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- The Toy Store
- KU Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas
- Spencer Museum of Art
- Thing to Do in Topeka, Kansas
- Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
- Kansas State Capitol
- Evel Knievel Museum
- NOTO - Arts & Entertainment District
- City Parks
- Things to Do in Manhattan, Kansas
- Flint Hills Discovery Center
- Konza Prairie
- Sunset Zoo
- Kansas State University Gardens
- Manhattan City Park Waterpark
Explore Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan and beyond with this travel guide to the fun things to do in Kansas with kids. These Midwest destinations have a small town America feel, with each locale offering excellent kid-friendly activities. Check out the top family spots to experience in The Sunflower State!
During a recent Kansas road trip, my kids (aged 6 and 10) and I visited three cities: Lawrence, Topeka and Manhattan. Each of these cities are within about 45-60 minutes drive of each other, making Kansas a great Midwest road trip destination.
TravelingMom Tip: Consider flying into Kansas City, Missouri for optimum flight schedules and a deeper rental car inventory than the smaller airports. This border city is within a few minutes drive of Kansas state.
Fun Things to Do in Lawrence, Kansas
Downtown Lawrence (Massachusetts Street) is a top attraction when touring Kansas with kids. The walkable blocks have been a thriving hot spot since its founding in 1854. Signs in the shop windows express the downtown’s diversity, including LGBTQ+ friendliness.
A short drive from downtown is the University of Kansas campus, with additional kid-friendly activities.
TravelingMom Tip: Street parking in downtown Lawrence requires change for the meter. Add the ParkMobile app to your smart device for convenient payment. Or use the free two-hour public parking lot on Vermont Street.
Watkins Museum of History
1047 Massachusetts St.
Housed in a former bank building, the Watkins Museum of History depitcts life in Kansas going back to Lawrence’s beginnings.
Conversation starters include the vintage collections and exhibits about the state’s fight to remain free, beginning before the Civil War. Don’t miss my daughter’s favorite: a fully-restored Victorian playhouse.
The Toy Store
936 Massachusetts St.
Three stories of toys and books for all ages including classic toys and walls of plush stuffed animals.
TravelingMom Tip: Your kids are going to want a souvenir or two. Plan your strategy before you walk in, whether it’s to set a spending limit, give each kid their own money or let them pick up whatever they want.
KU Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas
1345 Jayhawk Blvd.
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There are four floors of exhibits including an awe-inspiring panorama just inside the entrance. The impressive collection of fossils, bones and wildlife displays are an excellent way to learn about the Great Plains.
The museum is free, but donations are welcome. Expect to spend a few hours here. Be sure to pick up a scavenger hunt for kids to complete for a free prize.
Spencer Museum of Art
1301 Mississippi St.
Another of the free things to do in Kansas, Spencer Museum of Art is located on the University of Kansas campus.
The art museum is currently under renovation so it’s a short visit but worth the stop. Pick up the “BINGO” game that’s ideal for kids of all ages then return it for a prize.
Places to Eat with Kids in Lawrence Kansas
Terrebonne Po’ Boys
845 Massachusetts St.
Classic Cajun dishes including jambalaya, gumbo and po’ boy sandwiches in a vibrant walk-up counter-service restaurant.
Sandwiches are stuffed with your choice of protein including andouille sausage, shrimp, chicken, catfish or gator. Indoor and outdoor seating.
837 Massachusetts St.
Handcrafted pizzas with fresh made dough and locally sourced fresh ingredients. Inside and outdoor patio dining with sports television as well as a small arcade game area.
Sylas and Maddy’s Homemade Ice Cream
1101 Massachusetts St.
Handmade waffle cones and creative flavors made with high quality ingredients make this a must-stop (kids or not!).
This shop had the longest line of any place we visited on our trip, so plan accordingly. Indoor seating only but most families just hang out outside to eat their treats.
Mass Street Soda
1103 Massachusetts St.
Thousands of bottled sodas from around the world with vintage candies that are sure to delight. Most bottles are sold off the shelf with a few flavors chilled and ready to drink.
Lawrence Kansas Hotels
Located just five minutes’ drive from the University of Kansas campus and within two miles of downtown.
The large junior suite with a full kitchen and dining table, living room and whirlpool tub allows families plenty of space to spread out and relax. The multi-level indoor saltwater pool was a big hit with my kids!
This hotel on Massachusetts Street is the ideal accommodations for families who want to be close to the heart of the city.
The spacious historic hotel is in a great location with restaurants and entertainment within walking distance.
Thing to Do in Topeka, Kansas
Kansas Street is the main hub of Topeka’s downtown, offering plenty of family-friendly activities within a short driving distance. With connections to the Civil Rights Movement, unique entertainment and a spirited arts scene, there’s lots of fun times to be had in Topeka.
Visitors enjoy two hours of free parking on Kansas Avenue every weekday and all day free parking on weekends.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re visiting during the summer months, enjoy Eats & Beats in Evergy Plaza on Wednesday afternoons. Live music and food trucks along with a fountain splash pad for the kids make this a great warm weather activity. Watch for other special events in the plaza throughout the year.
1515 SE Monroe St.
While Kansas was a “free state,” segregation still existed throughout. This included the Monroe Elementary School, which now houses the visitor’s center for this national historic site.
The museum and educational civil rights footage are geared more towards upper elementary-aged children. My 5th grader was highly interested and toured each section carefully.
Kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge and certificate for completing the program. Check in with the Park Ranger onsite when entering the visitor center.
SW 8th and SW Van Buren St.
Tour guides are available throughout the week to walk groups through the visitor’s center and legislative floor spaces. Tours of the dome (296 steps!) are currently suspended. My kids and I took a self-guided tour where we viewed the Hall of Native Peoples and abolitionist John Brown’s sword.
All tours are free, though reservations are recommended. Visitors can park at no-cost for two hours in the underground parking lot. Expect to go through security check including a bag inspection.
Walk through the outdoor Capitol Square for a view of the statue dedicated to the 34th American President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was raised in Abilene, Kansas.
Evel Knievel Museum
2047 SW Topeka Blvd.
As a kid growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Evel Knievel was an icon. I even played with an Evel Knievel doll! Apparently, I’m not the only one. TripAdvisor lists the Evel Knievel Museum as the No. 1 attraction for Topeka!
The museum showcases a significant collection including crash helmets, original jump bikes and his fully restored Mack truck, “Big Red.”
Give yourself at least an hour to tour the museum. In addition to the extensive memorabilia, exhibits also show video footage of jumps (both landed and crashed).
Signage explains the extent of injuries he sustained as well as an interactive broken bones x-ray exhibit. These cringe-worthy details are what make this museum exciting, especially for daredevil kids!
NOTO – Arts & Entertainment District
935 N Kansas Ave.
Known for its vibrant murals and public arts displays, NOTO (North Topeka) is a colorful shopping and entertainment hub. Stop by and take a picture in front of the “Topeka” mural in Redbud Park.
Consider a weekend visit when the Saturday city market shops are open and live music happens. Our mid-week afternoon visit was quiet as most shops in NOTO weren’t open.
Each of the locations we visited within Kansas offered up excellent city parks. With grassy fields, playgrounds, splash pads and aquatics centers, these parks are an essential stop when traveling with children.
Places to Eat with Kids in Topeka Kansas
The Tee Box
906 S. Kansas St. Suite 100
A full experience that combines dining options with a hands-on golf challenge. Families are set up in one of the four individual golf simulation bays that uses a state-of-the-art system. Experienced golfers can take on one of the top courses while kids can play a lively points-based game.
Not to be overlooked, there are excellent dining options in addition to the sports aspect. Order the pretzel bites with beer cheese!
2833 SW 29th St.
This off-the-beaten path restaurant is a hidden gem. The burger game is strong here, with options for beef, veggie, turkey, ground chicken, vegan and gluten-free.
Families with active kids will like the outdoor patio entertainment including ping-pong and corn hole.
Topeka Kansas Hotels
Roomy space for longer stays include a full closet, separate sitting area and trundle bed for additional sleeping arrangements. Kids will appreciate the free hot breakfast and indoor swimming pool.
The southwest location is within a short driving distance of the downtown area and other local sites.
The location of this premier hotel is choice for families looking to be in the midst of the downtown atmosphere. Rainfall showers, onsite dining and outdoor terrace with firepit are a highlight after a busy day of touring.
Things to Do in Manhattan, Kansas
Nicknamed the “The Little Apple,” Manhattan Kansas is a city with an energetic feel and small-town charm. From the lively downtown to the rolling grass prairie, there’s a good mix of both indoor and outdoor pastimes in Manhattan.
On the same day, visitors can pick up fresh produce at the farmers market, tour one of the art galleries or cheer on the Wildcats at a K-State college football game.
Take time to visit Aggieville, the oldest shopping district in the state. There are more than 100 restaurants, bars, entertainment options and retail locations within the walkable blocks. This area vibrates with activity (and lots of college students) during weekends when school is in session.
TravelingMom Tip: Want to capture the perfect Instagram-worthy sunflower photo? Sunflowers usually bloom between mid-August thru mid-September in Kansas. Several farms in the Manhattan area open to the public for viewing of these stunning blooms.
315 S. 3rd St.
The 10,000 square feet of interactive exhibits focus on the surrounding Flint Hills region and ecosystem from cultural history, animals and prairie burning. Pick up a scavenger hunt flyer, complete the challenge and then redeem it for a prize.
The renovated Prairie Playscape upstairs is abuzz with younger kids, who can enjoy free play and hands-on displays. A temporary major-league baseball exhibit was a huge hit with my sport-loving son, who likely would have spent the entire day here!
Do not miss the immersive experience inside the theatre, It tells the story of the tallgrass prairie through sights, sounds and effects. For additional exploration, visit the outdoors Prairie Garden Trail and Terrace areas, which offers free public admission.
TravelingMom Tip: The Flint Hills Discovery Center is a part of the ASTC Travel Passport Program. If you have a passport to your own local science center or museum, check the website. You may be eligible for free general admission to the participating locations.
100 Konza Prairie Lane
After learning about the region at the Flint Hills Discovery Center, get the kids to this native tallgrass prairie national preserve. There are multiple hiking trails including a 2+ mile Nature Trail and the Godwin Hill Loop, over 6 miles.
In order to maintain the University-operated research facility, there are very specific rules to observe. These include hiking only (no bikes), staying on marked trails, do not remove any specimens and do not bring animals.
2333 Oak St.
More than 150 animals are on exhibit for viewing and education at this family-friendly venue. The black swan from Australia and tiger in the newly opened Expedition Asia section were our favorites to watch. With fewer crowds than our hometown San Diego Zoo, we enjoyed the closer interactions we had with the animals at the Sunset Zoo.
Some of the walking trails are steeply inclined, so keep this in mind for wheelchair access. Strollers and wagons are permitted and also available for rent.
The Sunset Zoo can be explored within a few hours allowing additional time for children to enjoy the playground.
Kansas State University Gardens
1500 Denison Ave.
These beautiful horticulture display gardens are located on the K-State campus, free to the public. There is a small fee to visit theInsect Zoo, an indoor exhibit of all things creepy crawly!
The backdrops of plants and blooms are perfect for capturing family vacation photos.
Manhattan City Park Waterpark
1220 Poyntz Ave.
The waterpark within the Manhattan City Park is the best place to spend a warm summer day. Day admission includes water activities for all ages from a zero-entry area for toddlers, twisty slides and a competition pool with diving boards. My 10-year old worked up the nerve to dive off the high board for the first time – it was a highlight of his trip!
The city waterpark has a concession stand on-site, with picnic tables, storage lockers and ample deck chairs available.
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to check hours of operation, as the waterpark is closed seasonally. For extra outdoor fun things to do in Kansas with kids, visit the rest of the 45-acre park. There are walking trails, a playground and various public use sports fields and courts.
Places to Eat with Kids in Manhattan Kansas
A.J.’s NY Pizza
301 Poyntz Ave.
This casual New York-themed pizzeria is a great spot to grab a pie or slice. The lunch crowd was no joke. To maximize time, consider having one adult order food at the walk-up counter while another adult finds seating indoors or on the patio.
In my effort to eat vegetables on vacation, I ordered greens at each restaurant we visited. The specialty salad I ordered at A.J.’s was the best of our trip, which my kids helped to eat. Add on wings, bread knots, ravioli and a slice of New York cheesecake for dessert.
TravelingMom Tip: Step outdoors for a photo in front of “Anotações,” the massive mural overlooking A.J’s patio. There are a plethora of awesome murals and photo ops in Manhattan that reflect the beautiful diversity of this college town.
704 N. Manhattan
Kickstart the day with this hot spot that accommodates both early birds and night owls. For a late night snack visit the Varsity Truck parked in the alley, serving bites both savory and sweet on Thursday-Saturday nights until 2:30 am.
You can’t go wrong with the maple bacon bar, the perfect combination of salty/sweet. Varsity Donuts is the ideal stop for slow mornings. Grab a board game off the shelf, start a game of ping-pong or play a tune on the piano.
1130 Moro St.
As a native San Diegan with unlimited access to “authentic” Mexican food, I wasn’t sure how tacos in the Midwest would go over with the family. I didn’t need to worry, the choices at Taco Lucha were delicious!
Kids menu is somewhat limited, so consider ordering a la carte or choosing a large platter to share. The Super Nachos appetizer was humongous and a hit with my kids, who couldn’t finish it.
Manhattan Kansas Hotels
This hotel is all about the location, within a few minutes walk to Kansas State University and Aggieville. Rooms are spacious with fresh, clean furnishings and bedding. No onsite swimming, but the Manhattan city pool is a short distance away.
Parking is valet only, which can get tricky at times with the limited space. However it’s easy enough to leave the car in the parking garage. The walkability to nearby shopping and dining is extremely convenient.
Walk to the downtown hot spots on Bluemont Avenue. The hotel offers suite options, onsite dining, indoor pool and complimentary breakfast that are a plus for traveling families.
More Fun Things to Do in Kansas with Kids
Our trip was short, just enought to whet our appetite for more. These kid-friendly attractions are on our bucket list for a return visit to Kansas.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road to this museum dedicated to all things “The Wizard of Oz.” Visitors can see memorabilia collected from the books, films and plays.
NASCAR fans gather at this motorsports track in Kansas City. Pick up a single race ticket or a full weekend event ticket for the ultimate race experience.
Get the Old West experience in Dodge with bbq, rodeo and the Boot Hill Museum. One TravelingDad shares his experiences about the popular Dodge City Round-Up.
The Great Plains Nature Center extends guests free admission to their indoor learning exhibits. There’s also a two mile paved trail system in Chisholm Creek Park which is handicapped accessible.
Botanica is the Wichita garden with year-round displays and seasonal events.
Nearby the Keeper of the Plains stands at the point where the Big and Little Arkansas rivers join together, in what is sacred ground to the Native American people. Visit nightly when the “Ring of Fire” burns for 15 minutes.
Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead in Overland Park
Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead is a must-stop with young children The 19th century farmstead offers up pony rides, playgrounds and nature trails. Admission is free Monday through Thursday.
Booth Family Hall of Athletics in Lawrence, Kansas
Ideal stop for sports fans, this museum of Kansas Athletics is open year-round. Jayhawks fans will enjoy peeking at James Naismith Court, which holds the record for most wins in college basketball!
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas
Find out why the nation said “I Like Ike” in this 25,000 square feet of museum exhibit space. The outdoor site includes his boyhood home.
More Midwest Places to Visit with Kids in Missouri
Just a hop, skip and a jump from the state of Kansas, the Missouri border is a quick getaway to extend your Midwest vacation.
Science City at Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri
Located inside the nation’s second-largest working train station (behind Grand Central Station). More than 125 exhibits offer plenty of hands-on family fun.
National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City, Missouri
The world’s largest collection of fine-scale miniatures as well as one of the largest collections of historic toys currently on public display. Admission is free for children five and under.