Topeka, Kansas may not sound like the most glamorous vacation destination in the country, but this historic city has a charm and sense of community that will make you feel welcome the moment you arrive. Located smack dab in the center of the United States, the Kansas capital has a unique, eclectic culture, one that is influenced by Southern, Midwestern and even Southwestern elements. I recently had the opportunity to discover the soul of this city, and I was immediately surprised by how much I enjoyed the atmosphere and culture of Topeka.
After spending a couple of days at a business conference near Topeka, I realized that I had an entire extra day to kill before flying back home. This travel mix-up was completely my fault, since I messed up the dates while booking my flights. But instead of rushing to the airport to see if I could get on an earlier flight, I decided to embrace the extra time by exploring Topeka. Before heading out to discover the Topeka that the locals love, I had to book a hotel room for the night. Fortunately, within minutes on HotelTonight’s website I had booked a great last-minute hotel in Topeka, so I was ready to see all that Topeka had to offer.
Since it was a beautiful spring day in Kansas, I decided to start my day with a walk along the shore of Lake Shawnee. Even though Lake Shawnee is a man-made lake, it’s big enough for people to go fishing, swimming and even boating. Plus, Lake Shawnee is beautiful, so I certainly wouldn’t have known it was man-made if a Topeka local hadn’t told me. There are plenty of things to do at Lake Shawnee, from playing sand volleyball to jumping in the water at the swimming beach.
The Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade Historic Site is a large open-air museum, complete with well-preserved historic buildings and beautiful gardens. Old Prairie Town features a street of historic 19th century buildings, such as an old general store and the 1880 Methodist church. If you want to discover some of the history of this prairie town and the people who originally settled it, you definitely shouldn’t miss the chance to explore the Old Prairie Town. If history isn’t your thing, you still might want to stop by this open-air museum, since it boasts 2.5-acres of botanical gardens, making it the perfect place for a pretty – and fragrant – afternoon stroll.
I often find that the pulse of a city can be found in its college neighborhood, which is why I wanted to check out Topeka’s College Hill. This area surrounds the picturesque campus of Washburn University, and it’s full of energy and excitement thanks to its student population. College Hill is also a great area to visit if you’re feeling hungry, because there are plenty of great dining options in the area –affordable dining options, of course, since this is a college community. I spent the afternoon wandering the streets of College Hill. I even stepped onto campus for a few minutes to check out the college scene in Topeka, and while the campus is small, it’s clean, pretty, and brimming with youthful energy.
After a full day of exploring Topeka, I made my way downtown and checked into my hotel. Then I cleaned up a bit and headed out to explore this pedestrian-friendly downtown area. Downtown Topeka certainly doesn’t feel like a bustling metropolis, but it has a fun energy and the warm atmosphere of a small town. There are some great restaurants and shops scattered throughout the downtown streets, so it was the perfect place for me to stop for a filling dinner and some drinks before calling it a night.
The next morning, I decided to explore one last area of Topeka before heading to the airport, so I settled on Gage Park. A few locals I met the night before had told me that Gage Park is a favorite among Topeka’s residents since it’s one of the largest, most beautiful parks in the area. Gage Park spans 160 acres and is home to the 70-year-old Reinisch Rose Garden, so this is a great destination for those who want to enjoy some fresh air, gorgeous flowers and a pretty scenic walk.
In the end, I was glad that I messed up my travel itinerary initially, because it allowed me to spend an extra day exploring Topeka. This Kansas city is often overlooked as a travel destination, but I enjoyed every second I spent in this charming town. Luckily for me, I was able to book a last minute hotel in Topeka through HotelTonight without any stress or hassles, which helped make my entire stay in Topeka one I’ll never forget.