WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Summer is right around the corner.
Memorial Day weekend typically marks the unofficial start of the summer travel season, and AAA of Kansas predicts this year will be the third busiest on record. They are also expecting record travel across the country this summer, despite any concerns about the economy.
If you’re wanting to travel this summer but want to save a bit of money or just be a little bit closer to home, here are some ideas on places you can visit in Kansas in a day or over a weekend.
This is by no means a definitive list of where to visit and where to dine. The list is intended to highlight lesser-known attractions and destinations across the state.
Take a ride on the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad. After that, you can head over to the Dickson County Historical Society Heritage Center and ride one of the oldest carousels still operating in the United States that was built here in Kansas.
See the battlefield that kicked off “Bleeding Kansas” the precursor to the American Civil War. The Black Jack battlefield site is located just off Highway 56 on E 200 Road, east of Baldwin City. From June 2-4, there will be a reenactment of the battle between John Brown’s Freestaters and the pro-slavery forces of Henry C. Pate.
After you’re done visiting the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, and the oldest organ in Kansas, you can spend the night in either the Red Crown Inn or Old Station Inn, both old full-service gas stations converted into one-room motels. Before you head out of town, be sure to visit Eyegore’s Curiosities and Monster Museum.
From 1854 to 1929, orphans from the eastern United States were placed with families in the West. Concordia was one stop for these Orphan Trains. It is now home to the National Orphan Train Museum. Also, during World War II, Concordia was home to 4,000 German POWs who were housed in a camp that is now a museum.
The “UFO Capitol of Kansas” boasts the Geneseo City Museum, which not only has a collection of UFO memorabilia and creepy ventriloquism dummies, but it also boasts the largest collection of Boston Terrier figurines in Kansas (and possibly the world.) You will want to be there July 1 for “Saucers & Aliens” Kansas UFO Day in Dimension “G.”
If you ever wanted to see Elvis’ underpants or one of his toenails, then this is your opportunity. The Museum of Odd in Lawrence has that and more. More odd things. Possibly unsettling things. You will want to call several days in advance so the owner can prepare for your visit.
Visit the world-famous Garden of Eden in Lucas. Once you’re done there, you can visit the World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things Museum, which even has its own theme song.
Visit Rock City, whose large concretions have been drawing visitors since the area was settled. The concretions were likely formed when Kansas was an ocean and exposed over the centuries as the surrounding sandstone eroded away. When you’re done there you can go to The Farm and The Oddfellows. More about them is below.
See the remains and learn all about the history of the northernmost Pueblo in the Americas located here in Kansas, El Quartelejo. Not far from Scott City is Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, and Monument Rocks.
Visit Lessman Farm & Truckhenge, featuring antique trucks, covered with various political messages that have been cemented to the ground. While there, you can also enjoy some fishing, camping, or practice your aim at their gun range. While in Topeka, you can visit the Great Mural Wall. You can also take a hike up Burnett’s Mound. Also, about 30 minutes northeast of Topeka, off Highway 4, southwest of Valley Falls, is Saint Joseph the Woodworker Shrine.
Maybe you’re not looking for unique places but, instead, unique dining experiences. There are many places in Kansas to visit, and as stated above, this is by no means a definitive list.
A draw for pilots, the Beaumont Hotel and Cafe has been around since 1879. In the 1950s, an airstrip was added so planes could land and taxi right up next to the hotel and cafe. The hotel is open year-round, but the cafe only operates from March to mid-December and is only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
You can make it a romantic getaway weekend at the Grand Hotel and Grill in Cottonwood Falls. In addition to 10 guest rooms, the hotel can book daytime activities like horseback riding and biking in the Flint Hills, and you can enjoy a gourmet meal in the hotel’s restaurant.
When you’re done checking out little Sweden, enjoy traditional and modern Swedish food at the Crown & Rye.
Located inside the Historic Elgin Hotel in Marion, the Chef’s Plate Parlor 1886 opens officially on May 30, but it is already getting a lot of online buzz. They have had several test days that have done quite well.
When you’re done at Rock City, drop into The Farm and The Oddfellows. Their coffee shop serves up all-day breakfast, sandwiches, wraps, homemade bierocks, and sweet treats, along with coffees, teas, and freshly squeezed lemonades and limeades. The attached Hops Brewery includes self-serve taps of their craft beers brewed on-site, along with charcuteries, fondues, and flatbread pizzas.
Just a short drive south of Emporia is Olpe and Olpe Chicken House. Though known for their fried chicken, they also offer a wide variety of sandwiches. If you want mashed potatoes with your meal, you need to be there Friday or Saturday. The earlier the better though because it’s while supplies last.
Speaking of Fried Chicken, when in Pittsburg, you absolutely have to decide for yourself which is better: Chicken Annie’s or Chicken Mary’s. Both are Southeast Kansas institutions with loyal customers. They were even featured on The Food Network’s short-lived series “Food Wars.”
If you need an excuse to visit Salina other than the many other reasons there are, then it’s for a visit to The Cozy Inn. Since 1922, this tiny institution has been selling its tiny hamburgers for almost as long as that other tiny burger chain that was founded the year before in Wichita. The only things they sell are their burgers, potato chips, soda pop, coffee, hot chocolate, and of course Cozy Inn souvenirs.
Though it is closed as of this writing, the rumor is that Ad Astra in Strong City will reopen with a new owner in the near future. If it isn’t open on your visit, just drive a little south to Cottonwood Falls and visit the Grand Hotel and Grill mentioned above.
When you’re done checking out the Gypsum Hills, head up to Sun City. Buster’s Saloon offers good food and frequently draws in live music acts.
Right along Highway 40 in Winona is The Cafe in Winona, where steaks are cut by hand and everything is made fresh in-house. They are closed Mondays.