My first trip to Kansas was a puzzle – what to expect? Tornadoes? Wizards? The reality was much more exciting, however. During our stay in the sunflower state, we spent time in Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka. Each city was unique in its own right – Kansas City offered fun for the whole family, Lawrence was a vibrant, eclectic college town and Topeka was full of history and charm.
Yes, there are two – Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan. Your airplane will land in the former and it is a short drive to the latter. A few years ago, this was a sleepy sibling to the Missouri version, but after the appearance in 2001 of the Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile NASCAR track, the area has exploded into fun, fun, fun. Sitting on Turn 2 of the speedway is the newly opened Hollywood Casino, where the glitz and glamour of Hollywood has made its way to Kansas. Schlitterbahn, (yes, our Texas outdoor water park) opened in KC in 2009 and this summer gained worldwide attention when the Verrückt opened, the world's tallest water slide. It is amazing and has received rave reviews. Sporting Park is within walking distance of the speedway and is the home of Sporting Kansas City, the professional soccer team. In the same block is Community America Ballpark, home to the Kansas City T-
Bones. What a fabulous experience! No wonder it is called America’s favorite pastime. Here the hot dogs and barbecue are plentiful and reasonably priced. The lawn tickets are where you will find families sitting on their own blankets watching both the scoreboard and the kids rolling down the hill. If that is not enough to do, there is plenty of shopping and eating! The Village West area is 400 acres of shopping, dining and entertainment which includes retail giants Cabela’s, Nebraska Furniture Mart and The Legends Outlets. Another must-do is a visit to the Moon Marble Company Store. Marbles everywhere – the glory of, the adventure of, the wonder of the marble! Not only is the store stocked floor to ceiling with every toy you remember from your childhood, you can watch marbles being made in the small workshop in the back. There are marble displays and a wall of marbles arranged by color. Thoughtfully choose the prettiest ones to fill the $4 tube or just watch as excited children do it. This is an American dream store – owned and operated by the immensely charming Bruce Breslow. This shop is so great it is worth a trip to Kansas just to see it – find your marbles, lose your marbles or fall in love with marbles – at this unique experience.
There are many familiar hotels, but why not take a trip around the world at the Chateau Avalon as you marvel at their 23 themed, decorated-to-the-max rooms? Is it Rome you’re dreaming about? The Wild Wild West or King Arthur's medieval times, perhaps? Take your pick. Choose from luxury, adventure or business rooms. Guests receive complimentary in-room breakfast and oversized whirlpool tubs. The hotel boasts an air of grandeur that will transport you. Don't miss the private spa and massages!
Dine with the dinosaurs at T-Rex Café. A trip to this one-of-a-kind restaurant will have you feeling like you’ve just stepped foot into prehistoric times. But don’t just come on account of the atmosphere – their food is equally as good. For “food you can sink your teeth into” try their T-Rex Bone-in Rib Eye or their Bronto Burger! You can split a geode, shift in sand to find dino bones or Build-A-Dino. A little more for the adult crowd is the Yardhouse. After you’ve shopped to your heart's content at Legend’s Outlet, stop by Yardhouse to delight in a delicious lunch. From truffle fries and shrimp ceviche to four-cheese pizza and banh mi, their extensive menu is sure to please even the pickiest of eaters.
Dub’s Dread Golf Club opened in the 1960s and has since seen the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead and a slew of other historic golfers. Tee-off on the same greens that the legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead played on. Located just a short drive from Kansas City, this 18-hole championship course offers a full-service golf shop, five sets of tees, a bar and grill, complete practice facility and more.
To learn more about Kansas City, visit visitkc.com.
This is the Kansas version of Austin … an enthusiastic college town with a vibrant downtown filled with nary a chain restaurant or shop. It is all locally-driven and accented by several significant historical museums and buildings. Check into the glorious Oread Hotel. Located next to the University of Kansas atop Mt. Oread, this hotel is both beautiful and modern, boasting all sorts of amenities like multiple restaurants and bars on site, a state-of-the-art wellness center, 50-inch HD TVs in every room and an impressive rooftop bar. You will be looking right onto the campus, home to 25,000 students at the oldest university in Kansas. Drive through the campus – it is beautiful. "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk" is a chant used at University of Kansas Jayhawks sporting events. It's their version of “Hook 'em Horns!” You will find it expressed all over town – ice cream, coffee, cocktails, entrees and more, all named 'Rock Chalk,' and it is in thousands of different souvenirs (I bought a key chain – had to!)
Downtown Lawrence is a delightful mix of unique restaurants, unbeatable shopping and energetic nightlife. Visit Freedom’s Frontier Exhibit at the historic Carnegie Building – Learn about the region’s fiery pre-Civil-War era history when nearly the entire population of Lawrence was murdered over the slavery issue. The Natural History Museum offers gallery activities and hands-on science workshops. Exhibits include Comanche, a horse that survived the battle of Little Big Horn. We enjoyed the Dole Institute of Politics, a tribute to Bob Dole, former U.S. senator.
Finding a charming restaurant won't be hard in Lawrence. The Free State Brewery, the first legal brewery to open in Kansas since prohibition, has been named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine. Sitting quietly in the heart of Lawrence, you’ll find The Roost, serving breakfast, lunch, coffee and cocktails. Opt for a latte and honey pecan sticky bun or perhaps the Portobello Sammy. At the Limestone Pizza Kitchen, the Neapolitan-style crust comes to life inside their limestone oven where the pizzas are cooked to perfection in less than five minutes. With toppings like Gruyere, cream fraiche and local eggs, your taste buds won’t be disappointed. 715 is a European bistro featuring locally sourced, handmade food like their variety of handcrafted sausages and pasta. At Merchant’s Pub and Plate, you’ll find the largest selection of craft beers in Lawrence, fantastic service and thoughtful entrees.
To learn more about Lawrence, visit visitlawrence.com.
We opted to stay at the Prairie Band Casino and Resort and it has it all – luxury guestrooms, on-site restaurants and an exciting casino. The Resort is located just 15 miles from Topeka and boasts more than 1,000 slots and nearly 30 table games. The staff is friendly and the rooms lovely.
The Row House is an upscale restaurant with a customized, prix fixe menu changing weekly depending on what’s in season. The atmosphere is elegant yet cozy and the food is superb. The Row House is open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday; reservations are highly encouraged.
Things to Do
Topeka is bursting at the seams with rich history and The Ritchie House exemplifies this. Built in 1856 by two abolitionists, the house served as a station on the Underground Railroad. John Ritchie, owner of the home, was an early founder of Topeka and fought to end slavery. The story of Brown v. Board of Education is widely known as it put an end to legal segregation in public schools in 1954. To commemorate the landmark decision, the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site was created in 1992. Monroe Elementary School sits on the site and was one of four schools in Topeka that was segregated. The North Topeka Arts District has transformed Topeka’s historic buildings into galleries, antique stores, studies and more. This bustling arts district on the city’s north end hosts First Friday Artwalk each month. The shops are open to pedestrians who are encouraged to enjoy free refreshments and music, both on the street and inside many shops and special events. The bargains were amazing; if I had driven to Kansas, my car would have been filled to the brim with all the fabulously priced antiques.
Firekeeper Golf Course at Prairie Band Resort
The course website offers that “Firekeeper is the first signature course of four-time PGA Tour winner Notah Begay III, the only full-blooded Native American on the tour. He designed Firekeeper in partnership with Jeffrey D. Brauer, ASGCA. Completed in 2010, the course opened in the spring of 2011.” It has been ranked among the top courses in both Kansas and the U.S. Designed to complement the flow of the land, and planted with native grasses and other features, the course is a sheer pleasure to play.
I packed several activities into a whirlwind tour of Topeka's best attractions. The Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade Historic Site lets you experience hands-on history. The Kansas Children's Discovery Center has thoughtful exhibits. Find it at Gage Park, which also boasts a dazzling rose garden, a zoo, a mini-train and a vintage carousel. The tour of the Capitol was fantastic and an excellent way to take in the state's wondrous history. I have to say, it resembles our Austin capitol building! Stop in the gift shop – amazing jewelry made from recovered copper from the original capitol. I also darted into the First Presbyterian Church to be amazed by their splendid jewel-toned Tiffany windows.
To learn more about Topeka, visit visittopeka.com.
Photos Topeka’s Rose Garden is a much visited sight. The T-Rex Cafe will keep everyone entertained for hours. The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center is delightful and NOTO’s First Friday Art Walk is not to be missed. The Firekeeper course is a fine golfing experince. Delicious dining with local ingredients was a standout at 715 and The Row House. The Moon Marble Company Store is enchanting while Topeka’s Capitol is gorgeous. This stunning flag stained glass hangs in the Bob Dole Institute of Politics. Be sure to take in the T-Bones at Community America Ballpark. A fountain at Gage Park in Topeka.