Unless you’re a die-hard baseball fan (hello, St. Louis Cardinals and KC Royals), it might be difficult to choose which of Missouri’s two largest cities to visit. Both have world-class museums and attractions, bucket list-worthy food scenes, and toe-tapping music scenes. So, which city is right for you? We break it down…
St. Louis, with its metropolitan city vibe, is home to one of the nation’s most recognizable landmarks, the Gateway Arch. You can take the tram to the top of the 63-story arch for spectacular views of the Mississippi River and the city below. (Note: The Museum of Westward Expansion under the arch is currently undergoing renovations.)
Kansas City — on the other hand — is almost like a big city with a small-town feel– and is known for its 200-plus fountains scattered throughout the metropolitan area, especially those dotted along the European-style Country Club Plaza. Grab a free map and take a charming tour of the bubbling works of art.
Museums and attractions
St. Louis’ Forest Park, the site of the 1904 World’s Fair, now features some of the city’s best museums, including the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Science Center and the Missouri History Museum, which has an exhibit dedicated to the fair. The park is also home to the St. Louis Zoological Park, whose Flight Cage is one of the fair’s few surviving structures.
Kansas City boasts the National World War I Museum with its impressive displays of uniforms, weapons, and replica trenches, as well as the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where you could spend several days strolling the galleries (and since it’s free, you can do just that). Also worth a visit is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which tells the story of Negro League Baseball in America.
Presidential connection: In St. Louis, you can visit the 18th president’s home at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historical Site. Alternatively, the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, as well as his home, is located in Independence, a short drive from downtown Kansas City.
Barbecue is big in both cities. In St. Louis, the hands-down favorite is Pappy’s Smokehouse, which smokes its meats up to 14 hours over sweet apple or cherry wood. Bogart’s Smokehouse, with its unusual offerings like smoked pastrami, is a close second. For something different, order a po’ boy sandwich, red beans and rice, or a muffuletta at Blues City Deli. Bonus: St. Louis is home to a strong Italian community, located on “The Hill,” where you’ll find plenty of great dining options.
Kansas City hosts the “World Series of Barbecue,” the American Royal, and has more barbecue restaurants per capita than any city in the country. It’s also home to the legendary Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, considered by some to serve the nation’s best smoked meats (although fans of Gates Bar B. Q. would vehemently disagree). For a non-touristy experience, though, seek out LC’s Bar-B-Q, located in a converted liquor store, and order the burnt ends, voted the best in the city. Bonus: There’s been a recent uptick in KC-area’s fine dining scene, including the James Beard award-winning Bluestem, The Westside Local or craft cocktails at Julep.
With ties to Chicago and the Mississippi Delta, St. Louis is one of the best cities in the country for blues. Visit during Labor Day weekend to listen to 40-plus local bands and musicians perform at the Big Muddy Blues Festival. The rest of the year, nearly 50 acts perform every week at venues throughout the city. You can also write your own blues lyrics, play jug-band instruments, and record your own studio mix at the National Blues Museum.
During Prohibition, jazz clubs flourished in Kansas City (thanks to its lax stance on alcohol), drawing genre greats like Count Basie to the area. Today, the number of jazz venues have dwindled significantly, but you can still listen to an all-night jam session on the weekends at the Mutual Musicians Foundation — a National Historic Landmark — or catch a performance at The Blue Room, located in the American Jazz Museum.