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Settled as a free-state city on what was part of the Shawnee Indian Reservation, the city of Lawrence was founded as a staunchly abolitionist hub in a once very politically tumultuous Kansas Territory. Since the get-go, it’s had independence and equality as a founding principle, which, back in the days of Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War, made Lawrence a hotbed of pro- and anti-slavery violence. Heard of John Brown? This was his family’s neck of the woods, and where he became a polarizing figure in American history. This steadfast attitude of equality has remained at the core of Lawrence’s identity, and has continued to give the city a progressive edge that belies its geography.

Thankfully things have calmed down in the last century and a half, and Lawrence has emerged a city with charm, quirk, and character to spare. While it once was a hotbed of skirmishes, now it’s a mecca for everything craft beer to track and field. Local art galleries, boutiques selling local artisan-made handiwork, record shops, cafes, and antique stores festoon the main drag—Massachusetts Street—and provide scores of ways to fill your days.

While you should certainly explore every small facet of Massachusetts Street that piques your interest, you’ll also do well to check out some of the larger icons of the city. Sure, Lawrence is brimming with boutiques, shops, and cafes, but it’s also home to some high caliber museums and stunning architecture. Explore KU’s campus, dive into the past at one of the many museums, or maybe sit and scratch your chin while you contemplate some art at the Spencer Museum. Whichever way you go, there’s a good chance you’ll leave Lawrence with a bit more culture than you came here with.

Oh, and you may have heard of a thing called basketball? Well, Joe Naismith, basketball’s inventor, had a stint at KU as a chapel director and then as a coach. While he didn’t write the original rules during his time here, they ended up here at the DeBruce Center (on the KU campus). All that seems pretty fitting, considering KU has been dubbed “the best place in America to watch college basketball.” Even if it’s not normally your thing, it’s worth watching a game—whether it’s in the Allen Fieldhouse if one of the many local bars playing it live.

Speaking of bars: Lawrence is a haven for nightowls. Brandishing one of the most vibrant music scenes in the country, there’s a good chance you’ll find a solid place to sample local sounds while you’re here. There’s also a raft of craft cocktail bars, a slew of microbreweries (most of which are open for day drinking, too), as well as mainstay local dives and relaxing wine bars. All that to say, if you need a drink, Lawrence is a great spot.

Vibrant, historic, and proud, Lawrence offers visitors character, cultural richness, and all kinds of good times. Whether you’re just in town in search of a quick bite to eat, or you’re planning on settling in and exploring for a few days, there’s a good chance you’ll be at least a little dazzled by this small but mighty city.

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