Detour by Train from Chicago to Visit Kansas City

We are so lucky to live in the transportation hub of Chicago. While of course Chicago has gazillions of attractions, sometimes we have to get away and travel elsewhere. We can easily do so with two major airports and plenty of highways, but people often forget–or just don’t know–about the beauty of train travel.

Kansas City, Missouri is an awesome and cheap getaway from Chicago. I have fun telling people that I was so impressed by this city when they inevitably scoff at a visit to Kansas City. With the idea that the middle of the country has nothing but corn fields, who would bother taking a trip to Missouri? If you feel like braving the 7-hour scenic trip on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from Chicago to Kansas City ($50-60 if you book early), you will be pleasantly surprised with historic architecture, a giant farmers market, jazz history, antiques galore, and excellent farm-to-table restaurants.

This quick guide to visit Kansas City tells you what’s cool about this place that you won’t find in Chicago.

kansas city history architecture of west bottoms
West Bottoms, Kansas City. Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese.

1. An entire district of early industrial architecture called the “West Bottoms”

The companies in this riverside district made anything from Faulty Starch for clothes to Krispy Crackers to feed for animals. Both Armour and Swift–major meatpackers of Chicago–had operations here. The area thrived with shipbuilding in World War II, but afterward the business dissipated.

Kansas City, like all cities, had already started to go downhill after the widespread influence of the car on cityscapes, but really the point of no return was after a horrible flood of the West Bottoms district in 1951. In Chicago, our more consistent influx of development means that many early industrial buildings have been torn down or adapted into something else. In the West Bottoms, it’s trapped in time.

History of Kansas City Flood
West Bottoms Flood of ’51. Photo Credit: Unknown

Today this entire district of historic industrial architecture still stands, and antique markets have filled old warehouses with the leftovers of a bygone era. On first Fridays, they all open up, and it’s quite a scene.

industrial architecture of kansas city travel
Another cool building in the West Bottoms. Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

2. A real-deal farmer culture

In Chicago, we certainly would like to have more connection to the origins of our food. But a couple things get in the way. For one, we are in an area with minimal agricultural diversity. Thank you Michigan and Wisconsin for providing a little of that. And we have a short summer, so there’s an even shorter season to get fresh foods. Plus the surrounding areas really are much more industrialized than that area smack-dab in the middle of the country where KC is.

What this means is A) one of the largest farmers markets in the country. And I’m talking the real thing, with farmers wearing overalls and dirt still caked on your potatoes. It’s called City Market, and here you’ll find anything from Hmong families selling bitter melon, to Lebanese women with baba ganoug, to long-time locals baking plain and simple treats at Bloom Baking Company. Before you wander for some great people-watching and the smells of spices, pick up some carefully crafted yet non-hipster coffee at the City Market Coffeehouse, around since 1997.

spices kansas "city market"
Spices at the City Market. Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

And B) An abundance of farm-to-table restaurants, like Westside Local, Genessee Royale, Novel or Rye, where you can get not only fresh vegetables but also meat that hasn’t traveled very far either.

burger bbq kansas city travel
One of the best burgers of my life was at West Side Local. Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

3. BBQ

I’m not going to attempt to tackle such a huge topic here. Put simply, Kansas City is known for “burnt ends,” which are the fattier, somewhat charred edges of beef brisket. Famous spots are Oklahoma Joe’s and Arthur Bryant’s.

Jazz history club 18th vine district kansas city
18th & Vine Historic District. Photo Credit: Amanda Scotese

4. Jazz District

This area has retained its character from the 1930s and 1940s. The 18th and Vine Historic District has an okay jazz museum, an awesome Black Archives, and more importantly it’s just cool to stroll down this street, to appreciate the vintage jazz club signs, and to imagine the buzz on these streets during their heyday.

Visit Kansas City. Trust us – it’s cool. Especially now with the Google presence there now, too.

— Amanda Scotese, Chicago Detours Executive Director


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.


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Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


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Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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