Less than an hour west of Kansas City, Missouri, is Lawrence, Kansas, a spirited town with a fiery history that has been home to the University of Kansas (KU) for more than 150 years. Lively Massachusetts Street and surrounding neighborhoods brim with restaurants and shops, while museums and entertainment options make it a crossroads of culture.
Things to do
The center of Kansas’ anti-slavery activity before the Civil War, Lawrence was attacked by pro-slavery mobs in 1856 and again in 1863, with the latter raid destroying much of the town. Nicknamed free-staters and Jayhawkers, the New England abolitionists who founded Lawrence had established a tradition of freedom and individuality. As they rebuilt, they committed to creating a brighter future. Today, this progressive town welcomes about 24,000 students annually to the University of Kansas, whose mascot is the Jayhawk.
Dr. James Naismith, who invented basketball in 1891, made more local history when KU hired him to become its head of physical education and first basketball coach in 1898. In fact, Kansas was one of the first states to adopt basketball as a college sport. With five national men’s championships (three of which are NCAA titles) and the most conference regular-season championships in the nation, KU’s program ranks among the country’s most prestigious. The Jayhawks play home games on James Naismith Court inside Allen Fieldhouse, and the adjoining DeBruce Center contains exhibits about basketball’s beginnings and KU’s connection to the sport.
From exhibits on tiny parasites to massive dinosaurs, the KU Natural History Museum examines life on the planet. Also on campus, browse the impressive collection at the Spencer Museum of Art, which is slated to partially reopen this fall and continue to unveil renovated galleries into 2022.
At nearby Haskell Indian Nations University, Haskell Cultural Center and Museum teaches visitors about the unique tribal cultures represented by its student body.
Terrific outdoor activities include 27 golf holes at The Jayhawk Club, while fishing, hiking, and camping enthusiasts flock to 1,500-acre Clinton State Park, which also has trails for cross-country skiing. At 927-acre Baker University Wetlands and Discovery Center about 12 miles south of Lawrence, enjoy inspiring views while hiking amid hundreds of bird and plant species. More than 11 miles of trails are open from dawn to dusk.
Where to shop
Find outdoor apparel and equipment at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike, which also operates a café. Your nose will appreciate a visit to Waxman Candles, which has created scented candles for more than 50 years. Loitering is encouraged at the Dusty Bookshelf, a beloved bookstore for cat and book lovers. You might even spot Dinah the cat.
Where to dine
Start the day with coffee and pastries at WheatFields Bakery, where artisan breads are baked in a wood-fired oven. Savor beer, burgers, and more at Free State Brewing Company (and be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol). Located in a former bank building, Merchants Pub and Plate focuses on seasonal and local ingredients.
Where to stay
Originally called the Free State Hotel and twice destroyed by pro-slavery raiders, the AAA Three Diamond Eldridge Hotel pairs historic touches with modern comforts. Overlooking Allen Fieldhouse, the AAA Three Diamond Oread Hotel is sleek, modern, and wrapped in limestone. Enjoy alfresco dining on the hotel’s rooftop terrace.
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