When I first rolled into Lawrence it felt like I could be arriving in any nondescript small town in the Midwest. There was an Orscheln farm supply store, some gas stations, and a Dollar General. Pretty typical fare if you’re from my neck of the woods. However, as I turned down Massachusetts Street and got deeper into the heart of this city it quickly became clear that this was anything but a nondescript small town. Beautiful, well-maintained, and historic-looking homes welcomed me along each side of the road letting me know that this place is one that is loved. As I pulled through South Park, I saw a gazebo there that looked like it could have been pulled straight from an episode of Gilmore Girls. Then I was struck agog by the gorgeous courthouse building welcoming me into the downtown district and it became all too clear that I was in for something truly special.
I was fortunate enough to have a whole weekend to explore Lawrence, and honestly didn’t even get a chance to leave the downtown hub. This stretch of Massachusetts Street had so much to do, see, and experience that I could have easily spent a whole week trying to enjoy everything that it had to offer. My Airbnb was located just on the far side of South Park, so after I initially parked my car, I didn’t use it again the whole time I was there. I cannot think of a more pedestrian-friendly downtown area outside of maybe Eureka Springs, Arkansas and I loved it. I think that the ability to spend a whole weekend without once starting your car is a testament to how well Lawrence planned this area of their town, and I wish that more towns would take note! They had shopping of all kinds, local restaurants, bars, and some awesome music venues that made for a jam-packed weekend which I won’t forget any time soon. This downtown is what mid-sized cities dream of, and honestly, I am sad that I didn’t discover it sooner.
I had the good fortune of finding myself in town during Lawrence’s Restaurant Week celebration. This lovingly put-together festival showcases all that the Lawrence restaurant scene has to offer, and let me tell you, that is a whole lot! I was blown away by the range of offerings and unique dining experiences that I found here. From a beautifully retrofitted bank (Merchants Pub and Plate) to a diner with charm oozing out of every pore (Ladybird Diner), I was genuinely sad that my body couldn’t hold more food. A special shout out to my servers at each of these establishments, Lauren at Merchants and Macy at Ladybird, you guys were two of the friendliest people and made my lady friend and I feel so welcome in Lawrence!
RPG (Restaurant, Pub, Games) and their incredible board game-centric concept was another highlight. The ability to pick from a massive shelf of games and enjoy delicious food and craft drinks had my lady friend and I entertained for hours and wishing there was one in our town! There were also coffee houses and taco shops galore and every eatery that was a part of the Restaurant Week festival created unique specials to be enjoyed for that week only. It was incredible to me the level of community engagement and investment that these places had. Creating a special menu for a local festival is unheard of in my experience, and really showcased how special this town really is. The fact that everything was so delicious only made the experience better!
Last but certainly not least, I have to point out the shopping extravaganza that I was able to enjoy while here. I have never had so much fun looking at pencils as I did at Wonder Fair. This store had a diverse and inclusive energy that just hugged you from the moment you walked in. Dave the cat greeting me and asking for head scratches didn’t hurt either!
There were two bookstores that I had the opportunity to visit, and they were each perfect in their own way (each had bonus shop cats as well, which I always am a fan of). The immaculately curated and cool Raven Bookshop was a treat. One of the staff members told me while I was shopping that you could tell their bookstore was based on real-life, “because the romance section leads straight to the horror section!” Then there was The Dusty Bookshelf, which is every book lover's happy place. You know it is a good bookstore when there are piles of titles stacked on the floor for you to explore and it has that great book smell that smacks you when you walk in. I genuinely could have spent hours digging around for titles to fill out my bookshelf.
There were other unique shops and sites to visit all up and down the street, and if I took the time to list them all we could be here for hours. Instead of doing that, I will just tell you wholeheartedly and honestly what I thought. Lawrence is something that people look for their entire lives. Hardworking, eclectic, passionate people that have made this town their home and clearly love it deeply. If I had to sum up Lawrence in just one word, it would be community. It is a community that once you find it, will call you to come back again and again. I genuinely cannot wait to visit Lawrence again and hope that you all get the chance really soon.