On this trip, my family’s third Faces & Places Tour as a Roadie, we were excited to go on a trip closer to our home. I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed most about the 2011 Faces & Places Tour –discovering amazing attractions and fun “right in my own backyard,” whether that be a trip across town on a Thursday evening, or a weekend getaway down the Kansas Byways to the other side of the state.

‘Start your engines ... ’

My husband, 7-year-old son and I made our first stop at Heartland Park Topeka, which draws a huge number of visitors during the racing season. Kids and adults alike revel in the gorgeous paint jobs on the vehicles, the smell of burning rubber in the air and excitement at the starting line. HPT boasts three tracks, so they keep the entertainment rolling during much of the year.

If you really want a special treat – or you’re traveling as a group – consider taking in the view from one of the suites at HPT. You can’t beat it for comfort and for a first-class view of the starting line.

‘ ... and then a cupcake ... ’

We were lucky enough to be ahead of schedule on our tour, so we made a quick stop at Billy Vanilly on Huntoon and Gage Blvd. Billy Vanilly is the first cupcake store in Kansas, and it’s a true delight. The decorations inside are charming – and make you crave sweets just by walking in the door. I was also impressed by the gluten-free offerings they had on the day we were there.

And, for those who love the buttercream icing just as much as the cake, you’ll be glad to know that Billy Vanilly sells icing in shot glasses. Plus, foodies will appreciate the fact that Billy Vanilly has been featured in Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine and on “Cupcake Wars” on the Food Network.

‘ ... plus a trip to the past ... ’

Next we visited the Kansas Museum of History. Looking at the building’s sleek artistic exterior, you’d never believe that it houses incredible items from the past such as the oldest surviving steam locomotive from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. The train is so huge it was moved into the building before construction was complete just so it would fit.

Right now, the museum is offering a special exhibit called “150 Things I Love About Kansas” to celebrate the state’s sesquicentennial. You don’t have to be a native Kansan to appreciate the fun and informative displays, including everything from the first edition of L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to Whizzo the Clown’s suitcase. (Be sure to see the display before it ends on Dec. 31, 2011.)

Civil War buffs will enjoy the rare items on display in the museum as well as information about the “Bleeding Kansas” days leading up to the Civil War. As we started to leave the museum, we stopped to take photos of the children’s play area – the perfect place to let the kids use their imagination and have some wiggle time before getting back in the car.

Surprises all around

There’s so much to see and do in Topeka, we could have spent a week touring the city and still not covered all the highlights. I know I plan to spend a little more time in “my backyard” to get to know my surroundings a lot better. And, I might spend a little more time eating cupcakes.

Chelle Decker works for jones huyett Partners in Topeka. As an Account Manager she works with the Kansas Travel and Tourism Divison to promote travel in the state of Kansas. She is a native of Olathe, Kansas, lived in Emporia for three years, and now calls Topeka her home. In her free time, Chelle, her husband, and seven-year-old son enjoy taking weekend trips across the state.