When you hear the words ‘Wichita’ and ‘Kansas,’ you probably don’t associate it with tourist destinations. While it’s true that Wichita does not inspire the same sense of wonder that New York, Los Angeles, or even Kansas City do, the Wichita metropolitan area is a wonderful place to visit, with plenty of activities to entertain the whole family.
Wichita is located in south-central Kansas, about 50 miles north of the Oklahoma border. It is the largest city in Kansas, with approximately 365,000 residents. While Wichita is known as the Air Capital of the World, it also has deep roots in the soil, with visitors only needing to drive about 15 minutes in any direction to reach the open farm country.
Perhaps the most famous attraction in Wichita is the Sedgwick County Zoo. Recognized as a world-class institution, the zoo is home to over 2,500 animals representing nearly 500 species. Over the last few years, the zoo has added two new large-scale attractions: Penguin Cove, which was opened in 2007 and is the zoo’s first marine exhibit, and Tiger Trek, which debuted in 2009, and houses Amur tigers, Malayan tigers, red pandas, and many more animals.
For those who like to visit museums, Wichita has several to offer. The most unique of these is the Old CowTown Museum, which traces the history and development of Wichita from its beginnings as a small town in the middle of the Wild West to the cultural center that it has become today. Staffed by several hundred volunteers, many of whom wear traditional pioneer dress, CowTown offers visitors a chance to live and understand Kansas history in a way that few places are able to.
Located just across the street from CowTown, on Museum Drive, is the Wichita Art Museum, which is the largest art museum in the state of Kansas. It contains over 7,000 works, predominantly by American artists, in its permanent collection. While they have several important pieces of art, one of the most magnificent displays is the large Chihuly glass bridge and ceiling, which is displayed on the second floor of the museum.
There are three other museums and attractions also located off of Museum Drive: Exploration Place, which is a science and discovery museum that provides hands-on displays for visitors of all ages to explore; Botanica, Wichita’s botanical gardens; and the Mid-America All-Indian Center, which houses a museum and Gallery of Nations, as well as an outdoor Plains Indian Encampment display. The Mid-American All-Indian Center also holds several powwows over the course of the year, which draw crowds from all over the Midwest.
The one neighborhood in Wichita that is truly a must-see is Old Town, a recently revitalized area that has developed into the city’s arts district. If you are visiting Wichita over the last Friday of the month, Old Town plays host to a monthly event called Final Friday, an exceedingly popular art crawl through 20 to 40 gallery spaces spread out across the city. Local artists are given a chance to display and sell their work, with the galleries providing refreshments and music, while the city provides a free shuttle to carry attendees from destination to destination.
If you do not happen to be visiting over the last Friday of the month, though, there are other Old Town attractions to experience, including multiple restaurants, galleries, boutique shops, and a movie theatre, as well as two additional museums.
The Museum of World Treasures provides visitors with a chance to “travel through time” while viewing their exhibits, which range from artifacts recovered from ancient civilizations, to a piece of the Berlin Wall, to a lock of George Washington’s hair. With three floors and hundreds of pieces on display, the Museum of World Treasures is truly one of a kind.
The Great Plains Transportation Museum is also located in Old Town and it allows visitors the opportunity to see six retired locomotives, as well as multiple pieces of rolling stock, and view exhibits filled with railroad history.
If you want to take in a show while in Wichita, there are multiple venues in which to do so. Wichita is home to a symphony orchestra and an opera company, both of which perform at the Century II Convention Center. Wichita is also home to a ballet company and the Stage One theatre company. Just outside of Old Town is the city’s newest venue, the Intrust Bank Arena, which is bringing big name acts and musical performers right into the heart of the city.
If sports are more your thing, Wichita is also home to the Wichita Wingnuts baseball team, the Wichita Thunder hockey team, the ICT Girls roller derby team, and a wide range of Wichita State University NCAA-affiliated sports.
There are also two annual events that are more than worth a special trip to Wichita to enjoy. The first of these is Wichita’s Riverfest, which is held over the course of a week and features big name musical guests, special contests and attractions, block parties, and so much more. It attracts approximately 350,000 visitors annually. The second of these events is the Tallgrass Film Festival, which screens nearly a hundred films over a three-day period, and has close to 7,000 attendees.
So, while Wichita may not be the first place you think of when someone says the words ‘tourist destination,’ if you find yourself in the area, you will be more than pleased with the events and attractions that Wichita has to offer.
This article was supplied by Sarah Alexander from Constant Content.