Kansas: The Wheat State, home of a ball of twine weighing nearly 20,000 pounds, the state with Dodge City, the windiest city in the U.S., and where, believe it or not, at one point it was illegal to serve ice cream on top of cherry pie.
What we’re getting at here is, compared to places like New York, Colorado, or California, Kansas doesn’t usually come to mind in a list of “most exciting states” in the U.S. But here at the Movoto Real Estate Blog, we know that there are hidden gems all over the country; cities and places within each state that might not just surprise you, but downright blow your socks off.
Kansas is no exception. Which cities within the state were the most exciting? The following 10, starting with our winner, Manhattan:
1. City of Manhattan
2. City of Lawrence
3. City of Hays
4. City of Leawood
5. City of Garden City
6. City of Pittsburg (tie)
6. City of Prairie Village (tie)
8. City of Wichita
9. City of Emporia
10. City of Leavenworth (tie)
10. City of Salina (tie)
What’s that you say? There are 11 places in our list? That’s because, apparently, not only is Kansas not dull, but it is so freaking exciting that we had a tie for our No. 10. If you can handle the excitement, keep reading to find out how we came up with this list and just why each of these places are so awesome.
How We Created This Ranking
We started out with a list of all of the places in Kansas with populations over 10,000 people or more, and then ranked these in order of their population density. Because Kansas is a pretty sparsely populated state, we focused our list on the top 25 most densely populated places.
From there, we gathered data from the 2010 U.S. Census and business listings. We were looking to measure the following (exciting) criteria:
- Nightlife per capita (bars, clubs, comedy, etc.)
- Live music venues per capita
- Active life options per capita (parks, outdoor activities, etc.)
- Arts and Entertainment per capita (movie theaters, festivals, galleries, theaters, etc.)
- Fast Food restaurants per capita (the fewer the better)
- Percentage of restaurants that are not fast food (the higher the better)
- Percentage of young residents ages 18 to 34 (the higher the better)
Once we got this info, we ranked each place in each category from 1 to 25, with one being the best. We then averaged each place’s overall score into a Big Deal Score, with a lower average being better. The place with the lowest average was our winner, Manhattan.
To check out how each of our 25 places ranked, head down to the bottom of this post. Before that, get your party pants on, because we’re heading to Manhattan, and then onto our other winners, to see just what makes them so exciting. Hint: It doesn’t involve a ball of twine.
Manhattan, also known as “The Little Apple,” is a college town through and through. In fact, it was largely due to its high percent of people between the ages of 18 and 34 (56 percent) that this home to Kansas State University made the top of our list.
Of course, with a young population comes all of the makings for an exciting place to live: a bustling nightlife, lots of music venues per capita like Auntie Mae’s Parlor, an active lifestyle, arts and entertainment, and when it comes to food, Manhattan can’t be beat. Literally.
This city ranked No. 1 for both its number of restaurants per capita—places like Harry’s, Della Voce, La Hacienda Mercado & Taqueria—and it ranked No. 1 for its lack of fast food restaurants. Yes, even with all of the college students in this city, Manhattan still managed to come in with the least fast food options per capita.
Home to the University of Kansas, this college town came in high on our list, largely due to its high percent of folks between the ages of 18 and 34—46 percent. Just like Manhattan before it, this college town certainly caters to the young and young at heart, with the most nightlife and music venues per capita out of all of the places in our analysis.
From the Bottleneck to Replay Lounge to Louise’s West, this place is buzzing, and likely the people are too, throughout the night. Lawrence also ranked exceptionally well for its arts and entertainment options, including the Lawrence Art Center, the Spencer Museum of Art, numerous galleries, several events at Allen Fieldhouse, and much, much more.
Yet another college town, Hays is the home to Fort Hays State University, and so perhaps not surprisingly, a whopping 37 percent of its population are between the ages of 18 and 34. And what do people between the ages of 18 and 34 like? Well, apparently in Hays, they like music and the arts—yes, even more than bars.
Our numbers show that Hays ranked second for both its number of music venues and arts and entertainment options per capita; places like Singers and the Sternberg Museum of Natural History. And yes, it did earn points for its nightlife per capita; but like I said, it seems as though it’s this city’s heyday for music and arts.
Unlike the three college towns before it, Leawood’s excitement has little to do with a young population. In fact, only 9 percent of its population are between the ages of 18 and 34, making it the “oldest” place in our list of 25.
Where this Kansas City suburb excelled was in its overall healthy lifestyle. It ranked No. 2 for its number of active life options per capita, plus No. 3 for both its lack of fast food restaurants, and for its variety of actual (meaning non-fast food) restaurants. Places like Rye, Mestizo, and North Italia.
5. Garden City
Fact: Garden City is home to the Lee Richardson Zoo, the largest zoological park in western Kansas. Now, this has absolutely nothing to do with why it ranked so well in our analysis; but it’s still pretty cool.
The reason Garden City did rank so well was for places more like Sammy’s Spirits and Steakhouse, Pho Hoa One Restaurant, and other non-fast food joints, as this city was among the best for its variety of restaurants and lack of fast food. It also had a fairly large population between the ages of 18 and 34—25 percent of the total, probably due to the Garden City Community College.
Ask almost anyone what there is to do in Pittsburg, Kansas, and you’ll probably learn two things pretty quickly: most anyone you ask will be between the ages of 18 and 34, since 41 percent of the population is, and most everyone will probably say something about the nightlife.
That’s because places like 5th Street Bar and Grill, Mooreman’s Southside, and McCarthy’s Pub make this college town the third best in the state when it comes to nightlife per capita, and these kids like to party.
6. Prairie Village
Even though Prairie Village tied for No. 6 with Pittsburg, the two cities could not be more different. Where Pittsburg is a college town with a bustling nightlife, just 21 percent of Prairie Village’s population is between the ages of 18 and 34.
This city scored its points, not for places to drink, but for places to get healthy, ranking sixth overall for its active life options, and first for both its number of restaurants per capita and its lack of fast food.
With so many delicious options to choose from, it might be a bit overwhelming to choose just one to start with, so let us help you out: Story. Go to Story. The German chocolate cake at this restaurant is reason enough to move to Prairie Village. Plus, with all of the active lifestyle options here, you’ve got to be able to treat yourself somehow.
With over 380,000 residents, Wichita is easily the largest city in Kansas, so, naturally, you might have expected it to be a bit higher on our list. But because we conducted our search based upon restaurants, music venues, etc. per capita, Wichita didn’t rank as high as it would have for its total number of exciting places. Don’t worry; No. 8 is still way more exciting than 25 (sorry, Hutchinson).
Interestingly, even though three universities have their main campuses in Wichita, the percent of the population between 18 and 34 is just 25 percent, ranking it 12th in this category. Where it really shined, though, was for its population density, its nightlife per capita, and its number of non-fast food restaurants per capita. Bars like Pumphouse and Mort’s Cigar Bar and restaurants like Bite Me BBQ bring Wichita’s downtown to life—especially that sliced brisket at Bite Me. Mmmmm.
With 34 percent of the population being between the ages of 18 and 34, there’s no doubt about it: Emporia is a college town—which is probably where there are so many nightlife venues per capita.
But even if places like Bruff’s Bar & Grill, Town Royal, or Club 707 aren’t exactly your thing, never fear, because of the presence Emporia State University and Flint Hills Technical College, this city is simply filled with things to do, for students and non-students alike.
For instance, Emporia ranked well for its number of arts and entertainment options per capita, including numerous galleries, theaters, and well, pretty much all of Commercial Street which is just filled with art supply shops and other entertainment.
The first of our No. 10 cities is Leavenworth. This city is well known for its historical role as a key supply base in the settlement of the West, and for its high number of prisons…
Okay, these things are pretty exciting—in their own ways—but in our analysis, Leavenworth was a whole lot more than past claims to fame and prisons. Leavenworth was among the top 10 when it came to its number of music venues per capita; plus, it ranked fourth for its lack of fast food. So what does one eat in Leavenworth if not fast food? How about actual good food (for which Leavenworth ranked ninth); places like Baan Thai Restaurant, Osaka, or Luigi’s.
This second No. 10 city may have recently been voted the “best place in Kansas to Raise Kids” by Businessweek and also referred to as the “retirement hub” of Kansas in the Wichita Business Journal, but don’t let that fool you: this place is plenty exciting, no matter how old you are.
In fact, Salina came in eighth in our analysis for its nightlife per capita, seventh for both its music venues and active life options per capita, and fifth overall for its arts and entertainment. There are places like Speakeasy and Big Nose Kates; there are festivals, fairs, and of course, the beautiful Stiefel Theater, and if you’re into horseback riding, you can even find that near Salina.
Sure, this place may be a good place to raise a family or retire, but that’s only because it’s so exciting.
The Wheat State: More Like The Way Cool State
Alright, you know what I mean. Kansas’s nickname of “the Wheat State” is just way too dull for a place containing the 11 cities listed above. Yes, Kansas may be home to a huge ball of twine, the nation’s windiest city, and a very strange past law forbidding ice cream on cherry pie (what?!), but it can also be a pretty darn exciting place to live—especially in places like Manhattan.