Lawrence, Kansas, has long been considered a college town. While home to Kansas University, Lawrence is much more. With a classic downtown, a visit to Lawrence includes shopping at unique stores and boutiques while sampling some of the best cuisine in the Midwest. Whether you’re a history buff, architecture fan, or enjoy local food and drink, a weekend in Lawrence will make you wish you were back in school.
Things To Do In Lawrence
From a Native son’s political career to a museum honoring the inventor of basketball, Lawrence offers a variety of attractions to explore during your visit. Check out classic art and architecture as well as sunflowers along the way.
The Robert J. Dole Institute Of Politics
As the 1996 Republican candidate for president, Bob Dole came close to realizing a longtime dream of leading the country. The seven-term U.S. senator rose to become the majority leader for his party. At the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, you can learn about Dole’s rise in life from rural Russell, Kansas, to heroic service during World War II, to his public service career, beginning with his election to the House of Representatives in 1960. During your self-guided tour of the center, you can witness special exhibits related to American politics and more.
Regardless of your politics, the Bob Dole Center’s design is worth a visit. Resembling a historical attraction you may see in Washington, D.C., the building is an architectural marvel. Built using Kansas limestone, the front facade reminds you of a building you might see in the nation’s capital. A small reflection pond may remind you of the reflection pool near the Lincoln Memorial. A brick-laid path to the building features commemorative bricks, several with the names of World War II veterans. A floor-to-ceiling mosaic of the American flag will tug at your patriotism. When illuminated, it may be the most beautiful view in the state.
Spencer Museum Of Art
A gift of about 7,500 art pieces by a Kansas City collector gave birth to the university’s art museum. Originally located in Spooner Hall for 50 years, the exhibits joined another 8,500 pieces to be displayed at the Spencer Museum of Art in 1978. Today, you can browse galleries featuring more than 36,000 pieces of art, including paintings, sculptures, and photographs. From ancient Egypt to 17th-century Europe, you’ll explore thought-provoking art, including contemporary works.
KU Biodiversity Institute And Natural History Museum
Combining research from the world around us, the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum dedicates four floors to the natural history of Kansas and the Great Plains. From fossils of microbes to dinosaurs, Kansas had the best of both worlds more than 100 million years ago. Once part of a prehistoric sea, you’ll find fossils of sea animals from around the state. Then, as Kansas’ geography included a dense forest, you’ll find remnants of the Silvisaurus, Kansas’ dinosaur, since the fossils were found near the town of Wells. The Silvisaurus was about 13 feet long and had bony spines on its shoulders and tail. History and science fans will enjoy exploring about 20 exhibits.
Prairie Nature Center
Enjoy some outdoor time as you explore the Prairie Nature Center, with about 100 acres of wetlands, trails, and a nature center with birds. As you walk along the trails taking you through the woodlands and prairie and along a 5-acre lake, look for signs of local wildlife, including beavers, bobcats, deer, and eagles. The nature center’s education building is also home to presentations featuring habitat dioramas, exhibits, and presentations with live birds, such as eagles, hawks, and owls.
Allen Fieldhouse And Booth Family Hall Of Athletics
Stand above the venerable basketball court during a visit to the Allen Fieldhouse and Booth Family Hall of Athletics, home to one of the most storied programs in college basketball. Some of the greatest players of all-time played on the court, including Wilt Chamberlain. While he may have invented the game, Dr. James Naismith, Kansas’ first basketball coach, is the only coach in the team’s history with a losing record (55-60). Naismith invented the game while living in Springfield, Massachusetts. On a concourse near the basketball area, you can listen to an actual radio interview with Naismith as he explains the rules of basketball. For a basketball junkie, this is a must when visiting the area. A mural of Naismith was created using the rules. Allen Fieldhouse is named for Forrest “Phog” Allen, who led KU to the first of its three national titles. The Jayhawks have also finished as the national runner-up six times.
The Booth Family Hall of Athletics on the first floor of Allen Fieldhouse is a look at a “Who’s Who” of Kansas sports fame. From Gale Sayers in football to Marian Washington, who won 560 games as coach of the women’s basketball team, the Hall of Athletics recognizes Kansas’ sports history through each decade, from the 1890s through 2010. You’ll find artifacts, memorabilia, old uniforms, cleats, and more during your tour. The midcourt section of the first playing floor at Allen Fieldhouse is displayed in between Kansas limestone. Outside Allen Fieldhouse, you can take selfies with statues of Naismith and Allen.
Tour KU Architecture
Located on a hill overlooking downtown Lawrence, enjoy a self-guided tour of vintage, century-old buildings on the Kansas University campus. Built in 1967, Fraser Hall stands tall above the campus and can be seen for miles. Budig Hall/Hoch Auditorium, built in 1927, first served as home to the basketball team. Today, the building includes a 1,000-seat lecture hall. The school added the Budig name in honor of a former school president who went on to serve as the president of baseball’s National League. Other classic buildings include Strong Hall, Twente Hall, and Watson Library, each built almost 100 years ago.
Opened during summer and early fall, Grinter Farm is a popular destination because of its sunflower fields. And everyone is welcome to walk among the flowers and take photos. Located a short drive outside Lawrence, as the sunflowers bloom, they follow the direction of the sun. The yellow and green colors of the flowers and their stems make for colorful views and pictures.
Haskell Indian Nations University Cultural Center
As a former Indian boarding school, Haskell Indian Nations University harbors an emotionally challenging Native American history. During the late 1800s, the federal government removed several children from their homes and sent them to “industrial and technical schools” around the country. Haskell opened in 1884 and served Native Americans and Alaska Natives for 81 years. Children were taught English, forced to cut their hair, and learn trades such as sewing, cooking, and blacksmithing. After closing as a high school in 1965, Haskell became a junior college. Today, as a 4-year accredited college, about 1,000 Native American students attend classes.
The Haskell Indian Nations Cultural Center celebrates Native American strength and resiliency. From its days as a boarding school through its development as a full-fledged college, you’ll learn about Native American history, traditions, and culture through artifacts, memorabilia, and special exhibits. The school also hosts an intertribal powwow each spring.
Where To Shop In Lawrence
Head to Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence for unique shopping opportunities. You’ll find an eclectic array of stores and boutiques featuring clothing, books, jewelry, and home decor. Stop by Au Marche, a European market featuring soaps, chocolates, and delicacies such as stroopwafels and pickled herring. Goldmakers offers handmade fine jewelry for you or that special someone. Antique and vintage ware enthusiasts will enjoy a stop at the Lawrence Antique Mall, with 75 dealers offering goods such as clothing, home accessories, and dishware. Music fans will appreciate visiting Love Garden Sounds, home to classic vinyl albums as well as CDs and tapes.
Best Restaurants In Lawrence
Lawrence enjoys a tasty culinary scene, from Asian to Mexican to American fare. Hawaiian Bros. features a menu that emphasizes island treats, such as their standard lunch plate with white rice, macaroni and cheese, and your choice of protein, including seasoned chicken and pork. With Italian dishes made from scratch, you may think you’re in Rome when you visit The Basil Leaf Cafe. If you prefer a steak dinner, check out J. Wilson’s, a new American eatery with filet mignons and Kansas City strips ready to tease your taste buds.
Best Hotels In Lawrence
The Eldridge Hotel
Enjoy downtown Lawrence’s vibe with a stay at The Eldridge Hotel, named the best hotel in Kansas. Originally opened as the Free State Hotel in 1855, the building was destroyed during an attack by Confederate sympathizers in 1863. It was rebuilt and renamed after its owner, Colonel Eldridge. With 48 suites, The Eldridge Hotel offers visitors a comfortable and intimate stay.
Victorian Veranda Country Inn
It’s not often that someone builds their own bed and breakfast, but that’s what the owners did at Victorian Veranda Country Inn. Falling in love with a B and B they stayed at, they wanted to share that love at their own place. The 10-room bed and breakfast is located near Lawrence, so you can enjoy the fresh air of country life, along with the convenience of being near the city.