(UPDATED ON August 1, 2020) The first time I visited Wichita, I was in love instantly. I call it an adult hipster town, with world-class museums, incredible outdoor attractions, good (and affordable) food, historical nods, festivals, and really fun nightlife. Wichita (the largest city in Kansas) bowled me over and I’ve been spreading the love via word of mouth ever since. Here are 26 reasons to visit Wichita, Kansas, that rank high in my book.
1. Wichita’s Animal Encounters
Tanganyika Wildlife Park is different than any zoo I’ve been to. Yes, it has animals and all similarities. Still, here you concentrate on animal encounters for an up close and personal experience with some of the world’s most rare and exotic animals. I did the sloth encounter and fed the lemurs. Chewy, the sloth, is adorable and loves the attention.
Tanganyika (minutes from Wichita) is a top name in the cat breeding industry and even supplies Disney with their big cats. You can also swim with penguins, how fun does that sound?
2. Old Cowtown Museum
Step back in time and walk through Wichita circa 1865 with a living history village and costumed interpreters. You’ll experience the sights, sounds, and life as it was in a Midwestern cattle town of yesteryear throughout the 54 historic buildings (23 acres) depicting the scene at the Old Cowtown Museum. Say hello to Bessie, the cow, watch a gunfight, go on a wagon ride, or sip a sarsaparilla beverage.
Be on the lookout for the drug store, post office, one-room schoolhouse, O’Hara’s barbershop, Turnverein Hall, and Fritz Snitzler’s Saloon. Old Cowtown Museum is a self-guided attraction with plenty to see for the entire family. Wear comfortable shoes.
3. Clifton Square
This charming Victorian-inspired neighborhood is also a shopping and dining village. Grab a tasty bowl of soup from Tanya’s Soup Kitchen or a cold beer from Hopping Gnome Brewing Company. You are sure to enjoy the sights and people-watching in this sweet spot.
4. Best Breakfast Ever
After 51 years of life, I ate the best breakfast of all from Doo-Dah Diner in Wichita. If you are a breakfast lover or foodie, you must try the Triple D. This platter includes half portions of Tanya’s Benny, Banana Bread French Toast (with vanilla molasses infused syrup), and Corned Beef Hash.
Everything you’ll get at Doo-Dah Diner is scratch made, and I love that they use thrift store finds to keep it simple and sweet. Every bite was unbelievably good, hence the best breakfast of my life.
Read more about my delicious meal in this post.
5. Amazing Donuts
Good golly Miss Molly, The Donut Whole has it going on for scratch-made donuts that are gorgeous and absolutely delicious. I love that they source ingredients locally and throw their modern twist on traditional cake donuts. I love the vegan donuts even more than the regular ones. Two flavors I buy on every visit are the Maple Bacon and Key Lime. The Donut Whole also serves juice, coffee, and boba tea.
6. Yummy Dinner- Hip Establishment
How does a heaping bowl of big shell Mac N’ Cheese sound to you? The Anchor, a Wichita neighborhood bar and grill, serves up tasty eats to pair with a great selection of craft beer, gastropub menu, and even cocktail popsicles (you can even take them home). The Anchor also claims to have the best Reuben in town, and seeing that I ate every bite of mine, who am I to argue?
7. Visit a Famous Nut House
All it takes is a Food Network tie for me to visit any (and all) food institutions or restaurants in the areas I travel to. Nifty Nut House has been a Wichita staple since the late 1930s, stocking nearly 5,000 items, including nuts, candies, and other snacks. Alton Brown visited there and called it a National Treasure. I concur.
8. See the Keeper of the Plains
Wichita’s most famous offering is the Keeper of the Plains. This stunning and picturesque 44-foot tall steel sculpture of an Indian with his arms raised toward the rising sun is the most recognized Wichita symbol. It stands where the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers join and was built in 1974 by Indian artist Blackbear Bosin.
You’ll see people selling trinkets, food, street performers, musicians, and families out enjoying each other’s company in the special ritual of the fire pot lighting that takes place every night at sundown and burns for 15 minutes.
9. Admire Adorable Bronze Sculptures
In Downtown Wichita, there are 30+ bronze pieces by Washington artist Georgia Gerber that form a playful streetscape on East Douglas Avenue. My favorites are the dime store counter (entitled Soda Fountain) at the previous site of a Woolworth dime store of years past and the Barefoot Business Man.
10. Attend Mosley Street Melodrama
One of my favorite things about the Midwest is the number of active dinner theaters. Mosley Street Melodrama is in a league of its own, and if I lived in Wichita, I would be a regular patron there. Come early for dinner and stay for a super fun audience-participation theater experience.
My show was “Little Cookie Shop of Horrors,” a spoof on the Broadway class (Little Shop of Horrors), plus an intermission, then a full-fledged comedy-variety type show. It was a blast and the costumes and acting were superb! All seats in the house are excellent and you’ll see all ages represented—best of all, it isn’t one bit cliquy, so if you are visiting, don’t be afraid to go solo.
A cash bar and full-service waitress provide drinks all night long. Performances range from musicals to comedy, revues and variety shows.
11. Eat Magnificent Mexican Food
I found a Mexican meal worth raving about at Molino’s Mexican Cuisine, serving contemporary Mexican dishes and incredible chips and salsa. The staff is friendly and attentive, and I advise you to wear elastic waist pants to enjoy the entire meal. Try the Steak Nachos…mmm, mmm, good.
12. Visit a Photo-Worthy Zoo
Bring the family and friends to enjoy the 7th largest (conservation) zoo in the country and top family attraction in Kansas at the Sedgwick County Zoo. You’ll find exhibits and enclosures with penguins, birds, prairie dogs (a first for this Southern gal) and river otters, plus a huge elephant pool. I positively adored The Downing Gorilla Forest. Watching the gorillas interact with their babies was priceless.
13. Bourbon and Appetizers…Please
Chose from craft cocktails (with an emphasis on bourbon—over 100 different ones), dozens of craft beer on tap, and a menu filled with scrumptious sounding dishes (namely appetizers for me) at Monarch in the Douglas Design District. Monarch’s Goat Cheese Peppers, sweet peppadew peppers stuffed with goat cheese and scallions, is drizzled with balsamic and are freaking delicious.
14. Delicious Coffee (and Breakfast)
Reverie Roasters is a Douglas Avenue, Wichita fave for cold brew, drip coffee, espresso, specialty drinks, and a gourmet breakfast. Founder’s Bakery’s, the food component in the same location, is a craft bakery with high-end pastries, soup, sandwiches, and fresh fruit.
15. See the Museum of World Treasures
The Museum of World Treasures would be a unique thing to see in Wichita, or maybe even the Midwest. With a zany list of items making up their treasure trove, you’ll find everything from dinosaurs to a shrunken head, mummies to Civil War relics; there is enough to keep you snooping around for hours.
16. Ride the Q-Line
You can hop aboard Wichita’s Q-Line to see the attractions, stop for photos at murals and pretty scenery, and visit the Douglas Design District. The price? Zero. This ride-share program is totally free. It makes it very convenient to stay downtown at a hotel with a trolley stop and not drive around town. I did this from the Hotel Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview, also walkable to downtown.
17. Relax in Cool Urban Spaces
Located near Douglas and Broadway, the Pop-Up Urban Park is a great space to hang out, enjoy the colorful surroundings, grab a bite from one of the food trucks, or dip your feet in the sand. Yep, this downtown park has a beach. You’ll also find intriguing artsy alleyways and something unique in the nooks and crannies all over town.
18. Delight in Nature
The beautiful nature hotspot in town goes by the name Botanica Wichita. With over 18 acres of gorgeous landscapes, trees, statues, flowers, and botanical gardens, you’ll be whisked to a setting in the South of France as you take in the scenery showcasing 4,000 species. Kids will love the Downing Children’s Garden, a space dedicated to their size and interests.
19. Play at Exploration Place
Exploration Place is Kansas’ premier science center. Exhibits such as Explore Kansas, Kansas in Miniature, and Kids Explore keep things fresh and fun for repeat visitors. Explore Kansas has cool hands-on displays to learn about air, weather, water, and land, with a tornado feature. The Boeing Dome Theater and Planetarium will pique the interest of adults as well.
20. Enjoy Retro Eats and Drinks
Experience malt shop favorites at the Old Mill Tasty Shop, an iconic eatery in Wichita since 1932. Sit at the marble soda fountain or enjoy a wooden booth for hand-dipped milkshakes, malts, tuna salad, old-fashioned tomato soup, or a peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich. Yes, I tried them all, plus a soda made with Coke Syrup.
21. See the Douglas Design District
Douglas Avenue, between Glendale and Washington, is known as the Douglas Design District. College Hill is in this area, home to the Frank Lloyd Wright Allen House Museum and Study Center, as well as locally-owned businesses and nearly fifty murals. Get around via bike with the bike share program you’ll find in this part of town.
22. Photograph Cool Murals
Wichita is littered with colorful, hip murals perfect for jazzing up your Instagram page or just admiring the talented pieces. While the walls are ever-changing and getting freshened up, the Greetings from Wichita remains my favorite piece.
23. Be Entertained
Experience a rare opportunity in Wichita with a cabaret-style theater experience at Roxy’s Downtown. Not surprising as Wichita has 22 live theaters. There is plenty of adults to do in this town that doesn’t require you to be in bed by 9:00.
24. Learn about American Indians
I visited my first museum dedicated to Native Americans while in Wichita. The Mid American All Indian Center provided a new experience for me through their informative exhibits, a galley of nations (the flags are so cool!) and even a real live Pow-Wow, which I lucked into. I loved seeing the Native Americans singing and dancing, playing the drums, and selling crafts in their colorful regalia.
The museum also has stellar displays of artwork and artifacts (5,000 pieces), and a well-stocked gift shop with jewelry, clothing, and gifts. The educational displays and presentations explained how local Indians live today while preserving American Indian culture. It is an excellent introduction to their lifestyle and history. This was one of my favorite travel experiences ever. I also learned a bit about basket weaving—very cool.
25. Enjoy Art, Art, and More Art
Art is everywhere in Wichita, often in the form of museums. The Wichita Art Museum, a public two-story building on the river, offers incredible pictures, statues, and various other artworks. There is even an award-winning Art Garden. While the Wichita Art Museum’s Great Hall has a Chihuly Confetti Chandelier (possibly the best reason for visiting), the artwork by Charles Russell, Homer, and Edward Hopper were my favorites.
You may as well eat lunch in the upscale Muse Café, where quiche and soup are two delicious options, and desserts are in high demand. The museum was founded in 1935. Admission is free on Saturdays.
26. Learn About Olde Town Wichita
The heart of Wichita lies in the Olde Town Marketplace area, with brick-lined streets and converted warehouses fashioned to today’s standards, but not losing the 19th-century feel. Check out the local farmers’ markets and special events that are plentiful in this thriving part of Kansas.
Where to Stay in Wichita
The SpringHill Suites by Marriott Wichita East at Plazzio is an awesome choice for lodging in Wichita. Comfortable and stylish rooms feature an awesome light-up mirror, great linens, free parking, free breakfast, and an indoor pool. It is close to the interstate for an easy hop on, hop off. Plus, the prices are incredibly affordable.
I Love Wichita
I honestly think I should have my own I Love Wichita sticker with me at all times. It gets my pick as my favorite Midwest destination between the arts, culture, food, and down-to-earth people. I cannot understand why the country is talking about Wichita’s incredible museums, urban outdoor spaces, and tasty culinary scenes.
Who knew that this city’s culture would be one of the most unique I’ve seen in the entire United States, and to think, it began as a trading post on the Chisholm Trail in the mid-1800s? Wichita is now known as the “Air Capital” of the world, with the aircraft industry-dominating a major part of the city.
I love Wichita…it had me at hello.
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Thanks to Visit Wichita for hosting many of my accommodations, food, and activities. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.
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