Posted by: adventuressetravels | June 24, 2011

Lawrence, Kansas: A Spot of Blue in a Sea of Red


What comes to mind when you think of Kansas?  Probably a flat flyover red state filled with wheat fields and republicans.  You may envision the black and white desolation of “The Wizard of Oz,” but that’s generally as much of Kansas as registers in most people’s minds, if it registers at all.

Kansas is not as bad as the stereotype suggests.  But like most stereotypes there is a kernel of truth lying at its core.  It is a red state, the vast majority of the landscape is prairielands with cattle and wheat fields as far as the eye can see…

Lawrence, Kansas on the other hand, is a bit different from the rest of the state.  A dot of blue liberalism in a staunchly red state, Lawrence, Kansas is your archetypal university town.  The perfect marriage of the safety, unique openness of a small town combined with the arts, culture, and education level of a much larger city.  Located in hilly Northeast Kansas, a place that actually boasts trees and the Kaw River flowing through it the landscape doesn’t even seem Kansan.

I did grow up in Lawrence so I am certainly biased, but I stand by it as a charming little town to visit.  Some of my favorite things about Lawrence are:

Liberty Hall

This magnificent independent cinema, concert venue, and video store resides in an Opera House built in the 1880s.  Rising from the ashes of an abolitionist newspaper that was burned to the ground in 1856. Remarkably, the building has been home to pictures since the early 1900s.  The frescoed ceilings in the main theater are truly spectacular and Liberty is unquestionably one of Lawrence’s architectural treasures.


Another thing that makes Liberty unique is their concessions; featuring Freestate beer on tap, and unusual popcorn seasonings (my favorites are Spike and nutritional yeast) it is always worth a trip to their concession stand.   Liberty is hands down my favorite place in the world to see films, the wonderful staff, great films, and good snacks are just a bonus.  Be sure to stop by Tuesdays and Wednesdays for their specials.


KU Campus

Located on top of “mount” Oread, a large limestone hill, KU’s campus is lovely.  Almost every one of the stately limestone buildings has a character befitting an honored institution of learning.


The Natural History Museum has been one of my favorites since childhood featuring the taxidermied body of Comanche, the only US “soldier” left standing at the historic Battle of Little Bighorn.  Going back as an adult the museum isn’t nearly as impressive as it had been in my youth, but it was still interesting.


Spencer Art Gallery is another nice place to spend a few hours, with paintings by


One of my favorite places is Potter’s Lake.  With weeping willows dipping their tresses in the water, and a tiny little stone bridge arcing over one corner, the pond is wonderful.  Located at the foot of Mont Oread, this picturesque little pond is a lovely place to relax and enjoy a picnic.


Though I have visited many campuses, KU is certainly one of the prettiest.  There are too many beautiful and interesting places here to name in one small article.  No trip to Lawrence would be complete without a stroll around this historic campus.



The only radio station in the Midwest on a mountain. At 90.7 FM, the bottom of the dial, KU’s student run radio station broadcasts a fantastic mix of music.  With Jazz in the morning, and a fantastic mix of music the rest of the day, listening to KJ is one of the best parts about driving in Lawrence.  KJHK was one of the first radio stations streaming online and is still one of the best in the country.


Freestate Brewery


Freestate restaurant and microbrewery opened its doors in 1989 and has become a Lawrence institution.  The first legal brewery in Kansas in over 100 years, the restaurant  resides in an old trolley station.  Its seasonally changing menu is a head and shoulders above normal brewery food and consistently boasts some of the best food in Lawrence.  Not to mention some delicious beer.

In 2010 over a decade after opening, Freestate finally started bottling their beer.  Not surprisingly, the beer is excellent in bottle form as well as on draft.  Hopefully they will be selling it around the country in the near future.

The Replay Lounge

When I lived in Lawrence almost a decade ago, the live music scene flourished.  Almost all tours stopped off at the Bottleneck, Granada, or Liberty Hall.  Lawrence’s music scene has died down in recent years, but there are a few strong holds like the Replay Lounge, Lawrence’s punk rock bar the Replay Lounge.


The Replay is a great little place that hosts intimate punk, indie, and all manner of rock shows almost every night.  With pinball machines lining the walls of the little indoor venue, the back opens up on a heated beer garden.


Yellow Sub


Lawrence has some great restaurants but one that always stands out is Yellow Sub.  This little sub shop is definitely my favorite in the world.  Their fresh baked bread (baked daily from scratch) and unique sandwiches put all other sub sandwich shops to shame.  Their variety of subs and list of veggie subs is especially impressive.  My long-time favorite is the Tempeh Rubin, made with local Tempeh, but the Tempeh Parmesan is delicious too.



There is no shortage of fun, interesting, and quirky things to do, see, and eat in Lawrence.  What Austin is to Texas, Lawrence is to Kansas.  I am certainly partial, but if you are in the area I highly recommend taking a trip to Lawrence.


  1. “Ad astra per aspera” – to the stars through hard places. That’s the way to Lawrence through red Kansas.

  2. Thanks for the overview of Lawrence! This area truly is the quintessential college town, which gives residents plenty of things to do. But when the students leave, we also get to experience the advantages of living in an even smaller town.

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