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Travels in the Heartland: Spend a weekend in Salina, Kansas

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Posted at 3:14 PM, Jul 29, 2023

SALINA, Kan. (KMTV) — Vintage cars, public art and an outstanding culinary scene highlight a weekend getaway to Salina, Kansas. Located a little more than three hours from Omaha, Salina may be the hidden gem in Kansas.

With a downtown that may conjure up thoughts of Omaha's Old Market, art lovers will appreciate the many murals and sculptures that line 5th Street. Hardening to the city's past or embracing pop culture, the public art displayed over an eight-block area is surreal.

Public art

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Amelia Earhart’s mural is among the paintings known as Alley Artwork

You may want to join the action as you soak in the grain elevator art of children playing Ring Around the Rosey. The mural — one of four in the Midwest by Australian artist Guido van Helton — depicts children playing the old-fashioned game. Located across the street from Salina's historic train depot, the mural differs from van Helton's others in that it's not a full 360-degree artwork. One side wasn't completed.

With about a dozen murals located throughout downtown, Salina celebrates Kansas history and culture, as well as pop culture. From Amelia Earhart to foxes, regional artists created a menagerie of beautiful murals. Sculptures highlight a stroll along 5th Street. Each October, the city celebrates its art scene with Boom Salina, bringing in artists who will create new murals as well as other activities.

The Salina Art Center showcases contemporary art pieces, as well as special exhibits.

The Garage

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Vintage cars are rotated annually at The Garage

You don't need to be an old car enthusiast to enjoy a trip to The Garage — officially known as Salina Educational Auto Museum — dedicated to showcasing the history of transportation. With rotating exhibits, each lasting about three months, visitors can check out the history of trucks, Corvettes, the 1950s and automobile oddities.The main exhibit hall celebrates the history of the automobile with a variety of vintage vehicles. From souped-up jalopies to odd-looking autos, it's easy to get lost in the history and culture of the cars. The museum even features murals of classic Hollywood stars, such as James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Elvis Presley. With interactive displays, as well as scavenger hunts, The Garage entertains children while encouraging them to become interested in classic cars.

Smoky Hill Museum

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A colorful hippo sculpture greets visitors to Smoky Hills Museum.

Interactive fun continues with a visit to Salina's Smoky Hill Museum. From determining the weight of grain during the Great Depression to running a radio show, people enjoy a hands-on experience at the downtown museum. While there, take a walk down memory lane with displays offering looks at old-fashioned pizza shops and marching bands. Visitors can also learn about the early days of the city's fire department.

Rolling Hills Zoo  

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A lion plays with a ball at Rolling Hills Zoo

What began as a barn to house Belgian horses in the late 1980s grew into an attractive mid-size zoo. About six miles west of Salina, Rolling Hills Zoo is home to about 350 animals representing 65 species. From white rhinos to snow leopards, you’ll find plenty of unique animals living there. Officially becoming a zoo in 1999, Rolling Hills later added a 64,000-square-foot wildlife museum exploring regions such as Africa and North America. It includes a rain exhibit.

Lakewood Discovery Center

With 100 acres to explore, Lakewood Discovery Center features trails encompassing woodlands and prairie areas, along with water views. The wildlife center features animal and nature exhibits.

Dine around

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Chorizo and potato tacos top brunch at Blue Skye. Consider one of its frosted cinnamon rolls for dessert

Salina’s downtown restaurant scene could easily jive with any of Omaha’s neighborhoods. Ya-Ya’s Euro Bistro at the downtown Homewood Suites features an upscale menu at reasonable prices. With fresh seafood flown in a few times weekly, the restaurant’s menu runs the gamut from steaks to kid-friendly options. Consider ordering a meal of Ya-Ya’s small plates, perfect for sharing. From roasted cauliflower to crab cakes, the small plate menu is exceptional.

Barolo Grille offers an intimate setting, featuring dishes such as steak with herb butter topping as well as fish, seafood and pasta. With a nice wine selection, it’s the perfect date night location.

Consider weekend brunch at Blue Skye Brewery and Eats, with breakfast tacos starring chorizo and potatoes as well as breakfast flatbreads. Its regular menu includes outstanding pizza.

Grab a burger and fries at a classic joint. Cozy Inn started selling onion-laced burgers ala White Castle style in the early 1920s. With six stools, the vintage eatery is one of only a handful of similar restaurants in the United States. With more seating outdoors, you can enjoy your meal in comfort. Consider getting your order to go and enjoy in the comfort of your hotel or perhaps at one of the city’s parks.

Where to stay

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Freshly-made crab cakes with roulade at Ya-Ya’s Euro Bistro at the Homewood Suites hotel.

We enjoyed a comfortable stay at the Homewood Suites downtown, but Salina is home to several excellent options. The city prides itself on family-friendly accommodations.

Whether you’re looking for a family outing or a couples weekend, Salina is a great choice to explore and enjoy outstanding culinary options. We’re already planning a return visit.

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