Content Produced in Partnership with Visit Manhattan, Kansas
Home of the Kansas State Wildcats, Manhattan, Kansas is a feisty college town awash in purple. Nicknamed Manhappiness or Manhappenin’ by locals, Manhattan has an even more established moniker – the Little Apple. The result of either nostalgia, homesickness, or a combination of the two, the original New England settlers named their new town on the plains Manhattan to pay homage to their home back east. When NYC adopted the Big Apple nickname in the ‘70s, it was only fitting Manhattan, Kansas followed suit.
A fun stopover on your way to Wichita, Topeka, or Kansas City, here’s everything to do in Manhattan, Kansas. Because life in the Little Apple is sweet – take a bite.
Hike the Konza
One of Kansas’s most incredible and unexpected landscapes, the Konza is one of the last remaining tallgrass prairies in North America. Part research station, part nature preserve, trails range from 2.6-6.2-miles with markers outlining the unique flora and fauna in the area and giving a breathtaking panorama of the Flint Hills.
Pro Tip: If you’d rather cool off with a day on the water, Tuttle Creek State Park rents kayaks and canoes on the weekends (but call to confirm availability, as they weren’t there on Sunday morning for church).
The Flint Hills Discovery Center is the place to learn about the origins of the region. An interactive museum with exhibits on the ecosystem, settlers, and weather of the plains, there are also rotating displays about art, food, and sports. Everything is designed to be touched and tinkered with since the most memorable learning experiences are exploratory.
Treat Yo’ Self
Do or do not there is no try at Varsity Donuts. Home to cheerful sprinkle bombs like the Party Girl, K-Stater, and Cookie Monster, their slogan, “Donuts make people happy” is certainly fitting. Seasonal creations include fun baseball shapes topped with bubblegum and beach scenes complete with sand, umbrella, and candy towels. An old-timey shop right across from campus, they have a wall of board games and encourage everyone to blow off steam whether you’re stressed about finals or life in general. Pandora Rolled Ice Cream is another sweet treat with dozens of ice cream and matcha mixtures (like s’mores and rainbow unicorn), crepes, and boba tea to wash it down.
Pro Tip: Varsity Donuts also rents single and tandem vintage cruiser bikes by the hour or day, which is a fun way to scoot around town.
Not many colleges look like a Medieval castle, but Nichols Hall is an architectural marvel and a shining example of early 1900s design. Destroyed in a fire in the ‘60s, a decade later, the building was fully restored to its former glory. One of the most iconic spots on campus, it’s as functional inside as it is gorgeous on the outside, housing a number of classrooms and workspaces. The campus is also home to the Beach Art Museum and the Gardens and Insect Zoo, which are both free for visitors. Adjacent Aggieville is the oldest entertainment district in Kansas with nearly 100 local bars, restaurants, and shops.
While most college towns are known for their cheap eats and hangover helpers (they know their audience), Manhattan has some truly stand out restaurants. The Chef Café is the go-to brunch spot, a whimsical diner featured on the Food Network (can you say bananas foster pancakes?). Taco Lucha and neighboring So Long Saloon offer funky Tex-Mex and burgers for a midday bite,while Bluestem Grill is the go-to for lighter fare like sandwiches and salads. My personal favorite is Bourbon & Baker, which boasts Southern-style small plates like chicken and waffles, pulled pork cornbread sliders, and prime rib cheddar biscuits for hearty and filling soul food.
Drink it Down
There are plenty of spots to grab a beer in town (may we suggest Little Apple Brewing Company or Tallgrass Taphouse?), but you may be surprised to learn that Kansas is actually home to one the largest and oldest wine growing regions in America. Yup, the fertile soils of the breadbasket are great for more than just farming. Sip and swirl at Liquid Art Winery. A gorgeous estate, they offer tastings of 16 different varietals (try the watermelon!) along with house-made craft cider at their taproom.
Sail Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease
For the adrenaline junkies out there, Wildwood Adventure Park is a zipline challenge course with varying degrees of length and speed. Choose between two, four, or seven lines (with a freefall at the end!) for a fun romp through the forest. Come early to get back to nature and take advantage of the yard games around the fire at their makeshift campsite. Fun fact: the lines actually run over two rock quarries, which were used to build part of campus.
One of the top-rated zoos in the area, Sunset Zoo is home to over 300 animals in 100 different species. With a focus on conservation, they offer several exclusive behind-the-scenes animal encounters to intimately get to know the residents. From breakfast with wolves to painting with monkeys, better known as the Chimpcasso Experience, they’re uniquely memorable experiences for animal lovers. (Note: all behind-the-scenes tours must be booked at least two weeks in advance).
Try a New Sport
Have an axe to grind? We know someone that can help. An accredited urban axe throwing club, at Axe to Grind, a coach will show you the ropes (literally, you cut one in half) and technique for wielding tools of the trade. You’ll be led through a variety of skill-based games so whether you’re interested in making it a new hobby, date night, or just stress relief, chucking weapons at a wooden board is surprisingly fun (and easier than expected).
Where to Stay: The Bluemont Hotel
Located in Aggieville just steps from campus, the Bluemont is the premier boutique hotel of Manhattan. With complimentary breakfast, an indoor pool, and pet-friendly accommodations, they strive to be your home away from home. There’s often live music in the lounge ready to pump you up for a day of explorations or encourage you to stick around for a while.
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