With a variety of fascinating things to do in Abilene, Kansas., you’ll quickly see why TravelAwaits called it the “Best Small Town to Visit in the U.S.” in 2023 and the Midwest Travel Network awarded it “Destination of the Year” in 2022.
Note: Our visit to Abilene was hosted by Visit Abilene and this post is sponsored. As always, the opinions expressed are our own.
There’s lots to do in Abilene
Once a major cattle town on the Chisholm Trail and hometown of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abilene is a popular Midwest tourist destination. Not only does it offer visitors a look back into the Wild West and an in-depth study in presidential history, you can also see quirky roadside attractions and “Worlds Largest” things there.
Best of all, this rural community of 6,500 people is home to some of the friendliest, most welcoming folks we met on our summer travels. Read on to see some of the best things to do in Abilene, Kansas!
Rest easy at The Garfield
Let’s start with where to stay when you visit Abilene, Kan. There are a few chain hotels in town, along with some beautiful bed and breakfasts. But if you want a unique space with plenty of room to spread out and prepare your own meals, book a room at The Garfield.
We loved that it was clean, convenient, and quiet. Our room had a full kitchen, living room, separate bedroom, as well as a washer and dryer. The Garfield even offered covered parking.
Full-time residents of the building welcomed us with open arms and were excited to share about the home they love. One apartment resident who also attended Garfield Elementary School as a child told us she used to take kindergarten naps on the floor where her dining room table sits today. How cool is that? Check out this full tour of our room, #209, below.
Now that we’ve covered where to stay, let’s chat about what to do when you get to Abilene.
Visit the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene
Most trips to Abilene begin with a visit to the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home, and we know why. It is home to more than 26 million pages of historical records and papers, 335,000 photographs, and more than 70,000 artifacts related to our 34th president.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home has multiple buildings on a expansive, well-kempt campus. There’s a welcome building, a presidential museum, and the actual library as well as Eisenhower’s boyhood home where David and Ida Eisenhower raised six boys.
This is the only presidential library that offers a tour of the president’s childhood home, restored to its original condition. Timed, guided tours of the house include looks into the first-floor rooms. Photos are allowed, but videos are not. Be sure to look for the wooden radio in the back parlor. It’s where Eisenhower’s mother listened as he addressed the nation.
When you go, purchase your tickets to the museum and the house tour in the main entry building. There’s also a nice gift shop where you can purchase presidential merchandise, including “I Like Ike” memorabilia, t-shirts, books, and even postcards.
If walking, wear comfortable shoes for your visit, as the campus is large and buildings spread out. Plan at least three to four hours–there’s a lot of history around President Eisenhower from his childhood in Abilene to his career in the Army, time leading all Allied forces in Europe and his Presidency. You can even see the pedestal table around which the D-Day Invasion was planned. If only it could talk!
Before you leave, pay respects to President Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, at the Place of Meditation on the campus. It’s where the couple, along with their first born son, Doud Dwight Eisenhower, were laid to rest.
- A limited number of manual wheelchairs are available for visitors on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- All buildings are equipped with ramps and elevators as appropriate.
- Hearing aid telecoil loops are in place in the museum exhibits.
- National Archives’ Service Animal Policy permits dogs and other service animals specifically trained to perform tasks for persons with disabilities. Therapy animals are not considered service animals under the ADAAA 2008. Service animals must be under the control of their handlers at all times.
PIN FOR LATER
Experience the life in the Seelye Mansion
Dr. A.B. Seelye (who wasn’t really a doctor of anything), made a fortune selling patent medicine and built the Seelye Mansion in Abilene for his family in 1904. And the house is a beauty!
As the home was being built, Dr. Seelye’s wife, Jennette, traveled to St. Louis to the 1904 World’s Fair. There, she purchased the very latest in technology and fixtures to fill their new 25-room Georgian Revival style home. While the home cost $55,000 to build ($1.9 million in today’s dollars), Jennette spent $60,000 for the furnishings (almost $2.1 million!), most of which remain in the home today.
Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was a guest of the Seeleys, designed some of its furniture. Thomas Edison personally sent a team to wire the home for his new light bulbs. Since it was built, the decor has mostly stayed the same, making it a living time capsule.
Unlike most mansion tours with roped-off rooms, the Seelye Mansion is still a working home. The owner, Terry Tietjens, welcomes guests and invites them to actually use the furnishings. His mission has been to preserve the house so that people can genuinely feel its historic grandeur. Yes, this meant we could sit in the chairs that Wright built!
You’ll definitely want to make time to tour this unique estate that has hosted multiple presidents (though never Eisenhower), a number of famous pharmaceutical executives, and even famed bandmaster John Philip Sousa. While there, be sure to stroll around Dr. Seelye’s patent medicine lab in the visitor’s center.
PRO TIP: Don’t miss the Box Ball game in the basement. It’s one of just two complete Box Ball lanes in the world and is likely the last one that actually works.
Explore the past at the Dickinson County Heritage Center
The Dickinson County Heritage Center tells the story of Abilene from its early days as a Wild West frontier town to its present-day as a thriving agricultural community.
Featuring exhibits on the county’s history, culture, and people, the museum also has a large display on the history of the telephone. It turns out Abilene is the original home to the company that would one day become Sprint.
You’ll want to plan some time here playing with the historic phone displays. Even (especially) kids like us in our 50’s, will have fun playing telephone. Our wrists got a workout dialing numbers from our childhood on rotary phones. We tried to race, but rotary phones only go so fast.
We also got to see how automatic switchboards worked (we played for that machine for quite some time). This should definitely be on your list of things to do in Abilene, Kansas.
Take a spin on the C.W. Parker Carousel
The C.W. Parker Carousel is a beautifully restored carousel that dates back to 1901. Visitors of all ages can enjoy a ride on the carousel, which features hand-carved horses and other animals.
Each of the horses has a name, and Steve loved that he got to ride “Dan Patch,” a historically famous horse whose name was also featured in the “Music Man” musical.
The horses on this carousel don’t glide up and down on a pole, rather they rock back and forth as though they’re galloping.
Things to do in Abilene, Kansas: chase history at the Greyhound Hall of Fame Museum
Abilene is known as the “Greyhound Racing Capital of the World,” and the Greyhound Hall of Fame Museum is a must-see for any fan of greyhound racing. Heck, even if you’re not a fan it’s worth a visit.
The museum features exhibits on the history of greyhound dog racing, as well as profiles of famous greyhounds. Best of all, when you walk in the door, you’ll get a friendly, cold-nosed welcome from one of these beautiful dogs.
Take a walk in Abilene (there are many nice options)
Is there anything nicer than a relaxing evening stroll? The Eisenhower Park and Rose Garden offers a walk through gorgeous flowers and past a beautiful fountain. We found it to be a relaxing way to end a busy day of touring.
While we were there, we also found the World’s Largest Belt Buckle. Just a short walk from the rose garden, this “World’s Largest” should not be missed when you Visit Abilene.
Looking to trek a little further? The Iron Horse Trail is a new trail-way that starts in Abilene with the goal of eventually running 18 miles to connect with Enterprise and Woodbine, Kan. While the trail isn’t yet complete, it has a good start and several miles of trail are now available for use.
Abilene also has a nice downtown area, and quaint residential streets, all of which are wonderful places to get your steps in.
Things to do in Abilene: have coffee with locals
If you’ve spent the night (which you should as there’s so much to do), you’ll probably want some coffee and maybe a bite to eat in the morning. Head down to Amanda’s Bakery & Bistro.
There you’ll find a good cup of coffee, fresh baked goods (the pies are a specialty) and breakfast sandwiches served up fresh by a really friendly staff. We ordered The Duchess sandwich with egg, bacon, cheddar cheese, and a not-overpowering dill sauce served on Italian bread. Delicious!
While there, we sat with a couple of guys who’ve been coming to Amanda’s for coffee for years. We felt like locals as we sipped our coffee and learned all about why they love their hometown of Abilene.
Where to eat in Abilene, Kansas
If you enjoy delicious food, reasonable prices, and great service, then head over to M & R Grill.
Since embarking on a healthy living journey in 2019, we try to be pretty calorie conscious and typically ask for little oil or butter to be used while prepping our food. Unlike most small-town restaurants, the staff at M & R Grill actually listened! We enjoyed a terrific meal prepared exactly as ordered served up by a friendly, attentive server. And where else can you get steak and salmon dinners for less than $50 total?
For the health-conscious diner
Looking for a health conscious lunch? Check out Hapisoul Cafe & Juicery. Serving fresh-pressed juices, protein shakes, sandwiches, soups, and salads, you’ll find a healthy meal made with quality ingredients.
We tried the juice sampler and split a panini with mixed greens salad. It was all very good. Everything is made to order and the staff is small, so you may want to plan a little extra time for this stop.
Pro-tip: Be sure to try the protein cookies at Happisoul. They are dairy and gluten free, packed with 5g of protein, and they taste delicious.
Another good stop for lunch
For a true small-town America, experience, head to Joe Snuffy’s Old Fashion Grill. Offering everything from massive breakfasts to full dinners, Joe Snuffy’s is the place the coffee guys told us to try. Sure you can get a large steak dinner, but you can also order lighter fare like a grilled chicken sandwich and a Cobb salad.
Pick up some groceries
When we visit a new place, we love to check out the grocery store. A visit to the local supermarket provides a look into what life is really like in a community. We typically pick up some fresh fruit and veggies for snacks.
Based on what we found at West’s Plaza Country Mart, Abilene is a great place to live. The store is clean, well-stocked, and organized. The people (employees AND other customers) are friendly and helpful. And get this: they not only sack your groceries, they will ACTUALLY CARRY THEM OUT TO YOUR CAR!
We couldn’t believe it. But we loved it–and it makes us look forward to a return to Abilene all the more.
Things to do in Abilene, Kansas: Indulge in chocolate
There’s one more stop you’ll definitely want to make in Abilene: the Russell Stover Candies Factory and Outlet Store. This is where you’ll find great deals on your favorite chocolates and candies.
As you walk in the door, you’ll be engulfed in the glorious smell of chocolate. Wander the store, find your favorites, and pick up treats for you and all your friends.
Pro Tip: Check out the discounted chocolates (including the “Blooper” boxes in the back room There are some great bargains!
Mail a postcard
You’ll find postcards at several of the places mentioned here, so be sure to mail one before you go! We like to get a postcard, jot down a few of our favorite experiences from that place, and mail it home to ourselves. We collect all of our postcards in a large glass jar that sits on a table in our entryway. Hence the name of our blog, Postcard Jar. It’s a constant reminder of where we’ve been and the memories we shared together, along the way. You can follow all our adventures on our social media @postcardjar.
More tips for planning your trip to Abilene, Kansas
- Abilene is a relatively small city, so it is easy to get around. You can get most places by car in less than five minutes.
- Abilene has a number of restaurants from which to choose, including fine dining, casual dining, healthy fare, and fast food.
- Abilene is a popular tourist destination, so it is a good idea to book your hotel or vacation rental and any activities you want to do in advance, especially if you are traveling during the summer months.
- The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home offers free admission to active military and veterans with an active or expired ID card. It also has free admission days for:
- Symphony at Sunset Annual D-Day Commemoration Concert
(First Saturday of June)
- Independence Day (July 4)
- Veterans Day (November 11)
- Symphony at Sunset Annual D-Day Commemoration Concert
Have you visited Abilene, Kansas? What are your favorite things to do there? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you to Julie Roller Weeks and Visit Abilene for hosting us. As always, the opinions are our own. To plan your visit to Abilene, request a visitor’s guide HERE. And, if you’re looking to extend your visit to Kansas, you should definitely make the trip over to Lindsborg and Wichita.