An endearing college town, Lawrence is the home of the University of Kansas (KU), founded in 1865.
The city is one of the state’s big tourist spots, adored for its historical preservation, cosmopolitan main street and a young joie de vivre
KU is also on the map for its prodigious Jayhawks, especially the men’s basketball team, who are perennial contenders and play at one of the sport’s most unique arenas.
The Jayhawks come from good stock, considering their first coach was James Naismith, the man who invented the game of basketball, and that Wilt Chamberlain played here in the 1950s.
1. Massachusetts Street
Downtown Lawrence’s broad main street is historic, well-preserved, walkable and bursting with life.
This main drag and the intersecting streets have more than 100 shops, restaurants, cafes, galleries, pubs and more.
Much more in fact, when you count the elegant South Park, the intriguing Watkins Museum of History and arts hubs like The Granada, The Replay Lounge and the Lawrence Arts Center.
Almost all the buildings on Massachusetts Street date from between the 1850s and the 1950s.
At 729-731, look out for the House Building, which was the only building to survive the Lawrence Massacre (1863), a Confederate raid on this Unionist town.
2. University of Kansas
The KU campus, southwest of downtown is an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.
There are many reasons to pay a visit, whether you want to amble around the picturesque campus and Potter Lake, or relive some of the Jayhawks unforgettable sporting feats.
There’s a selection of museums for all interests, from sports, to science, art and politics, as this is the alma mater of former presidential nominee, Bob Dole. He also turned out for the basketball team, as you’ll discover at the Booth Family Hall of Athletics.
3. Spencer Museum of Art
The art museum on the KU campus was established in 1928 and has built up an important collection of more than 47,000 works and artifacts.
This catalog is diverse, boasting European and American painting, sculpture, Medieval art, ethnography, Chinese painting from the 20th century and Japanese Edo-period painting and prints, to name a few areas of specialty.
A few artists represented in that collection are the Mannerist painter Bronzino, landscape painter Albert Bierstadt, Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Manet and John Singer Sargeant.
The museum’s exhibitions, mostly along a theme and sourced from the collection, are always expertly curated and thought-provoking. Check the calendar for workshops, talks and live performances.
4. Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum
The palatial Dyche Hall (1903), designed in the Romanesque Revival style, houses KU’s noteworthy Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum.
This has four floors of exhibits that will keep you under their spell for hours. You’ll discover the science of parasites, check out live animals in terrariums, study the evolutionary history of plant life and see dozens of amazing fossils from the Kansas Chalk.
Included in the latter is Tylosaurus, unearthed in Kansas and officially the largest mosasaur ever discovered.
The Panorama deserves special mention, displaying Earth’s extraordinary natural diversity with a centerpiece from the 1893 World’s Fair, while a famous exhibit is the taxidermied horse, Comanche, remembered as the only U.S. cavalry survivor of the Little Bighorn (1876).
5. Watkins Museum of History
The museum for the Douglas County Historical Society has a grand venue, in the Romanesque Revival Watkins Land Mortgage and National Bank Building from 1888.
Visit for superb temporary exhibits and an enthralling permanent collection shedding light on many different facets of the area’s past.
You’ll see telephones from the turn of the century, swords from the Civil War and protest t-shirts painting a picture of mid 20th-century upheaval.
Look out for the Old Sacramento Cannon captured during the Mexican-American War (1846-48), an authentic John Brown Pike from 1859 and the desk belonging to James Naismith, the inventor of the game of basketball and KU’s first coach.
When we wrote this article there was a moving temporary exhibit revealing the fight for queer rights in Lawrence.
6. Allen Fieldhouse
A real sporting cathedral, home court for the KU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams is one of the country’s most celebrated collegiate arenas.
Opened in 1955 and with a capacity of 16,500, Allen Fieldhouse is touted as the loudest arena in the NCAA, granting the Jayhawks a measurable home court advantage.
The men’s team is one of the most successful in the country, almost always making an NCAA tournament appearance, and going all the way three times, most recently in 2008.
Under current coach Bill Self, the Jayhawks have taken the Big 12 conference title 16 times in 20 years.
A venue as storied as this is bound to have plenty of traditions. These include the “Crimson and Blue” alma mater before the national anthem, with the crowd linked arm to shoulder, followed by the “Rock chalk, Jayhawk, KU” chant, and then a rendition of “Home on the Range” after the game.
7. Booth Family Hall of Athletics
Just east of the Allen Fieldhouse is a modern museum celebrating the sporting prowess of the Jayhawks.
The Booth Family Hall of Athletics pays tribute to KU’s famous athletics programs, its many successful coaches and history-making athletes, past and present.
This is a free attraction, open all year round and a perfect introduction to the many traditions and treasured moments that have become a part of the university’s culture.
As well as loads of artifacts, from championship rings to game balls, there are also in-depth profiles of key figures, like James Naismith the “Father of Basketball”, alum Wilt Chamberlain and revered current coach Bill Self, who signed a lifetime contract extension in 2021.
8. Clinton State Park
Managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the 7,000-acre reservoir, Clinton Lake sits on Lawrence’s southwestern edge.
This was built in the 1970s to counter floods that had long devastated the Wakarusa Valley, and several towns had to make way for this huge body of water.
On the Lawrence side you’ve got Clinton State Park, occupying 1,500 acres of shoreline. Fishing enthusiasts can make the most of these clear waters, known for their walleye, crappie and channel catfish.
There are also close to 400 campsites, around half of which have electricity and water, as well as more than 50 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, continuing into the neighboring 9,200-acre wildlife area.
9. Liberty Hall
One eye-catching landmark on Massachusetts Street is this magnificent Beaux-Arts building, opened in 1912, a year after the previous Liberty Hall burned down.
That new venue was ahead of its time, combining the grandeur of its pediment and fine round-arch window, with a fire-proof design and exceptional acoustics.
The building was renovated in the 1980s and today can seat 1,050 under a glorious 35-foot vaulted ceiling with a chandelier.
Liberty Hall is a versatile place for concerts by famous touring artists, as well as comedy, theater and regular independent movies in the Main Theater and Little Theater.
10. David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium
Home field for the Kansas Jayhawks football team is Memorial Stadium (1921), officially the seventh oldest collegiate stadium in the United States.
With a capacity of 47,233, this facility was dedicated as a memorial to Kansas students who died in WWI, and has undergone more than $30 million of renovations in recent years.
As for the Jayhawks, they’re a member of the Big 12 Conference and enjoyed a purple patch in the 2000s under coach Mark Mangino who departed in 2009 with a winning record of 50-48 after seven years at the helm.
Gameday is a real experience with the usual tailgating and tons of pregame activities for people of all ages.
11. Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics
The senator and ‘96 Republic presidential nominee, Bob Dole (1923-2021) was a Kansas native, and was honored with this nonpartisan political institution that opened at KU on his 80th birthday in 2003.
The institute sponsors the annual Dole Lecture, given in April, and the bipartisan list of speakers includes Bill Clinton, Tom Brokaw, Carly Fiorina (former HP CEO) and Watergate journalist Bob Woodward. Building highlights include beams from the World Trade Center, the world’s largest stained-glass American flag and a WWII Veterans’ memorial wall.
You can take a free guided tour to learn about Dole’s humble upbringing during the Great Depression, his WWII service and his record-breaking, 11-year tenure as Republican Leader of the Senate.
12. Prairie Park Nature Center
In Lawrence’s southeastern outskirts, the Prairie Park Nature Center is on 100 scenic acres, mixing wetlands, woodlands, a five-acre lake and native prairie.
In these habitats you stand a good chance of spotting some wildlife native to Kansas, like bobcats, beavers, deer and a number of species of birds of prey.
A walking trail leads to all corners of the property, and around the shore of Mary’s Lake. At the north end, by the parking lot, is the center’s education building, with engaging nature displays, archeology exhibits, dioramas and a zoo-like roster of live animals.
Among them are several birds of prey, including owls, hawks, eagles and falcons.
13. South Park
Bisected by Massachusetts Street at the south end of downtown Lawrence is a long-standing public space for people to gather and relax.
This is Lawrence’s oldest park, included in the original plat in 1854. South Park is a genteel space with tall, mature trees, flower gardens, a butterfly garden and historic features like the bandstand, which was erected in 1906.
The bandstand is a venue for outdoor events in summer, from parties to weddings to the Lawrence City Band’s summer concert series. If you’re here with little ones in summer, don’t forget the wading pool, which has a zero-depth pool with sprays and fountains.
14. Old West Lawrence
Some of Lawrence’s prettiest residential architecture can be found in this historic district, on the National Register of Historic Places, an easy walk to the west of downtown.
Around half of the houses in this 12-block area date from the 19th century, the oldest going back to 1860, just a few years after Lawrence was founded.
Almost 130 buildings contribute to the historic district, which is a fine place to wander on a summer’s day when the sidewalks are shaded by old deciduous trees.
On the east side is the picture perfect Watson Park, home to Locomotive #1073, built in 1902 and used for freight in the Lawrence area until 1952.
15. Lawrence Rotary Arboretum
Not far from the shore of Clinton Lake is a delightful park that has developed over the last 20 years. The Lawrence Rotary Arboretum was dedicated in 2005, blending an impressive tree collection with a patchwork of botanical gardens.
Among almost 30 different tree species at the arboretum are a Pacific sunset maple, a swamp white oak, a bald cypress, a European hornbeam, a lacebark elm and an autumn purple ash.
All of these specimens are labeled and can be tracked down via an interactive map on the Lawrence City website. Also worthwhile is the WaterWise demonstration garden, teaching visitors about native pollinators and drought-resistant plants.