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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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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
- Decorative arts
Don’t forget the extensive sculpture park! All of this and more is provided free of charge by this remarkable institution.
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!
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.
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.
Definitely check out the many education programs designed for children such as the Engineerium, Test Kitchen, and Nature Center.
2. 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
10. Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm
Set your sights westward at Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm, the last working stage stop on the Santa Fe Trail.
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.
Learn about truck farming, watch chair caning in action, or make authentic 20’s donuts at this growing living history town.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The home is perched on the top of a hill that overlooks the Missouri River. What a great place to get into aviation history!
–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.
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!
If I could visit only one home in the Kansas City region, this would be the one!
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.
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
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 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!
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
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.
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.
8. C.W. Parker Carousel Museum
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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