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What makes Lawrence so special? Among other things, its pioneer resilience, fiery history, basketball tradition, and a nationally recognized arts scene – a unique mix that creates the rich Lawrence culture you can’t find anywhere else. In a valley bounded by two rivers, the Kansas and the Wakarusa, Douglas County is filled with gently rolling hills, shady, tree-lined streets, and four manageable seasons instead of deep winter or long sweltering summers. This friendly, active, and culturally diverse community is a perfect combination of small-town hospitality and big-city attractions.
1. A Timeless Legacy
Sometimes called “Athens of the Kaw” or “Athens of Kansas,” Lawrence is a mecca of knowledge, arts, and culture. This nickname for Lawrence began as early as the town’s founding, when surveyors purposefully aligned the main street to the North Star. In this way they were following a tradition of ancient Rome and Greece, hoping the new city would aspire to the achievements of ancient cultures. In less than a decade, the young abolitionist town was nearly destroyed not once, but twice by pro-slavery sympathizers bent on breaking the city’s spirit. Visionaries have described the town’s resolve to rebuild as “a Phoenix rising from the ashes.” Lawrence’s resilience remains strong and today’s historic landmarks and museums reflect a long-standing legacy of pushing boundaries for freedom.
2. Fresh Air and an Active Lifestyle
Maybe Lawrence’s playful nature and emphasis on fitness is the legacy of James Naismith, who invented basketball to help young men stay physically fit in winter months as residents of Douglas County enjoy staying active year-round. The city has 54 parks and open spaces including hiking and biking trails, four golf courses, four swimming facilities, and five recreation centers — the newest being Rock Chalk Park and Sports Pavilion, the completely free gym and exercise park that houses an indoor walking track and sports arena. Nearby Clinton Lake and Clinton State Park not only attracts boating and water sport activity enthusiasts, it also attracts hikers, nature photographers, mountain bikers, wildflower and wildlife observers, and even cross-country skiers.
3. Nationally Ranked Healthcare
Many locations require a long drive to reach quality medical care, but it’s Lawrence Memorial Hospital, KU Med, and the KU Hospital that people in such locations travel to- facilities that are right in our backyard. Top quality medical care is available not only at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, recognized as one of the nation’s top 100 hospitals for three years in a row by Truven Health, but also with a 45-minute drive to Kansas City to the University of Kansas Medical Center. KU Med Center is the region’s premier academic medical center and is home to the KU Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Health Professionals in addition to housing over 20 top research centers. Located on the same campus as KU Med, the University of Kansas Hospital is nationally ranked in all 12 medical and surgical specialties as well as being the region’s only Nationally Verified Level 1 Trauma Center.
4. Good Eats and Fresh Foods
Simply put: Lawrence is a great place to eat out. Wood-fired ovens, European bistros, microbreweries, and numerous specialty locally owned cafes featuring Chinese, East Indian, Greek, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Vietnamese menus are part of reason people come to Lawrence for a dinner. Coffee shops, breakfast specialty cafes, and juice bars are scattered throughout the city. Food trucks appear at special events most boasting farm-fresh ingredients on their menus. On Saturday mornings, area farmers truck in freshly picked produce and frozen meats for a thriving Lawrence Farmer’s Market. In the growing season, the Farmers Market also schedules weekday sales in neighborhood locations. For those not wishing to venture to the farmers market on a regular basis, the Rolling Prairie Farmers Alliance farmers cooperative offers a subscription service providing customers with weekly harvest of seasonal produce.
5. We’ve Got Rhythm, We’ve Got Music.
A strong rhythm runs through Lawrence. Its music scene includes nationally acclaimed performers of all genres as well as innumerable aspiring local bands, street musicians, and a city band that gives free summer concerts in the park. With the local KU School of Music you can also hear aspiring musicians as they master their instruments as well as choral, orchestral, brass, and wind ensembles. KU’s Lied Center of Kansas brings Broadway and Metropolitan Opera musicians and even the occasional classic rock legends, while Liberty Hall, the Granada, and the Bottleneck book national and regional contemporary, rock, hip-hop, and country genre artists. Jazz and blues aficionados find space to groove at the daily Jazzhaus events and enjoy the several annual area jazz festivals.
6. Unique Arts & Culture
Lawrence’s arts community attracts a range of artistic talent and acclaim. Arts writer John Villani ranked Lawrence 15th in his book “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.” Residents are encouraging further involvement in our thriving culture by developing a cultural arts district funded with one of only 55 grants awarded nationally by ArtPlace America to support creative placemaking. Local work abounds on street corners and in galleries tucked into shops and cafes throughout town, bookshops host talks by local authors and poets, and the Lawrence Arts Center exhibits local work as well as offering a range of classes for residents to explore hidden talents. Likewise, audiences applaud local talent in productions by local community theatre, Theatre Lawrence. Alternative theatre groups often stage new work by area playwrights. Internationally acclaimed performers take center stage at KU’s Lied Center of Kansas and the annual Haskell Indian Art Market attracts native artists and collectors from throughout the nation.
7. Athletics for All
While KU basketball rules in Lawrence, there are many other games in town and nearby where Kansas City has three pro sports teams: the Chiefs, the Royals, and Sporting Kansas City. Lawrence also schedules sporting events such as our annual Olympic Shot-Put tournament, the Tour of Lawrence, and other cycling events. Prefer to do more than watch from the sidelines? Whether you’re looking to compete in a golf game, a triathlon, learn how to paddle board or join a pickleball, basketball, or baseball league, Lawrence has a competitive sport with your name on it. The city’s new Sports Pavilion includes basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts as well as an indoor track.
8. A Thirst for Knowledge
There is no end to Douglas County’s Lifelong Learning potential. As a college town, Lawrence not only offers classroom courses, but museums, workshops, symposiums, and special events through three area universities – Baker University, Haskell Indian Nations University, and the University of Kansas. You can learn a language, painting, computer skills, area history, dance and more through City recreation programs and organizations such as the Lawrence Arts Center and the Douglas County Senior Center.
9. A Prime Location
Lawrence is in the heartland – not too far from anywhere you may want to travel. Located 45 minutes from Kansas City International Airport you’re just a plane ride away from your favorite travel destination. Nearby you will also find a plethora of Kansas City metropolitan area shopping, sporting events, theatre, cultural performances, art, and historical museums. Lawrence itself provides many of the amenities of a large metropolitan area while still maintaining a strong sense of community and a unique perspective that can be found only in Lawrence.
10. “We have tomorrow bright before us, like a flame.” – Langston Hughes
The resilient spirit of early Lawrence remains strong today, visible in the city’s historic surroundings, vibrant business district, and the community’s dedication to freedom and justice. The City of Lawrence adopted a burning flame as its logo inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes, who spent much of his childhood in Lawrence. Lawrence is a city that embraces change – and the future.