Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Lawrence, Kansas

Written by Lisa Waterman Gray

September 14, 2023
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Lawrence, Kansas, is more than a college town. Lawrence is a charming historical town with great dining, shopping, and entertainment options. Read on for what to do when you have 2 days in Lawrence, Kansas.

It has been more than four decades since I first explored the vibrant college town of Lawrence, Kansas, and almost 50 years since my husband graduated from the University of Kansas (KU). Well-known for its pivotal role in developing college basketball, KU’s multi-award-winning teams have made this one of the nation’s most prestigious college programs.

But there’s more to Lawrence than its 158-year-old university. As the Civil War began, slavery sympathizers burned down the town in retaliation for Kansas anti-slavery activity. Kansas abolitionists became known as FreeStaters and ‘Jayhawkers’—a nickname that has long been associated with the university.

Today, Lawrence’s primary entertainment hub, Massachusetts Street, is full of great dining and shopping options. That makes deciding what to do while visiting here quick and easy. Here’s the ultimate guide to 2 days in Lawrence.

Many small restaurants and shops contribute to Mass Street's reputation as Lawrence's hub. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Many small restaurants and shops contribute to Mass Street’s reputation as Lawrence’s hub. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Where to Shop in Lawrence

Waxman Candles captivated me during one of my earliest trips to the town. I recently drove 40 minutes to revisit Waxman, a Mass Street fixture since 1970. When you stop in, allow yourself plenty of time to peruse dozens of hand-poured, highly scented votives and beautiful tall, hand-decorated column candles inside this iconic store.

A visit to iconic Waxman Candles is one great thing to do in Lawrence. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

A visit to iconic Waxman Candles is one great thing to do in Lawrence. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

After visiting Waxman’s, cross the street and head south for more great shopping. If you love reading, you’ll love browsing hundreds of diverse titles and genres on tightly crammed shelves at The Dusty Bookshelf, selling used books since 1985. Several doors down, you’ll find great clothing deals with a retro feel at Arizona Trading Company. Secondhand clothing, footwear, and bags have packed this fun and funky store since the 1990s.

Insider Tip: Although parking meters line Mass Street, there’s no charge for parking on Sundays.

In the next block, outdoors enthusiasts should stop by Sunflower Outdoor & Bike, which offers top brands such as Patagonia or Kuhl clothing and Tarmac bikes. Once an Army-Navy surplus store, Sunflower Outdoor & Bike now includes Sunflower Café & Pub. Before or after shopping, order avocado toast with poached egg, bison burgers, or summer wedge salads, plus coffee to cocktails. For an authentic throw-back retail experience, walk another block to Weaver’s. This retro four-story, 20,000-square-foot department store is still going strong after opening in 1857.

Sunflower Outdoor & Bike is well-known for its top-quality bike and other outdoor gear. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Sunflower Outdoor & Bike is well-known for its top-quality bike and other outdoor gear. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Another iconic Lawrence shop lies several blocks beyond Mass Street. Since it opened four decades ago, I’ve bought several pairs of Birkenstocks at Footprints Lawrence. Admire floor-to-ceiling Kansas-themed murals and an indoor koi pond, with a bit of a hippie vibe, as you peruse Birks and Dansko or Keen footwear.

Enjoy a bit of a 'hippie vibe' as you shop for footwear at Footprints Lawrence. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Enjoy a bit of a ‘hippie vibe’ as you shop for footwear at Footprints Lawrence. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Dine and Drink in Lawrence 

It’s no surprise to find plenty of dining and drinking establishments in this college town of more than 27,000 students. But it wasn’t until 1989 that Lawrence had its first legal brewery since Prohibition. That’s when Chuck Magerl opened Free State Brewing Company after he helped change Kansas law, allowing breweries to operate again.

From the dining area, tall glass walls display spotless stainless steel tanks full of Ad Astra Amber Ale, Free State Lager, and other popular beers. Pair your preferred brew with enormous servings of Black Bean Quesadillas or Santiago Shrimp Linguine.

Wondering what to do in Lawrence? Check out Free State Brewery. The owner, Chuck Magerl, brought breweries back to Kansas. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

Wondering what to do in Lawrence? Check out Free State Brewery. The owner, Chuck Magerl, brought breweries back to Kansas. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

I first dined at Genovese Italian Restaurant in the early days of social media. A new contact sent me a private message to ask if we had acted together at our Pennsylvania high school. Then he asked if I lived only 40 minutes from his Lawrence home. The following week, we reconnected over his high school yearbook, my theater script, and tasty pasta dishes at this cozy Italian bistro (recently reopened).

Since becoming reacquainted, we and our spouses have also dined at Merchants Pub & Plate, where his son is a chef. The restaurant, which opened a decade ago inside a historic bank building, focuses on seasonal and local ingredients. Merchants is known for handmade pasta, grilled entrees, a wide selection of draft beers, and specialty cocktails. Enjoy great happy hour deals, too. You’ll also walk through an antique bank vault on your way to the restroom.

There's a new use for this antique bank vault at Merchants Pub & Plates. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

There’s a new use for this antique bank vault at Merchants Pub & Plates. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

My friend’s wife and I once celebrated our March birthdays at The Roost. This cozy decade-old restaurant with a full bar is a Mass Street breakfast and lunch staple. Savor delicious chorizo, scrambled eggs, a Smoked Salmon Benny, or a cocktail with a Roast Beef and Spinach hoagie. Or grab a house-made Cherry + Almond Coffee Cake and a Berry White Mocha to go.

Additional Mass Street restaurants serve Mediterranean to Latin cuisine, deli or Asian fare, pizza, and elevated bar food. Other neighborhood eateries include WheatField’s Bakery Cafe. At 20+ years old, WheatField’s crafts award-winning, crunchy-soft, wood-fired breads made with unbleached flour, natural starters, and slow fermentation. This is another excellent destination for grab-and-go pastries or lunches featuring homemade soup and fresh salads.

Cultural and Historic Sites in Lawrence 

Several Lawrence sites deliver big doses of culture. You could easily spend several hours touring the Spencer Museum of Art, which draws more than 100,000 visitors annually. The KU campus houses 48,000 art objects and other works displayed amid white walls, polished hardwood floors, and bright lights. Recent rotating exhibits of paintings and three-dimensional art interpreted themes of Empowerment, Displacement, Intersections, and Illumination.

Near Lawrence’s eastern edge, the Cultural Center (at) Haskell Indian Nations University depicts tribal cultures associated with students from 150 tribes nationwide. Listen to recorded chanting and drumming while admiring photographic and other student art. In addition, historical exhibits depict Native American involvement in Vietnam and the importance of Navajo Code Talkers during World War II.

Book a night’s stay at The Eldridge Hotel, where you’ll glimpse the Civil War ambiance. Twice burned during Civil War conflicts, the hotel reopened in 2005 following a massive renovation. Now part of the Historic Hotels of America collection, the 48-room, all-suite property also has a spooky reputation—especially in room 506. Legend has it that Colonel Eldridge is the source of unexplained activities such as guest bags shaking and baffling noises.

Calm your nerves while sipping a Horsefeather cocktail in the bar with Maker’s Mark, ginger beer, bitters, and lemon juice. Or enjoy a glass of wine with lamb chops in the casually elegant Eldridge House Grille. Then retire to your suite for the night—if you dare.

The Eldridge Hotel combines vintage design with modern amenities. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

The Eldridge Hotel combines vintage design with modern amenities. Photo by Lisa Waterman Gray

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Plan Your Trip to Lawrence

Less than an hour’s drive southwest of Kansas City (Missouri) International Airport, Lawrence is easy to reach and navigate by car. Pick up a rental vehicle at the airport before heading to Lawrence for ultimate flexibility in reaching preferred local destinations. Before heading home, you may also want to spend several days in Kansas City, Missouri, and/or Kansas City, Kansas.

Choosing the best time for your ultimate two-day Lawrence visit partially depends on how you react to crowds. Restaurants and shops may be busier during the school year. Also, check the KU calendar before you visit to determine already-bustling times, such as homecoming weekend and home basketball or football games. In the summertime, prepare for intense humidity and heat, too.

You’ll find plenty of pleasant diversions during your ultimate two-day visit to Lawrence. Shop ‘til you drop along bustling Mass Street and savor delicious food/drink at multiple establishments, from Italian or brewpub fare to breakfast goodies and handcrafted cocktails. You can also learn about Native American history, admire a massive art collection, or even look for ghosts at a historic downtown hotel.

Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your trip to Lawrence and elsewhere in Kansas. And check out these other Wander articles about Lindsborg, Wichita, or Leavenworth.

Lawrence, Kansas, is more than a college town. Lawrence is a charming historical town with great dining, shopping, and entertainment options. Read on for what to do when you have 2 days in Lawrence, Kansas. | University of Kansas | Historical Towns | Small Towns | Midwest Travel | Kansas

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Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Lawrence, Kansas

Written by Lisa Waterman Gray

A Kansas City-area resident, Lisa Waterman Gray has savored Quebec’s finest cuisine, ridden in a pickup before a Kansas buffalo herd, and toured natural Arizona landmarks with Native American guides. In June 2011, 18 months of driving, research, and writing ended with national publication of Lisa’s book, An Explorer’s Guide: Kansas. During October 2014, she was a U.S. delegate for Terre Madre and Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy – a conference for Slow Food International. Lisa has written for Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle (a Canadian magazine), USA Today.com, Midwest Living, four AAA magazines, and other clients. Visit her online at http://www.lisawatermangray.com/.

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