Hutchinson, Kansas – most William Jewell College students have never heard of it. Some have passed through it on their way to the far more romanticized state of Colorado but have negative impressions of the town of 42,000.
It’s flat. There’s nothing to do there. Kansas is lame. The drive there from Liberty is 220 minutes of painful nothingness. Hutchinson is my hometown, so I have the authority to say that none of those previous statements are true – well, except the one about it being flat – and after climbing the icy uphill battle that is the Sahara stairs, I can say that there is nothing wrong with level ground.
Hutchinson has plenty of things to do and not a ton of people doing them, which makes traffic significantly better than it is in Liberty. Most activities are located within a 10 minute driving radius. My parents and I were all born and raised in Hutchinson, so I have compiled a comprehensive list of the best cuisine, caffeine and culture my home has to offer.
Simply craving mexican food will hardly narrow your options for dining out in Hutch. The city hosts 12 different Mexican restaurants, each offering distinctive tastes and atmospheres. El Potrillo is my personal favorite – I get a cheese quesadilla every single time I go. They use authentic white cheese instead of the fake, oily orange stuff of inferior Mexican restaurants.
Anchor Inn is a Hutch staple because of their incredible buffet. The chocolate cake and sugar cookies they offer are enough to make me homesick. It’s the type of place for which locals get a desperate craving that no other Mexican food on Earth could satisfy. Be sure to order a basket of their flour tortilla chips – so worth the Pepto Bismol that will be needed later.
Bogey’s is an inexpensive fast food restaurant famous for their shakes – there are over 100 flavor combinations to choose from. I usually go for a mint Oreo shake – the Oreo chunks are second to none in size and quality. The hot fudge banana nut shake is also an admirable choice. Corn dog nuggets and curly fries are my favorite savory items on their extensive menu.
Jillian’s Italian Grill is one of the most upscale restaurants in Hutch. The lighting is dim and creates an intimate, elegant ambiance. They offer incredible pastas, salads and wood-fired pizzas. Every table receives a loaf of warm, homemade herb bread with olive oil. You can’t go there without ordering the hummus and flatbread to share – even if you don’t like hummus, the smoky red pepper flavor is delicious. There isn’t a single bad option on Jillian’s menu – it’s a restaurant you cannot miss.
Mr. Cao is a Japanese steakhouse that makes for the ideal venue to catch up with friends and eat excellent fried rice. You can order a giant portion of freshly made vegetable fried rice for only six dollars, which I consider to be very reasonable for the level of quality. Their egg rolls and sushi are both excellent options. The restaurant is quiet and filled with cheerful yellow booths, making it a place that my friends and I have spent countless hours chatting in.
Bluebird is my absolute favorite place in Hutchinson. Every time I walk into the independent bookstore I feel my heart swell. The space is aesthetically pleasing and filled with fresh books and fun notebooks, jewelry and art.
The back of the bookstore includes space to read or study and a top-notch cafe. They offer salads, made-from-scratch bierocks and pot pies, plus some of the best baked goods I have ever consumed. Their nutella hand pies are out of this world and my dad has an obsession with their scones. I once had a pumpkin whoopie pie there – pumpkin pie is a disgrace to Autumn when compared to this cream cheese filled delicacy.
As locals all know, “The Metro” is a coffee shop that no resident can visit without seeing somebody familiar. It’s a favorite hangout spot amongst all the teens in Hutchinson and usually runs out of seating on weeknights.
Metro bean freezes are beloved amongst all who need their coffee accompanied by blended ice, an insane amount of caramel and a heap of whipped cream. Their brownies and lattes are also excellent. If you want to sound like a local, say “let’s meet at metro” to somebody.
The Cosmosphere is one place just about every Hutchinsonian has been to. The city’s motto is “Come Share Our Space” because of this out-of-this-world attraction. The Cosmosphere includes a planetarium, The Carey Digital Dome Theater and The Hall of Space museum.
You can also watch Dr. Goddard’s lab, an interactive show featuring explosive demonstrations and information on the history of rocket science. The Hall of Space museum has more American and Russian space artifacts than anywhere else in the world and is a great place to learn about the history of space exploration.
The Carey Digital Dome Theater is an awesome place to see a movie. The show is projected on a dome above the seats and gives the illusion that you are inside the movie. I watched a documentary on the national parks there and genuinely felt like I was visiting each park. They also play recent Hollywood films.
The Kansas State Fair is held every September in Hutchinson and it’s a big deal. Rides, shows and enough fried food vendors to batter the whole state of Kansas come to Hutch for 10 days.
A comedic hypnotist does free shows that I definitely recommend attending. Purchase a pronto pup, which is a hot dog battered in a distinctive flour mixture that I can only describe as being better. Finish off your meal with a fried oreo to fulfill your annual quota for grease and a good time.
Strataca Underground Salt Museum is a place pretty unique to Hutchinson. Hutch is well-known for sitting on top of a whole lot of salt – that’s why the Hutchinson High School mascot is a Salthawk. The salt museum takes visitors 650 feet below ground to see walls made of solid salt and to learn more about the history of salt mining in Hutchinson. You can ride a train to see parts of the salt mine that are untouched. Reels of old Hollywood films are also stored in the vaults due to the ideal weather conditions of the mine.
Many Hutchinsonians have never been to this annual display of Mennonite food, homemade quilts and crafts, but when visiting in April it can’t be missed. The sale raises money for the Mennonite Central Committee, a ministry that attends to the basic needs of people throughout the world and promotes peace and justice.
Russian pancakes, verenike and zwiebach are all foods that both those new to ethnic German cuisine and those raised on it will delight in. Grab a piece of strawberry rhubarb pie and watch as bidding wars over hundreds of quilts rack in cash for an amazing cause.
The Fox Theater is a historic downtown theater that opened in 1935 and was restored in 1999. The theater walls are covered in stunningly intricate carvings and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. They showcase live performances and recent movies for reasonable prices. I saw an excellent production of Fiddler on The Roof last year and go to LunaFest, a female film festival, every year with my family.
Hutchinson is no Chicago, but it offers more to do than most might realize. I love how close together all the attractions are and how tight-knit the community is. We have a TJMaxx, a Chick-fil-a and many other establishments you see swarming Suburbia, but we also have independent gems that medium-sized midwestern cities do best. Small businesses support the schools and each other. Citizens participate in plays and parades and help each other out. Hutchinson was a great place to grow up and I think it’s a great place to take a weekend road trip to visit.