Most everyone enjoys a vacation, but only has the opportunity to take a handful at most per year. In between these longer trips, it is fun to have a few day trip options in your back pocket. We have lots of small to medium size towns and cities within a two to three hour drive from our hometown, which make excellent escapes. Chanute, Kansas is a good example of this, as it rests just a couple hours south of the Kansas City metro. We picked a beautiful Fall day to visit this southeast Kansas town situated in the Neosho River Valley. The city has the distinction of being noted as the Center of the Earth on Google Maps. (Mac version) We had recently met the man who developed Google Maps, and he informed us that while Lawrence, Kansas is the center on Windows version, he had assigned the role of duplicating the program on the Mac version to an assistant. Unbeknownst to him, the assistant hailed from Chanute, so this is why the two systems have different center points. There’s a little tidbit for your next trivia night!
We want to thank the Chanute, Kansas Tourism Office and the local businesses for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
Getting To Know Chanute, Kansas
There are a few different roads that lead to Chanute, but for our trip we chose 169 Highway South. At just over 100 miles away, it meant that our travel time would be right at 2 hours. After a hearty breakfast near home, we headed off for our destination. The path we chose took us by the home to another fun day trip we had recently made to Miami County. (You can read about the Miami County trip here.) We passed the drive reminiscing about past trips and discussing potential sites for future explorations. As we moved into the rolling hills of the Neosho River valley, we knew we were close to our target. A slight detour, due to road construction, had us passing through a couple of towns that were not yet on our radar. Bonus points for discovering potential new stops.
We arrived in Chanute and headed downtown to get a lay of the land. Our first stop would be for more coffee, but unfortunately we failed to realize that Fire Escape Coffee House is an evening destination. This non-profit endeavor is designed to engage the youth of the region and to offer them a destination where they can mingle with others their age in a positive fashion. Since it is targeted at high school age people, it has hours more geared around the evening time. No problem, we were able to walk down Main Street about three blocks and get our coffee fix at Grain Bin Restaurant. When we popped in there, we knew we were joining the locals. A couple of stools at the counter were all we needed to feel right at home.
Our itinerary was a little more laid back for this day, as we only had two historic sites targeted. This meant that there would be a lot more free time to explore our surroundings. After we had our fill of coffee, (Yes that does finally happen!) we began walking back up Main Street. By now some of the shops were open, so we decided to stop in and do some shopping. At each location, we would strike up conversations with the staff. The people we met in Chanute were so welcoming, but that is something we find in most every destination we explore in the Central U.S. There is a nice selection of shopping choices in Chanute including antiques, jewelry, home décor, and apparel. I was focused on taking photos, so Crystal occupied some time perusing the shops. She even found something at Trend & Main, which she would add to her wardrobe.
Old School Treats
Across the street, we noticed Cardinal Drug Store. From my reconnaissance prior to our trip, I knew that this was the home to one of the oldest soda fountains in the state of Kansas. It looks like lunch would have to wait, but after all they do say to eat dessert first. We stopped in and found the fountain occupies an entire corner of the store. Their menu has a variety of sodas, shakes, malts, and sundaes to choose from. Too many choices can certainly make us have to deliberate our final picks, but soon the decision was made. As we waited for our treats to be assembled, we looked around the store. Besides the obvious medicinal supplies, Cardinal Drug also carries some nice home décor pieces, as well as interesting gift ideas. Once our treats were ready, we sat down to enjoy them. This corner of the store is decorated with various Coca-Cola memorabilia and old medicine bottles, so we felt like we had been whisked back to an earlier age.
Exploring Where Explorers had Gone Before
The main stop during our day trip was planned for the Martin & Osa Johnson Safari Museum. (Yeah, it’s a mouthful.) This daring duo were an adventurous couple who set out to see and explore as much of the unknown spaces as possible. Focusing on the South Seas and Africa, they brought back some of the first images and moving pictures from the region. It is unbelievable the amount of hardships and hurdles they faced, as they paved the way for future explorers. It is truly inspiring for us, as we travel down our own path of exploration of the world we all call home. This little known museum is one that we would highly recommend to all travelers in the Midwest. (You can read more about this amazing couple here.)
Chanute’s Unique Namesake
After finishing our visit to the safari museum, we stepped across the street to the Chanute Historical Society Museum. Here we would become familiarized with another important historical figure in Chanute’s past. This small space is packed with some unique pieces that tell the story of Chanute’s formation and growth. It’s always interesting to discover that almost every city and town have some notable characters in their past. It’s just not every day that we find out that there is a connection between Chanute and the Wright Brothers. Who would have guessed? (You can read more about Octave Chanute here.)
With the sugar rushes from our midday treat wearing off, it was time to get something a little more substantial. We returned to Main Street, which was just a couple blocks from the museum. There was a lot of positive input about Playmakers Sports Bar & Grill. Our late afternoon arrival allowed us to get seated and served quickly. This place was a great way to complete our day’s adventures in Chanute, Kansas. (You can read more about Playmakers here.) After our meal, it was time to head back to our car, which we had parked many hours before.
A Little Additional Exploring
On our way home, we had to use the same detour from that morning. This allowed us to see a couple of towns we had noted that morning. One of these was Iola, Kansas, which had just wrapped up a festival in their huge downtown square. We parked and walked the square to see if it would make for another day trip destination. While wandering, we caught sight of this interesting mural and decided to capture it in a selfie. We were impressed that they requested us to savor their soda “in moderation”. We will certainly keep this in mind, but for now it was time to return to our hometown. Fortunately, there will be plenty of weekends for more day trip opportunities. What are some of your favorite surprises you discovered during a day trip? We would love to hear about them in the comments section below. Travel safely!