Nestled amidst the rolling hills of what many deem a “flyover state” lies a small, bustling metropolis. With a colorful history and even more colorful present, the university town of Lawrence, KS has a lot to bring to the table. Dating back to the Civil War, residents of the area have prided themselves in being called Jayhawk(er)s. In the 1850s, the term was used by anti-slavery “free-staters” fighting the Bleeding Kansas border conflict with Missouri. Today, Lawrence and the University of Kansas Jayhawks are riding the exhilarating wave of winning this year’s NCAA basketball championship. Lawrence is a fun town with a sense of humor, but there are a few things it takes very seriously: pride in its history, college sports, and good food.
Welcome to Lawrence, the ultimate destination this fall and winter for those seeking the true Midwest Americana experience. Lawrence is actually home to two universities: The University of Kansas, and Haskell Indian Nations University. Together with Massachusetts Street (known colloquially as “Mass”), a vibrant downtown hub that has been repeatedly recognized as the greatest tourist destination in the state, Lawrence has a rich culture and a uniquely quirky community all its own. Its locals and students alike are proud to call the city their home, and they embrace the passing seasons with a communal enthusiasm rarely found elsewhere.
A classic fall weekend in Lawrence show cases the best the Midwest has to offer: perfect walking weather, farmers’ markets, tailgating before college football games, live music block parties, Final Friday art shows, a packed-full holiday event calendar, and restaurants boasting new seasonal recipes featuring local ingredients. To make the most of the season, take a stroll through KU’s campus on the hill, admiring the fall colors, before catching a football game at the stadium. Lawrence is no stranger to agritourism, so consider making a trip to Schaake’s Pumpkin Patch, or one of the city’s nine wineries. If craft beer is your modus operandi, head to one of the city’s six breweries. Free State Brewing Co. will happily serve up a freshly drawn pint of their award-winning Octoberfest lager for you to sip while you peruse their elevated take on the standard pub menu. Or, wander up and down Mass Street and see what else catches your eye, as the bustling downtown contains numerous restaurants with skilled and creative culinary professionals just waiting to show off their latest creations. If you get a little chilly, stop in some of the local shops. The Raven Bookstore-recently named the best bookstore in America by Publishers Weekly-will welcome you with open arms and a very cute shop cat. Waxman Candles will tempt you with their creative seasonal scents and perfectly sculpted morel mushroom candles. Kids will enjoy all 15,000 square feet of The Toy Store. Finish your evening with a finely crafted cocktail from John Brown’s Underground, then retire to The Eldridge Hotel, full of charm and resurrected proudly in the same lot as its predecessor, which was attacked and burnt down twice during the Civil War. With colorful leaves underfoot, seasonal flavors on your tongue, and the crisp air of an approaching winter on your face, you will see why locals and travelers alike are so eager to embrace the season.
As autumn makes way into winter, Lawrence turns its focus to its coziest festivities. Winter in Lawrence is a little like stepping back through time to childhood when the holiday season felt a little more magical. Arrive just after Thanksgiving, and you might see Santa himself “crash” into a downtown building’s third-story roof and be rescued by the local fire department, whereafter the holiday lights that have been diligently strung on every tree lining Mass Street will be ceremoniously lit, to remain for the rest of the winter. A few weeks later brings the annual Old-Fashioned Christmas parade, with horse-drawn carriages, strings of jingle bells, and jolly participants abound. If you missed football season, not to worry, as Lawrence does basketball better than anyone. With the University of Kansas’ basketball program being founded by the inventor of modern basketball himself, and the Kansas Jayhawks currently holding the NCAA championship title for the 4th time, it’s imperative to catch a game if you can. The stands of Allen Field house are always packed, as is every bar and restaurant with a TV or ten around, but the locals will happily make room. Make sure to pick up some barbecue on game days; while Kansas City may be famous for its barbecue, Lawrence is only a stone’s throw away and it shows. On the coldest winter mornings, pick up a coffee and a warm artisanal loaf of freshly baked bread from a James Beard Award semifinalist at 1900 Barker and Café before heading to one of Lawrence’s numerous museums. Watkins Museum of History at 11th and Mass will more than satisfy those history buffs intrigued by the city’s story.
One thing is for certain: Lawrence is a colorful town with a whole lot going for it. This is one city you won’t want to fly over.