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Called one of the coolest towns in the country and one of the greatest places in America you can actually afford to live, Lawrence, is one of the most recognizable cities in Kansas, if for nothing else than the University’s storied sports legacy. But beyond the campus and rowdy bar scene, the city has a whole host of other attractions to entice visitors.
With Rock Chalk Jayhawk their quirky credo and the unmistakable artsy, boho vibe of a free-spirited college town, here’s how to spend a fun-filled weekend in Lawrence.
Breakfast: The Lawrence Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday, April through November, the Lawrence Farmer’s Market takes over South Park for a fun-filled morning complete with food trucks, live music, produce purveyors, and artisanal vendors. Bring the dog, bring the kids, and enjoy a lowkey morning with some neighborly camaraderie. If you like eating local, you’ll be happy to know that everything sold must be grown or produced within 50 miles of Lawrence. Be sure to keep an eye out for the tamale guy – he’s a fan favorite (cash only)!
Morning: Explore Mass Street
Lawrence’s version of Pearl Street, Mass Street is the heart and hub of the city, and where commerce and community collide. With over 100 restaurants, bars, and boutiques, it’s one of the best-preserved main streets in the country and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kansas. You can find everything from the weird and wacky souvenirs to eats and treats.
Keep an eye out for Anomaly’s unique gifts, Third Planet’s hippie crystals and potted plants, the Antique Mall complete with vintage mini carousel, The Toy Store, my own personal glitter unicorn paradise, and Lucky Dog Outfitters, an adorable pet store and dog cookie bakery (say hello to my friend the miniature kitten Pretzel). There’s also a European Market for truffles, cheese, and sausage right next to the British store where you can snag tea and crumpets, and Sylas and Maddy’s Homemade Ice Cream when you need a little pick me up (five flavor samplers cost less than a five-spot). A handful of art galleries like Phoenix, which is actually 17 shops in one, feature celebrated local, regional and national artists.
Lunch: Encore Café
For a college town in Middle America, Lawrence has a surprising number of good ethnic joints from ramen (and not the college kind) to conveyor belt sushi. Encore is a noodle shop beloved for its bubble tea, bento boxes, and dishes cooked in bamboo pots. If you’re craving Asian, they have amazing lunch deals with dishes drawing inspiration from Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan.
Afternoon: Enjoy the Scenery
You didn’t think we’d have you come to the Sunflower State and not admire the cheerful blooms, did you? Grinter Farms is one of the most celebrated places in Kansas with free admission and free parking for all to enjoy. Wander the 40-acre field of yellow, snapping away.
Clinton Lake State Park is a beautiful place to hike, bike, or camp with a gorgeous panorama of the waterfront (although parts are currently closed due to flooding). Prairie Park Nature Center is another spot to stretch your legs, which features 100-acres of wetlands, woodlands, prairie habitats, plus a nature center with reptiles, creepy crawlies, and Tino, the talking parrot.
Dinner: Bon Bon
A neighborhood gem and community gathering place, Bon Bon is owned by a couple that met in rival Manhattan of all places and was a true labor of love. The eclectic international menu has both small and large plates designed to be shared that’s made with ingredients fresh from their garden. Post up on the patio or in the greenhouse with a cocktail and waste away the night.
Drinks: The Sandbar
It’s definitely going to be that kind of night if you go to the Sandbar, but it is one of the most iconic bars at KU and a Lawrence must-do. Tropical tiki drinks come with a variety of glow in the dark beads and toy toppers (think rubber duckies and sharks filled with grenadine blood). If you’re lucky, they’ll even set off the indoor hurricane for you. I won’t spoil all the fun but imagine wind, rain, chaos, and dancing mermaids.
Breakfast: The Levee Café
With a motto of sophistication in simplicity, the Levee Café uses no freezers, no fryers, and no microwaves, making each dish to order with an obsessive level of precision. It’s not exactly a fast brunch (in fact you may not even get your food at the same time as your dining companion), but it’s a tasty and leisurely way to start the day. Named after the river levees across the street, afterwards, you can walk or bike the waterfront trail to get your blood flowing.
Morning: KU Sporting Event
You can’t come to Lawrence and not experience a game of some sorts at KU, which will likely take up a good chunk of the day. As one of the best cities in the country for basketball fans and home to one of the greatest stadiums in the nation, KU’s a basketball school through and through. If you have the chance to see some hoops at Allen Fieldhouse, do it, if for nothing else than the love of the game, as it’ll be a rowdy and memorable bucket list experience. If the team’s away or in the off-season, you can still tour the arena and Hall of Fame to take a peek into the legacy of one of the best venues in college sports.
But any live sports event is going to be a good time, whether that be football, softball, baseball, or even track & field. I was completely surprised by how fun women’s soccer was with two teams and a sport I could care less about (Kansas does love its soccer), as they allow dogs to come for a “bark in the park.” Pack a picnic, bring your furry friend, and make a day of it.
Dinner: RND Corner Grille
A celebratory meal for your last night in town, you won’t find many college kids at RND as their meat and martinis are quite a step up from the dining hall grub. Set in a historic building, the 100+-year-old landmark has had many lives, at one time the oldest pharmacy in the state before becoming a restaurant. Splurge on classic American comfort food like steak and potatoes.
Drinks: 23rd Street Brewery
When you’re ready to wash it down, 23rd Street is another historic stop and the second oldest craft brewery in Kansas. Their four flagship pours, Wave the Wheat, Crimson Phog, Rock Chalk Raspberry Wheat, and Bitter Professor IPA all pay homage to the town and campus, but they do have sampler flights featuring all nine of beers on tap for less than $10. Yeah, you may want to Uber for that one. And if somehow you’re still hungry, the Bill Self buffalo chicken mac and cheese is one of the most cravable dishes in town.
Where to Stay: DoubleTree by Hilton
With easy access to downtown and campus, the DoubleTree is a comfy, cozy place to hole up for the weekend. With an onsite restaurant, indoor pool, and pet-friendly rooms, it has all the amenities you could want for a quick getaway. Plus, it’s where the away teams usually stay so if you like rubbing elbows with athletes, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.
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