Disclosure: Kansas I-70 Association sponsored this post. However, all opinions and photographs are my own.
Leavenworth is the ideal choice for an overnight stay to explore the state’s history and appreciate modern attractions. From breakfast time until long after the sun goes down, the northeastern Kansas town has more than enough entertaining things to do including shopping, dining, and strolling the historic district.
There’s a lot to love about Leavenworth.
Located between Fort Leavenworth and Kansas City, the location was the first city of Kansas established in 1854. History runs deep in this part of the state. Buffalo Bill Cody spent time there as a youth.
Historic Fort Leavenworth is the oldest Army post in continuous existence west of the Missouri River. It played a key role in keeping the peace between Indian tribes and settlers heading west.
President Abraham Lincoln’s final speech in Kansas took place in Leavenworth during an overnight stay. (The steps are now located on the lawn of the Carroll Mansion.) Additionally, the Frontier Army Museum includes an exhibit about Lewis and Clark who made part of their expedition through Leavenworth. The gallery includes tools and military artifacts of the time. The Buffalo Soldier Monument is a must-see stop when tracing the history of the military.
Today, the town is a bustling community made up of welcoming folks. On a return trip to Leavenworth, I explored the best of the town’s attractions and overnight accommodations.
Hampton Inn & Suites isn’t just another hotel chain. It is one of my top choices for places to stay for the price when searching out hotel accommodations. Not only do they have modern, clean facilities, but they also serve a full complimentary breakfast to guests. The Leavenworth location (405 Choctaw St.) also has some of the friendliest staff you’ll meet.
During my check-in, the front desk employee was kind and offered concierge services on the house. I was debating between a couple of restaurants for dinner and he helped make my decision an easy one.
My guest room was perfect. Spacious and comfortable, the in-room amenities included a refrigerator, microwave, and work center. Within walking distance of historic downtown, the view from my window showcased the town’s skyline.
The staff went above and beyond by gifting me a box of warm cookies, a welcomed surprise left in my room. I already felt at home in Leavenworth and I hadn’t even explored the town yet.
At the edge of the town’s 28-block historic downtown district is The Depot (781 Shawnee St.), an always-busy restaurant known for serving excellent breakfast and lunch classics. The eatery is located inside a beautifully restored Santa Fe train depot established in 1887. Voted Best Breakfast & Brunch, the place was filled with happy customers.
Walking the creaky wooden floors through one of several dining rooms, I eventually settled into a table. Tiffany lamps hung from the ceiling. Lace curtains flanked tall windows. Framed photographs of locomotives decorated the walls. It truly felt as if I was dining inside a train depot in the 1800s.
I ordered the Broken Yolk Sandwich made from eggs, bacon, and cheese from a menu listing hearty breakfast plates and a la carte items. As I looked at the plates of other guests, the portions were large. Satisfied with my choice, I knew I return to enjoy the Smoked Turkey Hash that I heard my server describing to another guest.
In the meantime, I snacked on the complimentary “duffin” before my meal arrived. The cinnamon and sugar breakfast bite is a part muffin, part donut, and all kinds of delicious.
They serve breakfast and lunch from 7 am-1:30 pm every day of the week. Like most businesses in Leavenworth, the family-owned restaurant offers a military discount. Go for breakfast, return for lunch, and if you’re feeling like a cocktail, ask about the drink special on the “Prohibition Ends at Last” card displayed on your table. Plan your visit and view The Depot’s hours here.
RIVERFRONT COMMUNITY CENTER
I discovered the Riverfront Community Center purely by accident when in search of my breakfast destination. The building once served as the Leavenworth Union Depot and was the center for transportation and commerce in town after its completion in 1888. Now, it’s where locals and visitors can use recreational facilities.
The lobby is a must-stop for history buffs who want to familiarize themselves with the town’s beginnings. A framed photograph of Colonel Henry Leavenworth hangs on the wall. He founded the town near the Missouri River and the military post known as Fort Leavenworth also known as “the post that opened the west.”
C.J. Gift Co.
Nearly all of the buildings located in downtown Leavenworth are historic architecture. C. J. Gift Co. (30 Delaware Street), a home decor boutique, is located in an old bank building.
While there are many boutiques and antique stores in the historic shopping district, I’m a repeat visitor of C.J. Gift Co. I never leave empty-handed.
If you’re in search of a gift for yourself or your best friend, stop here to pick up unique seasonal decor items, jewelry, or candles. Not sure what to buy the sports fan in your life? Their shelves are also stocked with collegiate gear. Because the town is the home of Fort Leavenworth, C.J. Gift Co. has home decor items specifically designed for military families.
The husband and wife team is incredibly friendly and helpful. During my visit, I wasn’t finding what I was looking for right away. Thinking she didn’t carry the particular item, she returned from the back of the store with exactly the kitchen decor item I wanted. Not only that, she packaged it up so it would travel home with me without breaking.
When in Leavenworth, make your way to the boutique to do a little shopping. Check their store hours and upcoming events here.
Z&M TWISTED VINEYARD & TASTING ROOM
Everywhere you turn in Leavenworth, there is a business or group that proudly supports the military. Z&M Twisted Vineyard & Tasting Room (620 Cherokee St.) is no different. They partner with Homegrown by Heroes and Farmer Veteran Coalition Kansas to produce locally sourced wine.
The veteran-owned and operated winery’s tasting room is centrally located downtown across from Hay Market Square. They are open for wine tastings and retail shopping. I chose a seat at the tasting room counter and ordered the Tasting of the Month, a flight of five selections.
The wines were tasty and worth trying, however, I appreciated the Mulled Wine the most for its spicy, seasonal flavor. All of the wines were unique, especially Hellfire, which is made with jalapeños providing surprising heat with each sip.
A flight lets you discover a wine that you will appreciate the most – take home a bottle for your personal collection. They also sell jarred jellies and gifts for all of the wine lovers in your life. Plan a visit to the tasting room by viewing their hours here. Call head to book group visits and reserve space for events.
FIRST CITY CHEESE MARKET
If wine had a partner in crime, it would be cheese. Directly next door to Z&M Twisted Vineyard is First City Cheese Market (610 Cherokee St.). Walking into the shop is like stepping into heaven if you’re a cheese lover like me. Refrigerated cases are full of artisan cheese wheels, sausage, and samples ready for tasting.
Several business owners around town told me that I’d love the food at First City Cheese Market. Still feeling full from my mega breakfast, I ordered a grab-n-go charcuterie cup consisting of cheese, crackers, grapes, and nuts.
The staff makes gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches Tuesday-Saturday and serves a Soup of the Day. You can expect fine cheese stacked atop sandwiches like Gobble-Gobble made with smoked turkey or the Roast Beef Explosion prepared with cheddar cheese and spicy horseradish. Be sure to ask the staff about the monthly sandwich specials priced at $9.99/each.
Also a retail space stocked with top-of-the-line kitchen gadgets and specialty foods, shop First City Cheese Market for household essentials while waiting for your lunch to be prepared. They also sell 24 different whole bean coffees by the pound.
C.W. PARKER CAROUSEL MUSEUM
It’s been a long time since I feel the pure joy I experienced as a playful kid, but I felt it again at the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum (320 S. Esplanade St). Tucked away at the edge of downtown, a massive building is a home to a beautifully restored, fully operational carousel built in 1913.
With my feet kicked up and smiling with glee, I rode the carousel and felt like a kid again.
You can also take a ride on the carousel for the price of admission to the museum. Named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas, it has 24 horses, four chariots, and a Wurlitzer band organ donated by one of the town’s most famous residents and musicians, Melissa Etheridge.
Volunteers operate the museum and happily give guided tours to visitors. Parker started a career manufacturing amusement park rides including carousels. Also known as the “Carnival King,” he built his first carousel in 1892 and started the company two years later eventually moving it to Leavenworth. In fact, Leavenworth has produced more carousels than any other city in the world. He was a millionaire by age 30.
Perhaps you’ve ridden another one of his carousels at the Dickinson County Heritage Center in Abilene?
Opened in 2005, the museum tour begins with a 15-minute film in the theatre room to learn the history of Parker and his company. During my visit, a gracious volunteer took me on a tour of historical photos and pointed out the intricate work done by volunteers to bring the beauty of the carousel horses back to life.
The museum’s upstairs gallery is a showroom of historical photographs, carousel horses, and advertisements from 1850s amusement parks. (Pro Tip: Ask to see the woodshop where the work is done to restore each carousel horse.)
The facility is also home to two other carousels including the oldest known working American carousel. The Primitive Carousel (pictured below) is believed to have been made before the Civil War between 1850-1860. Each horse was made from eight pieces of wood.
I know you’ll smile ear-to-ear during your visit to the museum as well. The volunteers and I became instant friends. It’s a rewarding experience for the entire family.
LEAVENWORTH LANDING PARK
Directly across the street from C.W. Parker Carousel Museum is the Leavenworth Landing Park (2 Cherokee St.). A quarter-mile parkway with beautiful landscaping along the Missouri River, visitors and locals can stroll the walkway with scenic views. If you’re lucky, you may spot an eagle in flight.
Symbolic sculptures reference riverboats, railroads, and wagon escorts. Scan the information kiosks along the trail to listen to an audio tour guide. Keep in mind, the park serves as the entrance to the Three-Mile-Creek Trail ideal for walking and biking no matter your skill level.
One of the top attractions in Leavenworth is the Carroll Mansion (1128 5th Ave.). The Queen Ann Victorian home is listed on the National Historic Register and is the oldest continuously operating museum in the county. Built in the 1880s, it is worth seeing up close for its beautiful stained glass windows, opulent furnishings, and hand-carved woodwork.
My guided tour was led by a member of the Leavenworth County Historical Society. Unlike some of the restored mansions I’ve toured in Kansas, this one was different because several families had lived in the mansion at different times prior to it becoming a museum.
The home itself had underground multiple expansions over the years. In fact, it was initially a farmhouse for the Foster family in 1858. Over the years each family added to its square footage.
Each room is filled with elegant antiques from the Victorian era. Large mirrors, long curtains that pooled up on the floor, and a Victrola are symbolic of the Victorian style of the time. I was silenced by the beauty of the study’s handcrafted built-in bookshelves and lavish fireplace. (Pro Tip: Look for the framed map of Leavenworth on the wall of the study.)Guided tours take about an hour. Open Tuesday-Saturday, admission is $6 and worth every penny. Touring the mansion allows you to virtually step back in time when the town’s most prominent residents spent their wealth on lavish homes and furnishings. Be sure to ask about the dog statue situated on the front lawn. It’s an entertaining story.
Keep in mind that the town hosts a Historic Homes Tour at Fort Leavenworth in April if you want to combine both tours in one visit to town. Plan your visit to the Carroll Mansion here.
MELISSA ETHERIDGE’S CHILDHOOD HOME
Leavenworth is the hometown of singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge. She was born there and lived in the town until 1979. Many of her songs reference Kansas.
Out of curiosity, I drove to her childhood home (1902 Miami St.) to take a look at it. It was a modest middle-income neighborhood that included a nice park. If you decide to include the home as part of your Hometown Tour, download the brochure that details all 15 stops in Leavenworth here.
LUIGI’S 418 ITALIAN RESTAURANT
After a full day of exploring Leavenworth, I was excited to dine at a restaurant that I had spied on social media and heard good things about, Luigi’s 418 (418 Cherokee). Even though I arrived during the onset of the dinner hour, the hostess was already greeting a short line of waiting customers. I opted for a seat at the bar for instant service.
The ambiance was sophisticated without trying too hard. Shelves of wine bottles decorated the wall near the bar. Seating encompassed the entire bar while patrons in the dining room sat at windows seats facing historic downtown.
All of your go-to Italian entree classics are available on the menu. I was warned the portions were big, and the bartender wasn’t kidding. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten so much of the herbed garlic bread. It was irresistible.
The Picatta pasta arrived in an oversized bowl. Prepared with spaghetti and a white wine sauce, it was topped with copious amounts of capers, tomatoes, and chicken.
I concluded my dining experience with a chilled glass of Limoncello liqueur, which I’m told the owner makes herself. It’s essentially infused vodka. The traditionally Mediterranean drink is a staple in Italian households. I appreciated the smooth, authentic lemon flavor.
Sitting at the bar, I was privy to the hustle and bustle of the waitstaff. The phone rings constantly with to-go orders. Luigi’s 418 is a popular restaurant for a reason. The delicious food the courteous staff makes it one of the most highly recommended restaurants in town.
MORE PLACES TO VISIT
I retired to my hotel for the night all the while thinking of the places I look forward to visiting in Leavenworth given more time. Fort Leavenworth National Cemetary. Lewis and Clark Center. Leavenworth Antique Mall. Sis’ Sweets for a cupcake.
I certainly will return to Kansas’ “First City.” There are just too many things to love about Leavenworth.