My friend Sara of Travel with Sara and I just returned from a road trip across Kansas. We were so excited at the cool things we found as we ventured into the town of Leavenworth, one of the exits off of Kansas I-70. From touring a working military base to eating the best cream puff and kolache of our lives, Leavenworth was a treat. Here are 9 things to do in Leavenworth, Kansas that might tickle your fancy.
1. Tour a Working Military Base
As Sara and I arrived at the address we were given to see what we thought were history museums, little did we know that we would be subject to a background check and interview to obtain a pass for touring Fort Leavenworth, a working US Army installation. We passed with flying colors, and after a few minutes and the total shock of it all, were armed with our DOD issued ID card and off to explore Fort Leavenworth.
The first thing we did was to visit the Lewis and Clark Center (command/general staff college), a beautiful training center that has impressive stained glass panels. Photos and bios of the military giants who have been stationed at Fort Leavenworth line the walls. A Medal of Honor award is on display in a glass case. We lucked into having Thomas Gray, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s liaison, show us around the historic property. Just thinking that Generals Sherman, Eisenhower, Custer, MacArthur, Powell, and Patton walked through these buildings gave me chills!
Pick up a map of Fort Leavenworth at the entrance or the Lewis and Clark Center.
2. See the Buffalo Soldier Memorial
We learned about the historic Buffalo Soldier (what the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments comprised of black soldiers were called) at Fort Leavenworth in a lovely waterfront setting at the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area. Here, at the nation’s premier Buffalo Soldier site, we saw the stunning monument by Eddie Dixon and several other tributes such as the Circle of Firsts and Walkway of Units, all significant African-American US Army firsts.
3. Visit a Unique Military Museum
A visit to the Frontier Army Museum, also on base at Fort Leavenworth, was a place anyone could easily “fall down the rabbit hole” from admiring the artifacts and war memorabilia, as well as learning countless things about wars, Oregon and Santa Fe Trails, and weaponry. Things we enjoyed were the military vehicles from the 1800s and wagons and carriages from the Frontier Army, circa 1804 through 1916.
The museum does a great job showcasing the role of Leavenworth (and Kansas) in westward expansion. One of the unique items at the Frontier Army Museum is an 1832 officer coat worn by General Henry Leavenworth.
4. Eat Delicious Food
Leavenworth has some tasty bites, with our favorite being the Italian options at Luigi’s Italian Restaurant. Our meal started with luscious meatballs, swimming in a delicate béchamel sauce, and Italian bread knots with a zesty dipping oil with peppers.
My main course at Luigi’s was the Shrimp and Spinach Ravioli. It was perfect in every way. I’m generally critical of Italian restaurants but couldn’t find anything that was not superb at Luigi’s.
For delicious scratch-made pastries, bread, or sweets that will make your jaw drop in Leavenworth, go to Bakery Delicateza. The menu items have a Czech influence and are incredibly delicious.
5. Soak Up the Riverfront Views
After dinner, Sara and I took a brisk walk by the photogenic Missouri River, admiring the lovely homes across the street perched with views of the splendid scenery. Activist Susan B. Anthony’s brother Daniel, publisher of the Leavenworth Times and mayor of the town in 1863, owned a house on the waterfront. Susan was friends with one of the Carroll Mansion owners (more to come about her) and attended a suffragette rally at the mansion. Leavenworth had quite a progressive stance on women’s rights.
6. Learn About the Harvey Girls
I couldn’t come to Leavenworth and not see where Fred Harvey, creator of the Harvey Girls, lived. Fred was responsible for turning train travel dining into a sophisticated experience through his restaurants and started the world’s first chain restaurant, Harvey House. Workers at Harvey House were referred to as “Harvey Girls” and were similar to modern-day Hooter’s though with long black dresses and a big list of rules.
The National Fred Harvey Museum at 624 Olive Street is open to the public displaying some fun memorabilia (including playbills and movie posters from the Harvey Girls Production, starring Judy Garland). I lucked into a private tour of the home, in the process of being remodeled and hopefully opening to the public soon.
7. Stroll A Historic Downtown
The downtown streets of Leavenworth are lovely. There is great pride in the community around town. And proud it should be, Leavenworth is the historic first city of Kansas. I loved the hanging flower baskets, America flags, and appealing store windows.
On Main Street, Sara and I found clothing boutiques, a coffee shop, book store, toy store, pottery shop, cheese market, winery, and several ethnic restaurants, including Thai, Irish, Swedish, Jamaican, and Italian.
8. See a US Penitentiary
Before coming to Leavenworth, I’d never seen a US Penitentiary. I couldn’t resist driving by the medium-security facility even though tours are not available. The US Penitentiary, Leavenworth used to be a high/maximum-security federal prison with notorious inmates such as James Earl Ray (assassin of Martin Luther King), Panamanian Military Leader Manuel Noriega, and football player Michael Vick but dropped to medium-security in 2005. The building is gorgeous, and it certainly doesn’t look like a place for the bad guys to me.
9. Admire the Carroll Museum
Sara and I enjoyed our tour of the Carroll Mansion Museum, circa the 1880s. This Victoria-era home has been the residence to five wealthy families, one of whom was involved in women’s rights and conducted meetings at the house. The Carroll Mansion with ‘s decor features lovely antique furniture, impressive woodwork, and stately stained glass.
The Museum also houses the Leavenworth County Historical Society and 30,000 glass plate negatives (these are old-school y’all), which depict over a century of Leavenworth history. Guided tours are available and take about an hour.
Leavenworth: A Town to Put on Your Travel Radar
Leavenworth proved to be a great place to road trip. Sara and I both hope to come back and see more of it. Next time, I will visit the National Cemetery at Fort Leavenworth, eat at Baan Thai Restaurant and the historic The Depot 1887, and explore the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum. I hope you enjoy these 9 things to do in Leavenworth, Kansas just as we did.
Thanks to Kansas I-70 and Visit Leavenworth for hosting a portion of my travels. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.
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To learn more about Leavenworth, visit the Leavenworth CVB website.
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