Expert Tips


Best Museums in Kansas City

From the Arts to History, Kansas City Museums Cover All The Bases

There's something for everyone among Kansas City's treasure trove of museums. Nationally designated outposts include the National World War I Museum and Memorial and the National Museum of Toys/Miniatures (TM). Explore local heritage and at Strawberry Hill Museum & Cultural Center as well as the brand new Johnson County Museum, which features an entire 1950's ranch house with all of the latest technology for that time period. Music fans love Kansas City's American Jazz Museum while history buffs will become blissfully lost amid displays of 1850s ship cargo, at the privately-owned Arabia Steamboat Museum. For an up-close look at a president's legacy, check out the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. And, for an afternoon filled with incredibly creative arts pieces amid beautiful surroundings, best loved local art museums will definitely fit the bill. If you need help making a selection, our 10Best list highlights top museums to visit in the Kansas City area.


Strawberry Hill Museum & Cultural Center
Photo courtesy of Strawberry Hill Museum & Cultural Center

The gorgeous,1887 Victorian home that houses Strawberry Hill Museum & Cultural Center, was once considered among the most outstanding examples, of Queen Anne-style architecture in the city. It served as an orphanage for decades, beginning with an influenza epidemic during the early 1900s. But by 1988, the Strawberry Hill Cultural Society began its conversion to a museum that would promote and preserve local Slavic heritage and culture. Available from noon to 5 (final tours begin at 4:15), guided weekend tours draw local to international visitors who enjoy seeing exquisite carved wood, massive stained glass windows and formal décor style from another era.

Recommended for Museums because: No other spot in this area pays homage, more effectively, to the Slavik culture that helped to shape the culture of this neighborhood.

Lisa's expert tip: For a special treat, take a seat in the Tea Room, where classic Slavik desserts, coffee and tea are served amid bone china, multi-tiered serving pieces and white tablecloths. But leave your credit card at home; only cash and checks are accepted.

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Johnson County Museum at Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Johnson County Museum

Opened June 10, 2017, Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center is the new location of the Johnson County Museum, known for its 1950s All Electric Home. Created by Kansas City Power & Light to demonstrate state-of-the-art technology, the ranch house features wood paneling and wall-to-wall carpeting, remote controlled curtains and a painting that slides over the television. A turquoise 1955 Chevrolet Bel-Aire sits nearby, as does a historic neon sign from the White Haven Motor Lodge. Additional exhibits illustrate county history, from its early days as home of the Shawnee Indian Mission through its time as an agricultural center to its identity as a booming suburb. It's an intriguing look at one of this area's most popular suburbans.

Recommended for Museums because: Occupying a brand new space, this locally focused museum provides a snapshot of suburbia's cultural components and their evolution.

Lisa's expert tip: Because this new museum just opened, on June 10, 2017, be sure to check the web site for updates about the facility, hours and admission, before you pay a visit.

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The National Museum of Toys and Miniatures
Photo courtesy of The National Museum of Toys / Miniatures (TM)

Antique toys and miniatures crowd the rooms of this 33,000-square-foot, recently renovated and refreshed museum, which operates on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Inside an addition to this restored, circa-1911 mansion dozens of rooms displaying antique dolls and dollhouses from various eras, as well as cast-iron toys and trains. Marvel at intricately designed miniatures that include a hand-woven rug and a tiny sewing machine. Admire an old-fashioned firehouse and fire engine or an intricate circa-1900 stove. Contemporary toys, such as G.I. Joe, 1960s Barbies, or agate marbles, are also featured. Boomers especially enjoy tripping down memory lane while sharing a glimpse of their past with family members and friends. Admission is free for active military too.

Recommended for Museums because: This museum has a national designation and an utterly fascinating treasure trove of priceless miniatures and toys.

Lisa's expert tip: You could easily spend hours looking at this museum's permanent exhibits. But be sure to check out special, rotating exhibits too, such as Over the Rainbow: Toys From the Land of Oz, or Treasures of the Kings: 18th Century French Interiors in Miniature.

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Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
Photo courtesy of Photo by E.G. Schempf

The work of modern and contemporary artists from across the globe, fill this bright and airy museum. Since its inception, this extraordinary art collection has more than tripled in size too. Early pieces reflect the influence of the 1913 Armory Show, which has had a longstanding and profound impact on modern art. Core permanent exhibits came from the Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, including generous gifts from these museum founders, plus several Kemper Foundations. Browse oil to watercolor paintings, sculptural art or film and video, as well as mixed media, photographs and other works on paper. In addition, 8-12 special exhibitions, annually, showcase the creativity of emerging, midcareer and established artists. The museum offers regularly scheduled conferences, films, lectures, and performances and a gift shop full of unique items.

Recommended for Museums because: This compact museum features a stunning and ever-changing array of the best in modern and contemporary art.

Lisa's expert tip: Enjoy intimate ambience and a wonderful meal from one of the area's most celebrated kitchens in the beautiful on-site Café Sebastienne. With lunch available Tues.-Sat., dinner on Thursday and Friday nights and bountiful Sunday brunches, there are numerous opportunities to enjoy this artfully prepared, tasty cuisine.

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18th & Vine Historic District
American Jazz Museum
Photo courtesy of American Jazz Museum

Jazz enthusiasts will love this highly interactive museum, which chronicles the history of American jazz and its most legendary participants, from Duke Ellington, to Charlie "Bird" Parker. Sure, you'll see jazz photos, sheet music and posters throughout the museum, plus Parker's sax, and a sequined gown owned by ella Fitzgerald. But you can also test your music memory at various listening stations, work with custom mixing boards, and learn more about this quintessential musical style as you engage with a series of touch screens. The American Jazz Museum hosts numerous special events throughout the year too. They include live performances by some of today's hottest jazz stars in The Blue Room, the museum's own cool, onsite music club.

Recommended for Museums because: Jazz heritage and Kansas City are completely intertwined, and there's no better way to explore this critical influence upon local culture.

Lisa's expert tip: The Blue Room showcases performances by dynamic upcoming bands, seasoned and renowned local, national and international jazz artists, in an intimate setting. Play along during weekly Blue Monday Jams or just sit back and listen. Big band performances plus a Latin Jazz/Salsa series are other popular offerings.

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18th & Vine Historic District
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Photo courtesy of Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc.

Twelve life-sized bronze sculptures of players – 11 of whom were inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame – populate an indoor baseball diamond at this unusual museum. A must-see for serious baseball fans, the museum tracks a remarkable chapter of American sports through film, baseball equipment and other memorabilia. Computers display 3-D information regarding league history and players, and provide opportunities to try out trivia games or learn basic baseball techniques. "Bat" from inside a 44-foot-wide batting cage, with a virtual umpire, against video images of major-league pitchers, and then learn how far your hit has traveled. The museum store features an enormous array of books and videos about the sport, and one-of-a-kind gifts from caps/hats to pennants or baseball cards.

Recommended for Museums because: Here's a chance to explore an important piece of sports history that many Americans don't otherwise know existed.

Lisa's expert tip: Purchase a ticket that covers admission to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the adjacent American Jazz Museum for an inspiring look at two great historic legacies in Kansas City.

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Arabia Steamboat Museum
Photo courtesy of David Hawley

Kitchen spices and farm implements, fine porcelain and French perfume are several artifacts that provide an intriguing glimpse of frontier life during 1856, from the Arabia Steamboat. Inside this privately-owned museum, beautiful exhibits display cargo slated for 16 towns, which sank in the Missouri River when an embedded walnut tree trunk ripped through the steamboat's hull. More than a century after the River changed course Bob Hawley, his sons David and Greg, and family friends, David Luttrell and Jerry unearthed this enormous vessel from a farm field. Learn about the Arabia excavation during a short movie and you perhaps meet one of these modern-day explorers during Q&A. Visitors can also glimpse of real magic, as preservationists in a windowed lab restore additional items to their original beauty.

Recommended for Museums because: Very few museums-anywhere-offer such a poignant look at this country's Western migration and the challenges associated with it.

Lisa's expert tip: Watch for updates regarding current and future 'treasure hunts' by the dedicated explorers who unearthed the Arabia Steamboat. Their most recent find? Steamboat Malta, which sank more than 170 years ago. This story is only beginning.

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One of 14 U.S. presidential libraries and museums, this impressive memorial features vast holdings that include historical documents related to the Korean War and NATO, as well as the Berlin Airlift, and the Manhattan Project. In addition, you'll find documents associated with desegregation of the Armed Forces. Permanent museum exhibits include Truman: The Presidential Years, which encompasses 10,500 square feet and features two 'decision rooms' where you'll learn what considerations informed Truman's actions regarding major issues and events of the day. Additional video and audio presentations also illustrate activities on the international stage during his presidency. Inside Harry S. Truman: His Life and Times, this exhibition covers his early years and family to his political career, and return to "Mr. Citizen." It's a comprehensive look at a pivotal presidency.

Recommended for Museums because: This library and museum provide a well-rounded and comprehensive look at the only president who came from Missouri.

Lisa's expert tip: Check the web site regarding long-term special exhibits such as the current Saving the White House: Truman's Extreme Makeover, which depicts his pricey and controversial 1,222-day renovation of the White House.

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Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Photo courtesy of Roland Halbe

Considered one of America's premier art institutions, visitors have also named the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art among the nation's best museums. Displaying art pieces that date from antiquity to the present, its collection features items from across the globe and centuries. Marvel at the extensive Asian art collection, which includes a massive Buddha statue, Native American pottery, Monet's original Waterlillies painting, and much more. The 2007 Bloch Building addition is a piece of art, itself, especially at night. Once reviled but now enthusiastically embraced by most locals, enormous whimsical shuttlecocks decorate the front lawn. There's also a lovely 17-acre Sculpture Park, full of bronzes by British sculptor Henry Moore, plus significant pieces from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

Recommended for Museums because: This museum continuously adds new art, exhibition space and exciting public programs. Be sure to see the new Bloch collection of 29 glorious Impressionist paintings.

Lisa's expert tip: There's always something special going on at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, from Juneteenth, to a Day of the Dead Festival and other annual celebrations to a film and dialogue series, or summer classes and camps for all ages. Check the web site for current offerings.

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National World War I Museum and Memorial
Photo courtesy of National World War I Museum and Memorial

The only US museum dedicated solely to World War I, the beautiful National World War I Museum and Memorial recently commemorated the centennial of the Great War. Inside the unique facility, history buffs and curious visitors can learn about this heartbreaking historic time period. Permanent exhibits that explain hundreds of artifacts, and often attach a very human face to this conflict, include the Great Frieze, depicting man's journey from war to peace. An integral part of the monument, the Liberty Memorial tower displays objects that were collected beginning on Armistice Day (November 11, 1918), near the end of the war. And a glass bridge that overlooks 9,000 red poppies – each one representing 1,000 soldier deaths – provides a sobering reminder of this war's human toll.

Recommended for Museums because: No other U.S. museum is so singularly focused on presenting the history and culture associated with World War I.

Lisa's expert tip: Want to see exhibitions you missed and others that are only available online? Visit the web site to access a complete catalog of Online Exhibitions.

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Meet Lisa Waterman Gray

Lisa Waterman Gray moved to the Kansas City area 35 years ago and has written professionally for 20+ years. A member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association, she's excited about the...  More About Lisa