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12 Hours in Topeka

by Angela Orr | Dec 06, 2017

The below excerpt and images are from the 2016-2017 issue of KC OptionsRead on Issuu.

As the capital of Kansas, Topeka is a city with a rich history and a bright future. Topeka's 129,505 residents enjoy a low-cost of living, plentiful recreational options, a vibrant cultural scene and a robust economy.

The corporate headquarters of Hill's Pet Nutrition, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas and Payless ShoeSource are located in Topeka. Target, Mars Chocolate North America, Frito-Lay, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, and Home Depot have production facilities in town. In the heart of Topeka, more than 7,000 students pursue higher education at Washburn University's 160-acre campus. Recent improvements to infrastructure and landscaping have encouraged the growth of business, services and entertainment in the urban core.

7 A.M.: For early risers, Blackbird Espresso Bar and Bistro opens at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends. Fresh baked goods, quiches, coffees and teas. as well as a selection of sandwiches, soups and craft beers, fill the menu at this cozy cafe. I started my day with their hearty egg, cheese and bacon breakfast wrap and a side of grapes.

Topeka Bikeshare8 A.M.: My husband and I decided to visit Gage Park (an eight-minute walk from Blackbird). Since its founding in 1899, the green space has been a Topeka treasure. We scoped out the park's attractions via Topeka Metro Bikes (TMB), a public network of 100 bicycles for rent and more than 10 stations throughout Topeka. As dog owners, we were excited see the Hill's Bark Park, a spacious and secure dog park where pups to play leash-free. Our next stop was the beautiful Reinisch Rose Garden, which features more than 6,500 plants and 400 varieties of roses. From there, we rode to the park's playgrounds. Animal Land has several large concrete animal statues for kids to climb on and take photos with. Nearby, a whimsical mini-train filled with children and adults departed from the depot on a guided, one-mile trek around the park. As we continued our bike ride, we passed by the park's aquatic center, the Helen Hocker Theater, a 1908 carousel, the Von Rohr Victorian Garden and the Kansas Children's Discovery Center.

9 A.M.: Gage Park is also home to the Topeka Zoo. The modest menagerie has a number of exhibit areas and more than 300 animals, including black bears, elephants, giraffes, tigers, lions and gorillas. We loved watching the hippo swim around his 28,000-gallon outdoor pool.

12 Hours in Topeka

11:30 A.M.: We had an early lunch at the Burger Stand, a lively restaurant located in the College Hill district near Washburn University. The menu features gourmet burgers, sandwiches and hotdogs with options for vegetarians and vegans. The full bar has classic cocktails and an expansive beer list. Our satisfying lunches left us too stuffed for dessert, but the locals say the funnel cake fries, served with marshmallow sauce and strawberries, shouldn't be missed.

1 P.M. – 3 P.M.: We took a tour of some of Topeka’s historic sites including the Kansas State Capitol, Cedar Crest, the 6,000-square-foot governor's mansion, and the Kansas Museum of History. Our guide took us through the capitol's five floors and we marveled at the building's murals, and the gorgeous glass panels, brass and copper of the inner dome. At Cedar Crest we explored the estate's first floor from the living room, sunroom and study to the dining areas and kitchen. The mansion looks out into the 244-acre MacLennan Park. After our tour, we explored the park's woodlands, meadows, ponds, and interpretive nature trail. Opportunities for fishing, hiking and mountain biking make the park a popular spot for locals.

5 P.M.: My husband and I rented a paddle boat at the marina at Lake Shawnee and cruised around a quiet cove on the west side of the reservoir. There were people water skiing in the distance and a group of ducks resting near us on the shoreline. The park surrounding the lake features a multi-use trail, tennis and sand volleyball courts, an RV and tent campground, a golf course, playgrounds, a swimming beach with water slide and more. There is also a 20-acre botanical garden.

7 P.M.: The North Topeka (NOTO) Arts District is an energetic area of downtown that is home to art galleries, antique shops, event spaces, restaurants and other locally-owned businesses. Here, we found a casual, contemporary restaurant called The Wheel Barrel. The interior features exposed brick walls and a bar top made from pennies. The menu has both sweet and savory gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, housemade soups and soft pretzels with dipping sauces. For sipping, the Wheel Barrel offers patrons craft cocktails, eight rotating drafts on tap and a selection of bottled beers and ciders. At the end of a busy day in Topeka, it's a treat to kick back in the eatery's spacious beer garden while listening to live music.

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