River Market in Kansas City: Our Guide to the Best Places to Visit and Things to Do
The River Market in Kansas City is the first and oldest organized district in KC. Over the years it has been known by many different names. Originally known as Westport Landing because of the Missouri River dock in the area used to unload people and goods traveling west to the community of Westport, where you could then continue on to the Santa Fe, California, or Oregon Trails.
The confluence of the Kaw, or Kansas, River just to the west also added to the importance of the location, bringing in resources from the Plains and Prairie and loading goods to take into the interior of Kansas. With the Missouri River then flowing into the Mississippi River in St. Louis and then into the Gulf of Mexico in New Orleans, the River Market district became a final destination for trade and travel from all over.
Later known as The City Market, this moniker comes from the farmers market area that was established there because of the bustling trade going on in and around the area. The southern section of the market became the area’s public square in the mid-1800s.
In the early 1970s, an urban revitalization project in the old River Market was being developed as an arts and entertainment district. The River Quay, named using the French term for a river dock playing on the early influence of French fur traders, was an immediate hit with Kansas City residents who were visiting the area’s diverse array of shops, dining establishments, and bars.
But underneath the neighborhood’s funky veneer, KC’s underworld was taking control of the area, turning the area into more of a red-light district and violence was becoming increasingly conspicuous, eventually coming to a head in a firebombing in March of 1977. The ensuing mayhem assured the downfall of the River Quay and its popularity. The information gained through FBI surveillance of the KC gangsters involved in the crime wave was woven into the movie, “Casino”. Yikes! So it evolved.
In July 1978, the River Market was designated an Official Historic District by the US Department of the Interior. Today the River Market is a vibrant and important part of the cityscape. It is home to eclectic shops, restaurants, and the City Market, the region’s largest farmers market. The old warehouses have been rehabbed into lofts for area residents. Businesses have moved into the area. Ethnic food products, vegetables, and ingredients abound in the open-air food stalls. It is also on the KC Streetcar loop between Union Station and the River Market. So visiting the area can be part of a larger tour of Downtown, the Garment District, the Crossroads District, Union Station, and Crown Center. You can shop, play, dine, and live here.
River Market in Kansas City Attractions:
One of the biggest attractions is the Steamboat Arabia Museum. It is home to a sunken steamboat unearthed in 1988. It houses the world’s largest single collection of pre-Civil War artifacts. The Arabia sunk carrying over 400,000 lbs. of cargo headed for the general stores and homes of 16 frontier towns. It’s a menu full of education and history, but it’s also fun to explore and imagine the people who used all of the items displayed.
Shop for a new bike or get your old one tuned up at Cycle City, a wonderful local bicycle store.
Head up to Wyandotte between 3rd and 4th and take a spin on one of Bike Share KC‘s newest bike rental stations. See your city in a new way!
Have the kiddos help pick out fruits and vegetables for a “farm-to-table” meal from the City Market. The array of fresh fruits and veggies can’t be beaten.
Stock up on some authentic Italian staples at Carollo’s Groceria Italiana. They have the largest selection of fine Italian grocery products in KC. For a special treat, get a hot sausage sandwich right off the grill. There are several flavors to choose from.
Experience a virtual reality arcade, with the city’s largest collection of VR titles, while Mom & Dad sample some beers at the Double Tap Arcade. It’s Kansas City’s only virtual reality arcade, bar, and restaurant!
Look at games, trading cards, and miniatures for all ages at Level One Game Shop.
Take care of all your family’s dental needs at River Market Dental. We have barely scratched the surface of all the things to do and see here!
River Market in Kansas City Restaurants:
After all the shopping, exploring, and sightseeing, you and the family will need to grab a snack or a bite to eat. The River Market offers many mouth-watering options in a variety of spaces, outdoors to indoors, listen to music or sit back and relax with the fam. Try the area’s best falafel at Habashi House with its adjacent Middle Eastern grocery store.
Snack on an ice cream cone or piece of ice cream cake from Betty Rae’s.
For some flavor of the Far East, head to Bo Ling’s, KC’s hometown Chinese restaurant.
Known for its vegan options, expand your horizons with some delicious Ethiopian food at Blue Nile Café. Fresh veggies and prime meats, made with love.
Bring the family in for some globally inspired street food at Tribe Street Kitchen.
Fuel up for your adventure with a coffee and some pastry at Bloom Baking Co. They also serve lunch. Cakes are also available for that special occasion.
Another place for coffee connoisseurs is City Market Coffee Roasters, they’ve been roasting their beans since 1996. They also offer juices, shakes, and smoothies, along with various breakfast and bakery selections.
These are just a few of the places that are in this historic district that everyone in Kansas City needs to visit. You and your family will not be disappointed. There is something for everybody! Know of something we should add? Email us the deets!
If you love the River Market in Kansas City, you will absolutely not want to miss out on First Fridays in the West Bottoms.
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From our family to yours,