The venerated barbecue that’s put Kansas City on so many maps may not be available free of charge, but the city does have other entertainment options that don’t require money – or sauce. There’s even one venue where you can walk out with a free bag of U.S. currency. From the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to the city’s largest brewery, the former cow town has plenty for the thrifty, or those who’d rather spend their money on a slab at Bryant’s barbecue restaurant.
Museum of Art
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is home to high-caliber collections that include great works ranging from the photography of Edward Steichen to ancient Chinese scrollwork. The Nelson’s expansive space also includes its new Bloch Building and the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, a 22-acre sloping landscape with sculptures including “Shuttlecocks,” four 18-foot badminton birdies, and 30 other works. Pack a lunch, a book or a Frisbee.
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Check the Nelson’s schedule too for the free events and films often hosted there. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday. (4525 Oak St., three blocks northeast of the Country Club Plaza shopping area; www.nelson-atkins.org) The Kemper Museum of Modern Art, which is also free and hosts free tours and classes, is about a block away.
Boulevard Brewing Co.
Boulevard Brewing Co., Kansas City’s biggest brewer and maker of the coveted Chocolate Ale and other beer, holds free 45-minute tours that showcase Boulevard’s history and brewing process and end at the tasting room. All ages are welcome, but they'll check IDs for those who need to sample the beer in order to learn about the company. Boulevard is located near Kansas City’s Westside, which is filled with restaurants, and not far from the Crossroads District, a walkable neighborhood with galleries, restaurants and shops. The Roasterie, Kansas City’s specialty coffee-roasting company, is also ablock away from Boulevard and also gives free daily tours.
A few blocks south of the Country Club Plaza district is Jacob L. Loose Park, a well-used 75-acre oasis with low crowds, playgrounds, tennis courts, a 1.3-mile walking trail, ponds and a decades-old rose garden, where weekend weddings have long been popular. The park also commemorates Kansas City’s Civil War heritage and was a major site for the Battle of Westport.
Linda Hall Library
Linda Hall Library, a massive, privately endowed library of science, engineering and technology, is among Kansas City’s better-kept secrets, at least judging by the number of people in there on any given day. Its vast collections, exhibits and lectures are worth a look. The library also has the 20-seat Cosmology Theater, which features presentations from the Space Telescope Science Institute. (5109 Cherry St.; www.lindahall.org).
Kansas City’s historic 18th and Vine District also has the Black Archives of Mid-America, where exhibits are also free. The nearby Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and American Jazz Museum in the 18th and Vine District have entry fees, though you can visit the lobby displays and gift shops for free.
The Money Museum
The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City is a one-stop shop for many things dollar. The museum takes visitors through the history of modern currency and the Fed system. Sure, Gross Domestic Product and Monetary Policy may have a niche audience, but visitors can also watch Fed workers and robots in the vault moving gazillions of dollars. As you leave, grab one of the free plastic bags filled with cash – bills that have been shredded to bits by the Fed. (1 Memorial Drive; www.kc.frb.org) Across the street is the National World I Museum at Liberty Memorial, but an adult’s two-day pass is $14. Down the hill are Union Station and the National Archives at Kansas City, a federal repository that also has free exhibits.
And like so many Kansas City intersections, the KC Fed location is only a couple blocks from at least one renowned barbecue place.