Ask any Kansas City resident if they’re heading to Country Club Plaza, and they’ll immediately know you’re not from around here. “The Plaza,” as it’s more commonly referred to, is rooted by the nation’s first suburban shopping district, Country Club Plaza, but the neighborhood extends beyond the shops and restaurants to encompass the smaller sub-neighborhoods of West Plaza, Plaza Area and South Plaza.
So, how exactly did this formerly swampy piece of land become America’s first shopping center? After a summer spent working odd jobs across Europe in the late 1800s, burgeoning real estate developer and Olathe, Kansas, native J.C. Nichols developed a plan to transform this area of KC.
He first brought the people, thanks to residential neighborhoods of his design. Then, in 1922, he drew from his travel experiences in Europe and the Southwest to construct the Spanish architecture–inspired Country Club Plaza shopping district.
Today, influences from markets in Granada and Seville are seen in beautiful courtyards, stucco buildings, red tile roofs, wrought-iron gates and colorful tiled murals.
The Art and Culture
The Plaza is also a major center for public art, thanks to Nichols’ vision. Perhaps you’ve heard that Kansas City is called the City of Fountains? That’s because Kansas City is rumored to have more fountains than Rome, with many of them located in Country Club Plaza.
Fountain of Neptune, Fountain of Bacchus and J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain are just a few you’ll find here, alongside works such as the Giralda Tower (a replica of the tower of the same name in Seville), a life-size bronze sculpture of Ben Franklin and a Spanish bullfight ceramic mural.
In the greater Country Club Plaza neighborhood, there’s so much to see and experience. Two globally respected art museums are nearby, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. It’ll take a multi-day visit to scratch the surface of the 34,500-piece collection of art spanning 5,000 years of humanity within the Nelson. Or if you’re a modern art aficionado, spend the day perusing the permanent collection within the Kemper. Better yet, check out both, as entrance to each museum is always free.
Near South Plaza, don’t miss an opportunity to see a production at Kansas City Repertory Theatre on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The Rep showcases both stage plays and Broadway musicals, delighting audiences since 1964.
The Shopping, Dining and … Drinking
Of course, we can’t talk about The Plaza without acknowledging some of the homegrown retailers and restaurants serving up a taste of Kansas City. Pick up premium denim and a wool KC strapback hat at Baldwin Market; the brand was a top ten finalist for the Fashion Fund Award by Vogue Magazine.
Or you can showcase your adopted Kansas City pride at Charlie Hustle, the vintage sportswear brand that’s also behind the oh-so-soft “heart KC” T-shirts.
Polish off a plate of Midwestern fried chicken or burnt ends and sourdough toast at Rye, and for a swanky night on the town, head to Parkway Social Kitchen for live jazz and blues alongside locally sourced, elevated comfort food.
Finally, the Country Club Plaza area is an excellent spot for a nightcap. Head to The Bar at Parker for cocktails on a rooftop overlooking The Plaza, or enjoy a signature drink inspired by the migratory pattern of the monarch butterfly at the cozy and elegant Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge, both just north of The Plaza.
East of The Plaza is the 75-acre Jacob L. Loose Park, one of Kansas City’s most historic and well-known parks, specifically for its role as the site of the Battle of Westport, where Confederate forces were routed by Union forces in the area where the park is now located.
Within the park is the municipal rose garden, where 4,000 roses of 168 varieties are planted. There are also walking and biking trails, tennis courts, the Japanese Tea Room and Garden, and Loose Lake.