Disclosure: Visit Emporia sponsored this post. However, all opinions and photographs are my own.
Emporia, Kansas is nestled in the beautiful Flint Hills off Interstate 35 between Topeka and Wichita. The town is known for Emporia State University, but on a recent visit, I discovered that there are extraordinary places worth exploring. From outdoor recreation to dining and shopping, your choices are nearly endless.
GUFLER MANSION BED & BREAKFAST
Tucked away in a neighborhood within walking distance from campus sits Gufler Mansion Bed & Breakfast (612 W. 12th Ave.). The turn of the century 10,000 square foot home includes 12 bedrooms and is large enough to host events. It’s quite a sight.
You can’t miss it as you drive down the street. The tall white columns, brick architecture, and sheer size capture the attention of passersby. I was the first guest to check in on the day of my overnight stay, so I was able to peek inside each of the themed bedrooms and tour the home’s main level.
My accommodations in the German Room included private access to a newly remodeled bathroom with modern amenities. The queen bed was comfortable and the room’s antique vanity and large closet provided ample space to store personal items.
In the morning, I enjoyed a complimentary breakfast of frittata, potatoes, berries, and hot coffee in the company of other early morning risers in the formal dining room.
If you appreciate making acquaintances when you travel, the bed and breakfast experience is ideal for you. People chat casually about their travel plans and often share ideas for places to visit in town.
To reserve a room at Gufler Mansion Bed & Breakfast for a single night or overnight stay, visit the website for details.
PRO TIP: Bring your disc to practice your golf shots. The mansion’s vast corner lot includes a disc golf basket on the property.
Gravel City Roasters
The highly-rated coffee house, Gravel City Roasters (715 Commercial St). serves a long list of coffee and tea drinks. Never without a short line from the register, customers can also select breakfast muffins, cupcakes, and other pastries. All of the baked goodies are made from scratch.
Popular with residents including college students, it also serves as a retail space selling whimsical gifts. Shoppers in search of puzzles and uniquely crafted artwork are in luck.
PRO TIP: Just before you walk into the cafe space, stop at the Trox Gallery featuring rotating art exhibitions.
More than one person told me that I would love to grab a bite to eat at Do-B’s (704 E. 12th Ave.) a fast-casual restaurant known for The Reaper Burger Challenge (more on that later!). One look at the menu and my mouth began to water.
Stacked burgers, Philly sandwiches, po’boys, and hot wings dominate the menu. The owner took several minutes to introduce me to the menu options, and ultimately I chose the Burnt End Philly made with chopped barbecue meat, onions, pepper jack cheese, and smothered in Curley’s BBQ Sauce. I upgraded my side to sweet potato waffle fries, a wise choice. It might have been the messiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten, but it was also one of the most delicious.
The restaurant was packed with diners and seating at times was limited. Thankfully, they also offer outdoor patio seating and you can order via drive-up or by phone for carry-out. An employee behind the counter busily blended shakes while others flipped burgers on a flat top grill. The local hangout sign in the background read “Come In. We Are Awesome.”
As I munched on my sandwich, I watched the movie “Popeye” on the dining room’s flatscreen TV. A wall of bottled sauces and locally made beef jerky sat for sale nearby. Just as I was about to finish my meal, the owner stopped by to visit.
I learned from him that The Reaper Burger Challenge attracts brave customers who are willing to endure the super spicy sandwich to make a name for themselves and win a free t-shirt. He confessed it is such a daunting task to finish the budget that not even he could finish the burger.
PRO TIP: Ask for a side of Sweet Potato French Fries Sauce, a thick sauce that is easily addictive. Enjoy Cajun food? Do-B’s hosts Jambalaya Thursdays.
Union Street Social
Union Street Social (225 E 6th Ave) is the restaurant you always wished for and now it’s here. The restaurant serves chef-prepared cuisine and specialty cocktails that rival any big city.
The ambiance is hipster meets mid-century modern with areas of the restaurant devoted to lounging or sipping on a cocktail while listening to live instrumental music. A gas fireplace serves as a focal point flanked by jewel-tone velvet couches giving off a speakeasy vibe.
Negronis (pick your own adventure) are their specialty. I chose Underwood Rose Bubbles served in beautiful glassware. After dinner coffee drinks and non-alcoholic drinks are available.
Shared plates, appetizers, and the soup of the day rotate. I opted for the Smoked Salmon Salad with perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs and warm bacon dressing served over micro greens and spinach. Ordering dessert wasn’t up for debate. The owner baked cheesecake while I was there, so I ordered a peanut butter & chocolate cheesecake slice to go. HEAVEN.
You can expect big-city style, eclectic design, and excellent, attentive service.
PRO TIP: It’s a popular place! The owner advises that you make a reservation no matter the size of your dining party to guarantee seating.
Radius Brewing Company
Local. Unfiltered. This is how Radius Brewing Company (610 Merchant St.) describes itself and it fits considering the uber-friendly vibe and delicious menu.
The full-service restaurant is open seven days a week serving artisan-style menu items ranging from wood-fired pizza to sandwiches. How good is the beer? It’s award-winning.
You can expect to find at least a half dozen craft beers on tap at any given time. After ordering a flight (6, 5oz pours $12), I can attest to the quality of the selection. When it comes to craft beer, I typically like IPAs but today I fell hard for Chile Margarita Gose and Mojito Hard Seltzer. Each was uniquely flavored and refreshing.
After working up an appetite, I order the Chicken Bacon Avocado sandwich with a side of broccoli salad. Seated at the bar, 90s rock music played while I chatted off and on with the friendly bartenders. The food was freshly prepared by Chef Bays and it showed in its flavor and presentation. Before leaving, I ordered a Meat Eater 12″ pizza and a side of homemade dill ranch for the road. It sounded too delicious to resist and it met my expectations.
PRO TIP: View Radius’ menu online before planning your visit. They often host food events like Taco Tuesday and Burger Thursdays. If you bring a growler, they’re happy to fill it for you.
Red Rocks, Home of the William Allen White Family
A graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, I could wait to tour the home of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Red Rocks (927 Exchange St.) with an outdoor pond and patio is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas People and a state historic site.
White and his family hosted friends and dignitaries (5 presidents visited) in the red Colorado sandstone home. The newsman declined Frank Lloyd Wright’s design drawings for the home, but upon touring you’ll recognize some of his design style in its interior.
Six bedrooms and three full baths are furnished with many of the family’s prized possessions. Look for White’s infamous top hat next to the bed and the jaguar rug gifted to him by President Theodore Roosevelt. My favorite artifact is White’s original typewriter in the upstairs study.Generations of the White family carried on the father’s legacy of running the Emporia Gazette. Today’s reporters work remotely versus at the original newspaper office.
PRO TIP: Admission to the home is reasonable $6 for adults and $3 for children. Start your tour experience inside the Visitor’s Center. Watch the introductory film about White’s life and career and peruse the artifacts.
Twin Rivers Winery and Gourmet Shoppe
Twin Rivers Winery and Gourmet Shoppe‘s (627 Commercial Ave.) tasting room is massive. Located in the heart of downtown, they serve hand-crafted wines, ciders, and seltzers. What’s the best way to experience the winery’s selections? Order a flight ($6).
The bartender Becky is also the mayor of Emporia. She told me that after the grapes arrive from an off-site orchard. Employees painstakingly process the grapes into wine, fill, cork, and label each bottle by hand.
Although I enjoyed a few of the wines more than others, they were all approachable. It turns out that the sweet blush I enjoyed the most, Yoga Pants, is one of the most requested. Wine enthusiasts will appreciate the options to order a flight, wine slushy, or a bottle. Expect to find more white wines than red wines on the menu.
While they don’t serve food, you’re welcome to bring in your own charcuterie or purchase gourmet snacks from the taproom’s retail inventory.
PRO TIP: Traveling with a dog? Twin Rivers is pup-friendly. The staff will provide fresh water and treats for your family friend.
David Taylor Zoo of Emporia
A mountain lion. Exotic birds. Lemurs. Prairie dogs. You’ll find them all and more animals to observe at the David Taylor Zoo of Emporia (75 Soden Rd.). Open to the public at no charge (cash donations accepted!), the zoo is a newly constructed space housing a range of species from reptiles to mammals.
I appreciated the prairie dogs exhibit the most because they were interactive with one another. Two males played joyfully while the others zoomed to and from their underground holes in between lunchtime bites.
The mountain lion and owls avoided the hot, mid-day sun. Ducks, swans, and tortoises swam with ease in the zoo’s pond. The newest addition to the zoo, a Laughing Kookaburra, observed me but didn’t find my noisemaking amusing.
Other areas of the zoo facility include a children’s play area and Zoo Education Center. The park is open Sunday-Saturday 10 am-4:30 pm.
PRO TIP: Check the zoo’s website for upcoming, family-friendly events.
Peter Pan Park
Families in search of a place where kids can run and play will appreciate Peter Pan Park (S. Congress St. & W. Kansas Ave) for its splash pad, playground equipment, and four-acre lake. Sports lovers will appreciate the 18-hole disc golf course, the home of the Dynamic Discs Open.
During my tour of the park, I stumbled upon Monkey Island that once was surrounded by a moat and housed rhesus monkeys. As you stroll across the park, you’ll find aquatic birds and turtles enjoying the four-acre.
The well-established trees provided ample shade in different areas of the park. Picnic tables invite you to bring your lunch and enjoy the beautiful setting.
PRO TIP: Take a selfie with the bronze Peter Pan statue. The land was donated by the town’s most famous resident, William Allen White, and named after his daughter’s nickname.
If there is one thing Emporia is well-known for it is disc golf. Jones Park (Jones Dr.) is 70 acres consisting of a championship-level disc golf course aka “The Supreme 18” as well as fishing ponds and a playground.
Serious disc golfers travel from afar to compete in the PDGA Professional Disc Golf World Champions in late summer/early fall. Actually, the park includes two courses providing golfers a chance to showcase their athleticism.
The disc golf craze in Emporia is undeniable. The town was named America’s #1 Disc Golf Small Town by UDisc. I added an extra stop to my itinerary after a world champion, Eric McCabe, suggested via Instagram that I tour Dynamic Distribution (840 Overland Rd. Suite A). The enormous warehouse houses multiple rooms of shelves stacked to the ceiling with discs, bags, and apparel.
The receptionist was happy to give me a casual tour of the warehouse which started in the employee lounge. If ever there was a place you would want to work as a disc golfer, it would be there. The employee kitchen included a kegerator, smoothie station, and copious snack options. Visiting tournament golfers can watch the competition from a flatscreen TV in the lobby.
PRO TIP: The facility doesn’t include a retail store. However, you can purchase discs at the Dynamic Discs store (912 Commercial St.) and the employees are willing to match you with the disc that suits your needs.
Downtown Shopping & Mural Hunting
The downtown area along Commercial Street is dotted with several stores worth checking out. In search of ingredients for a charcuterie board? Vaults Meats & Cheeses (509 Commercial St.) sells epicurean selections. Local artists’ work is for sale as well.
Sweet Granada (03 Commercial St.) is a gift shop carrying 200 handmade chocolates and gourmet desserts. Ask for Granada Goo & Avalanche, the store’s best-selling treat. You can select individual macaroons or chocolate truffles to create a to-go box.
As you’re walking the downtown corridor, keep your eyes peeled for interactive murals created to inspire selfies. My favorite mural of the several I saw was the brightly colored umbrella, which was appropriate since it had rained the night before. I stood in a puddle in an alley to capture the below photo.
Cycling for long distances on Kansas gravel roads is a popular endurance sport in the Emporia area. Gravel City Adventure & Supply Co. (716 Commercial St.) carries gravel/off-road bikes, supplies, and apparel. If you’re an avid cyclist, the shop serves as our go-to destination for repairs or outfitting.
The Emporia Arts Center (815 Commercial St.) is a magnificent facility hosting art for sale by regional painters and sculptors. Don’t miss your chance to view the current installation in the Trusler Gallery as well as the hallways lined with works done by the center’s talented instructors. The center features a black box theatre and studios upstairs for art classes.
PRO TIP: Walk into the Visit Emporia office (719 Commercial St.) to ask questions or pick up brochures containing downtown shopping information.
Trolley House Distillery
Trolley House Distillery (502 Commercial St.) makes and serves moonshine and craft cocktails. The building was once a dilapidated structure until the owners used their vision and handiwork to restore it to its glory. The historic building houses trolleys that once made their way up and down the main street in Emporia.
Today, it is a tasting room where guests can sip on moonshine while appreciating the building’s historical photographs framed on the walls. If you’re unsure what to order, ask for a sample sip (free) and then select from the distillery’s cocktail menu. The King ($7) made with peanut butter moonshine, banana liqueur, and chocolate bitters goes down smooth.
PRO TIP: Take home a bottle of moonshine available for sale in the merchandise area of the tasting room.
Other places worth noting in Emporia I want to check out on a return visit include the historic Granada Theatre, Mulready’s Pub, and Chi Em Eats. Emporia is much more than another college town in Kansas. It’s a community comprised of a multitude of things to do and welcoming residents.
I have no doubt that you will love it as much as I did. My best advice is to book an overnight or weekend stay and use this blog post as your personal travel guide. Happy travels!