Home to nearly 400,000 people, Wichita is the largest city in the Sunflower State of Kansas. (Yep, it’s bigger than the Kansas side of Kansas City!) As you might imagine, that means it’s a city full of surprises, of delicious dishes, and of welcoming people. There are also lots of things to do in Wichita, whether you’re planning a first trip or a return to discover something new.
Additionally, as Wichita is a crossroads of sorts and along Interstate 35, many people find themselves passing through and curious whether it’s worth it to extend their trip and make an overnight stop. Short answer: yes! Wichita, also called Cowtown, is ready to welcome you to explore everything from its beautiful urban outdoors to the arts and culture you definitely aren’t expecting to find.
While this isn’t a complete or comprehensive list of everything there is to do, these are some of the best and greatest things to do in Wichita. Let’s explore the options together!
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Gáuigú (Kiowa), 𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒼𐓂𐓊𐒻 𐓆𐒻𐒿𐒷 𐓀𐒰^𐓓𐒰^(Osage), Wichita, and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Explore Sedgwick County Zoo
Founded in 1971, Sedgwick County Zoo is one of Wichita’s gems and the seventh largest zoo in the United States. The facility is home to 3,000 animals and over 400 species from around the globe.
But it is not so much the diversity as it is how animals are presented that makes the zoo a truly wonderful experience. The animals are grouped geographically and all the exhibits are made to resemble the animals’ natural habitats. Consequently, going through the zoo feels like traveling through different continents. All exhibits are top-notch, but the tropical bird exhibit is astounding. They have a walk-in aviary with lots of beautiful, healthy pigeon/dove species and other birds from around the world. Some of them are very used to people and you can get great close-up photos of them. No wonder Sedgwick County Zoo has become one of the top attractions in Wichita.
Wander around The Wichita Gardens
Sticking to the nature theme, The Wichita Gardens is a must-see for anybody, whether they’re visiting Wichita or driving through the city.
This 17-acre botanical garden is an oasis in the middle of the city and one of the best Wichita things to do when you feel the urge to tune the world out. It features over 30 themed gardens, including a Butterfly Garden, a Chinese Garden, Wildflower Garden, and a rose garden with over 100 colored roses. There’s also a Children’s Garden with displays to get the little ones in the family interested in nature.
The Wichita Gardens puts up one of the best Christmas light shows in Kansas, so if you happen to be visiting Wichita during the holiday season, make sure to stop by.
Witness The Keeper of the Plains
If you’re wondering what to do in Wichita that won’t take you too long, visiting The Keeper of the Plains is a good alternative.
An icon of Wichita, The Keeper of the Plains sits right where the Little Arkansas and Big Arkansas rivers meet. It was designed and sculpted by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin for the United States bicentennial. The artists intended to symbolize the brotherhood of all Native Americans and communities of the plains. Next to the statue, there’s a Veterans Memorial and wall-mounted displays about the Plains Indians. Try to schedule a visit around sunset to see the caldrons below the statue blaze to life.
Travel to the 1800s in Old Cowtown Museum
There’s nothing like learning history through an authentic experience. The Old Cowtown Museum knows this well and has set up a living history museum recreating the Wichita of the 1800s.
The museum intends to explain Wichita’s evolution from a frontier settlement to a cattle town to an agricultural and manufacturing area. It has 54 authentic buildings from the 19th Century and over 12,000 artifacts, ranging from farm wagons to tea spoons. To make it even more real, there are actors dressed in period clothes performing everyday activities, like gardening and tending livestock. There are also interactive buildings, like the saloon where visitors can have lunch or a cold drink.
Discover the Museum of World Treasures
Visiting The Museum of World Treasures is one of the best things to do in Wichita for museum-goers or anyone with insatiable curiosity.
Spanning four floors, the museum houses historic objects from every field and culture. There are some dinosaurs, there are some minerals, there are religious artifacts from millenary cultures, there are ancient Egyptian artifacts… and the list goes on. The museum’s second floor is dedicated to the major wars and there’s also a small collection of items from the American West. The third floor has a playground and visitors will find plenty of interactive displays for kids of all ages.
Enjoy Local Art at the Gallery Alley
All list of things to do in Wichita will have The Gallery Alley as a must-see. Why?, you may wonder. Well, it turns out this is no regular alley.
Sandwiched between eateries and cafés, this colorful alley contains a rotating collection of art installments, some of which are interactive, such as the “musical ropes!”. The giant spider sculpture is a local favorite. However, it isn’t the art installations that have made this place attractive. The Gallery Alley provides an element of surprise and delight to visitors – which is what downtowns are supposed to do. It brings energy to a unique but underutilized space and demonstrates that streets and alleys can be repurposed to provide value to people. Whether you want the perfect photo op or a spot to slow down for a sec, don’t miss the Gallery Alley.
Indulge in Authentic German Beer at Prost
Photos courtesy of Prost via Instagram
Amidst the hot summer afternoon downtown, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better to cool down than a German beer. That’s when Prost comes in.
Prost is a Wichita institution known for preparing traditional German delights and its extensive beer menu. One of the owners is from Germany so they know what they’re doing when it comes to German food and beer. Every beer is imported from Germany and has followed The German Reinheitsgebot, or purity law, that originated in 1516. The atmosphere is as authentic as the gastronomy. Inside, the restaurant resembles the Oktoberfest tents, with communal tables and Bavarian flags hanging on top.
Become a Scientist at Exploration Place
Few places can ignite curiosity and a love for science like Exploration Place. Opened in 2000, this science museum is not your typical look-and-read museum. The environment is set to encourage the curious minds of both kids and adults of all ages. Consequently, almost all of the exhibits here are engaging in some way. There are flight simulators, a potions room, a seven-foot-tall model of the human mouth, a dome, and a couple of play areas to blow off steam. The building design is also striking. It sits right on the river, featuring lots of natural light and vistas.
Admire Art at the Ulrich Museum of Art
Ulrich Museum of Art is a great place for all art lovers. Unlike other museums, the experience starts from the moment you arrive at the place.
The facade on the front of the building is your first piece of great art – nothing less than a beautiful Miro mosaic mural – and it doesn’t disappoint from there. Ulrich focuses on Contemporary Art and houses diverse and rich collections, featuring artwork that navigates through different themes. While the museum exhibits (in the art building) are interesting, the real jewels are placed on the university campus. There are many pieces of sculpture by important artists that one walks to and enjoys outdoors.
Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House
When in Wichita, you can’t miss the chance of visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House.
Built in 1915, The Allen House was designed by the great American architect Frank Lloyd for former Kansas Governor Henry Justin Allen and his wife, Elsie. It is one of the architect’s last houses to bear his iconic Prairie Style. The house boasts influences from Japanese architecture as well since Lloyd was working on the Imperial Hotel in Japan at the time. Unless you’re familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, I suggest you book a tour to see the house’s interior.
Docents have a wealth of knowledge about the house and architecture. Also, understanding the reason behind Lloyd’s design choices makes every detail take on a new meaning.
Enjoy the Wichita Symphony Orchestra
Last but not least, you can’t leave Wichita without attending a performance by the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.
Wichita isn’t popular for being an art haven so many visitors may be skeptical about its cultural offer. It may not be New York, but Wichita is full of (big) artistic surprises.
The Wichita Symphony Orchestra is one of them. While it is an underrated plan, enjoying one of the orchestra’s performances should be one of the must things to do in Wichita. A small group of 100 musicians, they sound a hundred times stronger and deliver performances that will make your heart skip a beat. Additionally, Daniel Hege, Wichita Symphony Director/Conductor, is not only wonderful at his job but he actively participates and engages with his audience and the musicians he leads.
Have any questions about these delightful things to do in Wichita, or do you have suggestions for others I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!