Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Liberal Convention and Visitors Bureau. All opinions and photos are mine.
Liberal, Kansas, needs to be on your road trip bucket list when traveling the Sunflower State.
Located in the southwestern corner off of Highway 54, it is a town you’ll regret not visiting for its incredible museums and interesting history.
With a population of less than 20,000, Liberal delivers small town vibes and larger than life attractions.
Interestingly, the town got its name during the days of water scarcity in the 1870s. A resident, Mr. Rogers, didn’t charge for water and people often replied “that’s mighty Liberal of you.”
Liberal is still a community of friendly folks who are proud of the places that put them on a traveler’s map.
I know you’ll appreciate an overnight stay just as I did.
BREAKFAST AT THE PANCAKE HOUSE
When the main road off the highway leading into town is named Pancake Boulevard en route to The Pancake House (640 E. Pancake Blvd.), you know Liberal is serious about the breakfast meal staple.
For over 70 years, the town has celebrated International Pancake Day (more on that later!), at the best place to order a stack is The Pancake House.
I’ve never viewed a menu with more types of pancakes to order. Bacon pancakes. Hawaiian pancakes. Blueberry pancakes. They serve it all.
I ordered classic Buttermilk Pancakes with eggs, hash browns, and bacon – a value for the size. I’m not kidding, these pancakes were the best tasting ones I’ve eaten.
I’m convinced The Pancake House is the only place to order them.
PRO TIP: People rave about the Apple Pancake. A massive oven baked pancake filled prepared with Granny Smith apples and drizzled with cinnamon glaze, it’s a meal for two people.
DOROTHY’S HOUSE AND THE LAND OF OZ
Another notable distinction that puts Liberal on the map? It’s the birthplace home of the fictional character Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz.
When a business man from Liberal learned that the title as “Dorothy’s hometown” wasn’t used elsewhere in Kansas, he was determined to change that. A house was donated and moved to the location of the Seward County Coronado Museum.
Visitors to Dorothy’s House and the Land of Oz (567 E. Cedar St.) can follow the Yellow Brick Road, tour the restored 1907 home, and follow Dorothy through an immersive Land Of Oz exhibit.
A high-school aged actress played the role of Dorothy and led the tour. Never breaking character, she enthusiastically shared the home’s contents quick to point out the connections to the movie and 1900s living.
The next stop on the tour takes visitors to a 5,000 square foot interactive space, Land of Oz, where Dorothy leads you through scenes from the movie. My experience started by watching an approaching tornado. The thunder rolled, lights flickered like lightening, and window curtains blew.
Following Dorothy as we encountered each whimsical character (mannequins), I was delighted by the craftsmanship of the displays. Each scene reminded me of my childhood when I watched the movie for the first time.
I hesitate to give too much away about the experience, but I know it’s one that will feel nostalgic for The Wizard of Oz fans and worthwhile for first-time visitors. The complete one-hour tour is engaging and an experience all ages will appreciate.
Do you collect Oz merchandise? Prepare to be wowed by Land of Oz’s inventory of movie memorabilia and original film artifacts.
Dorothy’s House and the Land of Oz host an annual celebration, Oz Fest, every second Saturday of October. The one-day event features free tours, a costume contest, food, and games. A nearby thematic playground with stand-up photo booth is a must-experience for families with kids.
PRO TIP: Make time to tour the retail gift shop. From comfy ruby red slippers to pretty postcards, the shop’s inventory is hard to resist.
SEWARD COUNTY CORNADO MUSEUM
Located on the same property, Seward County Coronado Museum (567 E. Cedar St.) is home to artifacts and family heirlooms that recount history dating back to 1540.
Display cases tell the story of Native Americans who lived in grass lodges on the land and the eventual arrival of Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado.
PRO TIP: The museum is free to tour. Donations are appreciated.
VISITOR’S CENTER & TOTO’S DOG PARK
Liberal’s Visitor Center (1 Yellow Brick Rd.) exceeded my expectations. Newbies to the area will appreciate the massive collection of brochures, guides, and Wizard of Oz merchandise for sale. The staff was helpful by answering my questions about the area and where to locate attractions.
Toto’s Dog Park is a new addition providing dog owners a place for their furry family members to roam.
KANSAS HISTORICAL MARKER – CORONADO
They don’t refer to southwestern Kansas as “For The Legendary” for no reason. A Kansas Historical Marker, located adjacent to the Visitor’s Center, recounts the gold-seeking Spaniard’s voyage through town with 36 soldiers. They never discovered gold, but appreciated the “table-lands, plains, and charming rivers.”
PRO TIP: Take a photo of the life-size bronze sculpture representing the explorer.
LANDMARK CENTER & DOROTHY’S FOUNTAIN
I found another Kansas architectural wonder, Landmark Center (303 N. Kansas Ave.). The Art Deco style four-story building was originally built as the Warren Hotel in the early 1930s.
Some of downtown’s buildings date back as early as 1878.
According to Seward County Heritage Center the grand opening of the Warren Hotel drew a crowd estimated between 3,000 and 10,000.
The lobby is a worth seeing for its grand design. Today, the fully renovated building with interior noteworthy design consists of office spaces, residences, retail space, and a small museum.
DOWNTOWN MUSEUM & GALLERY
The newest attraction in town, Downtown Museum & Gallery (located inside the Landmark Center) offers visitors a glimpse into Liberal’s past. I was fortunate to be make quick friends with the owner of the Landmark Building who provided a guided tour. Admission is free.
Walking inside the museum is like opening a tiny treasure box. The walls and glass cases are adorned with antiques that tell the story of Liberal’s industries.
Did you know that Liberal Hi bottled soda? Or that the movie “Trail Street” was set in Liberal, Kansas?
Outside the museum, the walls of Landmark Center serve as a gallery for framed black and white photography depicting Liberal’s early days.
PRO TIP: The museum is open Monday-Friday during business hours. If the museum’s door is locked, follow the door sign’s instructions to pick up the key at an insurance office down the hall.
UNCOMMON: ANTIQUARIAN DELIGHTS AND MORE
While touring the Landmark Center, spend a few minutes admiring the handcrafted antiques at Uncommon (303 N. Kansas). It’s not your average antique store. Shelves are stocked with pieces from around the world from Art Deco lamps and old instruments to ornate rugs and paintings.
A small section of the store is devoted to Kansas-made products, so don’t miss your chance to purchase jarred gourmet foods for the road trip home.
THE FLOWER BASKET
The Flower Basket (12 E. 2nd St.) located downtown is the place to purchase beautiful fresh and silk floral arrangement or a gift for yourself or a loved one.
Gorgeous displays of flowers, candles, signage decorated the retail space. At the counter, a collection of simple, yet beautiful jewelry sparkled under the lights.
No matter what you’re in the mood to shop for, it’s likely you’ll find something you can’t live without.
DOROTHY STATUES & MURALS
Keep your eyes peeled for life-sized Dorothy statues tucked amongst trees and nestled amongst buildings. Each public art installation looks different based on the artist’s vision or the person who commissioned the piece.
To find all seven statues, use Visit Liberal’s Scavenger Hunt and win a prize.
A few handprinted murals draw the eye in the downtown area. Each one is unique in style and contains references to Liberal’s people and industry. I was partial to the massive painting at City Hall (324 N. Kansas Ave.) depicting aspects of Liberal life.
LUNCH AT BRICK HOUSE BBQ & BREW
I read good things about Brick House BBQ & Brew (24 E. 2nd St.) and wanted to give it a try. A popular downtown lunch stop, the upscale barbecue joint provided prompt service.
The Brick House Grilled Cheese prepared with pulled pork, pepper jack cheese, and apple habanero sauce came with my choice of side dish. The sandwich wasn’t overly spicy but delivered good flavor, and the creamy potato salad was scrumptious.
While I wasn’t in the mood for a large meat platter with all the fixins’, the menu includes options for more hungry eaters.
I drank a Schlafly Pumpkin Ale; however, the bar menu showcases photos of colorful cocktails if drinking a beer isn’t your thing.
PRO TIP: Check their Facebook page for upcoming events. They host live music on the pergola covered patio and trivia nights.
INTERNATIONAL PANCAKE DAY HALL OF FAME
Liberal has a long history of hosting the International Pancake Day Race.
In fact, the residents are celebrating the town’s 75th year soon. On one day a year, the town hosts a women-only race to log the best time competing against a team in Onley, England.
The International Pancake Day Hall of Fame (318 N. Lincoln Ave.), located at the race’s finish line, is where past and future race winners are honored.
A museum of sorts, the building houses memorabilia, photographs, trinkets, and sells the current year’s merchandise from t-shirts to lapel pins.
Why do women run the streets racing against women halfway across the globe on Shrove Tuesday every year? The long-standing tradition started when the town’s Jaycee President R.J. Let contacted a reverend in Onley after seeing an image of the English race in a magazine.
Racers run 415 yards from the starting line located in front of the library wearing an apron-clad uniform and headscarf while carrying a skillet with pancake to the finish in front of the International Pancake Hall of Fame.
Liberal’s race winner’s time is announced via a phone call to Olney and compared. The winning racer’s name appears on an embedded marker above the loser’s name and installed in front of the Hall of Fame.
But it’s much more than a single race compeition. The three-day festival honoring flapjacks includes a 5K Fun Run, pancake flipping contest open to all ages, eating contest, Grand Marshall’s reception, and a parade.
Put simply, it’s the most talked about event of the year in town and nearly everyone participates including local businesses.
PRO TIP: The International Pancake Hall of Fame is open Tuesday-Wednesday 10:00 am-12:30 pm. If you’re interested in touring it, call (620) 624-6423.
BAKER ARTS CENTER
Make time to take a self-guided tour or painting lesson at Baker Arts Center (624 N. Pershing Ave.). Once the private home of a photographer and artist Irene Dillon Baker, the gallery includes a permanent collection and rotating exhibits.
I found the first floors collection of lithographs on paper by John Steuart Curry to be the most awe-inspiring. The Kansas-born painter is the same artist painted murals at the state’s capital building, Kansas Pastoral and Tragic Prelude.
Thematic collections of various other pieces, mostly created by Kansas artists, were awe-inspiring including pottery and paintings.
Activity rooms devoted to kids make a visual impact. Children are encourage to places sticky dots on the wall or grab markers and fill in a mega coloring wall. Two oversized Lite-Brite® and Lego® walls invite inventive fun.
PRO TIP: The art gallery continues outside. I discovered a mural in progress plus shaded areas for reflection flanked by a vibrant Dorothy statue.
MID-AMERICA AIR MUSEUM
You don’t have to be an airplane enthusiast to appreciate a tour of Mid-America Air Museum (2000 W. 2nd St.) The largest aviation museum in Kansas and fifth largest of its kind in the United States, it’s likely to impress anyone.
Think of it as a massive hangar filled with engineering marvels, warbirds of wonder, and planes aplenty.
Visitors could easily spend one to two hours gazing at the 65 military, commercial built, and experimental aircraft on display and reading each interpretive panel.
I gravitated to planes produced by Cessna, a company founded in Wichita, but I was equally intrigued when learning that Beech Aircraft once had a production division in Liberal.
During a private tour by the museum’s director, I was encouraged to sit inside a Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing to roll down its traditional crank-style windows and admire the custom leather seats.
While sitting inside a Beech C-45 Iron Butterly, I was transported back in time imaging what it was like to have been a pilot during wartime.
The museum also does an excellent job of properly honoring pilots who gave all with a POW-MIA display and exhibit cases filled with uniforms and medals of pilots from Liberal who went to war.
The majority of the planes on display in the 80,000 square foot hanger were donated by retired Air Force Colonel Tom A. Thomas, Jr. Only two of the planes on exhibit never flew.
PRO TIP: Mid-America Air Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday. Check the Facebook page for current hours and admission rates.
DINNER AT PHO VIÊT
Luckily for Liberal residents and visitors, the town is home to numerous ethnic eateries. I chose to dine at Pho Viêt (40 Village Plaza) where diners can choose from savory soup combinations made with homemade broth and rice noodles.
My steaming not P5 Phô with Shrimp had light flavor and oodles of noodles for slurping. I also ordered Fried Spring Rolls, which didn’t last long between spoonfuls of phô.
The ambiance was quiet as I watched a video of wild birds on TV and listened to classical music play from speakers.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites (412 Ziegler Ave.) is the choice for a serene night of slumber after a fun day of exploring Liberal.
I’ve stayed at numerous Holiday Inn Express & Suites and this one lived up to my expectations for cleanliness and reliable amenities.
When not enjoying my King Rooms amenities (loved the spacious desk with adjustable lamp!), I had access to a complimentary breakfast, indoor pool, fitness facility, and free Wi-Fi.
The staff was courteous upon check in and check out ensuring that I my needs were met.
PRO TIP: Don’t leave Fido at home. Dogs are welcome at the hotel. Refer to the pet policy.
THE COZY CORNER
After checking out of the hotel and before heading home to Wichita, I knew there was one more place I had to check out. The Cozy Corner (1 S. Kansas Ave.), known for its handcrafted coffee drinks. I ordered a frothy vanilla latté for the road.
The newly opened cafe was an inviting space with multiple areas to lounge or plug in a laptop and get work done.
MORE TO LOVE IN LIBERAL
I ran out of time exploring Liberal before it was time to drive home. Other places worth checking out while in town include Rock Island Depot, the Memorial Library featuring the largest book front of its kind, and Arkalon Park for its trails and scenic views.
Adventure Bay Family Water Park was closed for the season but its massive slides and lap pool look inviting after Memorial Day.
If you read my blog often, you know I love supporting local restaurants. I’ll return to Liberal to dine at one of dozens of Mexican restaurants or food trucks, a type of cuisine that dominates the dining scene. Plus, a visit to One Way Deli gives me another excuse to return.
Liberal offers visitors plenty of entertaining things to do for an unforgettable day trip or overnight stay. I made memories while dining, shopping, and perusing incredible museums.
I’m convinced you’ll love experiencing Liberal first hand.