at times. Our nine year old son was overwhelmed after a half hour of being in the exhibit hall. He needed a solid twenty minutes out in the sun before he felt like seeing more of the museum. 

The point being—it’s Flanders Field, not a bed of roses. Worth the visit, but no walk in the park! 

Field of artificial poppies inside the WW1 museum, designed to give visitors an idea of how many people the war killed.
Above: Artificial poppies outside entrance to main hall

Other amenities and resources

Thankfully, there’s lots to see and do outside the exhibit hall. The museum’s lower level houses the Edward Jones Research Center, a research library made available to the public. 

The research library stewards 330,000 historical documents and objects, and over 10,000 library titles. You can obtain free access to these resources by making an appointment with the curatorial staff. 

The museum gift shop is excellent and we found plenty of great gifts to tempt us. I finally succumbed to a WWI quilt book that I knew would make my wife flip. 

The museum also operates the Over There Cafe that provides convenient lunch options and—queue applause— coffee! You can keep learning over lunch because the eatery plays music from the WWI time period and displays the flags of nations that took part in the conflict. 

Flags of Nations involved in WW1 at the Over There Cafe in the National WW1 Museum in Kansas City.
Above: Inside the dining area at the Over There Cafe

The cafe hours are limited and we found that it was best to time our lunch stop after our visit to the memorial and before the museum. This plan ensured that we refueled before the cafe closed.

We might have missed out completely on visiting this amazing museum, if the Roadtrippers app had not suggested it. Check out how we used this great app to plan this and other stops on our summer trip!

Screenshot of Roadtrippers app info entry on National World War 1 Museum in Kansas City.
We found this amazing museum as we were planning our summer road trip on the Roadtrippers app.

Want a child’s take on this museum? Here’s a review by our preteen daughter, Appaloosa:

“I really liked the museum because it had a lot of interactive exhibits. There were things to see, hear, read, and feel. 

It also really opens your eyes to how bad it really was, especially when you first come in and you see the model bomb crater with all the poppies in it. 

kids working on the activity books at the National WW1 Museum in Kansas City, MO.
Above: Some of our children working on the activity books.

The audio tour was definitely worthwhile, and I would recommend it to anybody. We also got activity books at the start that we could fill out as we learned about different things, and those were super helpful to me. 

The exhibits were very immersing, and I feel like I came out of that museum knowing more about history than I have ever known. 

Girl in front of a real World War 1 tank
Above: “Burro” standing in front of a real WW1 tank!

With a former history teacher for a dad, I have been dragged along to a lot of museums, and this ranks among the top three. The other two are OMSI and the Tillamook cheese and ice cream factory, but that is another post. 

This museum was really informative, and I know it was about a war, but it was oddly fun to walk through this museum and learn everything about this subject.” -Appaloosa

Liberty Memorial Tower

The Liberty Memorial Tower is a must. You may find it tempting to give it a passing glance— after all, it’s literally above the museum so haven’t you already seen it? 

I didn’t anticipate how much I would appreciate the quiet, steadfast memorial. For one, its location is filled with significance. The Memorial was placed right across from Union Station, the chief terminal that moved countless American men to eastern harbors and European graves. 

Top of the Liberty Memorial Tower with person looking out. The Liberty Memorial Tower is above the National World War 1 Museum, one of the most excellent museums in Kansas City.
Above: Person looking out from the top of the Liberty Memorial Tower

From high up in the Liberty Memorial Tower you can see Kansas City from all sides. It’s a chilling reminder of the many neighborhoods and farms that sacrificed sons at the time of need. 

From below, the tower and its buildings stand defiantly like a bastion, a reminder that America chose to enter the world stage for something more than mere self-interest. 

History and lore

The story of the Memorial is as moving as the Memorial itself. When plans for the memorial were announced in 1919 the public responded with such passion that more than $2.5 million dollars were raised in 10 days. For perspective, that’s $35 million in today’s economy, a powerful testimony to how much the Great War had impacted the lives of everyday Americans. 

The 1921 dedication of the site drew a crowd of over 100,000 people, and involved all five of the supreme commanders of the Allied powers. More than 150,000 people assembled in 1926 when President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the completed monument. 

View of the lawn and memorial stones in front of the Liberty Memorial Tower.
Above: In the upper left corner you can see one of the giant sphinxes, as well as the base of the Tower.

As a structure, the memorial is a great example of the classical Egyptian Revival architecture popular in the early 20’s. Monumental sphinx guard both sides of the tower and massive bas reliefs flank the three prominent sides of the monument. The enormous monument and its beautiful parkland are a wonderful compliment to the dark intensity of the museum.

Know before you go

Want to go to the top of the tower? You’ll need to buy ticket inside the museum and ask the friendly docents to direct you toward the elevator. The elevator will take you to the memorial platform from which you can walk to the tower and its elevator. 

One helpful docent took charge of our bags while another managed the elevator and answered all of our questions. It was clear that these men had a personal connection to the tower which made the visit all the more meaningful.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the museum and memorial are perfectly located in downtown Kansas City, MO. Across the lawn stands the Federal Reserve Bank and its amazing Money Museum. The Hallmark Visitor center and the Crown Center are just as close. Best of all, the crown of downtown, Union Station, is just across the street.

#2: Union Station

No trip to Kansas City is complete without a stop at Union Station. Since 1914 this grand railroad complex has been the heart of the city, a witness to over one hundred years of history. 

View of Union Station in Kansas City, MO
Above: Union Station, as seen from the top of the Liberty Memorial

The station was instrumental in mobilizing troops for WWI. It was also the site of the infamous Kansas City Massacre. In recent decades the station has seen both urban rot and economic revival.

Union Station now serves as the cultural hub of downtown Kansas City. Its three levels host an impressive array of attractions. With stores, restaurants, quality museums, a planetarium, an escape room, and two theaters, Union Station is literally a downtown within a downtown! Oh, and there’s an Amtrak station too, so if you feel you oughta get there by rail you still can!

While there’s no lack of things to do at Union Station, you’ll want to leave plenty of time to take in the scenery. The enormous Beaux-Arts building is a wonder to behold both inside and out. Be sure to bring a camera and your favorite art enthusiast.

Finally, the station is perfectly situated in Kansas City’s downtown. The WWI Museum and Memorial, the Money Museum, the Hallmark Visitor Center, and several other sites are a short walk from Union Station.

Union Station contains many activity possibilities, as well as one of the best museums in Kansas City.
Above: Union Station features world-class exhibits.

Be sure to check the Union Station’s planning tool, a fast and simple resource designed to help you match all the station has to offer with your personal interests and needs. 

#3: Arabia Steamboat Museum

If I could go back to Kansas City, this museum would be on the top of my list! 

The Arabia Steamboat Museum is cool on so many levels. For one, the museum is the result of a modern day treasure-hunting story, involving five everyday guys looking for a sunken steamboat. 

A picture of the sternwheeler, Natchez. The steamboat Arabia was one of many sternwheelers that traveled the Missouri river.
A sternwheeler, similar to the Arabia. Photo by Mary Hammel on Unsplash

More than that, the actual find was spectacular. The Mighty Steamboat Arabia, a fully stocked sternwheeler, was discovered perfectly preserved 45 feet below a Kansas cornfield. In fact, the discovery was on such a scale that the current museum isn’t large enough to hold all of the artifacts! 

The museum offers an unparalleled window into the frontier time period, giving visitors opportunity to peruse the objects that kept America going day-by-day. What’s more, these contents only increase as preservationists continue the work through the Arabia’s incredible payload.

In recent years, the museum has located the wreck of the Malta, a second steamboat that sunk in the Missouri River. 

The Arabia Steamboat Museum demonstrates why history is an ever-changing field of study. Watch preservationists in action, hear about the latest steamboat discovery, and come away with a deeper appreciation for historical research.

To top it all off, the museum is located in Kansas City’s River Market district a vibrant and historic part of Kansas City. The district’s wide selection of shops, restaurants, and sights can easily transform your museum visit into a full day of fun along the shores of the Missouri river. 

#4: Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

It’s not every day that you get to visit a world-class art museum. The Nelson-Atkins is a premier art center that’s regularly listed among the finest art museums in the United States. 

The museum’s collection of more than 42,000 pieces spans 5,000 years of human history and represents a wide spectrum of cultures, periods, forms, and styles. You can trace over 2,500 years of African art history or peruse the largest collection of paintings by Thomas Hart Benton. 

Then of course there’s the gargantuan badminton birdies scattered about the museum lawn!

A bird's eye view of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Enormous sculptures decorate the green parkland surrounding the museum.
Above: The World-class Nelson-Atkins, can you find the shuttlecocks? Image courtesy of Nelson-Atkins Art Museum.

In fact, its difficult to identify what the Nelson-Atkins is lacking. 

  • Ancient art
  • American art 
  • African art
  • Chinese art 
  • Contemporary art
  • European art 
  • Japanese art 
  • Modern art 
  • Native American art 
  • South/Southeast Asian art
  • Photography
  • Architecture
  • Design
  • Decorative arts  

Don’t forget the extensive sculpture park! All of this and more is provided free of charge by this remarkable institution.

Modern and classically themed architecture make up the parts of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Above: Contemporary, classic, and more at the Nelson-Atkins. Image courtesy of Nelson-Atkins Art Museum.

A unique experience

Even more impressive is the museum’s commitment to make art an experience, rather than merely an exhibit. The recent Van Gogh Alive exhibition is a good example of how the Nelson-Atkins has redefined what an art museum can be. 

The immersive, interactive experience allows visitors to enter into Van Gogh’s world and appreciate his art from multiple perspectives and experiences. What a refreshing change from the “be quiet and don’t touch” art gallery! 

Enormous badminton birdies decorate a lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Above: Plenty of opportunities to explore and enjoy at the Nelson-Atkins. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Located in the midtown area, the Nelson-Atkins is surrounded by several beautiful parks and is a short walk from the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. If you’re ready for some theater, check out the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts or any of the several performing arts centers peppered about this area of Kansas City.

#5: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Here’s a great museum that you won’t find in anywhere else. Before MLK, Rosa Parks, and Jackie Robinson there were the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tells the story of African American baseball and its pivotal role in transforming American society for the better. 

The baseball history museum offers an enjoyable and disarming way to learn about race, segregation, and civil rights. Be sure to check out the museum’s impressive virtual tour complete with tour guides! 

Finally, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is located in the heart of the Vine Jazz district. The museum is part of the Museums at 18th & Vine. It’s right next to the American Jazz Museum and the Black Archives of Mid-America. 

The 18th & Vine District is one of Kansas City’s culture hubs, a zesty neighborhood with a rich history. Shop, dine, and enjoy quality jazz. Then take a short stroll to the Paseo YMCA where the Negro Leagues got started, only two blocks away from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

46 Great Kansas City Museums

The Kansas City region has so many great museums that we simply couldn’t limit this post to five or even twenty five. All of the museums and sites below have high ratings averaged from over 100 google reviews. 

We’ve grouped the picks into five categories: Interactive Museums, Historical Sites, STEM museums, Art Museums, and Military Museums.

11 Interactive Museums

Most museums are interactive, but these eleven take the cake.

1. Science City

Science City is one of Union Station’s top museums, and Kansas City’s interactive science center. Unearth dinosaurs at the Dino lab, test your senses at the Mr. E. Hotel, or take a death-defying ride on the sky bike. 

T Rex model in front of Union Station in Kansas City, MO.
Above: Getting Prehistoric at Union Station. Image courtesy of Unsplash.

Definitely check out the many education programs designed for children such as the Engineerium, Test Kitchen, and Nature Center.

2. Museum at Prairiefire

Above: The astounding Museum at Prairiefire. Image courtesy of Museum at Prairiefire.

The Museum at Prariefire may be the most innovative museum in the Kansas City area. This Overland Park museum introduces children and adults to STEAM (STEM plus arts) through interactive and immersive experiences. Expand your knowledge with the engaging augmented reality and virtual reality exhibits provided at this cutting-edge museum.

Children and a man play on touch screens to watch dinosaurs in various settings.
Above: The interactive ALIVE exhibit gives visitors the experience of walking with Dinosaurs! Image courtesy of Museum at Prairiefire.

Prairiefire’s Discovery Room provides hands-on opportunities including live animals, life-size puzzles, and a dig site. Animal encounters bring you up close and personal with all sorts of creatures including bearded dragons and millipedes!

Above: Scholars at work in the Museum at Prariefire. Image courtesy of Museum at Prariefire.

The Museum at Prairiefire offers well-designed programs and events for all ages. Don’t forget the museum’s vibrant, beautiful building which is reason enough to visit this remarkable institution.

Above: The Museum at Prairiefire offers a wide range of ways to engage in STEAM. Image courtesy of Museum at Prairiefire.

3. Kansas Children’s Discovery Center 

The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center is one of the highest rated museums on this list, and for good reason. The museum offers a huge selection of outdoor and indoor activities for children, allowing for hours of fun exploring. 

The Discovery Center is located in Topeka, a little more than an hour from Kansas City.

4. Kaleidoscope

Fans of the arts will appreciate Kaleidoscope, the Crown Center’s free children’s center. Children can let their creativity run wild through a variety of crafts and activities. 

Kaleidoscopes is only a few feet of distance from the Crown Center’s main attractions including the Hallmark Visitor Center, SEA LIFE Kansas City, and Legoland Discovery Center

5. The College Basketball Experience

Like the name suggests, this museum puts you into the center of the action. You can practice your skills on actual courts or take a shot at sportscasting in a filming studio. The museum also hosts a college basketball hall of fame.

6. Mulvane Art Museum

The Mulvane Art Museum is known for its interactive workshops and activities. Parents laud its ArtLab, a free art time that provides children with multiple opportunities to explore and create. 

This University of Washburn museum houses a collection of over 5,000 objects from around the world. Explore Mulvane’s paintings prints, drawings, sculpture, photographs, and decorative arts.

Mulvane Art Museum provides free admission and parking and is located in Topeka, Kansas, about an hour out of Kansas City. 

7. Shoal Creek Living History Museum

Stroll into the Missouri frontier at the Shoal Creek Living History Museum. Keep an eye out for bison and chickens as you work your way through this American frontier town. Nearly all of the town’s structures are historic buildings dating from 1807-1885.

The park offers a self-guided tour and welcomes picnic lunches. You’ll want to look into their special events including historical reenactments which are usually scheduled on Saturdays.

8. Missouri Town 1855

Experience life in a Missouri town on the eve of the Civil War. Missouri Town 1855 is a living history park, a time capsule of 25 period buildings spread over 30 acres. 

Self-guided tours allow visitors to immerse themselves in the daily life of frontier America, and reenactments provide a glimpse into the events that shaped the nation. 

Pets are not permitted in the park and park hours and access change seasonally. 

9. Fort Osage National Historic Landmark

Want to experience the early years of frontier history? Fort Osage National Historic Landmark features the frontier fort established by William Clark in 1808 to protect the newly-acquired Louisiana purchase. 

Special living history events allow you to step into life in this far western American outpost. The best events include the Fall Muster and Discover Fort Osage Days.

10. Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm

Set your sights westward at Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm, the last working stage stop on the Santa Fe Trail. 

This living history museum allows you to see life in action at a working stage stop and farm of the Civil War era. Living history programs are offered weekly. 

Be sure to check out their website where you can find literature from the era or learn how your kids can write a letter to the animals of Mahaffie farm!

11. Shawnee Town 1929

Explore prairie life on the eve of the Great Depression at Shawnee Town 1929. This living history museum provides a great opportunity to explore life as it was in the American heartland in the late twenties. 

Children operate an old-fashioned lawn mower at Shawnee Town 1929.
Above: Learning by doing at Shawnee Town 1929. Image courtesy of Shawnee Town 1929.

Learn about truck farming, watch chair caning in action, or make authentic 20’s donuts at this growing living history town.

Laundry lines hang old-time clothing in Shawnee Town 1929.
Above: Life before laundry machines at Shawnee Town 1929. Image courtesy of Shawnee Town 1929.

14+ Historic Sites

We say 14+ because our last entry is a list of historic homes. The history and cultural heritage of the Kansas City area is simply mind-boggling. Settlers or Saxophones, Civil War or Civil Rights—you’ll find it here.

1. American Jazz Museum

Dive into the world of jazz with the live performances, educational programs, and interactive exhibits found at the American Jazz Museum

The American Jazz Museum showcases the best of jazz past and present. Enjoy the sounds of jazz at their listening stations, interact with their touchscreen exhibits, or get hip with their custom mixing boards. 

Another highlight of the Museum is a beautiful sequined gown that was worn by Ella Fitzgerald! 

Best of all, you can bathe in the sounds of modern day jazz in the museum’s Blue Room Jazz Club. The club hosts live performances from both local and national jazz musicians. 

Saxophone image. The American Jazz Museum is one of the excellent history museums in Kansas City.
Photo by benjamin lehman on Unsplash

The American Jazz Museum is located right next to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City’s jazzy 18th and Vine District.

2. Hallmark Visitors Center

The Hallmark Visitors Center is a Kansas City favorite, and for good reason. The free museum not only tells the story of the Hallmark company but also allows visitors to get a window into how this beloved company repeatedly puts our feelings into words. 

Visitors have appreciated the opportunity to meet creators behind Hallmark designs and products. They’ve also enjoyed watching the bow machine make them a complimentary bow. 

green bow.
Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

The Hallmark Center has been undergoing renovation with a planned reopening in spring 2022.

The Hallmark Visitors Center is located in the power-packed Crown Center, and is only a short walk from the National WWI Museum and Memorial, Union Station, and the Money Museum. 

3. Battle of Lexington State Historic Site

Lexington, Missouri was witness to one the earliest Civil War battles of the West. From September 18-20, 1861 Union and Confederate forces fought for control of Missouri. 

Today you can tour the site of the battle with the help of an audio tour and driving tour created by the University of Missouri. Visit the Anderson House and see the bullet holes and cannon shots that still riddle the walls of this farm home. 

Be sure to also check out the City of Lexington, which boasts around 500 antebellum homes and the campus of Wentworth Military Academy.

4. National Frontier Trails Museum

Here’s a great place for history buffs! Four historic trails intersect at the National Frontier Trails Museum

The visitor center gives the history and significance of the Lewis and Clark Trail, Santa Fe Trail, California Trail, and Oregon Trail. Walk the trails at the adjoining field where each route can be found in the form of swales marking their exact route westward.

5. Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Park

Go back to a time when Kansas was Indian Country at this unique historic site. 

The long brick building that served as the Shawnee Indian Mission.
Above: Shawnee Indian Mission was a school for Native American tribes forced west by the US government. Image courtesy of Shawnee Indian Mission.

The Shawnee Indian Mission tells the story of native tribes that were forced west of the Mississippi by the US government. The mission was witness to the formative events of Kansas history including early settlement, Bleeding Kansas, the Overland Trails, and the Civil War. 

A brightly lit room filled with displays and artifacts at the Shawnee Indian Mission.
Above: Powerful history at Shawnee Indian Mission. Image courtesy of Shawnee Indian Mission.

If you have more time, check out Trails through the Mission, the mission’s living history program.

6. Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site 

In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled that states could not establish separate public school for students of different races. Brown vs. Board of Education NHS tells the story of this landmark decision. 

19th century photograph of African American students and their teacher of Monroe School. Monroe School was an all black elementary school until Brown vs. Board of Education overturned the principle of separate but equal education.
Above: Students of Monroe School, Topeka KS. Image courtesy of NPS.

Step into the halls of Monroe Elementary School, a Topeka elementary school established as an all black school but transformed by the Supreme Court ruling. Learn about the Topeka families that chose to challenge the Topeka school district, creating the basis for the landmark Supreme Court ruling. 

Six people dressed as living history characters stand beside the entrance sign for Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.
Above: Living history characters at Brown vs. Board of Education NHS. Image courtesy of NPS.

Brown vs. Board of Education NHS is located in Topeka, about an hour from Kansas City.

7. Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

Get up close and personal with one of America’s most important presidents. Harry S. Truman NHS is an extensive, multi-unit site that features several homes of the Truman family and much of the city that Truman called home. 

A white historic home that once belonged to the Truman family.
Above: One of several historic sites at Harry S. Truman NHS. Image courtesy of NPS.

Visit the Truman family farm, Truman’s boyhood home, the famous Summer White House, and important Truman sites along streets of Independence. Don’t pass by the opportunity to visit the recently renovated Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.

The museum also includes a historical reproduction of the Oval Office and a remarkable mural by Thomas Hart Benton.

8. 1859 Jail Museum

Explore the sinister corners of western history at Independence’s historic 1859 Jail Museum

Walk through the dark halls of the formidable frontier prison, and step through strong iron cell doors to visit some of Missouri’s most-wanted including Frank James, William Clarke Quantrill, and the mysterious Rose Jenkins. 

Tour the homes and learn the story of the jailers and deputy marshals who risked life and limb to keep Missouri safe. 

9. Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site

Travel back to the 1870’s at this one-of-a-kind historic site. Watkins Woolen Mill is the only 19th century textile mill in the United State that has retained its original machinery. 

The historic site and its visitor center tells the story of the Watkins family, offering a great window into what life was like in postwar Missouri.

10. Kansas City Museum / Historic Garment District Museum

If you’re looking for local history, then this is the place! The Kansas City Museum tells the story of the City of Kansas City. The museum features some 400 Kansas City artifacts in Corinthian Hall, the 1911 home of the Lumber Magnate Robert Long. 

Kansas City Museum also runs the Historic Garment District Museum. This well-loved museum gives insight into a time when the Kansas City garment industry was one of the largest in the nation. The garment industry was also once the second largest employer in the city. 

You’ll find the Historic Garment District Museum in Kansas City’s Garment District, located on Broadway and 8th Street. 

11. Johnson County Museum

The Johnson County Museum includes a 1950's suburban home complete with a beautiful 50's Chevy sedan.
Above: Back to the 50’s at Johnson County Museum.

Johnson County Museum is breaking the stereotype of the small, stale county museum. Step into the 50’s at the museums All-Electric-House, or let your kids experience history at KidScape, the museum’s interactive activity and play experience. 

The Johnson County Museum features KidScape, an enormous play area that's creatively curated to allow kids to play what they're learning.
Above: Johnson County Museum’s KidScape.

Johnson County Museum also operates the Lanesfield Historic Site, a picturesque limestone country schoolhouse.

12. Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade

Get a taste of turn-of-the-century prairie life at this six-acre historic site located on the Oregon Trail. 

Enjoy a snack at Potwin Drug store’s soda fountain and peruse the goods at the Mulvane general store. Explore the town’s historic church, Santa Fe Depot, and one-room school house. 

Be sure to make time for the beautiful Ward-Meade Botanical garden, home of Tulips at Twilight where you can walk among 25,000 tulips illuminated by luminaries! The garden also features the National Daylilly Display Garden. 

pink tulips in a field

Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade is located in the Topeka area, about an hour away from Kansas City.

13. Kansas Museum of History

Kansas’ official history museum ranks as one of the best museums of the state. 

A plum tree in bloom graces the boldly designed Kansas Museum of History.
Above: The beautiful Kansas Museum of History. Image courtesy of Kansas Historical Society kshs.org/.

Check out artifacts that you can’t find anywhere else such as Carry Nation’s Saloon Smashing Hammer. A legendary Abbott Howitzer, Custer’s Boots, and an 1880’s Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe locomotive feature among the museum’s rich exhibits. 

An early airplane and a steam locomotive are on display at the Kansas Museum of History.
Above: Kansas’ rich history on display at the Kansas Museum of History. Image courtesy of Kansas Historical Society kshs.org

You’ll find the museum in Topeka, about an hour out of Kansas City.

14. House Museums (multiple)

Nothing opens the eyes to the wonders of history like a tour of a historic home. Strange furniture and forgotten customs quickly teach you that there’s a lot more to history than names and dates. Here are 7 of Kansas City’s best historic homes.

Jesse James Birthplace Museum

Visit the farm home of America’s beloved outlaw. The home and museum display authentic artifacts and provide historic context for the tragic events that shaped the James brothers and their life of crime.

Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum

Learn about America’s famous aviatrix at this historic Gothic Revival Cottage in Atchison, Kansas. The museum offers self-guided tours using a tour sheet or QR codes posted throughout the home. 

Amelia Earhart's flying license features a picture of the young pilot and her signature.
Above: Earhart’s flying license. Image courtesy of Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum.

The home is perched on the top of a hill that overlooks the Missouri River. What a great place to get into aviation history!

The white, gothic-revival building where Amelia Earhart was born. This is a great place to learn about this amazing aviatrix.
Above: Earhart’s beautiful childhood home in historic Atchison, Kansas. Image courtesy of Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum.

Alexander Majors House Museum

The Alexander Majors House is one of the most historic structures in Kansas City. The Majors house is one of Kansas City’s four remaining pre-civil war buildings. 

Alexander Majors ran the largest overland freighting company in the 1850’s supplying forts along the Santa Fe trail. Majors was also involved in the creation of the Pony Express.

The Alexander Majors house stands majestically. The house is a white, two-story mansion. A covered wagon stands nearby.
Above: The historic Alexander Majors House. Image courtesy of NPS.

One ticket provides access to both the Alexander Majors House and the John Wornall House, an equally noteworthy Kansas City home (see below). 

The John Wornall House Museum 

The Wornall house is just as storied as its peer— the Alexander Major House. The house was built in 1858 making it one of the four pre-war structures still standing in Kansas City. The house was used as a field hospital during the decisive Battle of Westport. 

You can view artifacts from this key Civil War battle as well as learn about the lives of the enslaved workers of the Wornall home. Take advantage of an hour long guided tour or stream your own personal audio tour at your leisure. 

Again, the one ticket provides access to both the Majors and Wornall homes—a lot of history for one ticket!

Vaile Mansion

If I could visit only one home in the Kansas City region, this would be the one!

The grand Vaile Mansion is lit at night and decorated for the holidays. This impressive building is a remarkable example of Victorian architecture.
Above: Victorian glory at the Vaile. Image courtesy of Vaile Mansion.

Just read the stats:

  • Three story Gothic-like mansion
  • 31 rooms
  • 9 marble fireplaces
  • Spectacular painted ceilings
  • One 6,000 gallon water tank
  • One 48,000 gallon wine cellar
  • Flush toilets (hey, in Victorian times, it’s a thing!)

Colonel Vaile’s mansion stands today as a the Victorian-era masterpiece of Independence, Missouri. The 1881 mansion is one of the best examples of Second Empire style architecture in the United States. 

The Vaile Mansion on a beautiful Missouri day. The Vaile Mansion is a great stop in Independence, Missouri.
Above: The Vaile Mansion in Independence, Missouri. Image courtesy of Vaile Mansion.

Today, the mansion not only offers tours but also provides events that allow people to learn and experience life in Victorian America. 

Grinter Place State Historic Site

The Grinter home stands on top of a green hill surrounded by trees. The house is a two-story brick mansion with white trim.
Above: Frontier beauty at Grinter Place SHS. Image courtesy of Kansas Historical Society kshs.org

Return to the roots of frontier America at this historic Kansas homestead. Annie Grinter was a member of the Lenape tribe (Delaware) and her husband Moses operated a ferry and trading post. Together they built a life on this beautiful farm overlooking the Kansas river. 

The Grinter dining room is a warm, well-decorated space. Furniture includes a dinner table and chairs, a china hutch, hurricane lamps, and lush drapes that decorate the windows.
Above: The Grinter family dining room. Image courtesy of Kansas Historical Society kshs.org

The 1857 home is furnished with items from the Grinter family as well as other authentic artifacts of the period.

-Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center

Strawberry Hill is both a unique museum and a historic home. The victorian-era, Queen Anne style home was the Cruise-Scroggs mansion before transforming into a catholic orphanage during the influenza pandemic of 1918. 

Today, the mansion stewards the cultural heritage of several ethnic communities who have transformed Kansas City. Exhibits feature the history and culture of immigrant communities from Croatia, Denmark, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Ukraine.

9 S.T.E.M. Museums in and near Kansas City

The Kansas City region offers a host of creative venues for learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A number of these museums provide unconventional avenues to get your child hooked on STEM.

1. Money Museum

Cash in on the Fed’s free museum! Lift a real gold bar, track inflation, and hone your financial skills at various interactive exhibits. All visitors leave with their own bag of (shredded) money! 

Federal Reserve Bank and Money Museum. This is one of the more unique museums in Kansas City.
The Federal Reserve Bank and Money Museum as seen from the top of the Liberty Memorial Tower.

Be sure to come prepared—the Federal Reserve Bank is a government building with government level security.

2. National Airline History Museum

Go retro with this up-and-coming air museum. The National Airline Museum tells the story of commercial aviation, reminding us that there was a time when we didn’t take air travel for granted.

Explore the museum’s many vintage airline planes and artifacts. Try your hand at flying a number of historic planes in their flight simulator.

3. National Museum of Toys and Miniatures

The acclaimed Museum of Toys and Miniatures houses one of the largest collections of antique toys. Also, the museum is home to the world’s largest collection of fine-scale miniatures. 

The collection is best appreciated by children who are five or older. Be sure to check out their online scavenger hunts.

4. Kansas City Automotive Museum

Get a Kansas City take on the auto industry at this museum of over thirty cars and interactive exhibits. Exhibits update regularly, so you’ll find that there’s more to see and do when you return after a few months. 

Check out their calendar which offers a number of creative and fun museum events.

5. Museum of Illusions

An enormous child dwarfs her father at the puzzling Museum of Illusions.
Above: Tricks of the mind at the Museum of Illusions. Image courtesy of Museum of Illusions.

Test your mental prowess at Union Station’s Museum of Illusions. This power-packed museum offers experiences and scenarios that will challenge your senses and stretch your thinking. 

A man and a boy work out a brain-teaser at the Museum of Illusions.
Above: The Museum of Illusions offers several ways to build critical thinking and problem solving skills. Image courtesy of Museum of Illusions.

Be sure to stop by their playroom where visitors of all ages can noodle over Dilemma games, wooden puzzles, brain teasers, impossible knots, tricks and mathematical games.

6. KU Natural History Museum—Dyche Hall

Ready for a tried and true university science museum? Kansas University’s Natural History Museum—also known as the Biodiversity Institute—houses a noteworthy collection of wonders. 

Study exotic exhibits including an enormous Mosasaur skeleton, a 16 foot long bony fish, and varieties of Pteranodons. Stop by bug town to visit their death-feigning beetle and giant cave cockroaches, or enjoy their garden of fossil plants and their living relatives. 

The museum is located on the KU campus in Lawrence, Kansas. So it’s a short walk from this museum to the Spencer Museum of Art and the Wilcox Classical Museum.

7. Evel Knievel Museum

What a way to learn physics! Stop by one of Kansas’ most celebrated museums, and trace the life of the legendary stunt performer, Evel Knievel. Make time for the highly acclaimed virtual reality experience and Harley Davidson shop. 

You’ll find the Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka, about an hour outside of Kansas City.

Take a ride on Leavenworth’s fully operational 1913 C.W. Parker Carousel. Enjoy a self-guide QR code tour of three different carousels, to learn the history and operation of the beloved ride. 

The museum is just across the street from Leavenworth Landing Park which offers walking trails and scenic views of the Missouri River.

9. SEA LIFE Kansas City

Kansas’s City’s one and only aquarium is a family favorite. The Lego-land owned park features over 5,000 sea creatures in some 30 displays. The aquarium is especially geared toward younger children. 

SEA LIFE is located in the Crown Center, so it’s right next to the Hallmark Visitor Center, Legoland Discovery Center, and a host of other attractions.

3 Art Museums in Kansas City

Sometimes smaller is better! These three Kansas City art museums offer fresh and new ways to stretch your creativity. 

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is a bite-size museum that’s well worth the stop if you love art. The museum often hosts exhibitions for emerging artists, and offers a variety of art experiences for children and teens.

Be sure to check out their virtual scavenger hunts, virtual play dates, and Tot of Tuesday Zoom activities.

Spencer Museum of Art 

Kansas University’s Spencer Museum of Art houses around 45,000 pieces of fine art. Explore the beautiful works from all over the world and all kinds of styles and forms. Take advantage of the museum’s virtual exhibits, 3D tours, and lesson plans available on their website. 

The stately entrance to the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art.
Above: KU’s Spencer Art Museum. Image courtesy of Spencer Museum of Art.

Admission is free! The Spencer is located on the Kansas University campus in Lawrence, Kansas. So you can take an easy walk from the Spencer to the KU Natural History Museum and the Wilcox Classical Museum.

Leila’s Hair Museum

A Kansas City classic, Leila’s Hair Museum has wowed people for years with its bizarre and beautiful hair art. 

Unfortunately, the museum appears to have closed for good. My web searches failed to yield any activity later than 2020, and an email requesting more information went unanswered. 

We wish them the best and hope to see them reopen in the near future. 

3 Military Museums

The Kansas City region has a rich military history, going back to its early days. Here are three great museums that feature Mid-America’s military heritage.

Frontier Army Museum

Frontier Army Museum in Leavenworth, Kansas. One of the military museums in the Kansas City region.
Above: Frontier military history at Fort Leavenworth. Image courtesy of the Frontier Army Museum.

Fort Leavenworth played a central role in the exploration, conquest, and development of the American West. The Frontier Army Museum tells this story beginning with the Lewis & Clark expedition and closing with General Pershing’s pursuit of Pancho Villa. 

Frontier history was being made here even before the fort was built. The French operated a small military post just outside the fort’s current location. Lewis and Clark came through this area documenting the local tribes and wildlife.

Fort Leavenworth served as a port on the Santa Fe trail and the ruts of this historic trail are still visible on fort property. Abraham Lincoln stopped by Fort Leavenworth on his one and only visit to Kansas.

Fort Leavenworth’s collection is so rich that its museum can only display a curated selection of artifacts. However, researchers are working hard to make the fort’s 6,400 items available to the public through a digital research library as well as posts on the museum’s facebook page.

Make the most of your visit with the frontier history flash cards, a Lewis and Clark activity book, and other resources made available at their webpage.

Inside the Frontier Army Museum near Kansas City.
Image courtesy of Frontier Army Museum.

Combat Air Museum

Talk about power-packed! The Combat Air Museum features 45 aircraft and dozens of informative displays, providing a history of air warfare from the first planes to the present. 

The museum features the largest collection of WWI planes in the midwest and tours provided by knowledgeable and friendly guides. 

This Topeka museum is about an hour’s drive from Kansas City. It’s a short walk from the Museum of the Kansas National Guard and the American Flight Museum.

Museum of the Kansas National Guard

The heritage of local defense awaits you at this free Topeka museum. 120 indoor exhibits and 47 outside exhibits tell the story of the Kansas National Guard from 1855 to the present. 

A bronze militiaman statue stands at the entryway of the Museum of the Kansas National Guard.
Above: Arms at the ready at the Museum of the Kansas National Guard. Image courtesy of the Museum of the Kansas National Guard.

You’ll want to make time to look over the M60 tank, 8 inch self-propelled howitzer, and various helicopters surrounding the museum. Be sure to check the website for events, especially the museum’s Heartland Military Day. The annual celebration includes military reenactments, vintage military equipment displays, band concerts, and various activities.

Soldiers stand at attention on the grounds of the Museum of the Kansas National Guard. Behind them sits an enormous transport helicopter.
Above: One of Museum of the Kansas National Guard’s many special events. Image courtesy of the Museum of the Kansas National Guard.

The Museum of the Kansas National Guard is about an hour’s drive from Kansas City. It’s located right next to the Combat Air Museum and the American Flight Museum.

That’s All Folks!

That wraps up our list of the 51 Best Museums near Kansas City, MO. Now we’d love to hear from you. Share your experiences and let us know if there’s something we missed. Happy traveling!

© Copyright 2022 Brian A. Warren

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About the author

Brian Warren is a native of California and has traveled extensively throughout the United States, Canada, and several other countries. He's husband to Jennifer, Dad of six children, and taught middle school history for several years. His special interests include craft beers, the American Old West, and geology. Brian is also an online marketing specialist and cofounder of Dinkum Tribe, a website dedicated to healthy, happy families. Feel free to send Brian a message at [email protected].

Comments

  1. Oh wow it looks like I have another place to add to my bucket list! I love museums of all shapes and sizes! It was great to see the descriptions of each place.

  2. That’s a lot of museums in one area! I love that your kids are interested in educational trips. I grew up visiting military history destinations. I didn’t appreciate it at the time. However, I still remember things from them. Thanks for sharing such detailed information.

  3. Woah, who knew Kansas City had so many museums? I would most like to visit the National World War I History Museum and Memorial because I find history to be fascinating (even though I don’t retain many of the dates and much information over time, lol). Thanks for sharing! Xx Sara

    1. All of our kids appreciated and were impressed with the National WW1 Museum and Memorial. There truly is something for everyone there.

  4. WOW- what a list- more than plenty of places to spend a Rainy Day or multiple weekends! And all free I didn’t have to read a guidebook- excellent!

    1. Way more things to do than we had time for also – guess we’ll just have to plan another visit to Kansas City!

  5. Wow! This is a huge list! Thank you for sharing this with us! So much to see. There are some very interesting museums in your list. Glad you guys could get away and do this!

  6. Amazing that there are so many museums in one city! I don’t even think we have so many in San Francisco (although now I am tempted to check). Would love to check out one of the art museums.

    1. That surprised us too! There were even more museums in Kansas City that we didn’t include! Thanks for stopping by,

  7. Kansas City looks like it has a wealth of museums. Great for the kids. I homeschooled my children and this would be an excellent resource.

  8. I had no idea that Kansas City had so many incredible museums! I’d love to visit one day and see as many of these as possible! I’d especially love to see the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art! It looks like such an interesting gallery! The Hallmark Visitors Center looks like such an interesting place too! Thanks for the great guide!

  9. Wow! I had no idea there are so many museums in Kansas City. I’d definitely like to visit the National World War I Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

  10. I have never been to Kansas City, but I would love to visit! I moved to US back in 2013, but haven’t had a chance to visit many places here. This is such a detailed list, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  11. Wow, what an amazing list of museums. I’m a big fan of living history museums so I”d probably pick Missouri Town 1886. Plus I also love jazz, so my second choice would be the American Jazz museum. Great list, definitely adding this post to my favourites.

  12. Such a large number of museums in Kansas City is impressive! I love that most of the museums are interactive – such a great match for both adults and children. Hope to visit Kansas City one day – will definitely use your recommendations!

  13. I love cities with tons of museums! Visiting museums and learning the history of the place I’m visiting is one of my favorite parts of traveling. I’d love to visit the National World War I History Museum and Memorial. I had no idea there was a WWI museum in Kansas City! War history museums are so interesting to me and I’m sure I’d find this one fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Oh woow, so many great museums. I have never realized how many museums are there in Kansas City. I am a huge fan of art, so I would probably head to Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art first. Great list!

  15. Oh wow! So many great places to visit. I love how you have added in children’s perspectives as well so we can get a gauge. Definitely some museums to add to my bucket list!

  16. There are many museums that cover WWII, but this is the first National World War I History Museum I’ve come across!

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