The State Capitol of Kansas is a mid-sized American town in the fertile region of Eastern Kansas. Despite being known more for farming than tourism, there are fun and interesting things to do in Topeka KS this weekend. In this article we’ll tell you all about them, as well as where to eat and other tips.
We lived here for three months on a work assignment in the summer of 2023. During this time we experienced all that we could, coaxing word of mouth referrals and pouring over internet resources. In the end we created what we think is a worthwhile article, A Complete Guide to Topeka, Kansas.
Ad Astra per Aspera! is the Kansas State Motto. It means, “To the stars through difficulties.” It refers to the difficulties Kansas went through to become one of the stars on the U.S. flag.
Bleeding Kansas refers to a time in history before Kansas was established as a free state. In the mid-1850’s there we three distinct political groups occupying Kansas: pro-slavery, Free-Staters, and abolitionists. Violence broke out immediately between these opposing factions and continued until 1861 when Kansas entered the Union as a free state on January 29th. This era became forever known as Bleeding Kansas.
Anyone raised in Kansas is well aware of this history. There are many places to learn of it, including the State Capitol Building, Watkins Museum in Lawrence, and Brown v. Board of Education Nat. Hist. Site.
The following attractions are what we consider the best things to do in Topeka. If you’re going to be in town with any amount of free time, be sure to see one or all of the Must-Do points of interest.
The most memorable thing to do in Topeka KS this weekend is to take the Dome Tour at the Kansas State Capitol. Thirty-nine of the 50 US Capitols have domed structures, but only Kansas allows visitors to tour the dome. You’re gonna climb a lot of stairs and it’s gonna be a little scary (especially the final ascent into the cupola), but the experience is unforgettably wild and full of interesting information.
Growing up in the 70’s/80’s Evel Knievel was America’s daredevil, and any attempt at bravery could draw reference to his death-defying feats. He was Elvis Presley on a motorcycle; as patriotic as apple pie; the windy edge of the American dream. Learn how it all went down at the Evel Knievel Museum. Admiring his stunts (and crashes) is one of the best things to do in Topeka KS this weekend or otherwise.
One of the Topeka, Kansas “claims to fame” is the historical event, Brown v. Board of Education. The National Historic Site is located at the former Sumner Elementary School turned museum where schoolgirl Linda Brown was refused admission. The whole saga is represented here; it is interesting, painful, and horrifying. This dark chapter in our history will shock anyone born in the 1970’s or later.
Chances are if you spend any significant time in Topeka you’re going to find yourself in proximity of these things. We recommend these things as something you should do it you have the time or it’s in your wheelhouse of preferences.
Lake Shawnee is the most beautiful area in the city, drawing crowds on weekends and holidays. Here you will find an assortment of popular Topeka recreational activities: Golf, disc golf, fishing, boating, dog walking, botanical gardens and picnic areas, even an inflatable toy park on the lake. There are a lot of things to do in Topeka KS this weekend; Lake Shawnee might be the most fun of them all.
NOTO stands for “North Topeka”, an isolated neighborhood/art community found across the river. This is the most photogenic place in Topeka, with colorful murals, sculptures, and drug abusing men riding bicycles in abundance. An assortment of businesses offer fun experiences for hippie-types: Art studios, thrift stores, foodie restaurants, paraphernalia shops, galleries, and earthy boutiques.
Combat Air Museum at Forbes Field is just plain cool. They have about 50 aircrafts, some of them massive, in their two hangars and airfield, as well as a museum with artifacts and placards. They also offer educational classes and have a monthly calendar packed with interesting events. If you have any affinity for military or aviation history you won’t want to miss this one. $7 admission.
While we would give substantial preference to the attractions we’ve already mentioned, the following are worthwhile ways to spend your time.
We loved our experience at Old Prairie Town. Think of it as a historical park with old-timey businesses (including a pharmacy and soda shop), a historic home, plus a magnificent, sprawling botanical garden. The park is equal parts education and natural beauty. A true hidden gem — good luck finding it!
The Ted Ensley Botanical Garden is a 37.5 acre public viewing garden on the west side of Lake Shawnee. Get lost in the meandering paths that weave in-and-out of gardens, past gazebos and pergolas, beside the lake shore, with bench seating for contemplation along the way. Perfect place for a morning stroll.
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The Pennant is a downtown family restaurant that serves a variety of creative and sumptuous burgers. They also have a four-lane bowling alley and the largest collection of classic arcade game in town. Of all the things to do in Topeka KS this weekend, the Pennant is an easy good time.
The Topeka Zoo is a small, but beautiful city zoo with the typical assortment of animals to admire. Terrific for small children. Admission is $8-10 depending on age. Open from 9-5 daily. If you’re looking for a larger, more immersive zoo, the one in Kansas City is very nice.
Gage Park is definitely one of the best things to do in Topeka KS this weekend. Found in the center of town, Gage Park has an interesting children’s playground, a large dog park, a historic mini-train, a rose garden, several ornate monuments, and a two-mile fitness loop. The Topeka Zoo is across the street.
The Kansas Museum of the National Guard is found near Forbes Field on the south side of town. The inside of the facility is full of heirlooms and antiquities. There is a small but interesting collection of Nazi artifacts and some impressive guns. The backyard is full of tanks, helicopters, and transport vehicles.
The Golden City of Topeka, Kansas is known for many things, one of which is not culinary accomplishment. There are a handful of fine-dining restaurants, but if you want a Michelin Star you’re going to Kansas City. On the other hand, if you want some tasty, affordable meals here in town, click the link and we’ll tell you about the 11 best restaurants in Topeka where a plate is under $20.
There are a small handful of acceptable RV parks in and around Topeka, Kansas. We will highlight a few of them.
Here are a few additional tips for things to do in Topeka KS this weekend:
The I-70 Freeway is a toll road. A drive from Topeka to Kansas City costs $4. To Lawrence is $2.
The West Side of Topeka is much nicer than the East Side. Once you cross over Topeka Boulevard things visibly change. The exemption is Lake Shawnee, which is very nice.
The NOTO arts district is sketchy with addicts, especially after dark.
The Evil Knievel Museum is moving to Las Vegas in the future.
Not a lot of people are gushing about Topeka. In fact, the people we met were frequently embarrassed about the condition of the town they called home. I found myself consoling co-workers all throughout our assignment that, “It’s actually a nice town.”
Sure, parts of Topeka are run down, and yes, the homeless/drug problems are visible most everywhere. Regardless, the state capitol of Kansas has more than meets the eye.
We would recommend to anyone passing through Topeka: The State Capitol Dome Tour; Evel Knievel Museum; and Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site. These three points of interest rival Kansas City’s best three experiences, (but not quite), and are better than anything the nearby (and oh-so hallowed) town of Lawrence can produce.
Beyond that, there are interesting and attractive things to do in Topeka KS this weekend in abundance across the city. We enjoyed our three-month stay in Topeka, Kansas more than we hoped we would. There are higher visibility cities we’ve visited about which we could not say the same.
Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!
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