Road trip: There's a lot to explore in Manhattan, Kansas, even beyond K-State
Manhattan, Kansas, is just a two-hour drive from Kansas City. With lots of great restaurants, event spaces and proximity to the gorgeous Flint Hills, it’s more than just a place to catch a Wildcats football game (although you can do that too!).
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While it’s mostly known as the home of Kansas State University (and its many sports teams), the city of Manhattan, Kansas, has been working to expand its identity and offerings to visitors.
Recent redevelopment efforts have begun to take shape, with the goal of attracting new businesses, housing and leisure options. Some of the most recent projects can be seen in the historic bar district of Aggieville, often the city’s most visited area due its large quantity of food and drink offerings and its proximity to campus.
But just like every college town, Manhattan is more than just the bars that students frequent. Its position with the Flint Hills of Kansas makes for some incredible opportunities to take in the beauty of nature.
So whether you're looking for the best place to grab a beer and watch the Wildcats, or spend a day hiking through the prairie, there’s plenty of places to look for adventure around “The Little Apple.”
Manhattan’s downtown district is often the first thing that visitors from Kansas City will see due to its position near the north end of K-177.
For those interested in learning more of the Flint Hill and nearby nature areas, the Flint Hills Discovery Center - a museum, visitor center and event space - is a great place to start, just off the K-177 exit leading into town. To get some shopping in, just down the road sits the Manhattan Town Center mall and movie theater.
The core of downtown Manhattan, however, is found along Poyntz Avenue. This area is seen as a bit more adult and family friendly, due to the fact they aren’t as frequented by the energetic college crowd.
A few highlights of the area include Tallgrass Tap House, a brewpub with a large menu of food as well as a rotating tap list — most of which is brewed in-house, like the Ragnarök Festbier and the Rise of the Zolander, a Belgian strong ale.
Nearby is Manhatchet Axe Throwing, but we recommend coming here before you spend too much time at the bar, not after. Visitors are advised to check for lane availability online before coming in.
The breakfast cafe known as The Chef is already famous among residents, but it’s gaining some notoriety in the wider world after its exterior was shown in multiple episodes of the HBO series “Somebody, Somewhere”
For a place off the beaten path, 324 is a swanky underground speakeasy that sits two blocks South of Poyntz. It’s usually a members-only establishment, but opens itself up to non-members Tuesday through Thursday. Just make sure you check their Facebook for the password (seriously, you have to say the password).
Every person who’s attended or worked at K-State knows Aggieville. It’s Manhattan’s main bar and restaurant district, surrounded on all sides by either K-State’s campus or student housing.
During the school year, Aggieville can definitely get a bit hectic on weekends, especially on a game day. But it’s still a must visit.
Two of the most recognizable places in the area, however, aren’t actually restaurants at all. Sitting at the west end of Moro Street, Rally House offers several custom designs inspired by local businesses.
The Dusty Bookshelf, which first opened in 1989 as a campus bookstore, has a storied history in Manhattan. It very nearly burned down completely in 2017 when a fire broke out during a renovation project. It has since reopened and added a small coffee bar, making it the perfect place for an afternoon of quiet reading or conversation.
It’s hard to talk about Aggieville without talking about Varsity Donuts, next door to The Dusty Bookshelf. They offer 24 specialty donuts, such as their savory Maple Bacon Bar and Oreo-covered Flate Tire, and they’re cheap too.
For those willing to stay up a bit later, Varsity Donuts also has a food truck that operates behind the shop from 9 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. There’s almost always a line of people reaching around the block, waiting to get their hands on a famous Mac & Cheese Grilled Cheese.
Rock-A-Belly Deli is a smaller, retro stylized sandwich and cocktail bar, perfect for dinner dates and small groups of friends. Their signature drinks include the liquor-infused “summer beers,” and even have some off-menu specials like the coffee-flavored Mind Eraser.
Auntie Mae's Parlor is an underground bar modeled after a 1930’s speakeasy, offering what it calls “handshakes” -- pairing shots of whiskey with different beers for visitors to try together. The bar also often hosts live music and trivia night style events, so it fills up fast most evenings.
Even if you aren’t a former student or a fan of K-State sports, there’s still plenty to do and see in the land of Wildcats.
If you happen to be in town during the work week, Call Hall Dairy Bar is a must. This small eatery near the north end of K-State’s campus sells dairy, egg and meat products exclusively made and prepared by university students. It’s also the home of the (locally) famous Call Hall Ice Cream, which is made from scratch by students.
From there, take your ice cream cone through K-State’s nearby Insect Zoo and Garden. This quiet spot is a popular place for graduation and wedding photos, so don’t be surprised if you see a few camera flashes.
Heading to the south end, visitors can explore K-State’s Beach Art Museum free of charge. The museum is currently hosting several touring exhibits, including Neil Welliver’s “Maine Seasons” series of paintings.
And while you’re in town, make sure your car radio is tuned to Wildcat 91.9, K-State’s student-run radio station. It was recently named the best college radio station in the U.S., and always has info on sporting events, live music shows and other happenings around Manhattan.
You’ll have to leave Manhattan’s most visited areas to find these hidden gems, but they’re worth it.
For locals, Vista Burger has been a staple since the mid 1960’s. It was once part of a small chain that had locations in Topeka, Emporia and Lawrence, but the Manhattan location now stands as its last location.
Tucked along Tuttle Creek Boulevard, Vista is a classic fast-food burger joint known for its large neon sign and colorful but aging interior which makes it feels like it stayed in the 70’s. In fact, their menu of burgers, Philly cheesesteaks and pork fritters has largely remained the same since they opened.
On the northern edge of Manhattan, you’ll find The Little Grill, a Jamaican American bar tucked away at the southern end of Tuttle Creek Lake.
Since opening in 2002, the restaurant has become a popular spot for visitors to Tuttle Creek State Park. It’s probably best known for its jerk chicken and pork chops, which you should pair with a Jamaican rum punch.
For those seeking a more elegant afternoon or evening, the Liquid Art Winery is a vineyard just west of Manhattan. Since opening in 2014, the winery’s tasting room has offered flights of classic and unique wines (including a Kansas-grown watermelon wine) as well as wine slushies and a range of flatbreads and charcuterie. The space also organizes several events each month like “paint and sip” classes, themed dance nights, and live music.
Parks and nature
Manhattan has lots of outdoor adventuring options for visitors, both within city limits and just beyond.
The park also often hosts live performances at its amphitheater, which hosts bands every Friday in the summer as part of Arts in the Park.
For a bit more activity, you can check out Wildwood Adventure Park. This is a collection of trails, adventuring courses, and incredibly popular ziplines, and located just to the southeast of Manhattan.
You can get the full Flint Hills experience by taking a few hours on the Konza Prairie Nature Trail. The trail offers a two, four and six mile long loop, all of which take hikers to some great hill top overlooks - a must-do for first time visitors. There is little to no shade along the longer loops, so visitors are advised to plan ahead for bigger hikes.
One of the most popular outdoor destinations near Manhattan is Tuttle Creek Lake. This man-made lake has several marinas where you can dock or rent boats ranging from small one-person kayaks to 11-person pontoon boats.
If you’re looking to spend the night, Tuttle Creek State Park has several camping and cabin options. It’s the perfect place to gather around a campfire.
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