Manhattan, Kansas at a Glance
Location: Northeast Kansas in the Flint Hills
Access: Interstate 70, about 120 miles west of Kansas City, Kansas; Manhattan Regional Airport
Hotel Rooms: 1,237
Off-Site Venues: Flint Hills Discovery Center, Liquid Art Winery, Columbian Theatre Museum and Art Center
Folks in Manhattan, Kansas, don’t mind having the word “little” attached to their city’s name: They revel in being the “Little Apple,” in lighthearted contrast to that other Manhattan in New York. A delightful connection is that writer Damon Runyan was born in Manhattan, Kansas, before gaining fame writing short stories about the characters of Broadway and New York City.
The Midwestern Manhattan bustles with 54,000 residents — plus 22,000 more when you add Kansas State University, the first Morrill Act land-grant college. Its roots are in the flood of people that came after the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 opened former Indian land to settlement. One notable group put down roots here when its steamboat ran aground in the shallow Kansas River. They’d come far enough.
Manhattan is in the rolling Flint Hills in the eastern third of Kansas, different from the flat-as-a-pancake perception of the state. The region shelters remnants of the 170 million acres of tallgrass prairie that once covered much of North America. It is land better suited to ranching — and noteworthy meetings — than unending acres of wheatfields. It’s in a good spot: two hours from Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas; three from Omaha, Nebraska; and less than five from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
“We have a delightfully walkable city that is vibrant and friendly and affords you a great perspective on the Flint Hills,” said Karen Hibbard, director of the Manhattan Convention and Visitors Bureau. Of particular note for understanding the region, Hibbard said, is the Flint Hills Discovery Center, which has 10,000 square feet dedicated to interactive exhibits and temporary exhibitions, plus a theater whose nature film makes your heart swell. The indoor spaces and prairie-inspired outdoor plazas are popular with meeting planners.
The Manhattan Conference Center, which is expanding this year, is the primary meeting facility. By year’s end, it will have grown from slightly less than 15,000 square feet to almost 27,000 square feet. It is connected to the Hilton Garden Inn, which is increasing its room count from 135 to 175, and is across a plaza from the Flint Hills Discovery Center and two blocks from the main downtown street, Poyntz Avenue.
“The Big Apple has a lot going for it, but the Little Apple has many of the same offerings, just on a smaller scale,” Hibbard said with a smile.
The big show in town is the Manhattan Conference Center, built in 2011 and expanding to almost 27,000 square feet later this year. It connects to the Hilton Garden Inn, which has 135 rooms and is adding 40 later this year. Nearby are a Fairfield Inn, a Holiday Inn Express and a Candlewood Suites, for a total of 257 more rooms. Other meeting prospects include the Four Points by Sheraton, with 197 rooms and 20,000 square feet of meeting space; the Holiday Inn at the Campus, with 113 rooms and 9,000 square feet of meeting space; and an upcoming Courtyard by Marriott in Aggieville, the restaurant/bar/shopping district next to Kansas State University. More options are the K-State Student Union, especially in summer, and the K-State Alumni Center, which has banquet space for 450.
By far, the Flint Hills Discovery Center is the most extensive spot for an off-site event. Its permanent and temporary exhibits provide interesting diversions while educating attendees about the Flint Hills, and it has multiple indoor and outdoor venues. A bonus: It’s an easy walk from multiple hotels.
Liquid Art Winery, which opened in 2016 and now offers 16 wines, has a hilltop location that provides panoramic views of Manhattan and the Flint Hills. The 1882-vintage Wareham Opera House can seat 550 for a presentation or 250 for a banquet, and the Columbian Theatre Museum and Art Center in nearby Wamego has six rare murals from the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and is available for rentals. Wamego’s Oz Museum displays the largest private collection of “Wizard of Oz” artifacts.
The area’s marquee attraction — the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, a National Park Service/Nature Conservancy partnership — is an hour’s drive south. Visit to get a deep understanding of what America’s interior was once like, a sea of grass from Kansas to Indiana and from Texas to Canada. Only 4% of 170,000 million acres remain as pure tallgrass prairie, mostly in the Flint Hills, and this spot protects and interprets about 11,000 acres.
Heading west, your target should be the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene. A 14-month museum renovation was completed in mid-2019. This lovely campus also includes a visitor center, Eisenhower’s boyhood home and a statue of the only five-star general to become president. Before Abilene, consider stopping at Fort Riley for the museums of the 1st Infantry Division and the U.S. Cavalry; a two-year renovation of both museums is scheduled for mid-2020 completion. A cultural stop past Abilene is Lindsborg, called Little Sweden because of significant Swedish settlement in the 1800s. A third of today’s residents claim Swedish descent.