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Penny-pinching fun in Kansas City

Sure, visitors can drop a bundle whiling away hours in Kansas City's born-again downtown, with its shiny new Sprint Center and Power & Light dining, drinking fun zone.
Kansas City offers many inexpensive activities, sights, and food.
Kansas City offers many inexpensive activities, sights, and food.Orlin Wagner / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sure, visitors can drop a bundle whiling away hours in Kansas City's born-again downtown, with its shiny new Sprint Center and Power & Light dining, drinking fun zone.

But budget-minded travelers also have a buffet of penny-pinching options in the city of fountains, including rock solid offerings from the holy trinity of summer fun: good food, baseball and jazz. After all, is anything else really necessary?

Nonbelievers take heart. Kansas City also has other entertaining, less expensive alternatives, from world-class museum collections to theaters and tons of (window) shopping.

Baseball: Tickets for the longtime championship-challenged Kansas City Royals start at $14 and go up to about $50. Cut costs by tailgating in the massive parking lot with just about everybody else.

If you want something beyond the majors, try the Kansas City T-Bones of the Northern League. The T-Bones, who play in neighboring Wyandotte County, Kan., have actually won a recent championship. Their tickets start at $6 for seats in the grass. You can also pack a picnic and get a table that seats six and has a good view of the action for $45.

For baseball history, head to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in the historic 18th and Vine District. Exhibits at the museum tell the story of Negro Leagues players who barnstormed the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Tickets to the museum exhibits are $6 for adults, $2.50 for children under 12. Kids under 5 are free. The museum is closed Mondays.

Jazz: Kansas City has a deep jazz history and even its own style of the American art form. There are numerous selections for live jazz, from bars and restaurants to a historic after-hours spot that doesn't get rolling until well past midnight.

Some notables: The Blue Room, which is part of the American Jazz Museum in the 18th and Vine District.

The Phoenix, 302 W. 8th St., has live jazz Tuesday through Saturday and a fairly full menu.

Jardine's, 4536 Main St., near the Country Club Plaza, boasts live music throughout the week.

If 2 a.m. rolls around and you still need more, head back to the 18th and Vine District for the after hours jam session at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, 1823 Highland Ave. Local musicians gather there for late weekend sessions. Cover charges apply.

There are more listings are at:

Barbecue: What's the point of a trip to Kansas City without sampling its saucy, smoky barbecue, which can be found in just about any part of town? Stalwarts like Gates and Arthur Bryant's pack them in at lunch for the massive slabs of ribs, chicken and sandwiches for reasonable prices. Both restaurants have several locations around the city. A full slab of ribs will set the family back about $20. Try the Beef on Bun and yammer pie. Help yourself to extra sauce in the back. The burnt ends at Bryant's are legend.

But there are lesser known spots that locals also swear by.

Oklahoma Joe's is in a gas station in Kansas City, Kan., at 3002 W. 47th Ave. Try the Hog Heaven, pulled pork with sliced sausage on a bun. There's also a Pig Salad: pulled pork topped with, what else, barbecue sauce.

LC's Bar-B-Q, 5800 Blue Parkway, not far from Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals play, is a stop for those loading up on tailgating fodder. The beef sandwich has gotten heaps of praise.

Smokestack, another Kansas City institution at 8920 Warnall, has noted smoky beans and slaw.

Beyond barbecue: The world has discovered Kansas City, and they've brought their food with them. Some good cheap spots include just about anything on the city's west side where several inexpensive Mexican restaurants have opened. Mexico Taqueria has a few locations with a shrimp fajita platter that can feed two.

There are several choices along the 39th Street corridor near the University of Kansas Medical Center too. Try Po's Chinese Dumplings, 1715 W. 39th St., and Vietnam Cafe, which has memorable seafood Pho and fried sweet potatoes with shrimp, 2200 W. 39th Ave, Kansas City, Kan.

More to life: Kansas City's museums include the venerable Nelson-Atkins, where admission is free. Some highlights are the spanking new Bloch Building, which features a Noguchi sculptor garden. Let it all soak in while you sprawl out on the lawn in the shadow of the massive shuttlecocks.

The nearby Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is also free and hosts family, movie and other events. Check the calendar here.

Speaking of family: The Coterie Theater at Crown Center has live theater for kids and the family. Afterward, if it's hot and muggy outside, the fountains in front are good for romping. Bring towels.

The Toy Museum near the University of Missouri-Kansas City showcases everything from miniatures to puppets.

If the kids are more into making their own puppets, try the Puppetry Arts Institute in nearby Independence, which offers workshops.

Afterward stop by Clinton's Soda Fountain, 100 W. Maple in Independence. Independence is also home to The Harry S. Library & Museum. Admission is $8.

Shopping: For general shopping, the Country Club Plaza, Zona Rosa in north Kansas City, and The Legends in Wyandotte County, Kan., have the staple choices for shopping and lollygagging.

The Westport area, north of the Plaza, and the Crossroads District, south of downtown, have more innovative fare. Need chocolate and had enough saving money? Stop by the Christopher Elbow shop in the Crossroads for budget-busting artisanal chocolates infused with lavender, curry and the like.