Disclosure: Kansas I-70 Association sponsored this post. However, all opinions and photographs are my own.
As a University of Kansas graduate, Lawrence is like a home away from home for me. I was thrilled when I was invited to return to town to highlight the campus from a tourist’s perspective. KU has a long list of attractions that make it unique and worth checking out, from museums and eateries to sports arenas and historical landmarks.
I always wanted to stay overnight at The Oread (1200 Oread Ave.), a hotel located on the northern edge of the KU campus known for its casual elegance. The Oread towers over campus with views of the Campanile bell tower and Memorial Stadium and sits within walking distance of campus attractions, downtown shopping, and dining on Massachusetts Street.
Made of Kansas limestone, the stunning hotel is where families stay when in town visiting students. KU alumni create memories on their wedding day at The Oread. It’s the premier hotel on the hill that Lawrence visitors should experience at least once.
Named after Mount Oread, the name of the hill that the KU campus sits on, the hotel includes Bird Dog Bar, The Nest on Ninth, Cave, and 1965 Uniquely KU (a place to stock up on collegiate apparel), and a fitness center.
I visited the Bird Dog Bar during Happy Hour to enjoy a specialty cocktail. I ordered an Oread 75 made with prosecco, gin, Aperol, bitters, and orange juice. For hotel guests who don’t want to head out for a dinner, they also have a full restaurant menu with weekly specials.
The fourth-floor views from my King Terrace room were breathtaking. The expansive, private patio stretched along two sides of the corner room allowing enough room for a small group to gather. It was an incredible space. I imagined hosting friends or family on the terrace before heading to the football game.
The room amenities were equally as nice. The spacious room (400 sq ft) and walk-in shower were delightful. The fresh flowers and a personalized note welcoming me to the hotel were finishing touches that set The Oread apart from other hotels.
With a full day of exploration in store, I left The Oread and walked to the west side of campus in search of a bite to eat for breakfast. (Tip: When setting out to discover the perks of campus life, leave your car parked inside The Oread’s garage. Wear a pair of walking shoes and enjoy the surroundings.)
McLain’s Market (1420 Crescent Rd) is a bakery and coffee shop known as the go-to spot on campus for breakfast and lunch. Once the site of the Jayhawk Bookstore, the restaurant serves a steady flow of students, faculty, and visitors.
The menu features pastries, breakfast burritos and bowls, as well as snacks prepared fresh from an exposed kitchen space. I arrived between an influx of students so there wasn’t a line. With my order placed, I nestled into a comfy spot indoors with a view of the patio and passing students.
I was surrounded by students chatting with one another about homework demands, conversations about microbiology, and students turning textbook pages. Faces stared at laptops using free Wi-Fi between breakfast bites. A steady stream of students came and went from the upstairs study lounge.
My Market Bowl was a healthy mix of scrambled eggs, shoestring potatoes, and sauteé vegetables. Topped with bacon and cheese, it hit the spot. If only I was still hungry, I would’ve ordered a cookie from the bakery counter. Next visit!
THE DEBRUCE CENTER
A 10-minute walk from McClain’s Market down the hill, The DeBruce Center (1647 Naismith Drive) welcomes visitors looking to celebrate KU’s rich basketball tradition. Part historical museum, partly a gathering place for students, the facility houses James Naismith’s Rules of Basketball. Two pages of handwritten text by Naismith in 1891 rest in an illuminated case. If you push the button on the wall, you will hear his voice tell the story of creating the game.
Free to explore, The DeBruce Center is a must-stop for basketball fans. I also encourage you to view the Rules Concourse made of glass panels that showcase the early beginnings of KU basketball. Don’t miss the Father of Basketball Coaching Dr. Forrest C. “Phog” Allen’s story wall.
A long-time fan, I appreciated reading quotes from coaches and players displayed on the walls. Another exhibit worth viewing is “Game Changers,” which highlights the story of the game and the people who impacted its trajectory over time.
Naismith founded the school’s basketball program after his arrival at KU in 1898. You can find a commemorative statue in front of The DeBruce Center honoring the man who invented the game.
Why is a peach basket sitting next to him? “I showed them two peach baskets I’d nailed up at each end of the gym, and I told them the idea was to throw the ball into the opposing team’s peach basket,” he said. If I were you, I’d bring my camera to take a picture sitting next to the legend’s statue.
THE BOOTH HALL OF ATHLETICS
You don’t have to go far to enter The Booth Hall of Athletics (1651 Naismith Dr) from DeBruce Center. Opened in 2006, the hall is a memorial to “KU’s great student-athletes and their devoted fans,” a place of remembrance provided by a local family. It’s the mecca for all things KU athletics and it’s open to view free of charge year-round. Guided tours require tickets.
The Booth Hall of Athletics includes the KU Athletics Hall of Fame, artifacts from games of the past, trophies, and a historical timeline of moments in collegiate sports. For me, the best artifact on site is a section of the original center court floor from Allen Fieldhouse. The encircled “K” painted on wood planks marked and scuffed representing years of hard work and dedication to the game.
Visitors of all ages will appreciate the interactive exhibits. Compare your shoe size to past basketball players. Stretch your arms to discover your reach. Take a selfie on a mini basketball court. The Booth Hall of Athletics should be at the top of your list of things to do on campus.
It’s one of the loudest, rowdiest basketball arenas in the country. Allen Fieldhouse (1651 Naismith Drive) rocks as students jump in excitement for the game. Some say it is the best place in American to watch college basketball. Having experienced it first-hand, I agree. The atmosphere is electric.
Opened to the public in 1955, it once had a clay and dirt floor. Today, men’s and women’s basketball teams compete on the hardwood for crowds of over 16,000 spectators. Discover more about the building’s history here.
To fully understand the excitement surrounding Jayhawk basketball, you have to attend a game. However, the next best thing is touring Allen Fieldhouse named after “Phog” Allen, the program’s head coach for 39 years. To book a guided tour aka “The Jayhawk Experience” to gain access to the arena, call 785-588-4299.
After a morning of touring campus attractions, there was only one place to dine for lunch, Johnny’s Tavern (401 N. 2nd St.). KU students and townies have dined on pizza, wings, and sandwiches there since its opening in 1953. I prefer the North Lawrence location for its authenticity and proximity to the town’s historic train depot.
An ideal place to listen to the jukebox between watching sports on TV, Johnny’s Tavern serves some of the best pizza in Lawrence. Some claim it is the best. They’re also known for serving the coldest pint of beer in town.
I ordered a slice of Great Bambino with pepperoni and a Blue Collar Lager by Free State Brewery made specifically for the restaurant. It’s the ideal collaboration since Johnny’s Tavern has been the go-to spot for hard-working folks for generations. The wedge salad came with crispy onion rings making it unique. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. The busy lunchtime crowd seemed to agree.
View Johnny’s Tavern hours and get a sneak peek of the menus here. Take advantage of daily specials on food and drink. Happy Hour takes place twice a day Monday-Friday.
DOLE INSTITUTE OF POLITICS
The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics (2350 Petefish Dr.) may not be the first place you think of visiting when in Lawrence, but it should be at the top of your list. The museum pays tribute to the Russell, Kansas native’s contributions from serving in the military to working for Kansans as a U.S. Senator.
As soon as you walk inside you are greeted by the early timeline of Dole’s life in Russell. From his early days working as a paperboy in Western Kansas to earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his military service, the museum’s collection includes notable artifacts. I enjoyed reading his personal quotes about his experience healing from war wounds and how it shaped his perspective on life.
The museum also features the largest stained-glass American flag flanked by two pieces of the World Trade Center taken from 9/11 debris. I was awestruck and silenced. In that moment, I felt a real sense of patriotism.
The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics promotes political and civic participation while honoring the legacy of U.S. Senators Bob and Elizabeth Dole. The center often hosts renowned speakers through bipartisan programs that are free and open to the public.
You’ll also appreciate learning that the entire basement is the Dole Archive and Special Collections, a space you can tour for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the daily life of Bob and Elizabeth Dole in their political roles as senators. The letters written by schoolchildren to Senator Dole were incredible. In my opinion, a tour of the Dole Archive and Special Collections is an essential part of visiting the center.
I regret not visiting the museum earlier, but I’m glad I made the trip. I wrote Senator Dole a card and left it for the museum to mail to him. Unfortunately, he passed away the same day I published this blog post to social media for the first time. RIP, Senator Dole.
If you want to visit the Dole Institute of Politics located on KU’s west campus, check the hours of operation here. Free guided tours are available for visitors and groups, but only if you schedule them in advance. Admission is free.
If you’re unable to travel to the museum, you can take a virtual tour of the Elizabeth Dole Gallery & Reading Room here. Do you have an interest in politics or civic engagement? Check out the website’s events page here.
SPENCER MUSEUM OF ART
The Spencer Museum of Art (1301 Mississippi St.) on the KU campus is open Tuesday-Saturday to the public at no cost. A little grandeur never hurt anyone. If you appreciate fine art, make your way to the museum.
Not only does it serve as the home of impeccable art, but much of the building is also halls and classrooms. I should know. I studied art history as a minor concentration of study while majoring in journalism at KU years ago.
The latest exhibition “Debut” showcases never-before-seen pieces of art. During my visit, a college class was given a tour by a docent who taught them about individual pieces.
I encourage you to visit the museum to view breathtaking artwork. To view the museum’s updated hours and contact information to arrange a tour, visit their website here.
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
I’ve visited a number of museums about nature with taxidermy, but KU’s Natural History Museum (1345 Jayhawk Blvd) is probably one of the best. For a $7 suggested donation, you will gain access to four floors of phenomenal exhibits that teach visitors about the planet and specifically the Great Plains.
Take my advice and start on the sixth floor and work your way down. One of my favorite exhibits is the live bees and reptiles section of the museum. The Bee Tree is a live colony that you can watch at work housed in the model of a tree. The bees fly from outside into a tunnel that leads them to the hive indoors. Don’t worry. You can’t get stung! But it will surely ignite your curiosity.
Mammal skulls and taxidermy dominate much of the museum’s exhibits. Explore the glass cases to learn about the biodiversity of birds of prey and how they’ve adapted to life on the prairie. I imagine you won’t find a larger collection of waterfowl taxidermy elsewhere.
The fifth floor of the museum allows visitors to examine a Mosasaur and learn more about evolution. The fourth floor contains a massive collection of animals displayed in their natural habitat. From arctic animals to the Rocky Mountains and prairie to the rain forest, visitors are asked to think about how animals adapted and survived in each climate.
A high-quality museum, it is a place where visitors of all ages can explore nature from an indoor setting. Ask for Discover Guides at the front desk before starting your self-guided tour. They are ideal for families and each guide is tailored to a specific age group. To view the museum’s hours and plan your visit, check out their website here.
Just as I was about to step out for dinner from the hotel, it began to rain. Since it was coming down pretty hard, I decided to drive versus walking to 715 Restaurant (715 Massachusetts St.) for dinner. I had visited the restaurant previously but only for cocktails, so I was thrilled to return to experience the European-style dinner menu.
Illuminated by elegant candles and a backlit wall of green glass, the restaurant welcomes patrons in search of a relaxing yet refined setting. They also offer patio dining, a great option for Happy Hour starting at 3 pm, if the weather permits.
Chef Kelly Conwell’s ever-changing menu consists of American and Italian dishes. Some of the entreés on a recent menu included Parisian Gnocchi, Crab Ravioli, and Roasted Bone Marrow. Simplified but elevated dishes such as Steak Salad and Spaghetti & Meatballs also made an appearance.
I ordered the Charcuterie board that came with domestic and imported cured meats, olives, mustard, and crostini. Because it lacked artisan cheeses, I ordered a small plate of aged cheddar and soft cheese to accompany it. Paired with the Liquid Gold cocktail, it was delightfully appetizing. The rum-based drink was hand-crafted with pineapple, spices, apricot, and orange.
Visit 715 Restaurant for an upscale dining experience that promises to exceed your expectations. Tempt your tastebuds by viewing their menus in advance of your arrival here.
Lawrence will always hold a special place in my heart. Touring the KU campus offers visitors a chance to fall in love with its many attractions. Whether you’re a sports fan or simply love touring historical museums, I know you’ll find your experience on campus to be a positive one.
If you’d like to take a historical tour of Lawrence, which includes details about the events surrounding the Civil War, visit an additional blog post I wrote here. It showcases the historic Eldridge Hotel, Watkins Museum of History, and prominent landmarks in Lawrence.