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The 35 best things to do in Manhattan, Kansas

Experience college-town excitement in beautiful Manhattan, Kansas. I enjoy visiting the Little Apple whenever possible. Who wouldn’t? After all, the Flint Hills’ scenic beauty surrounds Kansas State University’s home. The city of 55,000 people retains its small-town feel with midwestern charm, and every amenity is easily accessible.

The city’s two shopping districts, Aggieville and Downtown Manhattan, are walkable, and the Manhattan Town Center mall’s west entrance adjoins Downtown. Of course, K-State provides education, culture, and Division I athletics. Let’s explore Purple Pride as we visit Manhattan. The city is under two hours from Kansas City, making it a perfect day trip or weekend getaway wrapped in beautiful scenery.

Visit Manhattan sponsored my most recent exploration, but all opinions are mine. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no cost to you.

Manhattan is 2 hours west of Kansas City and northeast of Wichita. Manhattan Regional Airport (MHK) has daily service from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Chicago O’Hare (ORD) airports.

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Table of contents

Bluemont Scenic Overlook | Flint Hills Discovery Center | Riley County Museum | Goodnow House | Wolf House | Tuttle Creek State Park | Sunset Zoo | Insect Zoo | Beach Museum of Art | Konza Prairie | Midwest Dream Car Collection | Manhattan City Park | K-State Sports | McCain Performance Series | Aggieville | Downtown Manhattan | Manhattan Town Center | Kansas Water Trail

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Lights of Manhattan below one of the "Manhattan" letters at night from Bluemont Scenic Overlook, Manhattan, Kansas
View the lights of Manhattan, home of Kansas State University, from Bluemont Scenic Overlook.

Take a look at Manhattan

Here is a Manhattan must-do list of top attractions. While I enjoy everything you’re about to read, my top places are hanging out at eateries in Aggieville or Downtown Manhattan, and then visiting the Bluemont Scenic Overlook. The Manhattan area has numerous unique dining options, which we’ll discuss later in the article.

"Manhattan" concrete letters on Bluemont Hill above Anderson Ave.
The “Manhattan” letters

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: The scenic overlook is above the Manhattan letters on the hill. To see them from below, stop at the Wendy’s parking lot on Anderson Ave.

The Flint Hills Discovery Center's night lights. The atrium is light with purple and blue lights.
The Flint Hills Discovery Center at night

1. The Flint Hills Discovery Center, Manhattan, Kansas

The Flint Hills region preserved the tallgrass prairies because its soil was too thin to plow. Learn more about this unique region at the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Downtown Manhattan’s Blue Earth Plaza. It offers a dynamic tribute to the Flint Hills that attracts visitors of every age.

The entrance opens into a three-story glass atrium, followed by the Flint Hills Story. An inlaid floor map shows the Flint Hills extent within Kansas, and a screen in the ceiling displays the expansive Flint Hills skies. The Horizon Ranch Flint Hills Immersive Experience Theater is on the right. The 15-minute film “Tallgrass Prairie: Tides of Time” plays at the top and bottom of each hour. The wind rushes through viewers’ hair, and prairie fire smoke rises from the floor during the presentation. 

Savor the rich cultural history of the Flint Hills in interactive exhibits. including The Voices of the Flint Hills, Winds of the Past, Underground Forest, and Shaping Winds & Waters. The center hosts temporary exhibitions on the second floor in the Tallgrass and Mezzanine galleries.

Connect to the tallgrass outside on the Prairie Garden Terrace and Trail. Stay inside and explore the specialized interactive playground when the winds buffet the land. 

Related: See the undisturbed tallgrass prairie at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Chase County.

Red and blue lights on the splash pad at Blue Earth Plaza, Manhattan, Kansas, with lighted buildings behind them.
The lights of Blue Earth Plaza

Light the night at Blue Earth Plaza

Blue Earth Plaza is outside the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Downtown Manhattan. Enjoy a large water feature, a covered patio, and a fireplace in an open green space. 

Riley County Historical Museum sign in front of a native stone fence

2-4. Riley County Historical Society museums

Isaac Goodnow (GOOD-know) of Massachusetts’s New England Emigrant Aid Company chose the Boston townsite in 1855. 

The steamboat Hartford carried 80 to 100 passengers from the Cincinnati and Kansas Land Company up the Kansas River in 1855. The boat ran aground short of their intended target, the confluence of the Smoky Hill and Republican Rivers, where the Kansas River begins. Instead, the boat landed near the Blue River’s confluence with the Kansas River. The nearby settlers of Boston welcomed the newcomers.

Even though Boston was already established, the incomers’ charter required them to name their settlement Manhattan. The initial settlers agreed to the new name.

The Hartford caught fire on its return trip, but the ship’s bell went to the Methodist Church until 1939. The church later donated the bell to the Riley County Historical Museum, where it hangs inside.

Other museum exhibits include a Stratovision TV console, a short-lived experiment in broadcasting, the debate about Tuttle Creek Dam, and an early high-wheel bicycle.

Roxie standing in front of the 1951 Flood Line brick in a white limestone building in Downtown Manhattan
The 1951 Flood Line marker in Downtown Manhattan

Roxie’s reliable report: The 1951 Flood High Water Mark in Downtown Manhattan shows why the downstream cities desired Tuttle Creek and other Kansas dams.

The Goodnow House, a two-story limestone dwelling, on a hill with a garden below.
The Goodnow House and garden

Goodnow House State Historic Site

The Isaac and Ellen Goodnow House State Historic Site shares the museum grounds. He established the Kansas State Teachers Association and Bluemont College, Kansas State University’s predecessor. The two-story stone house returns visitors to the late 1800s with many family pieces on display. 

A small white wooden prefabricated house in Manhattan, Kansas, that came from the steamboat Hartford
The tiny, prefabricated Hartford House example

Roxie’s reliable report: The prefabricated Hartford House outside the Riley County museum stands in contrast to the Goodnow House. It was one of 10 house kits (PDF) the steamboat brought for the settlers until they could build more substantial structures.

The two-story limestone brick Wolf House Museum in Manhattan, Kansas, with brick and concrete sidewalks
The Wolf House Museum is one of several buildings in the Wolf House Museum Complex.

Wolf House Museum Complex

John Frank built the current Wolf House Museum in 1868 as a boarding house. The Perry family retained it as a boarding house, but later it became the Wolf family home. Lucile Wolf donated it to the Riley County Historical Society in 1982. The society interprets the house as an 1880s home with periodic special exhibits. The complex includes two more houses and the Wolf Photography Studio.

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The blue Randolph Bridge atop yellow abutments heading over Tuttle Creek Reservoir north of Manhattan, Kansas
The Randolph Equestrian Trail runs past the east end of the mile-long Randolph Bridge.

5. Tuttle Creek State Park

Enter the 1,200-acre Tuttle Creek State Park from Tuttle Creek Blvd., on Manhattan’s northwestern edge. The Kansas state park makes an easy escape or a quick commute from scenic outdoor activities to urban The narrow Tuttle Creek Reservoir, penned between the Flint Hills’s slopes, is the state’s second-largest. Because of the hilly terrain around Tuttle Creek Lake, mountain bikers from around the country compete along the state park’s numerous nature trails. The challenging 6-mile Fancy Creek Mountain Bike Trail traverses forested hills and native grasslands studded with rock outcroppings and ridges. All vehicles must display a state park permit, and campers need a camping permit.

Related: Milford Reservoir near Junction City is the state’s largest reservoir.

What to do at Tuttle Creek

The park offers three easy walking trails, the 1.25-mile Western Heritage Trail, the three-quarter-mile Cedar Ridge Trail, and the half-mile Cottonwood Trail. Equestrians and pedestrians can use the 13-mile Randolph Equestrian Trail, which runs beside the state’s longest bridge, the mile-long Randolph Bridge. Park in the Randolph Area Horse Campground on the south side for access to showers, drinking water, a dump station, horse corrals, and some electrical hookups during the warm months. The north side has a year-round hydrant. Look for trail map boxes. 

Anglers will find excellent channel cat populations, and the lake is one of the best places to catch fish larger than 8 pounds. Look for them in the lake’s upper reaches and in the Big Blue River.

Reserve one of 11 cabins in the River Pond and Cedar Ridge areas. The cabins have basic kitchen gear but lack bedding and towels. Seven of them are accessible, plus the park has numerous campsites. They range from full-service to primitive.

Additional amenities include a swimming beach, picnic areas, canoe and kayak rental, archery range, trails, laundry, and concessions. An 18-hole disc golf course has baskets throughout the park. The Wildcat Marina is in the Cedar Ridge area, while the Fancy Creek Shooting Range is open on the first and third weekends of each month. 

Tuttle Creek is in the book Midwest State Park Adventures. Buy an autographed copy in my shop.

Colobus monkey eating vegetables while perched on a shelf at the Sunset Zoo
The colobus monkey is happy to eat his veggies.

6. Sunset Zoo, Manhattan, Kansas

The beautiful Sunset Zoo takes advantage of Manhattan’s scenic terrain, carving animal enclosures into the hillside above Manhattan. The small zoo, which is one of the state’s oldest zoos, recently opened Expedition Asia, which houses endangered Amur leopards, tigers, and sloth bears. Other areas include all the continents except Antarctica. Parents and grandparents with children will enjoy the Wild Wonders experiences. 

Related: Explore Manhattan’s Sunset Zoo.

Elephant ears and a tree stand in front of the Insect Zoo building, a former K-State dairy barn
Leafcutter ants crawl up the Insect Zoo’s exterior.

7. Kansas State Insect Zoo, Manhattan, Kansas

While the Sunset Zoo features large animals, the Insect Zoo holds numerous insects and arachnids. Your mission, should you accept it, will force you to face your fears of creepy crawlies. The insect zoo’s spooky denizens provide the perfect Halloween destination.

Experience a tropical tree in the Amazonian rain forest, a tropical cave, the Observation Beehive, freshwater insects, and numerous spiders and glow-in-the-dark scorpions. You’ll never look at your kitchen in the same way again after viewing the Mock Kitchen.

Roxie’s reliable report: The Kansas State University Gardens surround the Insect Zoo. The 19-acre garden displays hardscapes and tested ornamental plants. The Rose Collection is in a secluded area on the garden’s east side.

The rose garden includes more than 180 rose bushes. Self-guided tour brochures are in the wooden birdhouse next to the parking lot. Please return it when finished. Schedule guided tours a week in advance, or add a garden tour to your K-State campus visit.

The K-State Insect Zoo is one of 84 stories in my book Secret Kansas: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. Buy an autographed copy on our shop.

Exterior of the Beach Museum of Art, Manhattan, Kansas, under a cloudy sky. The building has a central entrance between two wings.
The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art

8. Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Manhattan, Kansas

The Beach Museum, inside K-State’s Higinbotham Gate, focuses on Kansas and regional artists’ works. Its permanent collection contains more than 10,0000 art objects. The galleries are on the museum’s second floor. Enhance your visit with an ARTote, filled with books, games, gallery activities, and guide sheets. Visit the Exploration Station for activities and books related to the museum’s current exhibits. 

Roxie’s reliable recommendationRead directions, accessibility, and parking information before you go. During your campus visit, eat some ice cream at Call Hall Dairy Bar.

Related: The museum’s first accession was a pair of large paintings from Lindsborg artist Birger Sandzén. Visit his gallery at Bethany College.

The Konza Prairie, one of the top 10 things to do in North Central Kansas
Bask in 360-degree Flint Hills views at the Konza Prairie Natural Area.

9. Konza Prairie Biological Station

The Konza Prairie is my favorite Kansas hike. I passed the Konza Prairie sign on Interstate 70 many times before I ventured into the Konza, and it was far better than I ever imagined. Flint Hills vistas are spectacular, and the preserve displays them well. I-70 traffic passes in the distance, and some overlooks show off Manhattan, but mostly the vistas are little changed since the pioneers arrived in the 1850s. 

Kansas wildflowers bloom from March to October, dotting the land with color. The grasses wave hello to hikers, while birds and insects chatter. In the fall, the grasses turn shades of red to gold. Watch for bison from Konza’s herd. Your soul invites you to rest on the overlooks’ benches and enjoy 360-degree views of the Flint Hills.

Roxie’s reliable reportDownload the trail map or pick up one at the trailhead kiosk adjacent to the parking lot. A pay box stands at the trailhead. The stone blocks in low places provide erosion control, but they can trip the unwary. Therefore, please carry trekking poles. Also, wear a hydration pack because Kansas is often dry, and the wind removes moisture. The only restroom is a composting toilet near the Hokanson Homestead. No dogs are allowed.

The Shark, a green car with painted shark teeth and a World War II roundel painted on it at the Midwest Dream Car Collection
The Shark, a 2012 Morgan three-wheeler

10. Midwest Dream Car Collection

You’ll think you’re dreaming when you stroll around the Midwest Dream Car Collection. The cars are the stars here, and the museum provides plenty of space to admire each motorized treasure. See Sonny and Cher’s customized Mustangs, the Desert Camel, an Amphicar, a Volkswagen Samba Bus, a 1937 Cord Supercharged Cabriolet, the same model Amelia Earhart drove before she disappeared,  and its luxurious competitor, the Cadillac Roadster.

Related: Experience the amazing Midwest Dream Car Collection.

Johnny Kaw in Manhattan City Park, Manhattan, Kansas
See Johnny Kaw, the man who carved the Kaw River.

11. Manhattan City Park

Johnny Kaw, the 24-foot-tall Pioneer Kansas Wheat Farmer with a size 55 shoe, presides over City Park. Read his story on the nearby story walk.

The 45-acre park on Poyntz Avenue also includes the replica Pioneer Log Cabin (PDF), a splash park, City Park Waterpark, two shelters, six tennis courts, an outdoor basketball court, a playground, picnic tables with grills, three ball diamonds, a one-mile multi-use trail, an outdoor stage, a daylily and a rose garden, sand volleyball courts, and restrooms.

The log cabin’s cornerstone came from a Bluemont Central College building, while the southeast corner’s stone came from the Fort Riley to Fort Leavenworth bridge over the Big Blue River.

Roxie’s reliable report: Northview Park is home to Northview Waterpark.

Bill Snyder's pedestal reflects the sunset in front of Bill Snyder Family Stadium
Bill Snyder stands in front of Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

12. K-State sports in Manhattan, Kansas

Many of K-State’s intercollegiate athletic teams compete in venues clustered immediately south of Kimball Ave. The Bill Snyder Family Stadium houses football, while Bramlage Coliseum holds the men’s and women’s basketball teams. K-State opened its new volleyball venue, the Morgan Family Arena, across the street from Bramlage, in 2023. Baseball, women’s soccer, rowing, tennis, and track and field all play in the area. K-State golfers play at Colbert Hills, one of the state’s elite golf courses.

Roxie’s reliable report: Before you go, check the game day guides from Visit ManhattanK-State Athletics, and K-State Alumni Association.

13. McCain Performance Series

For impressive theatrical performances, buy tickets to the McCain Performance Series in K-State’s McCain Auditorium. The annual lineup includes legendary musicians, Broadway musicals, and spectacular entertainers providing unforgettable performances.

The purple neon Aggieville Arch
Enter Aggieville below the Aggieville Arch.

14-25. Aggieville, Manhattan, Kansas

Relish the melange that is Aggieville, the state’s oldest shopping district. Large crowds populate Aggieville on game days. For K-State watch parties, choose Kite’s Bar or Johnny Kaw’s. Decked with numerous Wildcat memorabilia items, Kite’s is an unofficial Wildcat Hall of Fame. Kite’s customers tend to be older than the ones at Johnny Kaw’s. Johnny Kaw’s Yard Bar has a pair of patios with yard games and fire pits. The bar spreads across three buildings and can hold about 1,000 people.

Aggieville is featured in my book 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die.

The marquee-style Varsity Donuts storefront
You must eat Varsity Donuts while visiting Manhattan, Kansas.

No Manhattan visit is complete without a box of goodies from Varsity Donuts. Night owls should try the Varsity Food Truck. My other favorites include Taco LuchaBluestem BistroGlobe Indian Cuisine, and Nico’s Little Italy.

Shop Aggieville

Shop at the Sisters of Sound, Manhattan’s sole independent record shop, and The Dusty Bookshelf, which sells new and used books with drinks and sandwiches. In the Road Runner cartoons, Wile E. Coyote used Acme products to destroy the Road Runner, but in Aggieville, Acme Gift brings happiness.

Courtyard by Marriott entrance at night
Courtyard by Marriott entrance at night

I thoroughly enjoyed staying in Aggieville’s Courtyard by Marriott (ad), which meant easy access to Aggieville’s attractions, plus a covered parking garage. The terrace adjoining the Bistro overlooks Aggieville. 

Roxie’s reliable report: The Aggieville parking garage offers 2 hours of free parking at various times. Street parking can be hard to find, but a small parking lot is across the street from Nico’s.

26-33. Downtown Manhattan, Kansas

Start your day with a fritatta at The ChefRadina’s has several locations in Manhattan, but I adore walking past all the luscious breads on the way to order at the Downtown Manhattan location. Bourbon and Baker ticks all the foodie fetishes. The restaurant specializes in small plates, but guests may pick Big Plate entreés as well. The bourbons and house cocktails are top-notch. If wines are more to your taste, explore the wine list at Wine + Dive Kitchen. Beer lovers should try the brews at Manhattan Brewing Company.

Browse the shelves at Claflin Books, an independent bookstore. The staff hand-selects the stocks, including my books. Dress in style with women’s apparel from The Boutique. Michael + Madge … Children’s Boutique is inside the store. Discover Western style at Yee Haw Country Outfitters. Glam up your duds at the store’s Pink Armadillo section.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Look for the faces on the Riley County Courthouse.

Fountain and gardens in the downtown entry to Manhattan Town Center
A garden and fountain welcome shoppers to the Manhattan Town Center.

34. Manhattan Town Center

Only a plaza separates Downtown Manhattan from Manhattan Town Center. Shop, dine, watch a movie, or even sign up for military service at the mall.

Roxie’s reliable report: The Manhattan Farmers Market sets up in front of the Dillard’s store in the mall every Saturday morning year-round for fresh produce and homemade goods. However, extreme cold may cancel the winter market dates. 

Kansas Water Trail
The Kansas Water Trail map at the Manhattan ramp

35. Kansas Water Trail

After all that eating and shopping, you’ll need some exercise. Find it at the Kansas River Water Trail‘s Manhattan trailhead, across the Highway 18 bridge from the Union Pacific Train Depot. The access ramp is under the Highway 177 Bridge.

The next ramp is about 1.5 miles downstream to the Linear Park/Blue River Access Ramp. The Blue River joins the Kansas (or Kaw) from the north, and paddlers must row upstream for about a third of a mile to reach the ramp. The next ramp after that is 11.5 river miles downstream at the St. George/Boggs Landing Access Ramp.

You’ll enjoy the Little Apple, Manhattan, Kansas, as much as I do. Take a bite!

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