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Plan Your Trip to Topeka, The Midwest’s Cultural Capital

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I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. But, maybe we should be?the capital of Kansas, Topeka, is a vibrant city filled with art walks, excellent restaurants, and historical places. While you’re in Topeka, Kansas, you won’t realize you’re in Dorothy’s home state.

This capital city, just an hour west of Kansas City and two hours northwest of Wichita, has much to offer, with loads of free and fun things to do in the city.

And, hey, Manhattan is nearby! (No, not that Manhattan.)

What is the Capital of Kansas?

It’s the place where we dug potatoes.

No, really. According to legend, “Topeka” is an old Kansa-Osage Native American word that means “a good place to dig potatoes.” Topeka, it turns out, is just an excellent place to settle down.

Native Americans, particularly the Kaw, inhabited the land later known as the state of Kansas’ capital city for centuries before European colonization and exploration. Topeka lay on the Kansas River and was one of the Free-State towns founded by abolitionists in the pre-Civil War period “Bleeding Kansas” crisis.

Thanks to founders like Charles Robinson, the city of Topeka became the antislavery, de facto capital of the Kansas Territory before 1861. Lecompton was the pro-slavery actual capital until Kansas gained statehood. Topeka’s ties to racial equality continued into modernity when it became known for the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that declared racial segregation unconstitutional.

Today, Topeka remains a midwestern bastion of history, the fight for civil rights and culture.

Things to Do in Topeka, Kansas

1.Combat Air Museum

Flight enthusiasts flock from neighboring states like Missouri for the Combat Air Museum. One of a few major aviation museums in the U.S., the Combat Air Museum is home to 42 aircraft, the most extensive collection of World War I replica aircraft in the Mid-West, and historic aircraft engines.

2. Gage Park

With a train, rose garden, carousel, an aquatic center, and a fishing pond, you won’t miss Gage Park if you visit Topeka with your kids. Spend a day of family fun doing outdoor activities: walking the park, riding the train and carousel, and don’t forget your bathing suits for the Aquatic Center, which features four waterslides!

3. Kansas Children’s Discovery Center

Opening its doors in 2011, The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center is a hands-on children?s museum that believes “every child deserves rich and diverse museum experiences.” It features an array of interactive exhibits, including exploring ramp racing, lights, art, and financial literacy. There is also a 4.5-acre certified Nature Explore Classroom.

4. Evel Knievel Museum

The Evel Knievel Museum showcases an incredible collection of authentic artifacts that belonged to the most legendary, death-defying daredevil of all time?featuring Evel Knievel’s motorcycles, his x-rays, and his actual X-2 Sky Cycle.

5. Kansas Museum of History

 

Learn about the Native Americans that lived in Kansas, including witnessing the Southern Cheyenne teepee on display. You will be able to see an actual Atchison, Topeka, and a Santa Fe Railway locomotive from the 1880s and learn about Kansas’ important role in the Civil War.

Also included in the museum’s collection is one of the largest collections of prairie memorabilia in the U.S., maintained by the Kansas Historical Society.

6. Lake Shawnee

Built as a Work Progress Administration Project, Lake Shawnee opened in 1939. It features a campground, the Ted Ensley Gardens, Adventure Park- with a beach, paddleboats, and volleyball courts- loads of water activities, a heated fishing dock, and more.

7. Topeka Zoo

RELATED: The Haunting History of Kansas’ “Sallie House”

Located on the Northeast edge of Gage Park, the Topeka Zoo is a top attraction in Topeka. Ride the train that circles the zoo, or step into the rainforest… and of course, visit the 400 animals living there! From elephants to koi fish, there is a variety of animals to see at the zoo.

8. Ward-Meade Park

Initially a family farm along the Oregon Trail, Ward-Meade Park will allow you to step back in time to the 1800s. Set on six acres, the park features Old Prairie Town, with a town square, school, general store, and more. There is a Botanical Garden that features a Japanese Gazebo, a replica log cabin, and the Ward-Meade Mansion, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

9. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

Visit Monroe Elementary School, one of the public schools involved in the landmark Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in schools.

10. Kansas State Capitol Building

Built in 1866, when town leader Cyrus K. Holliday helped make Topeka the state capital, the Kansas State Capitol building houses the Kansas house of representatives and senate. Today, it also houses murals by David H. Overmyer, John Steuart Curry, Abner Crossman, and Lumen Martin Winter. The Kansas statehouse’s stunning architecture and mural of early abolitionist leader John Brown are sure to delight everyone.

11. Mulvane Art Museum

Opened in 1924, the Mulvane Art Museum is the oldest accredited art museum west of the Mississippi River. It is not your typical art gallery, as the Mulvane Art Museum features ArtLab, a fun, hands-on activity center for people of all ages – yes, a hands-on art museum!

The museum features more than 5,000 objects from around the world, including paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and decorative art, focusing on American Art in the 20th century.

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READ MORE: 10 Reasons to Visit Lincoln, the Capital of Nebraska

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