Disclosure: Visit Manhattan sponsored this post, however, all opinions and photographs are my own.
To visit Manhattan, Kansas is to fall in love with it. The town, referred to as The Little Apple for its founder’s New England roots, offers something for everyone from exciting entertainment to eye-opening experiences. “Oh Man!” there is a lot to do in the town!
MUSEUMS & ATTRACTIONS
FLINT HILLS DISCOVERY CENTER
The Konza Prairie serves as the majestic gateway to Manhattan. The tallgrass prairie once covered over 170 million acres stretching from Canada through Texas and east to Ohio. Settlers discovered that the prairie soil, although difficult to til, was loved by bison. Today, visitors to the area can learn about the prairie and reconnect with it by visiting the Flint Hills Discovery Center. Located near the downtown district, the three-story education center’s primary focus is to teach visitors about the prairie’s important purpose and the conservation that keeps it a rolling landscape of prairie grasses and wildflowers today.
To fully appreciate the Flint Hills, you must buy a ticket to the “Tallgrass Prairie: Tides of Time” movie screening. It’s a completely immersive experience! The life-like simulations put you right in the heart of the prairie. Your senses come alive as you learn about range burning, prairie regrowth, and the ecology of the Flint Hills.
After the film ends, I recommend trying the hands-on, interactive exhibits that teach you about geology, the cowboy lifestyle, and the importance of soil composition. You’ll have a new appreciation of the beautiful Konza Prairie today. An entire floor is dedicated to teaching children about the prairie and its animals. Plan a visit for the family here.
If you’re interested in planning a nature walk through the Konza Prairie, check out this easy 2.7-mile trail loop via All Trails.
MARIANA KISTLER BEACH MUSEUM OF ART
There is no better place to view renowned works of art than the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art located on the Kansas State University campus. The museum has more than 10,000 objects in its collection and often has extraordinary pieces on loan. You can expect to see permanent and rotating exhibitions including regional art and pieces from around the world. Admission is FREE!
With a focus on educating visitors of all ages about the visual arts, it makes perfect sense that its employees are mostly comprised of college students. Designed to help visitors “Think ANEW,” they have found innovative ways to bring the arts to visitors using the Smartify app, which identifies 2D and 3D artworks when one’s phone is directed at them. Tada! The app returns audio, text, and video interpretation about the piece. You have to try it!
During our visit to Manhattan, the museum remained closed to the public due to COVID-19 concerns. However, we were able to arrange a private tour to view the exhibit “Inside Out,” which showcased window installations of art from the permanent collection. Illuminated at twilight, every window of the museum functioned as public art with “yard” signage that detailed each piece.
The museum plans to reopen in Fall 2021. Are you interested in booking a free tour? Reserve one here or by calling 785-532-7718. In the meantime, you have the option of taking three virtual tours or taking advantage of their virtual art discussions and live stream conversations here. If you interested in becoming a friend of the museum after your visit, ask how to support an exhibit or one of their many educational programs. Parents rave about the children’s programs, so be sure to ask about those as well.
MIDWEST DREAM CAR COLLECTION
A gearhead’s dream come true, the Midwest Dream Car Collection is a must-stop in Manhattan. Ward and Brenda Morgan made it their mission to display an eclectic collection of cars from every decade ranging from classic roadsters to speed-defying muscle cars. To walk through the building is to take a journey through a visual timeline of cars. Visitors can gaze at the permanent collection featuring 65+ cars representing automotive history, a breathtaking experience. They even offer self-serve wine and beer to enjoy! In addition to the vehicles on display, the curator works diligently to have temporary exhibits on loan from car owners. Would you like to sit inside one of the stunning cars or trucks? Ask an employee to direct you to the cars that allow full visitor access.
I fell in love with a number of stunning cars, but two classic vehicles stole my attention. The curves and chrome of the navy blue Hudson made my heart pitter-patter and one look inside the Volkswagon Window Bus’s two-tone green interior and I was squealing with delight. Oh, the road trip I could take in that beauty!
Each car’s history tells a story about the designers, engineers, and decade that ultimately created it. I recommend taking part in one of their unique programs to take your appreciation for automobiles to the next level. A popular outdoor event, Cars & Coffee, takes place on the first Saturday of the month. But for those looking to dig deep into their knowledge of cars, the Morgan Lecture Series includes presentations that appeal to car aficionados. Kids also appreciate visiting the Midwest Dream Car Collection since there is an entertainment space dedicated to them as well as a monthly program, Kids Studio. Plan your visit and view hours here.
DINING & DRINKS
This restaurant is a long-time favorite among locals and visitors! Nestled deep in the heart of Aggieville, Taco Lucha calls itself “a full sit down, cocktail driven, funky Aggieville taqueria.” From the moment you walk into the restaurant, you are greeted with colorful lights set against a dimly lit eclectic interior. Popular for serving Mexican street food with a twist (the portions are large!), everyone raves about the food. When at Taco Lucha, I strongly recommend ordering “The Nancy,” a beer cocktail made with Old Milwaukee beer and pineapple juice. Everyone orders it! They also make a mean michelada. We made fast friends at the bar while dining on spicy jalapeño poppers, stuffed tacos, and a mega burrito (ask about the “secret menu” options). I plan on trying the popular Raspberry Bean Dip on a return visit.
View the latest food specials and hours here.
SO LONG SALOON
Adjacent to Taco Lucha is their sister business, the So Long Saloon. Known for “lip-smacking good grub,” we enjoyed a sandwich and hearty salad while seated at the bar. The waitstaff was beyond accomodating and brought us drinks while we waited for seats to open up. This is the kind of restaurant where you instantly make friends when talking with the bartender. The cozy space includes an imported saloon wood bar. Voted to have the best Kansas beef hamburger in town, I’ll return to try it! Check out their hours and the latest “Manhappenings” here.
THE GUILTY BISCUIT
If you’re craving total indulgence food, make your way to The Guilty Biscuit. How about Fried Bologna & Chorizo stacked inside a buttery, homemade biscuit? Why not! Go for broke and order my selection, the Chicken Nugget ‘Po Boy made with creole maple mustard aioli, homemade pickles, caramelized onions, fried potato crisps, and lettuce. The first bite will send you to food heaven. The final bite puts you in a food coma. Make your way to their dine-in, pick-up location here.
AUNTIE MAE’S PARLOR
You haven’t had had the quintessential Aggieville experience unless you put a few beers or craft cocktails back at Auntie Mae’s Parlor. Originally the town’s speakeasy during the Prohibition era, this live music venue/dive bar is dripping with historical charm. While patrons enjoy access to a pool table and window bar upstairs, the place you want to be is downstairs. You might catch an up-and-coming band playing! On less rowdy nights, I recommend picking one of the many board games to enjoy with friends.
Many of the servers and bartenders are second-generation Auntie Mae’s employees. Once you visit, you’ll understand why they choose to follow in their family member’s footsteps. Get a closer look and check it out here.
POWERCAT SPORTS GRILL
A short walk from the Midwest Dream Car Collection sits the Powercat Sports Grill where locals meet to cheer on the Wildcats in good company. Referred to as the “watch party headquarters” on game day, it is the place to sit among fellow K-State fans. If not watching the big game, the outdoor patio features numerous yard games to enjoy. Be sure to ask for a menu! We saw several guests dining on their popular pizza pies and build-your-own burgers. Find your fun here.
MANHATTAN BREWING COMPANY
One of the youngest breweries in town, Manhattan Brewing Company entered the craft beer scene offering a long list of brews and housemade sangria. Their focus is on “quality beers, community spirit, and beer education” While sipping on their pilsner, The Townie, I chatted with employees who were very cordial. What I appreciated about the beer menu was that it had a variety of choices for every kind of craft beer drinker from sours to stouts and porters to pilsners. Learn more about downtown’s newest neighbor here.
Serving “donuts that make people happy,” Varsity Donuts has been serving warm, fresh donuts to the masses since 2011. I arrived early hoping to find full cases of donuts and boy was I surprised at the large selection! The second-best aspect of stopping in Varsity Donuts is learning about the building’s historic charm. It still has the original flooring, counter, and barstools from its days as a soda fountain. Look up and you’ll discover pages of K-State yearbooks hanging overhead dating back to 1939. After devouring donuts, visitors have the option of renting vintage bikes to take a spin around Aggieville. See what you’re missing here.
This Aggieville restaurant bar is one that most people say they’ve visited when in town. Only steps from the K-State campus, Rock-A-Belly Deli serves cold beer and delicious sandwiches for those joining up with friends for great conversation. We opted to sit on the back patio, but you should try to dine indoors if seats are available. You’ll be surrounded by kitschy retro decor that sets a vintage vibe. View its location and hours here.
AJ’S NY PIZZA
After working up an appetite touring downtown, I suggest ordering a pie from AJ’s NY Pizza. This pizza is some of the best I’ve ever tasted, and I live with someone from New York so I’ve eaten a lot of it! The bartender at Manhattan Brewing Company recommended stopping here and one bite later, it made total sense. I can vouch for The 18th and 8th pizza made with homemade meatballs. Scrumptious.
This list of eateries and bars only scraps the surface of the many places there are to eat in Manhattan! Locals gave high praises to The Varsity Truck (order the “Charlie”), Vista Drive-In, and Bourbon & Baker — all places I plan to visit on my next visit to town.
If you want to stay in complete comfort with amenities aplenty adjacent to Aggieville and campus, book a room at the Bluemont Hotel. I was fond of the spacious guestrooms (living room area included!), the pet-friendly accommodations, and the complimentary breakfast. The boutique hotel was designed to mimic the look and feel of the limestone buildings in the neighborhood. A great place to watch the game and enjoy a cocktail, the hotel touts that “Manhattan’s best voted bartender” crafts cocktails in the lounge. Schedule your stay here.
Be sure to carve out some time to shop local while visiting Manhattan! The Dusty Bookshelf houses bestsellers and gently used books. I picked up a “Mystery Bag” of vintage cookbooks for $20 and scored a few gems. If you’re looking for quirky novelty items sure to make you laugh, visit Acme Gift. It’s one of those stores where you can find a cleverly written mug or a greeting card for someone guaranteed to make them smile. I picked up some Kansas-themed postcards from their sister store, Acme Local. Aggieville is full of shop small opportunities!
I’m so glad I returned to Manhattan to experience it like a local after a long hiatus. I’m planning a return trip during better weather conditions to explore the Konza Prairie, try disc golf, and perhaps some fishing at nearby Tuttle Creek Reservoir.
It’s easy to see why it was voted #2 in the 10 Best College Town by Livability in 2019. If given the opportunity to spend a weekend taking in the college town, you’ll find the locals to be incredibly welcoming and you’ll have a blast visiting all of the attractions and restaurants. Get a jump start planning your itinerary by checking out the Visit Manhattan website.
Are you already a fan of Manhattan? Tell me in the comments below which destinations I need to add to my return trip to The Little Apple!