I have lived in Topeka since May 2009. When I first moved here I lived in a nice place (Villa West Apartments) in a nice part of the city (West Topeka near 29th and Wanamaker). I eventually bought a house in another nice area just north of the city in the Seaman school district.
I offer my overview of the city with many links to sites I found useful as I was getting to know my new hometown. I have spent much of my free time visiting different neighborhoods and driving around the countryside getting a feel for the place, and I have to say that I like Topeka and Shawnee County on the whole.
There have been two main considerations that guided my exploration of the city. One was that I planned to buy a house somewhere around here so I really wanted to learn all that I could about the school districts and the feel of each region of the city and surrounding countryside. Second, I have two young children under 5, and I wanted to discover all the places I could take them for fun.
Best real estate website for the area is: Topeka Area Homes
It permits you do a search by school district, etc. It is also the most up to date as it is the website of the local realtors. It has a calculator that includes property taxes.
The local newspaper is the Topeka Capital-Journal
Seaman School District
Auburn-Washburn School District
Shawnee Heights School District
Jefferson West School District
Topeka Public School District
The city has only one public library, but it is a very big and nice one. Many activities happen here. Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
If you are looking for more scholarly books, Washburn University has the Mabee Library
and a Law Library
Brown V. Board of Education
Combat Air Museum
Great Overland Station
Kansas Center for the Book
(http://skyways.lib.ks.us/orgs/kcfb/ - broken link)
Kansas State Historical Society
Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn
(http://www.washburn.edu/reference/mulvane/ - broken link)
Old Prairie Town at Ward Meade Historic Site
(http://www.topeka.org/parksrec/ward_meade.shtml - broken link)
Topeka Art Guild
Washburn University Crane Observatory
(http://www.washburn.edu/cas/physics/crane.html - broken link)
West Ridge 8 Movie Theater (at the mall)
Hollywood 14 Movie Theater (very nice, new theater at Wanamaker and 6th)
Arts Council of Topeka
Helen Hocker Center for the Performing Arts
(http://www.topeka.org/parksrec/hocker.shtml - broken link)
The Collective Art Gallery
Topeka Civic Theatre
Topeka Festival Singers
(http://www.wuacc.edu/cas/music/festsing.html - broken link)
Topeka Performing Arts Center
Nature Trails and Areas
(http://www.topeka.org/parksrec/trails_and_nature_areas.shtml - broken link)
The Kansas Governor's Residence, Cedar Crest, is the smallest occupied governor's residence in the United States; however, it sits on the largest piece of property at 244 acres. There are public trails across the property west of the mansion and it has a beautiful view of a forested hill.
Corporate headquarters for Hill's Pet Nutrition are in Topeka.
Topeka's Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant is the world's largest producer of earthmover tires and the corporation's sole North American manufacturer of earthmover tires for mining and construction operations.
Topeka Photo Gallery
Topeka Video Tour
Topeka's Official Website
Shawnee County's Website
Mom's group and list of things to do with kids in Topeka
Capital City Moms
Topeka Kids Rock
Most people familiar with Topeka consider Auburn-Washburn School District to be the nicest area to live in. It is mostly outside of the city limits, but part of it still is in the city limits. There are no bad neighborhoods in that district; and it is the most expensive school district to live in. One highlight of this area is the proximity to the nice/new big box stores on Wanamaker such as Best Buy and Dick's Sporting Goods.
I bought a house in the Seaman school district which is north of Topeka, mostly out of the city limits. A little of this district is south of US 24, and I would not recommend living in that part. But, most of the rest of Seaman School District is quite nice and has more of a rural feel to it especially as you go north. I would avoid the small area called Elmont within Seaman School District. I find Seaman the second most desirable district to live in around Topeka.
Yet, another nice area and good school system is Jefferson West School District. It is located northeast of Topeka. Many of the homes in this area are very close to Perry Lake. Meriden, itself, is alright and safe, but might not be to everyone's liking. Meriden feels like a close community that is family oriented, but the homes are on the lower end of middle class. Yet, you might really like it since you are coming from a very small town. For that same reason you might really like Auburn in the Auburn-Washburn School District.
The next area I would recommend is the Shawnee Heights School District, which is SE of the city, especially near Lake Shawnee. The homes and neighborhoods are nice.
All of the areas I have recommended are mostly outside the Topeka city limits. One is pretty much guaranteed low crime outside of the city limits. There are many nice and safe areas inside the city limits, but they are scattered about in various pockets all about the city. Generally, the areas get nicer the further west one goes. Personally, I don't want my kids to be within the Topeka 501 school district which is most of the city itself. The schools aren't that
bad, but the ones outside of the city are better.
Other small towns you might like depending on how far you are willing to drive are Silver Lake, Rossville, Ozawkie, Hoyt, and Carbondale.