Nestled in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Manhattan is a purple gem that beckons guests with its multi-faceted charm. Manhattan is home to Kansas State University, and the city goes all-in with K-State pride. Wildcat purple is everywhere.
In 2017, the American Institute for Economic Research named Manhattan one of the nation’s top college towns. Manhattan is less than 2 hours east of Kansas City on Interstate 70.
Pro Tip: Enter Manhattan via I-70 Exit 316, the scenic route. Read our recommended Kansas I-70 road trip.
Fun Fact: New York City investors backed the first settlers in Manhattan. In return, the settlers insisted that the new town be named for NYC’s most populous borough.
Things To Do In Manhattan, Kansas
We enjoy Manhattan for its friendly, relaxed feel, beautiful surroundings, exciting attractions, quality food, drink, and shopping options.
The Creepy, Kooky Insect Zoo
The Addams Family was creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky, but they have nothing on K-State Insect Zoo’s creatures. The tarantulas and scorpions induce skin-crawling reactions, but the real horrors await in the model kitchen. Open the drawers and view the dastardly denizens lurking in your kitchen’s dark corners. Watch the diligent leafcutter ants as they trim leaves and remove them through a hose to feed fungus, which provides food for the ants.
Pro Tip: Take time to enjoy the gardens that wrap around the insect zoo. Check the parking instructions before your visit.
Backstage At The Sunset Zoo
After the creepy crawlies, visit a traditional zoo. The Sunset Zoo has organized its exhibits by continents, including Africa, the Americas, and Asia. The zoo’s new Expedition Asia project is currently under construction and will highlight three threatened species: tigers, sloth bears, and Amur leopards.
Pro Tip: The zoo is accessible, but some of the paths are steep. The zoo’s master plan will address this in the future. The animals are most active in the mornings.
But don’t be content with merely viewing the animals. For extra fees, you can participate in the animals’ lives. Life in a zoo is predictable, and the animals need mental challenges to prevent boredom. The zookeepers devise ways to challenge them. To keep the chimpanzees sharp, Sunset has created the Chimpcasso program, in which the chimps create paintings. The human participants receive a print of the creation. The participating humans may also use the chimps’ art for creative inspiration. Another program allows participants to learn dietary skills for zoo animals and prepare food for maned wolves.
If you’ve ever wondered how zoo veterinarians work with exotic animals, join a K-State veterinarian student on her rounds. Watch a wellness examination and practice other procedures, including X-ray readings and suturing wounds. Or administer a battery of tests to your stuffed animal, using your souvenir stethoscope.
Pro Tip: The zoo has designed its encounter programs for groups of six people or less. Make reservations two weeks ahead.
Dream Of Chrome And Steel At The Midwest Dream Car Collection
More than 65 cars trace a centennial of automotive history at the Midwest Dream Car Collection. Gearheads will adore this high-octane collection. The collection includes more than just cars; plenty of petroliana (oil company collectibles) will transport you back in time. The museum accepts temporary exhibits, which means the displays aren’t always the same.
Pro Tip: The collection is accessible, and a wheelchair is available to borrow at the front desk.
Immerse Yourself In The Flint Hills At The Discovery Center
The Flint Hills had little soil to cover its rocky ground, and the rock was impervious to plowing. The adverse farming conditions preserved the tallgrass prairie. The Flint Hills Discovery Center provides an introduction to this unique geographic region.
Start your tour in the astonishing Immersive Experience Theater. Be prepared to experience the majesty of the tallgrass prairie.
When you leave the theater, look up. The prairie earth and sky illuminate the floor. Start your exhibit experience in the center of the first floor, learning the Flint Hills Story. Continue in the second row of the amphitheater-style exhibit plan. The second floor holds rotating exhibits.
After exploring the interior, go outside to the Prairie Garden Terrace. Native grasses and wildflowers grow here with the architecture laid out to mimic the Flint Hills’ topography. The smell of blooming wildflowers entices you to explore more. The terrace and trail are accessible via the center’s second floor or by elevator.
Hike The Flint Hills At Konza Prairie
While the Discovery Center offers a virtual Flint Hills experience, Konza Prairie Biological Station offers a real one. Hiking the Konza Prairie is the closest to the original tallgrass prairie as a 21st-century visitor can come to the 1800s. We recommend Konza as one of the state’s best hikes.
Kansas wildflowers bloom from March to October, dotting the land with color. In the fall, the grasses turn shades of red to gold, waving hello in the wind. Watch for bison from Konza’s herd. Rest on the overlook’s benches and enjoy 360-degree views of the Flint Hills and the city of Manhattan.
Pro Tip: Check the Kansas wildflowers site to identify the blooming wildflowers. Download the trail map or pick up one at the trailhead kiosk adjacent to the parking lot. A pay box stands at the trailhead. Consider carrying trekking poles and a hydration pack. Watch for stone blocks on slopes and in low places. The stones provide erosion control, and they can trip the unwary hiker. The only restroom is a composting toilet near the Hokanson Homestead. No dogs are allowed.
Go Free Falling At Wildwood Adventure Park
Fly like an eagle until you’re free at Wildwood Adventure Park. Zoom above the prairies on seven ziplines with 40 feet of free fall. Wildwood is the adrenaline rush you need. Race your buddies on the racing lines. Reserve your ride ahead of time.
Opt Outside At Tuttle Creek State Park
Tuttle Creek State Park offers a wide range of outdoor activities. The park’s camping amenities are so comprehensive that they include horse camping. Anglers are most likely to catch channel catfish and saugeye. Buy park permits and fishing licenses.
Float Down The Kansas River
The Kansas River is the world’s longest prairie river. Manhattan has two access points to the Kansas River National Water Trail. Canoe, kayak, or raft on the river. Pack a picnic and eat on a sandbar. Bring your fishing gear and your swimsuit.
Pro Tip: Before you go, check the river’s water levels. Download a map and read the safety tips.
Best Restaurants In Manhattan, Kansas
Manhattan has two main entertainment districts, Aggieville right next to K-State and Downtown Manhattan. Both have numerous dining options.
“Donuts make people happy,” says Varsity Donuts. The store fills its display cases with every imaginable donut flavor. Get an assortment, and you must include at least one maple bacon donut. On Thursday to Saturday nights, visit their food truck in the alley behind the store for bacon bombs and mac and cheese grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and sriracha.
Call Hall Dairy Bar
Call Hall Dairy Bar is the ultimate farm-to-fork experience: K-State produces everything in the store within 2 miles of the store’s location. Pick from 16 ice cream flavors, which rotate from a 48-flavor selection list. Indulge in fresh milk, cream, and eggs, plus meat.
Pro Tip: If weather permits, sit outside at the adorable toadstool-shaped picnic tables and stools. K-State’s Meat Lab sells fresh meat cuts on Friday afternoons next door at Weber Hall. Order ahead of time.
Bourbon And Baker: Where The Midwest Meets The South
Call Hall forces difficult choices, but Bourbon and Baker makes your options even more difficult. For sheer decadence, nothing can beat truffle popcorn. Savor the top-notch bourbon list and the excellent cocktails.
Fresh Bread At Radina’s Bakehouse
Does anything smell more enticing than fresh bread? Radina’s prefers Kansas-grown grains and Kansas-milled flour, and your taste buds will detect the quality. Buy a loaf of Kalamata olive bread and chocolate cherry bread. The chocolate cherry bread is only available on Saturdays. For lunch, try the hummus plate.
Where To Shop In Manhattan, Kansas
Shopping options include an excellent liquor store, Western store, and an independent bookstore.
Pick up your beverage of choice at The Fridge Wholesale Liquor. With over 4,000 wines, plus a vast selection of beer and spirits, the store has won Manhattan’s Top Liquor Store honors annually since 2012.
Yee Haw Country Outfitters
In Wildcat Country, you need a pair of K-State boots. Well, Cowboy or Cowgirl, head to Yee Haw Country Outfitters for those Purple Pride boots.
A Manhattan institution, Claflin Books carefully curates its book selection. Enjoy browsing and buying your newest read.
Best Places To Stay In Manhattan, Kansas
Every lodging type exists in Manhattan. These are some of the best.
The Bluemont Hotel stands next to K-State’s campus and Aggieville, the state’s oldest entertainment district. The boutique hotel takes its name from K-State’s original name, Blue Mont College.
Scenic Valley Inn
At Scenic Valley Inn, you won’t know you’re right at Manhattan’s doorstep. In this valley, rustic simplicity meets modern conveniences, as the inn says. Watch for the small sign at the highway turnoff. It’s easy to miss.
Tuttle Creek State Park
Reserve a spot in one of four areas at the park.
For the best Manhattan experience, attend a K-State football game. Explore this Game Day Guide to be in the know.