There’s No Place Like the Sunflower State

There’s no place like Kansas—and you don’t need to visit Oz for proof of that. The vast, landlocked state is known largely for its friendly, welcoming spirit. In fact, once you book your bus ticket to Kansas you may never want to go back home! Just what makes this homey state so special?

A Peek at Kansas Past

As settlers traveled to the west during the middle of the 19th century, they made their way through Kansas. Among the most widely traveled trails were the Oregon and Santa Fe, both of which passed directly through the state. To assist in these travels, and to make life for the settlers easier, forts were set up alongside these trails. As more people passed through, they ultimately decided to stop in Kansas instead of continuing west. In 1861, Kansas was admitted to the union.

A Look at Kansas Culture

It’s sometimes referred to as the “Sunflower State” or the “Wheat State.” Both are apt monikers for a state whose lands are rife with the brilliant yellow blossoms. That’s right in line with the sunny spirit and positive attitude you’ll encounter as soon as you arrive. Friendliness is simply a way of life here!

Of course, if you really want to get into a great mood, you’ll want to immerse yourself in the state’s foodie culture as soon as you arrive. It’s barbecue that gets most mouths watering. What makes Kansas City barbecue in particular so noteworthy? It’s slow-smoked over different varieties of wood to impart the richest flavor, then served with a hearty tomato barbecue sauce on the side.

The real draws for many, however, are the numerous opportunities for outdoor adventure. Kansas is full of them — the state’s parks offer over 32,000 acres, and there are plenty of trails on which to bike, hike, and ride horses. The many lakes and rivers are ideal for everything from kayaking to paddling to rafting. Clinton Lake in Lawrence (E) is popular for its many fishing and camping spots while boating enthusiasts will appreciate the calm waters at El Dorado Lake in El Dorado (E).

If you know anything about sports, you’re probably aware of Kansas City’s deep ties to college basketball. The city hosts more than 60 games a year! And while it may seem a natural inclination to root strictly for the Kansas Jayhawks, there’s a pretty strong rivalry in the state itself — and many are solely in the Kansas State Wildcats camp. You can only choose one!

Where to Go and Stay

Although hints of that charming, small-town appeal are there, Wichita is a great place to visit if you prefer a bit of action. The city is home to Sedgwick County Zoo, which happens to be the seventh-largest in the entire country. Art enthusiasts can enjoy thousands of exhibits at the Wichita Art Museum and the Ulrich Museum of Art. Why not spend date night at the Wichita Symphony Orchestra or the circa-1928 Crown Uptown Theatre? There are dozens of excellent hotels and motels in the heart of the city. Whether you prefer a more budget-conscious stay or a luxury experience, you’ll find just the place in Wichita.

If you’re a history buff, book a bus ticket to Kansas and head straight for Hays. During its earliest years, the city looked like something out of a Wild West film. It was heavily populated with dance halls and saloons, and the streets were, indeed, “wild” — crimes were common and at one point the city was known largely as one of the state’s most violent. This tough reputation faded into obscurity as the town welcomed Volga German settlers during the middle of the 19th century. You can learn more about this fascinating background at the Fort Hays State Historic Site, or by taking a self-guided walking tour downtown. Don’t miss the historic markers that recognize the likes of General George Armstrong Custer and William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

Traveling with the family? Check out Topeka, where you can easily enjoy a little bit of everything during your stay. The North Topeka Arts District offers live music, art exhibits, food, and shopping galore on Friday nights. The mini-train at Gage Park takes visitors on a mile-long journey as the engineer provides an engaging history lesson about the park. For nightlife enthusiasts, the city offers everything from live music venues to karaoke cafes to comedy clubs.

If you favor a more relaxed vibe for your crew, head to Salina (E), where family-friendly activities abound. Enjoy a visit to the 60-acre Rolling Hills Zoo, or treat the kids to a day at Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park or Jumpin’ Joe’s Family Fun Center. After you’re done walking around, stop by Sunset Park for a picnic and a stroll through the beautiful on-site botanical gardens.

Chances are you’ll quickly appreciate just how welcoming Kansas is when you arrive in Junction City. It’s known for its hospitality and simplicity, and although it’s smaller than the major cities, it’s not without its highlights. Among the most noteworthy is C.L. Hoover Opera House, which opened in 1898.

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