Road tripping through the midwest isn’t exactly the most thrilling scenery. But, if you are like me, you can find beauty almost anywhere, including driving through the prairies of Kansas. And who can resist finding a small town that claims to be Dorothy’s official hometown? I couldn’t resist stopping and exploring what made Liberal Kansas special. Here are the top six things to do in Liberal Kansas.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Dorothy’s House/Land of Oz
My first stop in Liberal was Dorothy’s House, where you can enjoy a magical journey following Dorothy’s footsteps as a Kansas farm girl and her transformation through the Land of Oz. I ended up parking right in front of a large statue of Dorothy with Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” There is a little white house with Dorothy in the front and yellow brick pathways leading all over the complex. There weren’t any signs telling me where to start, and I mistakenly followed a group of people heading into the large warehouse behind Dorothy’s house.
The tour guide was a bit thrown off as I tagged along with the group. Little did I know that I crashed a paid tour and was supposed to get a ticket in the main building. I missed out on a good portion of the tour, but the guide was nice enough to let me continue (Don’t worry, I paid for the tour afterward). Inside the warehouse doors, you go from the sunny skies of Kansas to a dark adventure through the Land of Oz. I got a huge kick from walking through a life-sized version of the Wizard of Oz. It was almost like I was In the movies, and I started humming the Lollipop Song when the Munchkins showed up (Don’t judge me, I’m a kid at heart)!
The 5,000 sq ft animated Land of Oz takes you through Dorothy’s adventure following the yellow brick road, joining up with her trusting companions (Scarecrow, Tinman, and the Lion), defying the Wicked Witch of the West, and meeting the Wizard of Oz. This is quite the adventure of walking through corn fields and apple trees, hiding from flying monkeys, and even seeing a horse of a different color. The journey culminates with the Wizard helping Dorothy return to her beloved Kansas.
In the end, you get to wander through an unbelievable amount of memorabilia, including L. Frank Baum’s writing desk (the creator of this timeless classic), the actual sparkly red shoes, and of course, my favorite, the lyrics of the Lollipop Song. At this point, the tour guide said goodbye to the group, took me under her wing, and escorted me back to Dorothy’s house, a 1907 house preserved to replicate the Gale Kansas farmhouse. I wandered through Auntie Em’s kitchen and the rest of Dorothy’s house before heading back to the main building to pay for my ticket.
Dorothy’s House and the Land of Oz’s open hours are from Mon-Sat 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Summer hours) and Tues-Sat 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Winter hours). Their address is 567 Yellow Brick Road, Liberal, KS 67901. Don’t be like me and forget that admission is required.
Mid America Museum
I was excited to see that there was an aviation museum in town. Of course, the unassuming hanger/museum is located next to the airfield. You enter through the gift shop to purchase your admission ticket. Once you have done that, you are free to walk through the massive museum with over 100 airplanes. A map is available, but it is fun to wander around and look at all the aircraft. There is also an area for kids to play, learn basic flying principles, learn to fly on a simulator, and even a scavenger game with finding miniature replicas of the airplanes scattered around the museum.
Mid-America Air Museum is one of the premier aviation museums in the country with general aviation aircraft, warbirds, helicopters, and even experimental and home-built aircraft. During World War II, the airfield was a B-24 Liberator training base that prepared more crews and pilots than any other US airfield. The original WWII runways are still visible. The museum is in what was once a discarded Beechcraft manufacturing plant that used to build the Skipper, Sport, Sierra, and Duchess. If you are interested in historical military planes, there are 17 World War II aircraft on-site, six Beechcraft on-site, eight aircraft from the Korean War, 14 that flew in the Vietnam War, and even a MASH helicopter.
I enjoyed my time admiring all the aircraft. It took me back to my childhood when my dad would take my sisters and me to the Selfridge Air Show. As an Airforce veteran, my dad knew all about every one of the planes and loved to tell us all about them. Expect to spend 1-2 hours going through this marvelous museum. Mid-America Air Museum can be found at 2000 W. Second Street. The museum’s open hours are Tues-Sat, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m to 5 p.m.
International Pancake Hall of Fame
Do you like pancakes? Well, the town of Liberal, Kansas, loves them. So much so that if you show up in Liberal on Fat Tuesday, you might find yourself an unofficial racer in the International Pancake Race. For 70 years, there has been a friendly rivalry between Liberal and Olney, England, where the women of these two towns square off in a fun, fast-paced race to the finish line while carrying their skillets filled with pancakes. In addition to the race, you can enjoy an all-you-can-eat pancake and sausage breakfast, eating and flipping contests, talent competitions, a parade, and a 5K run along with children’s races days before leading up to the International race.
The International Pancake Day Hall of Fame is at the finish line of the big race at 318 N. Lincoln. When you visit the Hall of Fame, you will learn about the history and importance of International Pancake Day. If you do want to go into the museum, you need to call 620-624-6423 to schedule a tour.
Seward County Historical Museum
Another interesting thing to do in Liberal Kansas is to explore the Seward County Historical Museum. I recently spent a lot of time researching Conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his exploration journey from Central Mexico north to Southwest Kansas for an article . His journey with his men searching for “Cibola” in 1541 left behind a legendary expedition, and a few small items, including a Spanish bridle bit, are on display in the Seward County Museum. In addition to the Coronado items, you will be able to see items that helped to settle the territory during the craziness of the Wild West and even more civilized items like an antique organ, quilts, and other home furnishings from that timeframe.
One of my favorite things while traveling is hunting for street art. I am constantly surprised that even the smallest towns I visit have some amazing art displays on the building walls. And Liberal Kansas was no exception. It didn’t take long to find these gems as they were all easily found in the downtown area around the International Pancake Day Hall of Fame building. The other neat thing is that Liberal embraces being Dorothy’s home completely, as there is a statue of her and Toto downtown.
Brickhouse Barbecue & Brew
Brickhouse Barbecue & Brew is a fantastic restaurant to eat at while in Liberal, Kansas. I wanted to try Kansas BBQ in Kansas and wasn’t disappointed. It was delicious, and as they say on their menu, They do BBQ right! I ordered a combo plate with a choice of two types of meat and two sides. It was just the right amount of food after a busy day exploring Liberal. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt to enjoy a nice cider while eating outside on their patio. I stopped in between lunch and dinner and had the whole patio to myself.Booking.com
This little rest stop is after Liberal on the Kansas Turnpike toward St. Louis, but I think it represents what Kansas used to look like. The Flint Hills is the largest remaining intact tallgrass prairie worldwide and stretches from northern Kansas into Oklahoma. It is named for the flint that lies under the rich prairie grass, along with limestone and shale. Each summer, cattle from as far away as Mexico graze these hillsides where hundreds of thousands of bison once roamed. I took a little break and listened to the wind blowing through the tall grass. The Bazaar Cattle Pens were empty, but cattle were grazing in the distance. I can almost imagine ranchers moving cattle herds from far-off places to bring them here for endless amounts of prairie grass and then sitting atop their horses listening to the wind blow through the grass as I am doing now.
It would have been faster if I had driven through Oklahoma. However, I’m so glad I took this Kansas route. I followed Dorothy’s footsteps in the Emerald City and the Land of Oz. Exploring all the things to do in Liberal Kansas was a treat, which makes me want to get off the highway more often to take the back roads and find more of these small-town gems. Have you found a place you weren’t planning on visiting but are so glad you did? Let me know where it was and what made it special in the comments.
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