New at the 2017 Kansas State Fair

The state fair is in full swing, and this over 100-year-old celebration has some new things. Here are our recommendations.

Pronto Pup t-shirts

Don’t you dare call it a corn dog! The pronto pup is a fair classic and there are at least three spots around the fairgrounds to get one, but only next to the Lair White House and the arena can you get a shirt proclaiming your love of this fair food. $21 a shirt with kids and adult sizes and a few different colors.

Flippin‘ – Acrobat and aerialist show

Where last year ther was a dog show, this year there is an acrobat show. With family members starring, there is a combination of trapeze style work and impressive balance acts with a steampunk theme.

There are no nets or padded mats below the performers and it’s a great great show! Show up 20 minutes or so ahead of time to get a seat.

Free. Shows at Gottschalk Park at 11am, 1:30pm, 6:30pm

Food

There are a handful of new dishes serve up around the fairgrounds. We tried the ‘roni dog’ – a hot dog topped with macaroni and cheese and bacon bits from Carousel Cafe.

One of the best things about the dish is that it’s the right size for one person. If you have a hankering for turkey leg, for example, you had better have some people to share it with since they’re so big. But the roni dog is just right.

Lair White House

Each year there is a different display at the little fair museum, and this year it’s on the special food contests from Pillsbury Pie competitions to the (in)famous SPAM contest.

To toot our own horn a bit, a lot of the SPAM items on display come from the Kansas Trail Guide family.

Free.

Escape Room

For $25, you and up to 7 friends, you get half an hour to get out of a specially designed ‘escape room.’ With hidden clues and the promise of ice cream if you figure it out in the time limit, it’s a fun challenge.

Kids 10 and under free. In front of the Encampment Building. Open 9am to 9pm.

Eat, Play, Stay: Topeka

Topeka, along the Kansas River, has a number of great trails (including near Cedar Crest, the Governor’s Mansion), interesting history, and an active arts scene. Check out our recommendations of where to eat, what to see, and where to stay while you’re in the capital city.

Eat

Hanover Pancake House (1034 S. Kansas Ave. Open 6:30am to 3pm Sundays, 6:30am to 2:30pm Monday through Saturday).

In business since 1969, this mainstay diner style restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, and it was voted Topeka’s Best Place for Breakfast in 2016.

Order up! The Burger Stand

Burger Stand (1601 SW Lane Street, College Hill. Open 11am to 10pm Sunday and 11am to 2am Monday through Saturday).

It’s impossible to pick one best burger here, but I’m a fan of the Smoke (Applewood smoked bacon, gouda cheese & chipotle-cocoa ketchup) and Black & Blue (Blue cheese & granny smith apple chutney).

The restaurant has a couple of dining areas, and they’ve got a pool table, foosball table, and pinball machines. The service was quick, and the food delicious.

Hazel Hill Chocolate (724 S. Kansas Avenue. Open 10am to 7pm. Closed Mondays).

Handmade in small batches on-site, the chocolate treats here are incredible. You can get just one, with truffles costing $2.25, or you can stock up and get them by the box.

Moburt’s (820 S. Kansas Avenue. Open 10am to 6pm. Closed Sundays).

For your own cooking, you can add the gourmet touch with an impressively large range of salts, sugars, and spices — espresso sugar, wild blueberry sugar, Hawaiian black sea salt, gingered Thai sea salt, ground Vietnamese cinnamon, pretty much anything you can think of and many you wouldn’t have thought of before. The staff are great at advising for the best pairings.

Play

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (1515 SE Monroe Street. Open 9am to 5pm daily).

It’s a trailhead for the Landon Nature Trail, and it’s also the place to learn about the historic desegregation decision made in 1954 that helped change schools in America for the better with indoor and outdoor exhibits.

Kansas Children’s Discovery Center (4400 SW 10th Ave. Closed Monday, open 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Saturday, open 1pm to 5pm Sunday. Kids and adults $7.75, seniors $6.75, and under 12 months, free).

In the southwest corner of Gage Park, also home to the Topeka Zoo, is the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center filled with interactive exhibits. The outdoor classroom area has a zipline, music garden, treehouse and more. Inside, there is an art play space, puzzle garden, science gallery, and more with activities for babies, toddlers, and elementary school age kids.

NOTO Arts District (800 and 900 Block of North Kansas Avenue. Keep in mind that many of the shops are closed on Mondays and/or Tuesdays).

The best time to visit is for the First Friday Artwalk, but if you can’t make it then, there’s still plenty to see. A mix of artist studios, antique stores, boutiques and a handful of cafes.

See that statue on top? You can climb practically all the way to it!

Capitol Dome Tour (300 SW 10th Street. Tours are free and run Monday through Friday: 9:15, 10:15, 11:15 a.m., 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, 3:15 p.m. Saturday: 10:15, and 11:15 am., 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, and 3:15 pm. Keep in mind, if it’s too hot, tours will be cancelled).

296 steps and you’ll be at the top of the nation’s only state capitol dome where you can walk outside. The tour starts with checking out some of the capitol building’s many murals, and then you head behind the scenes and up, up, up.

It’s a bit intense if you’re scared of heights, but there are protective railings and a tour guide to put you at ease. And the views from the top, especially on a clear day, are impressive You can also turn back at any point. Read more about it here.

Ted Ensley Gardens (3650 SE West Edge Rd. Open 6am to 11pm).

You can boat, fish, sail, and swim at Lake Shawnee, but there’s more to the area than water activities. Along the west side of the lake are the Ted Ensley Gardens. Trails through the arboretum, a meditation garden, and over a thousand types of flowers and trees, it’s a pleasant, pretty spot.

View from a Capitol Plaza Hotel room

Stay

Capitol Plaza Hotel (1717 SW Topeka Boulevard. Rooms from $109).

Next to the Kansas Expocentre, the Capitol Plaza Hotel is a great place to stay. It’s pet-friendly and non-smoking complete with an indoor pool, hot tub whirlpool, and exercise room.

You get free WiFi throughout the hotel, and there are two restaurants — the Falling Water Grille and Water’s Edge Lounge.

There’s plenty of parking, the beds are comfy, and I must admit that even as an adult, I’m always a fan of glass elevators — this one overlooks the garden atrium.

Part of the Great Mural Wall of Topeka near the Capitol Plaza Hotel in summer 2016

It’s also a few minutes walk from the Great Wall of Topeka-Mural along SW Western.

Ramada Inn Downtown (420 SE 6th Avenue. Rooms from $84).

If you want to easily access history, stay at the Ramada Inn Downtown as it has the in-house Holley Museum of Military History. Along with this unexpected amenity, the hotel has three restaurants: Madison Street Diner, Maddie’s Cocktail Lounge, and Uncle Bo’s Bar, which has live bands every Friday and Saturday night.

Along with the seasonal outdoor pool, there’s an indoor pool and hot tub. Each room has a microwave and mini-fridge, and they have a free hot and tasty breakfast. You get free WiFi, and in the fitness center, you can take a yoga class.

Tour the Capitol Dome

Of the 50 states, Kansas is the only one with a capitol dome where visitors can climb all the way to the top and go outside, 10 feet or so beneath the bronze statue of a Kansa warrior that tops the 304 feet tall dome. Oh, and that 304 feet places it 16 feet taller than the United States Capitol dome.

It’s 296 steps all the way up, though this is broken into parts where you can turn around if it’s becoming a bit too much. For the first few stops, you’re headed along stairs hugging the wall. The last 100 or so steps take you up into the middle of the dome, up into the small cupola, and then out onto a circular walkway.

And yes, it’s a bit nerve wracking if you’re scared of heights (as I am!) as you head away from the wall and into the middle, but I made it through, so I’m sure you can.

Tip – If you go in fall, the changing colors of the trees will make the panoramic view even more stunning.

A Kansas State Historical Society volunteer will take you up and give you some information. You start out on the fifth floor and get info about the restored frescoes (one of the state’s first “selfies” can be found in them!). Then you head up to above the interior dome and get a view of the steps up into the unfinished part of the dome.

The dome itself was a part of a nearly $325 million revamp of the statehouse completed in 2014.

If you go:

Cost: Free!

When: Tours are run by the Kansas State Historical Society Monday through Friday: 9:15, 10:15, 11:15 a.m., 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, 3:15 p.m. If it’s too hot, they’ll cancel the tours as the dome itself isn’t air conditioned. Not sure if it’s cancelled if/when it’s too cold…

Where: 300 SW 10th St, Topeka, KS 66612. Visitor’s entrance is on the ground level, North Wing, on 8th Avenue. Parking information here.

More info: Kansas State Historical Society, 785-296-3966

Kansas Chocolate Festival in Topeka

A delicious day is coming your way in Topeka on September 24

kansaschocolatefestivallogo_rendered_3f539611-cee1-4104-8a90-f41be5bf4e9eStart the day at 8am with the 12th annual Winged Foot 5k/10k run and 4k walk. Once you’ve finished the race, you’ll get some chocolate treats to keep you going the rest of the day!

From 10am to 5pm, wander along Kansas Avenue to find food trucks (all of which will have at least one specialty item featuring chocolate), live music, and vendors. Watch demonstrations of taffy pulling, chocolate clay, and fudge.

On the main stage, presentations throughout the day will give information on where chocolate comes from, a history of chocolate, pairing chocolate with other foods and spices, and more.

On the Statehouse lawn in the evening, you can watch Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring the late Gene Wilder.

If you want to show off your cooking skills and get a chance to win $300 – enter the Kansas Chocolate Competition.

Get more details and information about the schedule of events here.

Celebrate the National Parks 100th Birthday in Kansas

2016 is the centennial celebration of  America’s National Parks, and nationally recognized historic sites can be found throughout the state of Kansas. Our favorites are those with trails to explore, like the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City (keep an eye out for the bison herd!) and the Brown V Board of Education National Historic Site which is the start to the Landon Nature Trail.

Here are two places to join in the celebrations for the National Parks on the official parks birthday weekend (August 27 and 28).

Baseball game at Fort Scott, early 20th century. Don Miller. NPS website.

Baseball game at Fort Scott, early 20th century. Don Miller. NPS website.

August 27, 2016 at Fort Scott National Historic Site – Vintage baseball and picnic in the park

From the NPS website:

Bring your family and a picnic basket full of your favorite food.Eat on the grounds of a frontier 1840s fort while listening to period music.Music will be provided from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.

Then at 1:00 p.m., you are invited to watch a Civil War era baseball game that will be held on the grounds of the historic site. Two vintage teams will square off against each other;the Topeka Westerns will take on the Wichita Bull Stockings in a rousing game using 1860s rules, uniforms, and equipment.

August 27, 2016 at Fort Larned – Picnic in the park

A prairie dog show and talk starts the day at 10am at the visitor’s center, and throughout the day will be presentations on the history of the area along with a concert by the revived Fort Larned Post Band. Find out more details of the day here.

 

We’ll keep you updated on more centennial park events throughout the rest of the year.

Planning to go to one of these? Let us know in the comments!

3 Kansas restaurants to celebrate National S’Mores Day

So it’s National S’mores Day. I’m not sure when the tradition started of making national days began – already in August, according to NationalDayCalendar.com, there’s been a National Raspberry Cream Pie Day (August 1), National Root Beer Float Day (August 6), and National Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day (August 8).

Photo by Derek E-Jay

These days are a bit strange, yes, but why not join in on the fun!

While s’mores are the classic end of a camping/trail day treat, toasted over a fire, here are three places in Kansas where you can get your s’mores fix without the campfire.

The Donut Whole (1720 E Douglas Ave, Wichita) makes their donuts from scratch with locally sourced ingredients and along with other unique flavors like Maple Bacon and Peanut Butter and Grape, they’ve got a S’mores donut. Oh, and they’ve got a 24-hour drive up window.

The vanilla marshmallows are made in house at Pinstripes (Prairiefire, 13500 Nall Avenue, Overland Park) for their s’mores dessert. You can counter some of the calories by playing bocce ball or going bowling.

At Sheridan’s Frozen Custard (stores around Kansas City and in Topeka) you can get a cone filled with fresh made vanilla frozen custard and topped with marshmallow creme, graham cracker, and chocolate chips.

 

World’s largest Czech egg now upright in Wilson

Kristin by the Czech Egg in Wilson

Kristin by the Czech Egg in Wilson

Built in 2012, painted in 2015, and now standing proudly in its own pavilion in the tiny town of Wilson, Kansas is a 22 foot tall Czech egg.

Wilson, a town of around 800 people, is the Czech capital of Kansas due to the large number of immigrants from there that settled in the area.

Now about that egg. The tradition of painting eggs with intricate designs at/around Easter is centuries old, and these eggs are called kraslice. And this 7,000 pound hollow structure was hand-painted with motifs and designs symbolizing good fortune and new beginnings. It’s world’s largest status isn’t yet technically official as Guinness World Records still has to measure and sign off, but I’d defy you to name a larger Czech egg anywhere!

If you go:

Exit 206 off of I-70

Corner of 27th Street and Avenue D