Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Locally Atchison. All opinions and photos are my own.
Atchison is a charming, historic town in northeast Kansas worth exploring for its almost endless things to see and do. From scenic views of the Missouri River and visiting museums to dining and shopping downtown, it has more than enough attractions for an overnight stay.
Historically known as the birthplace of female aviator Amelia Earhart, Atchison is a thriving town once home to Kanza Indians. Lewis & Clark explored the area in 1804. Later, it became a hub for steamboats, railroads, and manufacturing.
Fast forward to today, Atchison, with Victorian homes and river views, is a town begging to be discovered.
Atchison Railroad Museum/Atchison County Historical Museum
One of the most notable landmarks in Atchison is the Historic Santa Fe Depot (200 W. 10th St.), home to Atchison Railroad Museum/Atchison County Historical Museum and the Atchison Visitor Center. Whiskey Depot taproom recently opened inside the depot to serve locally-crafted spirits.
Built in 1880, the depot accommodated incoming and outgoing goods shipments when the town was a significant rail center. The building is no longer used for its initial purpose, but the Union Pacific Railroad main line still runs adjacent to it.
A self-guided tour of the museum inside includes the achievements of businesses and entrepreneurs who made Atchison what it is today. You’ll walk upon restored hardwood floors to view dozens of thematic displays.
In 1870, the Atchison railroad served as a learning rail town in the state, but times changed. The last Santa Fe train left town in the early 1990s, but the museum’s inventory of authentic artifacts keeps history alive.
I’ve toured several historical museums in the state, and this one is one of the best for its vast collection of artifacts. From railroad memorabilia to manufacturing tools, I was impressed to learn that many notable Kansans were from Atchison.
Jesse Stone wrote songs performed by Elvis and other rock stars. Stone wrote the song “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” the most recorded song in history that began the era of Rock and Roll.
Also, Atchison was the first city to comply with the Brown vs. The Board of Education ruling to desegregate schools, thanks to principal Evelyn Harper’s influence.
You’ll be glad you toured the museum before exploring the rest of town. The interpretive displays and artifacts provide a foundation of knowledge to better appreciate the town’s legendary history.
Did you know President Abraham Lincoln journeyed to Atchison in 1859 while traveling west? He reportedly remarked, “I have told many a person – if you want to go West – Atchison or Leavenworth would be fine places to get a start.”
PRO TIP: Use your phone’s camera to scan the QR codes on the museum’s displays to learn more about them or watch a video. Plan to spend at least an hour enjoying the museum and perusing the gift shop.
Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum
The most famous person to call Atchison home is world-renowned female aviator Amelia Earhart. She was born on July 24, 1897, in her grandparent’s home (pictured below) and lived there until age 12.
Born to a father who was a lawyer and a mother who honored Amelia’s love of curiosity, she and her sister Muriel often played outdoors, inventing games, building a rollercoaster, and climbing trees.
Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum (223 N. Terrace St.) is open to tour six days a week for a reasonable admission fee.
While you can certainly take a 30-minute self-guided home tour, I appreciated learning about Amelia and her family during a guided hour-long tour. On the ground floor of the 1861 Victorian home, the family used various rooms to entertain guests, including the dining room, where Amelia rarely dressed up for dinner.
Amelia’s family appreciated her love of adventure. Her dad purchased a 10-minute plane ride for her in 1920, thus inspiring her love of flight.
Can you imagine what she daydreamed about when looking out her two-story bedroom window at the fields surrounding the Missouri River? She earned her pilot’s license at age 24.
At 34 years old, Amelia was the first woman aviation to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. Artifacts and framed photographs documenting her aviation career are meticulously displayed in the museum. However, the exhibit about Amelia’s other careers caught my attention.
Did you know she worked as a clothing designer, nurse’s aide, and magazine editor, often giving speeches nationwide?
I recommend touring Amelia Earhart’s Birthplace Museum to glimpse the past while learning how she would become one of the most revered pilots of her time.
PRO TIP: Follow the museum’s Facebook page to view Focused in Friday posts featuring in-depth details about the home.
Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum
A new attraction on the edge of town is garnering attention, the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum (16701 286th Rd.). Opened in 2023, the museum is dedicated to recounting the aviator’s life while teaching visitors about aviation using interactive displays.
I started the self-guided tour by watching a computer-generated video of Amelia Earhart welcoming guests. The life-like pilot spoke in quotable phrases inspiring museum-goers to go after their dreams.
The can’t-miss museum feature was incredible, but perhaps not as unbelievable as what awaited me inside.
The world’s last remaining Lockheed Electra 10-E, named Muriel after the identical plane Earhart flew on her final flight, sits on display for visitors to admire. The aircraft is named after her younger sister.
You’ll appreciate the museum’s highly interactive displays that trace Earhart’s childhood, career paths, and aviation feats. The museum’s designers did an excellent job incorporating audio and visual technology, keeping visitors engaged.
The Virtual Reality Flight experience was worth the added time and ticketed cost. Donning a headset and using an airplane’s yoke, I attempted Amelia’s historic 1932 flight across the Atlantic Ocean. I didn’t make it to Paris, but I did land the plane safely in a farmer’s field.
PRO TIP: Explore the museum’s second floor, Amelia’s Guiding Lights, to learn how she flew over the ocean using constellations to guide the way.
The Cultural Center
Innovative thinking meets creativity at The Cultural Center (111 N. 8th St.). Visitors can tour the museum for free (donations welcome) to admire the work of exceptional artists.
I was impressed with how the current exhibit included an interactive component. See Kansas Road Trip Summer 2023 exhibition, featuring travel posters, encouraged visitors to use map pins to indicate if they had visited or planned to visit each destination.
I had a blast having my photo taken with a life-sized cardboard cutout of a car – the perfect snapshot for a travel writer.
PRO TIP: They also host workshops, classes, and First Friday events. Check the Facebook page for details.
The Evah Cray Museum
I love when a beautifully restored home doubles as a museum. The Evah Cray Museum (805 N. 5th St.) takes your breath away when you see it from the street.
The Victorian-era three-story home was built by W.W. Hetherington for his family in 1882. Inspired by his love of Scottish castles, the ornate woodwork, five fireplaces, and chandeliers are evidence of his appreciation of the finer things.
A gift to his wife, Evah, the mansion features 25 rooms filled with period antiques, including an 1893 World’s Fair bedroom set, elaborate stained glass windows, and high-quality furnishings.
The family had five children. A one-of-a-kind bassinet, a high chair that converts to a stroller, and children’s clothing decorate their rooms.
Walking the rest of the home’s interior, you’ll discover a 200-year-old walking wheel winder used to spin yarn wool. The parlor’s upholstered, open-arm couches with dark wood and framed artwork showcase the luxury the Hetherington family enjoyed.Outdoors, an elaborate driveway leads to a restored carriage house that begs to be photographed.The Evah Cray Museum is more than another stunning home in Kansas. It’s a time capsule from the past when a family decided to settle in Atchison and live in the home for 80 years. Given their wealth, they could have chosen to reside anywhere. They chose Atchison.My tour, led by the museum’s docent, was exceptional. Expect to pay a moderate admission if you go, and you’ll want to plan to spend at least an hour touring the home.PRO TIP: Ask about the home’s small theater, where you can watch a film about Atchison architecture. Visit the gift shop in the carriage house.
Muchnic Art Gallery
A personal tour of the historic Muchnic Art Gallery (704 N. 4th St.) is well worth an hour of your day. Now serving as a gallery for rotating art, lumber merchant George Howell built the Queen Anne-style home in 1885.
The 14-room home served as a showroom to display the types of wood his business provided and the intricate ways it could be used. You’ll notice he combined oak, walnut, and mahogany into its design from floor to ceiling. He incorporated non-traditional wall materials like leather into the wallboard design.
Howell spent $16,000 to build the mansion, adding five bedrooms and four bathrooms. My docent-led tour upstairs was a highlight of the afternoon. The vibrant stained glass windows leading up the staircase reveal an impressive sitting room with parquet flooring, my favorite room of the home.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, The Muchnic Foundation maintains the home. Since 1970, the house has been used by Atchison Art Association as an exhibition space to showcase the work of phenomenal artists and photographers.
PRO TIP: Muchnic Art Gallery also offers art classes and hosts special events periodically.
A perfect day of exploring Atchison starts at The Sunflower (117 B. N. 5th St.), where the baked goods and coffee drinks are the highlight, and the welcoming customer service is a bonus. The bagel breakfast sandwich with a KC Roasterie drip coffee hit the spot as I took in my surroundings.
The cafe is where locals meet to catch up about the latest happenings in town. Where travelers like me enjoy quiet time and peruse the internet using free Wi-FI. And where you can shop for gift items from kitchen towels to home decor.You’ll find the comfortable cafe is just what you need to set the tone for the day. The menu features freshly baked pastries and specialty coffee drinks. Return mid-day for a Signature Cocktail like The Atchison Mule of Amelia’s Final Flight.
PRO TIP: Walk down to Jerry’s Again (125 N. 5th St.) for a slice of pie and to shop its retail section. The restaurant is owned and operated by the same family as The Sunflower.
Lopez de Mexico
Colorful overhead flags and booths decorated with framed family photos set the scene at Lopez de Mexico (112 S. 6th St.), a family-operated restaurant in the heart of downtown Atchison. I was fortunate to visit with the owner, Ann, who shared how she studied her grandmother’s recipes and opened the restaurant 27 years ago.
The restaurant is known for its crispy beef tacos, which to my delight, were a lunch special the day of my visit. Ann served a complimentary plate of pasta tossed in a tomato garlic sauce on the side, an authentic dish.
Between bites, I enjoyed learning about Ann’s heritage, which included the Lopez & Vallejo families’ tradition of serving the community delicious food and treating customers “like a part of the family.”
PRO TIP: Seat yourself when you walk in, and a server will greet you tableside.
Flaming cheese delivered to your table? Sign me up!
Expect delicious food with flair at Pete’s Steak House (618 Commercial St.). Local chef Nick Tsamolias’ menu lists lunch and upscale dinner options you might find on a big city’s restaurant menu. The Saganaki flaming appetizer is a fan favorite. Our server served the falmbéed Greek cheese on a scalding hot pan.I took my friend’s advice and chose the carbonara prepared with a garlic Parmesan cream sauce over spaghetti. You can expect Italian pasta dishes, shareable plates (crab cakes, anyone?), and chef-inspired main dishes ranging from Steak Diane to Chicken Madeira on the menu.PRO TIP: The restaurant does accept walk-in diners, but the restaurant is a popular place, so consider making a reservation.
Willie’s Sports Pub
Every town needs a celebrated sports bar where locals and visitors can gather for heaping plates of food and a cold drink. People line up outside Willie’s Sports Pub (701 Commercial St.), waiting for it to open at lunchtime.
You can count on our favorite bar and grill menu items. The list includes burgers and sandwiches to chicken wings and sirloin steaks.
I chatted with the manager, Steve, while enjoying a Chicken Club Salad. This restaurant location is one of two Willie’s Sports Pub restaurants in Kansas; the second is located in El Dorado.
You can expect excellent, prompt service in a welcoming atmosphere.
PRO TIP: Do you love craft beer? The restaurant has an extensive canned beer selection and 10 beers on tap.
I found a treasure! Whiskey Depot is the latest addition to Atchison, a beautiful place to sip a craft cocktail made with spirits made in town at MGP Ingredients Collaborative. A leading distilled spirits manufacturer, Midwest Grain Products (MGP) is headquartered in the town where it started in 1941.
The Bootlegger Old Fashion with a splash of Sprite was a happy hour win. Serving whiskey, gin, tequila, and vodka drinks, they pour Boulevard Brewing Company and The Free State Brewing Co. beer and wine. Located in a historic train depot, it is the quintessential place to unwind while surrounded by history.
The tasting room’s framed artwork and depot aesthetic do a fantastic job of telling the distillery’s story. Cloud L. Cray, Sr., started the company producing alcohol-based spirits during World War II.
The taproom is an after-work gathering space for patrons who appreciate a high-quality, handcrafted cocktail or whiskey flight. As they say, “Sit. Stay. Drink Whiskey.”
PRO TIP: If you enjoy your experience, purchase merchandise from their retail area.
Purveyor (715 Commercial St.) is a modern-day general store specializing in eco-friendly goods by fair-trade brands. I consider it one-stop, feel-good shopping for the home goods you didn’t realize you needed but desperately wanted when you see them.
Launched in 2022, the store sells apothecaries, barware, gifts, kitchenware, and stationery. Leather earrings side alongside handcrafted soap while botanical prints are on top shelving stacked with enamelware.
PRO TIP: Self-described foodies, the owners do a fantastic job of stocking a reach-in cooler with specialty grocery items. Ask about cheese sampler boards available for purchase.
Presley Pierce Interiors
What do you get when you combine a talent for interior decorating and a passion for delivering stellar customer service? Presley Pierce Interiors (500 Commercial St.) offers homeowners up-to-date home decor, customized stationary, and gifts like no other store in Atchison.
Whether you are shopping for blue and white ginger jars, holiday decorations, or faux botanicals, you’ll find them at Presley Pierce Interiors. Every corner of the shop draws the eye, and the window displays inspire one’s creativity.
Shoppers so appreciate the store’s merchandise that the owner often hosts pop-up events off-site in people’s homes. To track new inventory arrivals and learn about upcoming events, follow the store’s Facebook page.
PRO TIP: While the store receives a lot of foot traffic, you can also purchase items you see on its Facebook page and have them shipped.
Thorne’s House of Cards & Collectibles
Enthusiasts of vintage toys and highly collectible trading cards will appreciate downtown Atchison’s newest addition, Thorne’s House of Cards & Collectibles (110 N. 6th St.). The owner’s ever-growing personal collection of nostalgic, pop culture items evolved into a store.
Walking through the store conjures up childhood memories. In search of boxed vintage toys? Autographed sports memorabilia? This is the place to shop. If you’re interested in trading cards of all kinds, pull up and chair and thumb throw the boxes.
PRO TIP: Collectors will appreciate Thorne’s House Hot Packs containing budget-friendly starter packs. View the store’s Facebook page for sale announcements.
Twill Trade Boutique
Ladies who love a store that carries the latest fashions at affordable prices will love looking through the racks at Twill Trade Boutique (733 Commercial St.).
Constantly refreshed with new arrivals of blouses, dresses, skirts, and bottoms, the store marks down everything 15 percent off on the First Friday of the month.I was pleasantly surprised the store’s jewelry collection was reasonably priced for its quality. A decent inventory of hats, handbags, and shoes rounded out the accessory options.
PRO TIP: Their blog page gives tips on dressing fashionably for the season.
Backroad Atlas (517 Commercial St.) is an antique shoppers/pickers delight. As you walk the store, you will likely discover the perfect item for your home.To call the Backroad Atlas a store would be to underrepresent its size. It feels more like an antique mall. Staff members are eager to assist you if you’re hunting for a particular item.
Shopping for a unique item is all the more charming thanks to the store’s cat, who occasionally visits customers to say hello.
PRO TIP: Backroad Atlas added a candy store since my visit. Ask about the sweet selection of retro candy.
Paranormal seekers have driven to Atchison for over a decade to experience its haunted houses. The unoccupied Sallie House (200 S. 10th St.), considered the town’s most haunted house, is open for tours and reservable overnight stays.
A physician and the front rooms once owned the house were his examination rooms. As the story goes, the doctor operated on a 6-year-old child, Sallie, before the anesthesia took effect, and she died in the house. Years later, renters reported mysterious happenings, and the man felt as if he was scratched.
While I’ve toured the house and didn’t experience paranormal activity, many people reportedly did, including cold air and physical touches.
PRO TIP: To book a tour or overnight stay, visit the home’s official website.
1889 McInteer Villa
You may reconsider a tour of 1889 McInteer Villa (1301 Kansas Ave.) if you’re easily scared by things that go bump in the night. Built for Irish immigrant John McInteer, the home served as a private residence and later a rooming house.
You can tour or stay overnight in the home known for its paranormal activity. Items sometimes crash to the floor. Figures are seen in the windows. Doors slam in the night.
PRO TIP: To view imagery of the home and see what you can expect during a visit, tour its online gallery.
International Forest of Friendship
Nature lovers interested in aviation history will adore the International Forest of Friendship (1 Allingham Dr.). The 35-acre forest is a peaceful retreat made up of paved paths leading to and from trees planted from all 50 states and 35 countries.
The park’s pathway honors those who have or still work in aviation, focusing on Amelia Earhart.A highlight of my visit was standing in the shade of the Moon Tree, a Sycamore grown from a seed taken to the moon on Apollo 14. Underneath, the names of 17 astronauts who gave their lives are recognized in the memorial.
Manicured gardens and tree spaces dot the landscape. Find the gazebo to enjoy a shaded space of solitude. PRO TIP: Take note of Memory Lane inductees’ names paying homage to aviation greats such as the Wright Brothers and Eileen Collins.
Jackson Park (1500 S. 6th St). is another scenic area to check out, with rolling hills, walking trails, sand volleyball, and picnic spots with 100 acres of bird-watching opportunities.
Families with young kids will appreciate the state-of-the-art playground, then walk to nearby horseshoe pits to teach them how the game is played.
PRO TIP: The park features 18-hole and 9-hole disc golf courses, so pack your gear.
Reisner Park Skatepark
Youngsters who need to burn off energy will appreciate Reisner Park Skatepark (515 Kansas Ave.). Spectators can watch from artful benches as skateboarders and rollerbladers attempt ramps and the half-pipe.
PRO TIP: On-street parking is available at no cost.
One of the most stunning views of the Missouri River is seen from the overlook near St. Benedictine’s Abbey at Benedictine College (1020 N. 2nd St.).
My visit was peaceful as I scanned the horizon made up of trees overlooking the Missouri River running from St. Joseph, Missouri, through Atchison, and toward Leavenworth, Kansas.
PRO TIP: Use the campus interactive map to plan your route.
Riverfront Park / Lewis & Clark Pavilion
One of the most visited landmarks in town, Riverfront Park, featuring Lewis & Clark Pavilion (109 Commercial St.), includes a lovely river walk. The paved path meanders along the Missouri River with views of the Amelia Earhart Bridge on U.S. Hwy 59.
Walk to the pavilion to read its interpretive displays highlighting the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which stopped on the river’s banks on July 4, 1804. A nearby veterans memorial also deserves your attention.
PRO TIP: See impressive views of the river via a narrated Atchison Trolley Tour, which departs and returns via the Santa Fe Depot
Community Remembrance Project
Located in the sculpture courtyard (400 block of Commercial St.) and amongst neighboring buildings, a historic landmark tells the story of George Johnson’s lynching by 50 white men.
The dedicated marker remembers the Atchison man who was the victim of violence after accidentally injuring a white man while hunting.
PRO TIP: To take a deep dive into the history of George Johnson, visit the Equal Justice Initiative’s website.
Amelia Earhart Sculpture
Did you know that a sculpture of Amelia Earhart stands in the U.S. Capitol National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.?
A similar one is installed in the Sculpture Courtyard depicting the famous aviator’s short hair and wind-blown scarf.
PRO TIP: Earhart created her own fashion line, often wearing clothing from it. Learn more from History.com’s article.
Artist Dave Beneman created the metal sculpture installment located in the courtyard. Installed in 2021, the 8-foot-tall creation is made of fabricated copper and bronze.
PRO TIP: Visit the association’s website to see all of the association’s public art projects in one place.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites
By far, the most comfortable stay while in Atchison has to be at Holiday Inn Express & Suites (401 Main St.). Whether you’re just arriving in town or retiring to your room after a full day of adventuring, the guest rooms deliver unmatched modern amenities.
At night, the black-out shades make for restful sleep. In the morning, the complimentary full breakfast is a nice perk.
PRO TIP: Pack accordingly to take advantage of the hotel’s on-site fitness facility and indoor pool.
MORE PLACES TO CONSIDER
Fox Theatre Atchison
Families will relish watching a first-run, kid-friendly movie at Fox Theatre Atchison (612 Commercial St.). The concession stand stocks candy and popcorn – adult-only beverages are available.
Jerry’s Again Event Center
A beautiful event space is located upstairs from Jerry’s Again (125 N. 5th St.), a restaurant known for its wholesome meals and homemade pie. This is the place to reserve if you need to host a reception overlooking historic downtown Atchison.
To visit Atchison is to fall in love with it. The historic town’s charming destinations and welcoming people make it a worthwhile overnight stay. Having only visited momentarily in the past, I’m thrilled that I could visit most of the town’s points of interest for you.
You’re going to love Atchison.
If you appreciate Atchison’s historic charm, you may appreciate another write-up I did, Lawrence, Kansas: A Historical Tour.