Destination: Kansas City
Duration: 2 hours
Average fare: $197 via United out of Intercontinental
What to do: Remember the feeling, when you were around 15 or 16 years old, of thinking you were the coolest member of your entire extended family until your little cousin showed up at the reunion one summer with a haircut and wardrobe and general demeanor of cool that instantly inflamed all of your teenage envies? You can totally relive that feeling by visiting Kansas City.
Houston may have topped Forbes's list of America's coolest cities back in 2012, but KC is catching up: HuffPo called it the No. 1 city to watch in 2014 while New York Magazine gushed over its "urban cool" in a recent weekend travel feature. Take a page out of their book and start by visiting the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which is both free and sprawling, marrying its original 1933 Beaux Arts campus with a modern glass addition by architect Steven Holl.
As Kansas City is known for its blues and jazz scenes, a trip to the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District is almost mandatory. Start at the American Jazz Museum and if you're not jazzed out by the time you're finished touring its halls, the museum's attached Blue Room club hosts performances four nights a week. Next door is the equally vital Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which celebrates the history of 18th & Vine as the city's historically black hub as well as preserving memorabilia and accounts of the African-American athletes who made baseball great.
Hallmark is among the companies headquartered in KC, hence the Hallmark-branded visitor's station at the giant Crown Center—a shopper's paradise that sees over 5 million visitors each year. (Yes, 5 million.) In addition to the dozens of unique shops and boutiques that line the Crown Center's three floors, look for a bevy of adjoining attractions including the Kansas City Aquarium, the Legoland Discovery Center, the National WWI Museum and Memorial, and the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank, which houses millions of dollars in the largest cash vault in the Midwest.
Sports fans, you're in luck too: Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals, and Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs, sit right next door to each other. Pick your favorite season and attend a game in one of the two for a full-on KC experience.
Where to eat: Barbecue fans, unbuckle those belts. This is your city—though not for Texas 'cue, obviously. Get acquainted with the famous Kansas City style of barbecue at the world-famous Arthur Bryant's, where Henry Perry, the so-called father of Kansas City barbecue, first started chopping brisket in 1908. This is also where you'll want to go to taste that legendary KC delicacy: burnt ends, which are just now making inroads into Texas at restaurants such as Southern Goods. Save room, however, for other iconic temples of smoke including Gates Bar-B-Q and Joe's.