Despite Wichita not being the most exciting of cities (it is Kansas after all), it does have some decent restaurants, a cute main street-type spot and the typical activities you'll find in most urban areas. And while doing all the normal things is perfectly fine, I suggest you make time to visit the unique, and possibly very quirky, attractions that Wichita has to offer.
They're all art- and history-related, but don't let that turn you away because many are fantasy-themed, free or low-cost admission and something you might have never seen or experienced before.
Pin this post for later!
1. Old Cowtown Museum
The Old Cowtown Museum is the only history museum to showcase a Kansas cattle town and American frontier history from 1865-1880. Walking into this town should make you feel like you've gone back in time, too, because there are 54 historic or recreated buildings on site. These include residential homes, barns, a saloon, a blacksmith shop, clothing and food stores, etc., and you can walk into them all to see historical artifacts, which come to more than 10,000 objects from that time period.
From April to October, you'll also find costumed workers in the town who can tell you a bit more about its history. There is always a blacksmith and a printer showing off their crafts, and you also won't want to miss the gunfights that happen at 1PM and 3:30PM.
I got lucky when I visited this museum because it was the weekend of a Civil War reenactment event. There were actors from all over the country who actually slept in the tents and homes on site, and there were more interactive things than usual as well, such as a street magician act, a saloon show, baked goods and home goods for sale and more. So be sure to check the calendar to see if there are any special events coming up.
Admission to the museum for adults is $9, and my opinion is that it's definitely worth it.
2. The Village
The Village is a fantastical place where your imagination can run wild. Gary Pendergrass, a home remodeler turned sculptor, created this art installation in the yard of a suburban home. It's got a steampunk vibe to it, as most of the sculptures are made with different types of metals. You'll see animals, people and structures, and many of these are even notable things and characters from books, movies and real life.
This wonky village is free and open during daylight hours, so add it to your itinerary for your Wichita visit. I can tell you that it will, without a doubt, at least put a smile on your face.
Location: 3831 W 17th St N, Wichita, KS 67203
3. Keeper of the Plains
Yes, Keeper of the Plains is one of the most popular sights in Wichita, but it's worth noting in this blog post because it isn't something you'll find in any other city. This tall outdoor sculpture will likely greet you on your way into Wichita and stands where the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers join (the land between is sacred ground to the Native American people).
The pedestrian suspension bridge is worth the walk as well because near the statue you'll find information (kind of like a small outdoor museum) about the Plains Indians. Of course, you can also consider visiting the Mid-America All-Indian Center that's nearby to learn more about the history and culture of the area.
4. Wichita's Troll
On the riverfront, near Keeper of the Plains, you'll find a fun and not entirely well-known art installation: The Wichita Troll. To find this bronze statue, you need only look down. More specifically, you need to look under a sidewalk grate that sits a little above the walking sidewalk that travels around the river.
It's likely that your Apple Maps will pull this art installation up, but if it doesn't, don't be afraid to do a little exploring. That can be the fun of it!
Location: 777 W Central Ave, Wichita, KS 67203
5. Old Mill Tasty Shop
This family-owned and -operated joint has been around since 1932, and you can confirm this fact when you walk in because you'll see the old-fashioned soda fountain at the front. As customers would expect, the Old Mill Tasty Shop sells ice cream, shakes and malts, but you can also order some lunch.
Go ahead and have a seat at one of the tables or booths, but if you want the real old-fashioned experience, plop yourself down on a bar stool and send yourself back to 1932.
6. Museum of World Treasures
Although I can't say that I loved this history museum (spoiler alert: the whole thing isn't made up of treasures), the first floor was a cool experience. There you'll see ancient artifacts from Asia, Africa, Greece, Rome and Egypt, including pots, coins, art, etc. — even a shrunken head. There's a section about Buddhism and a bunch of Buddha statues that nobody knows exactly how old they are, and a section on the second floor about the Renaissance Era was also interesting.
The displays haven't been modernized, but those exhibits I mentioned above are exciting and make the Museum of World Treasures a unique find in Wichita. It does cost $10 for adults to visit (kids are a little cheaper), which isn't a bad price, just don't expect fancy displays.
(And by the way, what I mean by the museum not being full of treasures is that the other two levels have information about American history, the presidents, famous wars, the old west, etc. These are topics I could find at other much more popular museums even in places not far from Wichita that are a lot more updated and include more artifacts and documents.)
7. The Original Pizza Hut
Did you know that Pizza Hut came into existence in Wichita, Kansas? If you didn't, well, now you do! Two Wichita University students began this restaurant in 1958 and built it up into what it is today.
And the original building is still there on the corner of Bluff and Kellogg. Now, you can't order pizza at this location, but you can take a photo in front of the sign and go inside (on Monday - Friday) to learn more about the history of this beloved pizza shop from the small free museum.
8. Gallery Alley
In Old Town, you'll discover a regular alleyway that has been transformed into an urban art exhibit. While the displays can change in Gallery Alley, they seem to all be extremely creative, imaginative and sensory experiences, whether that has to do with the sound, look or feel. The goal of the artists is to actually showcase art for those who are visually impaired.
During my most recent visit to Wichita, I walked into this alley and found myself face to face with two huge spiders (like from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). One was ground level and another was climbing above. There was also a wind chime-type exhibit, colorful cats and, my favorite, "The Wave." Visitors can pull a rope to create a series of movements (a wave) from other ropes that have bells on them. So it is not only about texture but also about sound and rhythm.
Location: 616 E Douglas Ave, Wichita, KS 67202
9. "Personnages Oiseaux"
Joan Miró, a famous Spanish painter, sculptor and ceramicist, was known for being a Surrealist artist. And Wichita State University has the only glass and marble mosaic (called "Personnages Oiseaux") he ever made displayed on the outside of its Ulrich Museum of Art. The outdoor mosaic is 28 ft. by 52 ft. and was restored in 2011.
Although you might not be able to make heads, tails or perhaps wings out of the mural, you might have better luck with the artwork inside the museum, which is free.
Location: Ulrich Museum of Art
10. Field Station: Dinosaurs
I could see the heads of many of the gigantic dinosaurs from the road before even pulling into the street of this attraction. (The Brachiosaurus was particularly prominent.) This definitely piqued my intrigue.
Located just outside of Wichita in Derby, Field Station: Dinosaurs is a theme park of sorts that will give you the feeling that you've arrived on the scene of Jurassic Park. Not only are there jeeps, canvas tents and cargo boxes welcoming you inside, but most importantly, you'll find 30+ life-size, realistic-looking and moving dinosaurs on site that you can walk among. There are also a variety of shows, games and activities, including mini-golf.
Although I didn't have time to enjoy this attraction — I arrived with just 30 minutes to spare until closing, which wasn't enough time to view the park — I did have an in-depth conversation with the worker there who seems to really love her job. She told me all about the various events the park has and how it can be a great place for kids but also for many adults. (I definitely plan on taking my husband to this at some point because he loves dinosaurs and would probably look like a kid in a candy shop there.)
It is $17.50 for a day pass, but for something unique like this activity, it might very well be worth it, especially if you have a child who is obsessed with dinosaurs. There are season passes that you can look into as well.