Wichita was established in 1864 as a trading post at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers, where the Wichita Indians grew corn, pumpkins, and tobacco. The town quickly grew as cowboys driving cattle along the Chisholm Trail, from Texas ranches to Kansas railheads, used the destination as a waypoint.
But the cowtown surrounded by amber waves of grain was transformed into the Air Capital of the World in the early 1900s when Clyde Cessna started manufacturing planes in the Kansas town.
Today, Wichita is the largest city in Kansas. And as you approach the river junction, you’ll see a massive steel sculpture standing on the spot that remains sacred to the Wichita people. Crafted by Native American artist Blackbear Bosin, the 44-foot-tall Keeper of the Plains is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Wichita.
In addition to watching the Ring of Fire, a nightly ceremony featuring firepots ignited around the sculpture, these are the best things to do on a weekend getaway in Wichita.
Pro Tip: If you visit Wichita by road tripping from Kansas’s second-largest city, here’s what you should see, do, and eat along the route from Kansas City.
What To Do In Wichita
Head To The Mid-America All-Indian Center
Although this Kansas city is named after the local indigenous people, the Mid-America All-Indian Center serves as a cultural center for all American Indians. Using interactive experiences and videos, the center seeks to preserve Native American culture and share this rich heritage with the world.
Although the Keeper of the Plains is his most notable work, Blackbear Bosin created numerous vividly colored paintings depicting Native American life. The Mid-America All-Indian Center houses a large collection of his work.
Fun Fact: Featuring a blue-and-white sun symbol, the Wichita city flag stands out from other flags flying across the land. Like the New Mexico state flag, Wichita’s flag incorporates a Native American symbol meaning “home.”
Visit The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
Just a few blocks from the Arkansas River, the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum is housed in a beautiful native stone castle. Nicknamed the Palace of the Plains, the turn-of-the-century building was originally constructed as Wichita’s first city hall. Visit to explore the city’s growth from a trading post to the present day.
See Historic Planes At The Kansas Aviation Museum
When it comes to celebrating Wichita’s link with aircraft, nothing compares to the Kansas Aviation Museum, located in the former Wichita Municipal Airport terminal. Visitors can explore the history of flight and discover why Wichita is the Air Capital of the World. You’ll see several historic planes, like a bright yellow trainer manufactured for the United States Navy, an open-cockpit crop duster emblazoned with the Texaco logo, and one of the first high-performance small civilian airplanes.
Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House
Completed in 1918, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen House features the long horizontal lines and earth tones that define the architect’s prairie houses. Named for former Kansas Governor Henry J. Allen and his wife, Elsie, the residence is one of a handful of Wright structures in the Sunflower State. When you visit, note the original art glass, groundbreaking attached garage (new for the time), and more than 30 pieces of Wright-designed furniture.
Enjoy The Flora And Fauna At The Great Plains Nature Center
Continue to be inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s desire to embrace nature by enjoying the flora and fauna at the Great Plains Nature Center. This natural oasis in the heart of the city is one of the biggest parks in Wichita and includes a Kansas wildlife exhibit, more than 280 acres of natural habitat, and several miles of paved trails.
Relax At The Botanical Garden
For a more manicured time in the great outdoors, check out Wichita’s botanical garden, Botanica. From spring through fall, you’ll witness a kaleidoscope of ever-changing colors as the gardens evolve with the seasons. And as Thanksgiving approaches, beautiful blooms are replaced by millions of bright bulbs during Illuminations, the garden’s winter light display.
Visit The Original Pizza Hut Museum
As the 1950s drew to a close, brothers Dan and Frank Carney started a restaurant while attending Wichita State University. They tossed, sauced, and topped pizza -- a dish that was just starting to gain popularity outside of Italian communities -- in a nondescript red brick building. Within a year, they had opened six Pizza Hut restaurants. They began franchising their business, and the rest is history.
Visit the original red brick building -- now the Pizza Hut Museum -- to learn more about its past from a student docent.
Where To Eat In Wichita
Old Mill Tasty Shop
Whether I’m passing through or spending a few days, if I’m visiting Wichita, I’m eating at the Old Mill Tasty Shop. With a nearly 90-year history broken into two chapters, this casual diner with an old-time marble soda fountain is one of Wichita’s oldest downtown restaurants.
If it’s not too hot outside, start with a cup of soup. Featuring chunks of tomatoes and tons of fresh basil, the tomato bisque is one of my favorites. Consider the daily blue plate special for your main dish. Whether it’s chicken fried chicken, meatloaf, lasagna, or another filling dish, everything I’ve ever tried has always been delicious. And be sure to save room for a shake, malt, or other treat from the soda fountain before you go!
Pro Tip: As part of this historic walking tour, it’s easy to pair lunch at the Old Mill Tasty Shop with several of the sights and activities on this list.
As a German American who lived in Germany for three years, I’m always on the hunt for my favorite flavors from the Old World. Featuring everything from Bavarian-style pretzels and schnitzel to saucy currywurst like the kind served in Berlin, Prost is sure to delight your taste buds. And because of the large Volga German population in Kansas, this urban biergarten also serves bierocks. Ground beef, diced onions, and shredded cabbage are baked inside a soft yeast dough to make this German American dish that you won’t find at Oktoberfest in Munich.
Pro Tip: When you visit Prost, be sure to also visit the German market next door.
If you want to see how Italian food fared in Wichita after the Carney brothers introduced the locals to this ethnic cuisine in 1958, then dine at DeFazio’s. A local favorite since 1982, this Italian eatery grinds its own sausage, bakes its bread daily, and slowly simmers all of its sauce from scratch. Our family is especially partial to the sausage manicotti and lasagna della casa.
With three locations in Wichita, HomeGrown is a delicious daytime eatery serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch. Enjoy a flaky homemade Pop-Tart (or three) paired with a cup of locally roasted coffee. Or turn a heartier breakfast of cage-free eggs, Yoder bacon, and croissant French toast into a casual brunch by adding a mimosa, Bloody Mary, or Irish Hug.
The Doo-Dah Diner is a casual breakfast and lunch spot with a laid-back vibe and scratch kitchen. It's adored by both locals and celebrities alike, especially after it was selected by People magazine as the most popular breakfast joint in Kansas. Try the crab cake Benedict featuring grilled asparagus and jalapeno bacon crumbles. Or, if you’re traveling with a food allergy, dig into the gluten-free version of their famous banana bread French toast.
Where To Stay In Wichita
Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview
Along the banks of the Arkansas River, and just downstream from the Keeper of the Plains, the historic Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview dates to 1922. Don’t miss the original mosaic mural installed by Blackbear Bosin in the Crystal Ballroom.
Hotel At Old Town
A brick warehouse-turned-luxury hotel with a piano bar, the Hotel at Old Town is a prominent landmark in the heart of Wichita’s Old Town. Just steps from the Museum of World Treasures and surrounded by boutiques and eateries, the hotel offers accommodations ranging from studios to one-bedroom suites with full kitchens.
Here are a few additional tips for a fantastic trip to Wichita:
- Although it is about 30 minutes northeast of downtown, raise a glass to Wichita’s aviation past at Stearman Airfield Bar & Grill in Benton. Watch planes come and go while you sip a beer, nibble on fried pickles dipped in ranch, or share a gourmet pizza.
- If you plan to visit Wichita in late May or early June, make plans to attend Wichita Riverfest, a summer festival that dates to the early 1970s.
Check out this article for additional recommendations for things to do in Wichita.