Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2020, Wichita, Kansas flies high with aviation history and attractions, but there’s plenty more to see and do in the Air Capital of the World. With a lively arts scene, outdoor recreation, great restaurants, family-friendly fun, and a strong Native American culture, everyone’s sure to find something to explore and enjoy.
Soar Into History at the Kansas Aviation Museum
The former Wichita Municipal Airport terminal (ICT to flight buffs) that now houses the Kansas Aviation Museum was one of the busiest airports in the world during its 1940s glory days with planes taking off and landing every 90 seconds. (Rumor has it, Fred Astaire even danced across the atrium during a layover.) These days, guests can visit the handsome Art Deco facility to learn all about the region’s proud aviation heritage and the contributions of major industry players including Cessna, Stearman, Beech, and Boeing. The two floors of exhibits and displays, in addition to a collection of retired aircraft on the tarmac just outside, offer a deep dive into everything you’ve ever wanted to know about airplanes.
Have Lunch With a View
Sitting mere yards from a working runway, the Stearman Field Bar and Grill gives customers the unique opportunity to dine against a backdrop of arriving and departing private planes. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus offer classic casual eats like omelets, burgers, tacos, salads, wings, and pizza that you can wash down with coffee, cocktails, or soft drinks. If you’re just itching to get up in the air, you can schedule a Stearman bi-plane ride. But, if you’re at all prone to motion sickness, you'll want to eat after, not before, the jaunt.
Learn about America's Indigenous Peoples
Anchored by the Keeper of the Plains—a striking 44-foot metal sculpture created by artist Blackbear Bosin that stands at the spot where the Big and Little Arkansas rivers converge—the Mid-America All-Indian Center provides an immersive experience for guests who want to learn more about America’s indigenous tribes. Visitors can discover an ever-evolving collection of interactive exhibits that highlight different aspects of Native American life and history. Try to time your visit to see the Ring of Fire pots at the base of the statue light up at night for 15 minutes (weather and river levels permitting).
Appreciate Some Art
In the heart of the River District, the Wichita Art Museum has been the city’s premier creative cultural center since its founding in 1935. Among an 8,000-item collection of paintings, sculpture, and other media, standouts include works by American greats like Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, and Winslow Homer. Have your camera ready to snap a selfie in front of the Chihuly chandelier that hangs in the great hall, and if you get hungry, hit the on-site cafe for lunch.
Walk on the Wild Side
Grab the kids and check out some of Wichita’s best animal adventures. The Sedgwick County Zoo is home to more than 3,000 animals across 400 different species. Don’t miss the chance to admire the Reed Family Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley and commune with the residents of Downing Gorilla Forest. To ogle baby animals, pet kangaroos, and feed lemurs by hand visit the Tanganyika Wildlife Park, open seasonally from spring through fall. Here, visitors get to choose from up-close animal encounters with alpacas, bunnies, tortoises, giraffes, and more.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Botanica community garden beautifies the largest city in Kansas with all manner of blooming flora in a gorgeous walk-through complex. Celebrating all forms of horticulture, the vibrant grounds have roses, wildflowers, herbs, and shrubs across a 17-acre park painstakingly landscaped with waterfalls, sculptures, and fountains. Each spring, thousands of tulips and daffodils emerge to usher in a colorful cycle of growing seasons that continues all year long. Make sure to check out the ethereal butterfly house.
Shop Until You Drop
Along the storied Chisholm Trail, the historic Delano district was home to saloons, brothels, and dens of ill repute as Wichita was taking shape back in the 1870s. Now it’s a prime shopping territory populated with distinctive local boutiques and eateries. A four-panel clock tower at the intersection of Douglas and Sycamore Streets commemorates the district’s rather colorful history. Hatman Jack’s is a must-stop where proprietor Jack Kellogg capably selects hats for his clients, including several celebrities. Take a break and refuel for more retail therapy with beautiful baked goods and sweet treats at Milkfloat.
Find Old-World Cuisine in a Shipping Container
One of the most innovative projects of its kind in the Midwest, the two-story Revolutsia development has cleverly reimagined 36 full-sized shipping containers as a winning collection of shops, boutiques, and restaurants. The containers surround an open gathering space that boasts tables, chairs, and a firepit. Fill up on authentic German beer and cuisine at Prost, then pick up some imported Ritter Sport chocolate bars, sundries, and souvenirs to take home at Ze German Markt next door.
Feel Like a Kid Again
Children (and adults) of all ages are welcome to play and learn to their hearts’ content at Exploration Place. On the Arkansas River, the science center’s contemporary design (crafted by renowned architect Moshe Safdie) sets the stage for STEM-focused displays and touring national exhibits. The “Design Build Fly” area capitalizes on Wichita’s proud aviation history with hands-on stations that let little guests see how these magical flying machines take flight.