The capital of Kansas, Topeka is a great weekend destination offering a diverse choice of things to see and do. Take a historic tour of the Kansas State Capitol, visit the Mulvane Art Museum, go for a stroll along Lake Shawnee and see the exhibits at the Combat Air Museum. Best things to do in Topeka, KS with kids include the Great Overland Station, the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center and the Topeka Zoological Park. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Kansas State Capitol Building, Topeka, Kansas
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The Kansas State Capitol is a historic building and the seat of government for the U.S. State of Kansas. Also referred to as the Kansas Statehouse, it is the home of the state’s executive and legislative branches and is one of the top Topeka attractions.
Its dome is 304 feet high (93 meters), and it is one of the few state capitol buildings in the U.S. that still offers dome tours. These tours start on the fifth floor: from here visitors must climb 296 steps, as there is no elevator.
There are also historic tours of the building, and these tours include all five floors, allowing visitors to see some of the beautiful murals inside the building.
SW 8th and SW Van Buren, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-296-3966
2.Lake Shawnee, Topeka, Kansas
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Lake Shawnee is a manmade lake built between 1935 and 1939 as a Work Progress Administration project when more than 5,000 fishermen celebrated its completion in 1939.
Water activities include boating, fishing, and swimming, while non-water activities include camping, golfing, and tennis. There are many amenities and facilities at Lake Shawnee, some of which include beautiful gardens and large open areas, the Garden House, the Reynolds Lodge, and shelter houses for picnics. If you are wondering what to do in Topeka with kids, this is a great place to visit.
For activities there is a marina for boats, a children’s playground, sand volleyball courts, a swimming beach with a water slide, and tennis courts. Several programs and special events also take place at the lake.
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3.Kansas Museum of History, Topeka, Kansas
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Located on SW Sixth Avenue, the Kansas Museum of History is a state history museum and one of the best things to do in Topeka, Kansas. The Kansas Historical Society was founded in 1875, and its first home was in the Kansas State Capitol building.
Built in the 1980s to house the Society’s collection, the current building opened in 1984 as the Kansas Museum of History. Situated on an 80-acre site near the Potawatomi Mission, the museum houses galleries for its exhibits, classrooms for its outreach programs, and more.
There are ongoing exhibits, special temporary exhibits, and online exhibits. Some of the programs for children include Kansas Day, Museum After Hours, the History & Environmental Fair, the Sundown Film Festival, and West Fest.
6425 SW Sixth Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-272-8681
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4.Mulvane Art Museum, Topeka, Kansas
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The Mulvane Art Museum is an art museum and a department of Washburn University. Located on SW Jewell Avenue, the museum opened in 1924 thanks to the generosity of Joab R. Mulvane, a successful local businessman.
It is one of the oldest art museums west of the Mississippi River and has an impressive collection of 4,000 art objects. Although some of the drawings, paintings, pieces of decorative art, prints, and sculptures come from many places around the world, the museum focuses on the work of local Kansas artists and artists from the Mountain Plains area of the United States.
The museum’s education outreach programs include art classes, family events, public lectures, and much more.
1700 SW Jewell Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-670-1124
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5.Things to Do in Topeka, KS: Combat Air Museum
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The Combat Air Museum is an aircraft and aviation history museum situated at the Topeka Regional Airport/Forbes Field, which was at one time the Forbes Air Force Base.
The museum focuses on collecting, preserving, and displaying aircraft and artifacts related to U.S. aviation history. Founded in 1976, the museum is housed in two hangars at the airport.
The collection includes 36 aircraft, most of which are military and American. The aircraft date back to World War I and include World War II aircraft, jets from the 1950s to the 1980s, helicopters, military vehicles, and more. Places to Visit in Kansas
7016 SE Forbes Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-862-3303
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6.Kansas Children's Discovery Center, Topeka, Kansas
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The Kansas Children’s Discovery Center is a children’s museum located on SW Tenth Avenue. Opened in 2011, the 15,708 square foot building that houses the center is situated in a 4.5-acre section of Topeka’s Gage Park. If you are looking for fun things to do in Topeka, Kansas with kids, this is a great place for small children.
Inside, visitors will find a variety of hands-on exhibits where children can learn and explore through play. Topics these displays cover include art, science, and many more. Outside there are hiking trails, obstacle courses, and bike paths, and the center supplies the bicycles for the children.
In addition to the hands-on exhibits, the center offers daily programs, camps, field trips, and special events. The center also hosts birthday parties and offers a variety of party packages.
4400 SW Tenth Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-783-8300
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7.Gage Park, Topeka, Kansas
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Gage Park is a 160-acre city park located on SW Gage Boulevard in Topeka. Founded in 1899, it is one of the largest parks in the city. It features the Reinisch Rose Garden, which is 70 years old. It is a scenic place and a popular choice for weddings and other special events like birthday parties and family reunions.
Other features of the park include an outdoor theater and several attractions for children, including the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center where children and their families can explore art, nature, and science; the Topeka Zoo with its many exhibits, including an indoor tropical rain forest; and a miniature train.
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8.Topeka Performing Arts Center, Topeka, Kansas
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The Topeka Performing Arts Center hosts dance, music, theater, and other kinds of performances. Located on SE Eighth Street in the historic 1930s art deco Municipal Auditorium, the performing arts center was renovated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, transforming it into a state-of-the-art center without compromising the art deco architecture.
In addition to the main auditorium, there is a smaller theater called the Hussey Playhouse with a seating capacity of 120 and a banquet facility on the lower level called Hill’s Festival Hall. In addition to the performances, the theater has several education outreach programs such as Schooltime Theater and Young Artist. If you are looking for romantic date ideas, watch a performance at the Topeka Performing Arts Center.
214 SE Eighth Street, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-234-2787
9.Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade Historic Site
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Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade Historic Site
is an open-air museum and park in Topeka that consists of several historic buildings, botanical gardens, a general store, and a drug store.
The 1870 Victorian mansion was the largest house in the city when it was built. The 2.5-acre botanical gardens contain more than 500 varieties of flowers, shrubs, and trees, as well as a gazebo, a water garden, and a fountain.
Old Prairie Town is a short street of historic 19th century buildings that have been moved to the site, some of which include structures such as the 1880 Methodist church from Everest, KS. Guided tours are also available.
124 NW Fillmore Street, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-251-2989
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10. Topeka Zoological Park, Topeka, Kansas
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The Topeka Zoological Park is located within Gage Park in the north central part of the city. With its many exhibits, it is one of the most popular attractions in Topeka.
Gage Park was the result of a donation of 80 acres from the Gage family to Topeka in 1899. The zoo opened in 1933 but the first structure to house large mammals was not built until 1966. After that point, many new exhibits were built. The zoo was renovated in 2003 and several more exhibits were added.
Today these include Black Bear Woods, Discovering Apes, Jungle Cats, Kansas Carnivores, and the first indoor tropical rainforest in the U.S.
635 SW Gage Boulevard, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-368-9180
11.Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
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Located on SE Monroe Street, Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site is housed in the Monroe Elementary School, one of four schools in Topeka that became desegregated after the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision to end racial segregation in public schools.
Once the historic school was closed in 1975, it changed ownership several times until it was bought by the Trust for Public Land in 1991. The building and grounds are listed as a U.S. National Historic Landmark, and the National Park Service operates the site.
National Park Rangers lead 15 to 25 minute narrated tours of the building with its galleries and temporary exhibits.
1515 SE Monroe Street, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-354-4273
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12.Topeka Civic Theatre & Academy
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Founded in 1936, Topeka Civic Theatre presents well-known plays, musicals, and improvisation shows. The theater holds the record as the oldest continuously running community dinner theater in the United States. Its three stages are the Mainstage Theatre, the Oldfather Theatre, and the Helen Hocker Theatre.
Productions include familiar plays like Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and A Christmas Carol, and musicals like Bye Bye Birdie, and Bonnie and Clyde. The theatre provides entertainment for children such as Disney’s Aristocats Kids, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, The Last of the Dragons, and Skippyjon Jones.
The theatre offers a variety of classes including Broadway Sprouts, The Civic Stars, and Performance Experience as well as summer camps.
3028 SW Eighth Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-357-5211R
13.Things to Do in Topeka, KS: Ted Ensley Gardens
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Sitting on the west side of beautiful Lake Shawnee, the Ted Ensley Gardens are enhanced by the panoramic view of the lake.
Covering about 20 acres of land, the botanical gardens are known for their stunning plants and their special design. A path leads from the trailhead shelter through a 60-foot covered bridge that crosses a stream. The sidewalks lead visitors to the annual and perennial beds of flowers, rock gardens, rose gardens, and a meditation garden.
There are also several water features including ponds, waterfalls, and water gardens. Other features include a gazebo, a pergola, and picnic areas.
3650 SE West Edge Road, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-251-2600
14.Museum of the Kansas National Guard, Topeka, Kansas
© Museum of the Kansas National Guard
Located on SW Topeka Boulevard, the Museum of the Kansas National Guard is devoted to preserving the history and heritage of the Kansas National Guard.
It also honors the National Guard members who have served the state of Kansas as well as the United States. Opened in 1997, the museum contains exhibits of artifacts from the Kansas National Guard’s 145-year history. There are displays of objects from the Civil War to the Gulf War. Exhibits include arms and equipment such as tanks, a howitzer, and several different kinds of helicopters.
The museum hosts events throughout the year such as Civil War reenactments and other interesting activities.
6700 SW Topeka Boulevard, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-862-1020
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15.West Ridge Lanes & Family Fun Center , Topeka, Kansas
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Located on SW Westport Drive, the West Ridge Lanes & Family Fun Center is an activity center that features a bowling alley, go-karts, and miniature golfing.
The center also offers several options for people who like to bowl. Open Bowling allows visitors to bowl and provides bowling balls and shoes; there are also bumper bowling lanes for children. With its food and drink, loud music, and its black, disco, laser, and runway lights, Cosmic Bowling is definitely for fun-loving adults. Leagues can be formed with as few as eight people for League Bowling.
The center welcomes field trips as well, and students can take advantage of several party packages.
1935 SW Westport Drive, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-273-3333R
16.Cedar Crest, Topeka, Kansas
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Located on SW Cedar Crest Road on the west side of Topeka, Cedar Crest is the official residence of the governor of the state of Kansas.
Built in 1928 on a 244-acre estate overlooking the Kansas River, the building features architecture that was designed in the French style, and it is surrounded by gardens, ponds, and hiking trails. It was given to the state in 1955 and became the Kansas Governor’s Residence in 1962.
The mansion is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and was renovated during the 1990s. The land surrounding the mansion is now known as MacLennan Park. Tours of Cedar Crest are offered to interested visitors.
One SW Cedar Crest Road, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-296-3636
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17.Things to Do in Topeka, Kansas: Sports Center
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The Sports Center, an entertainment center located on SW Tenth Avenue in Topeka, features a variety of activities that are fun for the whole family.
These include Go Karts with full size karts for adults, two-passenger karts, and smaller karts for children. The center also has two 18 hole putter golf courses and an 18 hole miniature golf course full of fun objects like animals and flowers, a golf driving range for experienced and beginner golfers, nine batting cages, and much more.
Inside there is an arcade with many different kinds of games to play as well as a snack bar. The center is a popular place for special events like birthday parties and school outings.
6545 SW Tenth Avenue, Topeka, Kansas, Phone: 785-272-5522
More weekend destinations: Best Things to Do in Lawrence, Kansas.
18 Best Things to Do in Topeka, Kansas
- Kansas State Capitol Building, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Courtesy of sframe - Fotolia.com
- Lake Shawnee, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Courtesy of fotolupa - Fotolia.com
- Kansas Museum of History, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Courtesy of Monet - Fotolia.com
- Mulvane Art Museum, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Mulvane Art Museum
- Things to Do in Topeka, KS: Combat Air Museum, Photo: Combat Air Museum
- Kansas Children's Discovery Center, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Kansas Children's Discovery Center
- Gage Park, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Courtesy of aunyaluck - Fotolia.com
- Topeka Performing Arts Center, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Topeka Performing Arts Center
- Old Prairie Town at Ward-Meade Historic Site, Photo: Courtesy of derfotomaxx - Fotolia.com
- Topeka Zoological Park, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Topeka Zoological Park
- Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, Photo: NPS Photo
- Topeka Civic Theatre & Academy, Photo: Topeka Civic Theatre & Academy
- Things to Do in Topeka, KS: Ted Ensley Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Roxana - Fotolia.com
- Museum of the Kansas National Guard, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Museum of the Kansas National Guard
- West Ridge Lanes & Family Fun Center , Topeka, Kansas, Photo: West Ridge Lanes & Family Fun Center
- Cedar Crest, Topeka, Kansas, Photo: Courtesy of backyardphoto - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Topeka, Kansas: Sports Center, Photo: Sports Center
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of digidreamgrafix - Fotolia.com
Attraction Spotlight: Kansas Museum of History
The Kansas Museum of History has many exhibits that give information about the history of Kansas. The Main Gallery tells the story of Kansas. The exhibits take visitors through the various periods of Kansas history beginning with the native peoples that once inhabited the region. The exhibits then go on to tell of frontier expeditions, Bleeding Kansas, the Civil War era, settlement towns, railroad construction, the 20th century, the birth of fast food and recent past. Some of the key attractions in the Main Gallery are the 1880’s Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, a 1914 Longren biplane, Custer’s boots, Henry Brown’s rifle, and White’s Printing Press.
The State Historical Society was charged with preserving the history of Kansas during their inception in 1875. The Society that runs the museum was named the state trustee for Kansas history in 1905. The end of the civil war gave insight to the Kansas Editors and Publishers Association, who founded the Historical Society, to collect artifacts of the time, and to preserve the history of Kansas' contribution to the war to end slavery.
The Kansas Museum of History was built in 1984, long after the Society was founded, because they had no longer had the space to preserve all of Kansas' artifacts and important items. Now, the Kansas Museum of History is charged with many other tasks and accomplishments. Many of the great employees that work at the non-profit Society at the museum are Curators, Preservationists, Researchers who investigate and publish findings of their work, educators, historians, field service experts, and technical experts.
The 1880’s locomotive is the centerpiece of the exhibits at the Kansas Museum of History. It is the oldest surviving locomotive from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. The locomotive displayed in the exhibit was designed to climb the steep terrain of the region. The locomotive has been refurbished twice for static display.
The Main Gallery- Longren’s biplane is the fifth biplane built by Albin K. Longren. Longren was a Leonardville native. The plane was sold to Topeka native Phillip Billard who was killed in France during WWI. Longren continued to make planes until 1926. The biplane has a wingspan of 26 feet and can reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. The Main Gallery tells of many different groups of people that make up the history of Kansas. People included in this exhibit include Native American, early settlers, Union soldiers during the Civil War, and freed slaves who made Kansas their home.
Photo Exhibit of WWI Inventions- Many inventions made during WWI were made from necessity and their use endures today. Several of these inventions were made by resident Kansans. A WWI era wristwatch owned by Kansan Lewis W. Arnold is on display in the inventions gallery. The zipper and Kimberly Clarke Kleenex are two other Kansas inventions on display in the gallery.
Discovery Place- Features a hands-on gallery in the Kansas Museum of History where children up to the age of 9 can learn about the history of Kansas through fun, interactive, and imaginative exhibits. Laura’s cabin, the Oregon trail, and a Plains Indian tipi are among the stations children can explore. Children can dress up, ride on a stationary train, and cook in a play kitchen. Discovery Place can be reserved for parties and is free for Kansas Historical Society members.
The Early 20th Century Exhibit- The Kansas Museum of History displays information about culture, society, and achievements in the 20th century. In this exhibit, visitors will see a hammer used by Carry Nation, a windmill that pumped water for a Wabaunsee County farm, the Longren biplane, and a 1930’s Chevrolet automobile.
The Fast-Food Exhibit- Kansas Museum of History details the birth of the modern fast-food industry in Kansas. The exhibit includes a 1950’s diner vignette, an early McDonald’s sign, a Harvey House diner gong, and a Coca Cola vending machine. Kansas saw many of the nation’s first fast-food chain restaurants as they began emerging in the 20th century.
Other exhibits include an impressive catalog of online exhibits which can be accessed online through the Kansas Museum of History’s website. Exhibits include “Beyond Lewis and Clark: The Army Explores the West,” “Forces of Nature,” “From Far Away Russia: Russian-Germans in Kansas,” “Lincoln in Kansas” and “Moments of Glory: Kansas’ Achievements.”
The Kansas Museum of History houses a variety of historical documents and artifacts available as resources to the public. The state archives contain historical documents, government records, and family history. This convenient research facility is open to the public. The research department also contains a museum collection, archaeology collection, and historic preservation section.
The Nature Trail surrounding the Kansas Museum of History provides an outdoor area for learning, exploration, relaxation, and exercise. The 2.5 miles of trails combine nature and history with interpretive signs, activity guides, guided tours, and educational events.
The Kansas Museum of History also contains a museum store with unique gifts that celebrates Kansas’ rich history. The shop is open to visitors during visiting hours and sells and wide selection of gifts and books.
6425 SW 6th Avenue, Topeka, KS 66615, Phone: 785-272-8681
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Attraction Spotlight: Kansas State Capitol
Located in downtown Topeka, the Kansas State Capitol is an architectural treasure. Built on a foundation of native limestone, this beautiful building took thirty-seven years to develop and finally completed in 1903. A visit to the state Capitol is educational, exciting, and affordable. With so many things to do and exhibits to see, the whole family will walk away with a better idea of how the state was founded and on what principles.
The twenty-acre site was donated by Cyrus K. Holliday, president of the Topeka Town Company and one of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway founders. Construction began in 1866, but the stone selected for construction didn’t harden as it should, and after the winter of 1867, the foundation crumbled. Limestone from Geary County replaced the foundation and construction continued on the east wing.
Limestone from Cottonwood Falls comprises the west wing and other parts of the building. Construction on the north and south wings didn’t begin until 1883. When the building was completed, the total cost amounted to $3.2 million.
The Capitol building symbolizes pride in Kansas’ path to statehood and hopes for the future. The founders intended the statehouse to be used for daily business of the state government, and a major renovation in 2014 returned the Capitol to its original beauty.
The architecture, murals, statues, and other artwork are on display for visitors daily, and an online tour gives an overview of each floor and its highlights. Included in the Capitol building are classrooms and auditoriums for learning experiences, as well as exhibits on the history of the state government and the building itself.
The lobby floor depicts all 105 counties in the state of Kansas, and the map is situated to reflect accurately the cardinal directions. The images on the wall are reproductions of early 20th century Kansas postcards, and the stone in the lobby is limestone quarried in Kansas.
Photographs in the auditorium reflect the diversity of Kansas’s heritage from immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, who brought their Old-World traditions with them. These traditions continue today among Kansas’ growing population of 2.9 million people from a variety of origins.
The people of a young Kansas, even amid financial trouble, set out to build a Capitol building rivaling that of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Displayed in the construction hall are tools used by the stonemasons during construction. Other historical items from the most recent restoration are on display as well.
Kansas Walk of Honor- Located on the sidewalk outside the Kansas State Capitol grounds, the Kansas Walk of Honor pays tribute to people who have contributed to either the state or national government who have significant connections to Kansas. It’s a Hollywood Walk of Fame for Kansans and is a beautiful way to spend the afternoon outside, picnicking and enjoying the Kansas weather.
Kansas Day- Every year, Kansas Day is celebrated in Topeka with an awards ceremony and results from the Happy Birthday, Kansas! photo contest. The University of Kansas Chamber Singers perform, and the Kansas City cake is presented. Everyone can enjoy cake in celebration of the state’s birthday.
Schools participate in Kansas Day as a learning opportunity for students to visit the Capitol and study the state’s history. Historical tours and dome tours are available for large groups on this day.
Shopping and Dining
The Capitol Store sells gifts and souvenirs related to Kansas and the Capitol building. Arts and crafts, posters, books, clothing, collectibles, and toys all make the perfect gift or reminder of a day at the Capitol. Also available are items made from the old Capitol copper including jewelry.
Downtown Topeka offers a variety of dining experiences all within a few blocks of the Capitol building. Visitors can enjoy eating some tasty Kansas barbecue at Lonnie Q’s, and then walk a few blocks to relax while having dessert at Hazel Hill Chocolate.
Lonnie Q’s- While visiting Topeka, try Lonnie Q’s BBQ for traditional Midwest smoked meats, baked beans, and unique flavor. A hidden gem off the beaten path, Lonnie Q’s offers excellent BBQ at an affordable price and will round out any visit to this beautiful state’s capital.
Hazel Hill Chocolate- When guests are done filling their barbecue urge, they can stroll down the street to Hazel Hill Chocolate to satisfy their sweet tooth. This chocolate shop provides delicious homemade delicacies, while letting customers view them as they are being made. Everyone will find something they can enjoy as Hazel Hill Chocolate offers caramel apples, hand-crafted truffles, butter toffee popcorn, and many other treats.
Kansas State Capitol 6425 SW 6th Ave Topeka, KS 66615, Phone: 785-272-8681
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