What's it like living in Topeka, Kansas?
January 8, 2018 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Hi, I'm considering a job in Topeka, which I have never visited and know nothing about other than a few google searches. Is it a good place to live for a couple of years for a family of four?

This would only be for a couple of years, so I don't mind if it's not ideal, but I don't want to be miserable. We have two kids under three, both will probably be in preschool at some point while we are there. My wife works remotely, so she's all set for employment, but neither of us know anything about the area or what kind of things there are to do. What we're hoping for: parks, public playgrounds and pools, bike trails, outdoor life in general. I heard there's a big weekly farmer's market, that sounds great.

How about housing within 20-30 minutes of downtown (I'd be working a stone's throw from the capitol building). Housing budget would be about $1500/month, maybe a bit more for a four bedroom house with a big yard. We'd consider buying if that made sense. What residential areas are nicest?

I've lived all around the world but never in the Midwest, so I'm just wary. Looking at google streetview, downtown looks like a ghost town, a lot of nondescript buildings that might or might not have any occupants. Are there other, livelier parts of the city?
posted by skewed to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I travel to Topeka for work from Los Angeles and find it dreary around the Capitol building. It's a bunch of chain restaurants and other eateries that close by the evening. It does look like a ghost town once the businesses close. There might be other livelier parts of the city maybe around Washburn University but I don't think there's much there.

Everyone from my team stays in Lawrence and commutes the half hour to Topeka rather than stay in Topeka. I find Lawrence more interesting than Topeka.

Going to watch this thread in case locals pop up with interesting stuff in Topeka I've missed.
posted by viramamunivar at 3:52 PM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Agree that Lawrence might work better. It’s a blue island in a red state. It’s been a Long time since I lived there, but it was a great place to raise kids. Since it’s a college town, there’s a lot more to do than you’d expect in a town of that size.
posted by FencingGal at 4:56 PM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

Try city_data.com they have forums for just about every state and city, and you can get a feel for the people by lurking there.
posted by patheral at 6:23 PM on January 8, 2018

I visited Lawrence for a few days this fall, and it seems like a very nice, if disperse place: there is a downtown, bike path by the Kansas river (the area generally seems into biking), a farmer's market, Contra dance, and shape note singing (both monthly). I can't speak to the schools, but university towns usually have enough parents who value education to have some good options.
posted by batter_my_heart at 6:29 PM on January 8, 2018

You could commute from Lawrence to Topeka Capitol in about 30 minutes. Many people do. Topeka is pretty grim, frankly; Lawrence is quite nice. If you can manage even a brief visit to both the difference will be clear.
posted by Jackson at 6:34 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Much of my extended family lives in Topeka and they love it... Been there for generations. Pleasant little neighborhood areas are around if you don't want to live out in Lawrence (which is a fun college town... And closer to Kansas City) . One jewel of Topeka is the public library. The kid's section is so very cheerful and welcoming and they host interesting art exhibits in the building as well.
posted by adorap0621 at 8:17 PM on January 8, 2018

Best answer: Topeka is going to have cheaper living than Lawrence, but yeah it is anywhere America. KC and Lawrence are close by.

I wouldn't live by Washburn, honestly.

You mention parks, biking, etc. You'd prolly be better off with West Lawrence. Far east Topeka isn't bad either, around lake Shawnee. Depends on how you feel about commuting.

mefimail me if you want to know more. My husband grew up in Topeka and we lived many years in Lawrence, I'd be more than happy to answer more via email or phone.
posted by aetg at 8:31 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi there, I lived in Topeka for a couple years in the early 2000s while I worked for the newspaper, before moving to Lawrence to work for their paper for a decade. Commuting between the two is super common, and the drive goes quickly. Can get a bit foggy some mornings, with the river just north of the Turnpike.

Topeka's okay, but Lawrence has more of a sense of place. I miss it now that I'm sitting here thinking about it -- walking along Mass Street, art fairs and free concerts in South Park, going out to Clinton Lake.

There's also the option of living in the small towns west of Topeka -- my sister and her husband commute to downtown Topeka from Wamego, which has a population just over 4,000. Undeniably cheaper cost of living, but you have to be ok with small-town life. Though Manhattan's only 10 miles away and there's usually something to do there.

If you get bored of lunch options downtown, there's a deli in the Little Russia area of north Topeka that I have my brother-in-law bring me pickles from every Christmas. If you have a taste for horseradish, I highly recommend it.

One Topeka thing to remember/be ready to explain to kids: you will see the Westboro Baptist people picketing in town. They have a schedule, it might have changed a bit in the past few years but they used to picket churches along Gage twice weekly on the way to Washburn, the newspaper office once a week, and various offices downtown. I lived on Gage so I saw them allll the time; they go to Lawrence too but it's not nearly as common.
posted by rewil at 10:36 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The lively part of Topeka is Lawrence. Two relatively tiny cities half an hour apart. Two very different vibes. What you're looking for sounds like Lawrence all over. You could go to Lawrence on the weekends if you absolutely had to live in Topeka, but I'd recommend commuting into Topeka instead.

I lived in Topeka briefly as a kid, I know many (so many!) people that live in Lawrence, and I live in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. I had a parent commute from a northern/eastern suburb of KC just to not live in Topeka. Your budget should be able to get you something decent in almost any part of eastern Kansas here.
posted by RainyJay at 11:04 PM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

keep in mind the whole state is having financial issues due to Gov. Brownback's tax plans.
posted by evilmonk at 8:43 AM on January 9, 2018

Best answer: Downtown isn’t as bad as the above poster makes it sound. There is a lot of new development going on and should get better.

Lawrence is a better town if you are young and looking for college age activities.

I have 2 young children (6&8) and Topeka is great. The library is a gem as is the Discovery Center. There are plenty of parks and the cost of living is insanely cheap. I have a 2,600 sq. ft. house, 4 beds and 4 baths for t less than $160,000.

There is a very active cycling scene and really great trails at the Governors’ Mansion. A couple of really nice public pools (that can be very crowded.)

The Farmer’s Market is great and we visit most weekends.

As far as areas go, I always recooks looking at Southwest Topeka, but there are great neighborhoods all around town. For your price range I would start west of Urish St. and south of about 21st. A local realtor can help you with that and I would be happy to answer any questions you have.
posted by Broken Ankle at 6:22 PM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

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