America’s largest cities get so much press, but many cool small cities fly under the radar. I’ve made it a mission to discover some of these little gems, like my home city of Providence. After meeting with the Wichita tourism board last year and learning about all the fun things to do in Wichita KS, I knew I needed to plan a visit. When Travel Kansas invited me to spend a weekend in Wichita for an “Instameet” event, I set out to explore the largest city in the state of Kansas.
I quickly learned that Wichita is not just Kansas’ largest city, is also big on local pride. You will find Wichita flags waving across town and many flag murals painted on the downtown walls. They may not agree on which sports team to cheer for (KSU or KU), but they unite behind the city flag.
Accompanying that city pride is the same warm midwestern hospitality that I found on my stop in Lindsborg. Everyone that I encountered was friendly and helpful, taking in pride in what they do, from the barista at the hotel coffee shop to the gentleman who has been sharing Wichita history at Cowtown for 50 years.
Wichita’s cool factor can also be found in the happening street art scene throughout the Douglas Design District, the fun bars and cafes with outdoor patios in Old Town, festivals like Riverfest (Kansas’ largest festival), and the Riverwalk in downtown Wichita.
Things to do in Wichita KS
If you are like me and love exploring America’s up-and-coming cities, put Wichita on your list. A long weekend is just enough time to get a taste the town. Start with these fun things to do in Wichita.
Keeper of the Plains
Located on the Arkansas River, the Keeper of the Plains is a 44-foot tall weathered steel sculpture donated to Wichita by Native American artist Blackbear Bosin in 1974. This Native American figure sits atop a 30-foot pedestal overlooking the city. Each night, fires are lit around its base, making it one of the “must see” tourist attractions when in Wichita. You can walk along the Riverwalk path to get great views of the Keeper, or start with a visit to the Mid-America All-Indian Center.
In the heart of Wichita you will find Old Town. This is a collection of brick-lined streets and converted brick warehouses that date back to the late 1800s. This area is home to more than 100 businesses and is the hot spot for restaurants, shops, clubs, theaters, galleries, and museums. You will find farmer’s markets on the weekends and fun restaurants like Pumphouse, River City Brewing Company, and Public.
Douglas Design District
Douglas Design District, which spans a couple of miles along Douglas Avenue, is the city’s up-and-coming district. It is best known for its street art and it makes a fun place to go on a mural scavenger hunt. You can download the Avenue Art Day Mural app, which is a great way to figure out which murals you want to see and where to find them. This area is also home to fun shops, like The Workroom, the best place to find some Wichita-centric products featuring the city’s flag, local art and artisan accessories. If you looking for lunch, stop into Tanya’s Soup Kitchen for soups, sandwiches, and salads. Or bring a friend to brunch at The Anchor, and share the chicken and biscuit debris.
Shopping in Delano
The Delano District is located on the west bank of the Arkansas River at the end of the Chisholm Trail. This area was first established during the days of the Chisholm Trail cattle drives as a place for the cowboys to blow off steam after months on the trail from Texas. Then there were plenty of saloons, gambling houses and brothels. Today, the Delano is a thriving shopping and dining district. Stop into Hatman Jack’s, one of the few full-service hatters left in the country and the place to get fitted in the perfect hat. When you get hungry, pop into one of the many restaurants such as The Monarch.
Old Cowtown Museum
If you want to learn about Wichita’s history and where it got its “Cowtown” nickname, head over to the Old Cowtown Museum. This may just be one of the largest and most elaborate living history museums that I have visited outside of Williamsburg. You can experience Wichita as if it is 1865. You will find replica and original buildings from simple homesteads to fancy “town” houses and all the businesses that go along with a Midwestern cattle town. This includes a print shop, black smith (always a favorite), a church, barn, train, and so much more. If you are visiting with kids, plan on spending at least half a day here.
I have visited a number of botanical gardens and some are better than others (like the one in Wilmington, NC.) However, I have never seen a children’s garden done as well as the one at Botanica Wichita. You start off walking down the yellow brick road, under a rainbow. Of course, right, after all, this is Kansas! There is both a farm area that encourages tykes to become gardeners, as well as an enchanted garden complete with a treehouse. Serious cuteness for the little ones!
Wichita Art Museum
The Wichita Art Museum is home to a comprehensive collection of American art, including two pieces from Chihuly (including one you can walk over!) These works reflect the cultural heritage of the Great Plains, as well as art from across America. In addition to the museum’s 8,000 piece collection, families love The Living Room. This interactive gallery offers make it/take it activities, which are linked to current exhibits. Plus, the museum is free for all on Saturdays!
Museum of World Treasures
The Museum of World Treasures is Wichita’s answer to the Smithsonian. There is a little bit of everything, which means something for everyone. You can start off in prehistoric times and move all the way up to modern warfare. Be sure to ask at the front desk for one of the scavenger hunts that they have created for various age groups. Kids will also enjoy playtime in Ivan’s Playhouse, named after the T-Rex, the third largest in the world.
Tanganyika Wildlife Park
If you like zoos, the Tanganyika Wildlife Park is a must-do for animal-loving families. There are so many animals to see in an easy to explore setting. And, if you are willing to splurge, there are ways to interact with the animals including feeding giraffes, lemurs, lorikeets (watch, they bite!), and even a baby rhino. The park is ZAA credited and Humane Certified.
Where to Stay in Wichita
If you are looking for a convenient, downtown location, you can’t go wrong with the Hyatt Regency Wichita. I was hosted here but I was impressed with the size of the room, the service, and definitely the food. The on-site restaurant, Harvest Kitchen focuses on seasonal, fresh, and locally grown ingredients.
The location right on the river made it a perfect spot for enjoying Riverfest, but also for exploring downtown and enjoying the Riverwalk down to the Keeper of the Plains.
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Note: My stay was hosted by Visit Wichita and Travel Kansas. All opinions are my own.
Tamara Gruber is the Founder and Publisher of We3Travel. A former marketing executive and travel advisor, Tamara is an award-winning travel writer and recognized expert in family travel. She is also the publisher of YourTimetoFly and the co-host of the Vacation Mavens travel podcast.