Topeka holds a special place in my heart as it is where my parents met (in an elevator!) and fell in love. My mom owned a small legal newspaper when I was a kid and we would take day trips over to Topeka to drop it off at the printer and then go to the zoo or Gage Park to explore and play. Recently my husband and I took our daughter to Topeka to enjoy a day trip of our own on a warm spring day. From our home in Olathe, the drive was only about an hour and 15 minutes long. Our first stop was the Topeka Zoo, followed by a picnic and play time in Gage Park across the street. We then drove to the other side of the park to visit the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center.
Topeka Zoo – This zoo is significantly smaller than the Kansas City Zoo, but that is one of the things that makes it so great. Toddlers and preschoolers can easily walk around the entire zoo without getting worn out (especially since there are NO hills.) We managed to visit every animal exhibit and play on the playground in just about an hour! They have all of the major zoo animals you’d expect: elephants, giraffes, primates, bears, lions, tigers, and my favorite, a hippo! We loved their nature inspired wooden playground featuring various climbing structures, tree stumps, and a pirate ship! Admission to the Topeka Zoo is only $5.75 for adults and $4.25 for kids age 3-12. Kids 2 and under get in free. And if that’s not cheap enough for you- show your KC Zoo or Sea Life Aquarium membership card to get 50% off admission with their reciprocity program!
Gage Park – This park is HUGE (160 acres to be exact) and to my delight, many of the playground features are unchanged since my childhood (other than a fresh coat of paint and new ground covering!) I have great memories of playing on the large cement animals like the whale, octopus, and kangaroos. The same mini train and carousel still run and are still inexpensive to ride ($1.50 per person.) We rode the mini train around the entirety of Gage Park and had great views of the ponds, rose garden and playgrounds. Our trip coincided with the start of the Topeka Tulip Festival, and Gage Park has beautiful displays of colorful tulips to enjoy. There are picnic tables (adult and child sized) throughout the park. During the summer you could even include a visit to the aquatic center situated in the center of the park. I wish we’d had more time to check out all of the different playgrounds (I counted at least five!) but that’s a great reason to go back soon!
Kansas Children’s Discovery Center: I’m going to make a bold statement- this is the best children’s museum in the area for the preschool set. We’ve enjoyed trips to Wonderscope and Science City, but the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center has so much more to offer. There are numerous activities to do inside, such as a doctor and vet clinic, art station, science and building activities, and a car mechanic shop. This is a preschooler’s pretend play paradise. One of our favorite activities was the building station, where, with an adult’s help, kids can build all kinds of things out of recycled materials, using REAL tools like hammers, screwdrivers and nails. My daughter chose to build a car with the help of her dad. For infants and young toddlers visiting the Discovery Center, there are gated off areas where they can safely explore and play. Outside there is TONS more to do, including a tree house and outdoor play area, bikes and scooters to ride on, a little pond filled with fish, a children’s garden, and our favorite, the music garden. We spent about 2 hours at the Discover Center but could have easily spent the entire day there. It was simply fantastic. Admission is $7.75 for adults and children, kids under 1 get in free. They do have reciprocity agreements with some children’s museums, such as Wonderscope, but not Science City. Check out their website for more information and hours.
Other places you should consider visiting while in Topeka:
Old Prairie Town – Features a log cabin, blacksmith shop, Victorian Prairie Mansion, one room schoolhouse, general store and drug store. You can also visit the 2 1/2 acre botanical garden located there.
ArtLab at the Mulvane Art Museum – Kids (and adults) can do hands on art projects, and it is FREE!
Brown vs. Board of Education Historical Site – Self led or guided tours are available to explore the exhibits about the history of segregation in America and the historic Brown v. Board decision.
Great Overland Station– This railroad museum includes “Choo Choo Junction,” an area just for kids. Train fanatics will also enjoy watching the trains go by (over 100 in a 24 hour period pass through here!) and there are simulators where you can sit at the controls of a train engine.