A Midwestern state with a Western heart, Kansas is known for cattle, wheat and wind. Kansans take true advantage of the state’s varying landscape, from the rolling Osage Cuestas in the east, to the rockier middle to the high plains of the west. As the state motto — Ad Astra per Aspera (“to the stars through difficulties”) — conveys, Kansans are no strangers to perseverance, no matter what the terrain holds.
With all that natural beauty, it comes as no surprise the Sunflower State offers plenty of room to roam. Kansas is the 13th largest state by area with a population per square mile of just 35.9 — roughly 2.5 times lower than the national average. It’s no wonder the official state song is “Home on the Range.” Kansas also has four federally recognized tribes.
On the western border with Colorado is the state’s highest point (4,039 feet), colloquially known as Mount Sunflower. On the eastern border with Missouri, there’s some of the best barbeque in the country, naturally prepared Kansas City-style. Throughout the state, you’ll find cattle ranches, wheatfields, windfarms and fields of sorghum, with charming towns interspersed all along the way.
In addition to its crops, Kansas has also produced some very famous Americans: Senator Bob Dole, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and former secretary of state Robert Gates all hail from the state. Then there’s the fact that Kansas was the birthplace of famed flyer Amelia Earhart. Musicians Melissa Etheridge and Janelle Monáe were also both born here, as were scores of actors, including Oscar-winner Hattie McDaniel of “Gone with the Wind,” Jason Sudeikis (who plays a former Wichita State football coach on “Ted Lasso”), Don Cheadle and Annette Benning.
If you’re looking for somewhere over the rainbow to call home, the state of Kansas may be the birthplace of stars, but it’s also one of the most down-to-earth places to live.
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Because Kansas encompasses such diverse and open terrain, weather varies widely from east to west and north to south. The eastern half of the state is generally milder and more humid, while the western half tends to be windier and more arid. Winters are chilly across the board. And because fast-moving storms blow over the Rockies, Kansans are familiar with rapid temperature drops — over 40 degrees in one day would bring little surprise.
In the winter, these sudden shifts can bring ice storms and snowfall, which averages 19 inches statewide. In northwestern Kansas, it’s common for over 40 inches of snow to accumulate in a season.
During the warmer months, the state can experience a variety of other extreme weather events: droughts, dust storms and intense heat in the summer and floods and — not surprisingly — tornadoes in the springtime. In short, it’s best to keep a close eye on Toto.
Despite these extremes, the Sunflower State is also a sunny state. With an average of 200 days of sunshine a year, Kansas is one of the top 10 sunniest states in the U.S.
As for the best time to visit or move to Kansas, it’s during the summer or fall (June-October).
Living in Kansas
Over the last 10 years, the state of Kansas has seen a 3% rise in population. Kansas’ current population is roughly 2,934,582, and much of it is concentrated in the major cities of Topeka (the state capital), Wichita and the Kansas City metro area.
A hefty 91.4% of Kansas residents have graduated from high school and nearly 40% have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Both stats exceed the national average.
The cost of living in Kansas(1) is below the national average, so housing prices are another attraction to moving there. The average price of a home in September 2022 was $283,509, while the median rent in 2020 was $863.
Kansas leads the U.S. in a number of key industries. For one thing, Kansas is the nation’s number-one producer of wheat and sorghum. Sorghum is grown for livestock feed and as a less water-intensive source for ethanol, but it’s increasingly harvested as a gluten-free food crop, which can be roasted, popped and ground into flour for baking.
In the Flint Hills region of central Kansas, cattle are king. Ranchers take advantage of the rocky terrain and the tallgrass ecosystem to feed both beef and dairy cows. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. beef comes from the state, so if you’ve indulged in a juicy steak or burger lately, there’s a good chance it came from Kansas. Dairy production is also on the rise: 173,000 milk cows live in Kansas — that’s more than the population of Topeka.
The state’s vast agricultural resources aren’t just destined for the dinner table, though. Kansans are increasingly producing biobased products for construction and energy, reducing our dependence on oil and traditional fuels and diversifying the material sources for these industries.
Another sector in which Kansas is a national leader is renewable energy. Capitalizing on its most abundant free resource — the wind — Kansas derives nearly 45% of its energy from renewables, including wind power. The state is one of the nation’s top five producers of wind energy.
Kansas is also an aviation pioneer — Wichita has long been a major hub for aircraft manufacturing. More on that below.
Best Cities to Live in Kansas
Whether you’re looking for a cosmopolitan lifestyle or remote prairie life, you’ll be able to find a city that suits you best in the state of Kansas. Housing is generally affordable across the state. Plus, median home values in most areas are lower than the national average. Prices are highest in the suburbs surrounding Kansas City, where the population of the greater metropolitan area across Kansas and Missouri exceeds two million people.
The largest city in Kansas is Wichita, located in the south-central part of the state. The population of 395,699 has grown by roughly 13,000 residents since 2010. The median house price in Wichita is $138,100, while rent averages $821. Both are below the state and national averages.
Known as “The Air Capital of the World,” Wichita launched aviation giants like Cessna and Learjet, but leading contemporary aircraft manufacturers still make their base here, including Airbus Americas and Bombardier. Local colleges, like Wichita State University, offer strong programs in aviation technology.
With a population of over two million people, the largest metropolitan area in the state surrounds Kansas City. But, Kansas City, Kansas, itself has a population of only 154,545—a fraction of its counterpart in Missouri. Median house prices in Kansas City, Kansas, are only $101,300, and rents average $882.
In nearby Overland Park (population 197,106) — a tony suburb south of Kansas City — median house prices more than double those in Kansas City proper, hitting $295,800, with average rents jumping up to $1,200.
Further southwest in Olathe (population 143,014), the median housing value is $252,900 and the median rent is $1,070.
The Kansas City metro area is a Midwestern powerhouse of cultural resources, from museums to monuments to the craft beer and food scene, all of which are a major draw to tourists. On the Missouri side of the city, the Kansas City Art Institute, one of the nation’s most well-respected art and design institutions, provides a strong and lively arts base that drives fun community events like First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District.
If you take your weekends at a much faster pace, you’ll enjoy the Kansas Speedway, which promises high-octane fun for everyone (you can even camp there!).
Kansas City is also an important site in Lewis and Clark’s expedition. They stopped at what is now known as Kaw’s Point, where the Missouri and Kansas (or Kaw) Rivers converge. The area has been turned into a park with educational resources and connects to the Kansas City Riverfront Heritage Trail, a treasured, bi-state resource for pedestrians and cyclists.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite bouncing from museums to motorways, you’ll want to stop somewhere for Kansas City barbeque. Maybe more than one spot…just to compare…you know, for scientific reasons.
The capital city of Topeka is home to 125,963 Kansans, slightly fewer residents than in 2010.
Housing in Topeka is modestly priced, with home values resting at $105,700 — far below the state and national average — and median rents at $815.
Topeka is like best-known for being the site of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ended legalized segregation in American public schools.
Kansas’ quirkiest quarters may lie in Lawrence (population 95,256), where vibrant murals enliven every overlooked underpass, breezeway and parking lot.
Lawrence is also the home of Kansas State University, so it may not surprise you to learn Lawrence’s population boasts a 95.5% high school graduation rate, with a whopping 54.9% of the population earning a bachelor’s degree or higher. Another educational highlight of Lawrence is Haskell Indian Nations University, the country’s premier inter-tribal university, which was founded in Lawrence in 1884.
As far as housing in Lawrence goes, you’ll find prices are a bit steeper than the state average, with median home values averaging $204,800 and rents averaging $953.
If you decide to make a trip to check out the Sunflower State before moving, let our music be your company!
Things You Can Only See and Do in Kansas
Diversions in Wichita abound. For the subterranean adventurer, for example, there is Strataca — an underground salt museum located in a working mine.
Located in Topeka, the Kansas State Capitol building is truly a sight to see — the neo-classical building has a jaw-dropping dome and historic murals on several floors of the interior. Of course, if you have daredevils in your midst, you won’t want to miss the city’s Evel Knievel Museum — an all-too-real virtual reality experience that lets you skyrocket over 16 cars. For those chasing even more adrenaline-inducing action, race straight to the Heartland Motorsports Park, which has a drag strip, motocross and MotoX events.
Meanwhile, aviation buffs will want to see the Combat Air Museum in Topeka, which has 46 aircraft on display, along with many engines and artifacts. It even has a flight simulator.
Also in Topeka, visit the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Park, sited at the refurbished Monroe School. Here you can see a restored kindergarten room along with exhibits and films about the landmark decision where Chief Justice Warren declared “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Do your kids need to burn off some extra energy? Take them straight to the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center for 15,000 square feet of hands-on, educational fun. Is the indoors not enough? Head outdoors — there are 4.5 acres outdoors to learn and play.
If you’re wondering about the veracity of the official state song (how many antelope are there in Kansas, really?), don’t miss the Great Plains Nature Center in Wichita, where you can learn that while the around 2,000 pronghorns still play at their home on the range. (No word on their sentiment toward interloping deer, though.)
If arts and culture are your thing, the Spencer Museum of Art and the Lawrence Arts Center are Lawrence’s largest venues, but smaller galleries prosper on the thriving indie scene here.
Looking to go outdoors in Lawrence? Try a hike through the 927 acres of the Baker University Wetlands, where you can observe 278 species of birds and more. There’s also Clinton State Park at Clinton Lake, which offers swimming, fishing, and boating, plus 25 miles of trails for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing
Downtown Wichita is peppered with public art as well. It’s hard not to bump into John Kearney’s chrome bumper sculptures — there’s a bumper steer, a bumper giraffe and even a pair of bumper goats. The public murals of Alley Doors — a community art project launched in 2020 — brighten city streets in unexpected ways, and all were created by local artists.
If you like Ike, you’ll want to see the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home in Abilene. This world-class research center houses 70,000 artifacts from the nation’s 34th president.
If the stars align, you might find yourself in Hutchinson on a trip to the Cosmosphere, a museum dedicated to all things out of this world. There are spacecrafts to see, explosive rocket demos to watch and a planetarium where young scientific minds are free to explore.
For a different kind of otherworldly sight, drive south of Oakley, Kansas, where you can see an extraordinary sedimentary outcropping from the Cretaceous Period that created Monument Rocks, also known as the Chalk Pyramids.
Where Kansans Eat
The Kansas City region is slathered in BBQ joints, thanks to pitmaster Henry Perry, who invented Kansas City-style barbeque over a hundred years ago. As is the custom, meat or fish is dry-rubbed with spices, slow-smoked over oak and hickory wood, and finished with a tangy sauce.
Brisket “burnt ends” is a regional favorite. Popular joints on the Kansas side of town include Rosedale Barbeque, where you can order the “Beltbuster” (three meats on a bun) or the “Pig Pen” (pulled pork or beef topped with fajita peppers, onion straws, pepper jack cheese and “jalapeno bottlecaps”). Then there’s Crazy Good Barbeque, where the portions are classified as Normal (1/4-lb.), Crazy (1/3-lb.), or Insane 1/2-lb. K&M Bar-B-Q, located in Spring Hill, is a no-frills favorite, which offers traditional beef, ham, turkey, pulled pork or sausage, plus a fried fish Tuesday night special.
Food adventurers who prefer to stay in their shells will enjoy a proverbial trek on the KC Taco Trail, where they’ll find traditional favorites and creative spins on authentic recipes. Must-stops include El Bonito Michoaca and Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio.
While you’re in cattle country, you’d be remiss not to stop at a Kansas steakhouse. There’s the Brand’N Iron in Princeton, which has been searing local beef since 2008. In Topeka, try the North Star Steakhouse, a classic outfit in operation for 80-plus years. For an especially special treat, try 6S in Wichita, which serves inspired, locally raised Creekstone beef preparations.
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