It’s not something I often write about, but for me, every city falls into one of two categories: a place to live or a place to visit. Very rarely does a city or town meet both criteria. Some places may be great to visit, even often, but it just doesn’t feel like home.
Only a handful of places I’ve encountered have fallen into both categories. Wichita, Kansas feels like a place I could call home and it’s such a fun town that I’ll definitely go back.
And, for the people that call this home – I apologize if you wanted to keep it under wraps – but, I can’t keep it to myself. Wichita, Kansas is one of the coolest towns I’ve been to.
It will stun many, especially those that still spout off that Kansas is boring or merely an obstacle to get across the country. What a shame for anyone that misses out on experiencing this place. The people are off-the-charts friendly (I’ll get to that in a minute) and there’s everything you could possibly want in a community. There’s history and tradition mixed with a hip vibe that would stun any traveler that’s ever uttered the phrase: “Kansas is boring”.
“If you experience it one time, you’re hooked” says Susie Santo who heads up with the Wichita Convention & Visitors Center. Santo notes that as a new resident, the first time it snowed, a neighbor shoveled her driveway without even asking.
As a casual observer, there was lots to love about being in Wichita. The place is spotless – I don’t remember seeing as much as a gum wrapper on the ground. Traffic was almost non-existent. (At least what those of us in big cities consider “traffic”.) There is lots of fun history – the electric guitar was first played here. You can also thank Wichita for Pizza Hut, Mentholatum and most amusement rides.
During my visit to town, I enjoyed a whirlwind tour of some of the amazing things Wichita has to offer. So much in fact, it’s impossible to elaborate on everything or I’d write an article so long that nobody would read.
A few of the highlights however…
Exploration Place is a children’s museum that stacks up with just about any STEM center across the country. The building alone is gorgeous. The museum’s President, Jan Luth was nice enough to open up after hours so that I could have a personal tour. It was great to see the enthusiasm Ms. Luth had for her museum but also her dedication to teaching kids about engineering and other skills that many of us have forgotten in a world of computers and I-phones.
Not too far down the road is the Mid-America Indian Center that features some incredible artwork from celebrated American Indian artist, Francis Blackbear Bosin. For a guy with no real training – his paintings are outstanding. Mr. Bosin has a special place in the hearts of folks that live in this town. A 44 foot statue he constructed in 1974 is a significant landmark that commands respect the way New York City treasures the Statue Of Liberty or Saint Louis, the Gateway Arch. On a chilly February evening, I walked across the beautiful Keeper Of The Plains pedestrian bridge and viewed fire pits that glowed below the statue.
Another stop was the Wichita History Museum. Inside the former City Hall building, the museum is jam packed with lots of really cool artifacts and is a step above what a local history museum typically entails. One cool artifact is the first electric guitar to be played – and it was played right here in Wichita.
If you want to see an unwrapped mummy – part of a quirky collection of everything from fossils to war memorabilia, look no further than the Museum of World Treasures.
Just outside downtown is a place called the Tanganyika Wildlife Park. If you’re like me and love giraffes – they have one of the biggest groups of giraffes in the country. During my visit I was able to feed a friendly rhino!
Food lovers should note three great stops I enjoyed during my visit: Monarch and Public both had great menus and atmosphere. But, my favorite stop was the Old Mill Tasty Shop that was a real step back in time and such a delightful experience. While eating “chicken fried chicken” and guzzling down a real strawberry malt – I briefly regretted not being a professional food critic. (Their milk shakes were recently ranked as the best in Kansas, by the way.) The owners, Mary & Don are top notch. The place had long lines to be seated. That’s usually a good sign.
There are lots of unique places to shop in Wichita as well. My very first stop was a radio interview with a man they call “Hatman Jack”. During our visit, I was schooled on how to buy the proper hat. Turns out it’s more than just finding something that fits on your head. “You have to find something that compliments your face”, Jack told me. I was quick to reply: “Nobody’s ever complimented my face.” Jack has crafted hats for guys like country music stars Alan Jackson and Charlie Daniels and is one of the top experts in the country when it comes to the topic. He started his business as a young teenager and was a lot of fun to visit.
Speaking of country music stars – Brad Paisley was in town for a concert during my trip. My tour guide from Visit Wichita, Cynthia joined me for the show where we sat inside the INTRUST Bank Arena. Yes, folks – Wichita draws great concerts and performances just like the big cities. The arena was sold out. Not a bad seat in the house.
Lastly, I mentioned earlier in the piece that the people of Wichita were incredibly friendly. I’ll let you in on a little secret – people are generally pretty nice to me when they find out what I do for a living. I mean, who wants to be the local that ticks off a guy reviewing your city?
***Update: I’ve since added Wichita’s Old Cowtown Museum to my new book 100 Things To Do In America Before You Die! You can get a signed copy HERE!
Well, one of our stops was at a place called the Old Cowtown Museum. It’s not a museum in the traditional sense – it’s more like an entire town that you’d discover in a time machine. On the property for example, is the first house built in Wichita and other examples of what life was like way back when – the pharmacy, the saloon or town church.
When I arrived for a tour – nearly every building had people inside, dressed in period clothing and playing the part of different characters that told the story of life in early Wichita. One guy was welding metal, one woman was serving up drinks and a trio of musicians were playing their instruments.
I jokingly asked the musicians if they had come to work just for me. Turns out – they did. Turns out they volunteered. Everybody did. At least a dozen complete strangers that had never met me before – all showed up, got into character and played their roles so that I could have an authentic experience – even though I only got to spend about a minute with each of them.
That was the moment I knew this was a city I could live in.
For more information about visiting Wichita, Kansas: visitwichita.com
I moved to Wichita from the Oklahoma panhandle and consider Wichita paradise! The Maize school district was a life changing experience for my special needs daughter. So many wonderful, locally owned places to eat too! The people definitely make the difference-a small town feel in a city!
AWESOME! I’m so happy to hear that!
Nobody told you about Wichita Riverfest? Shame on them. Come back and experience 250,000 peaceful people gathering around the Douglass Street bridge for Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with real cannons from Fort Riley Kansas.
Seriously, you’ll have a good time.
Yep. They told me. 🙂 If you listen to the interview I did with the Visit Wichita CEO – we talk about it. Sounds like fun!
Thanks, to all that comes to see the town that we lived ower lives as Wichita, we like persons to come to visit and see courty life history here goes back,with our town keeping up with times with things to put in your heart to call home it’s my place and I can always be a great person to live safe in a home town that my family is from. Stay and we try and make it better.
I love the zoo. I live and Phoenix and I don’t miss the KS weather and flat lands, but I’ll always call Wichita home. You will never find more friendly people than in Wichita!!
i was born and raised in Wichita! I love it so much. I now live in Dallas and always love going back to visit family and friends. They truly have the most amazing people! You can’t get in an elevator without someone saying hello. When I first moved to Dallas 13 years ago I missed the people the most. Happy you visited and that you enjoyed your stay.
You didn’t mention White Castle started in Wichita, and you must visit the original NuWay on Douglas
I grew up in San Antonio Tx, and moved here at 15 yrs old. Been here 38 yrs. I always tell folks that it is a great place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit. Having grown up in a tourist town, with much to do and see, I never think of Wichita as a tourist attraction. Thank goodness!!! I appreciate your kind words about our town. I’m sure there are numerous things to do , and see if you are not from here. But that is not what makes this the best city to live in America. It’s the people. You are correct in saying the people here are friendly. I travel a lot, and I always long for the peace of mind that Wichita offers. From the ease of commute, to the low crime, to the lack of pollution, the cleanliness of the town, the honest down home friendly people. Everything you mentioned. Wichita is a wonderful home town.
I didn’t hear mention of our amazing diverse nightlife. It can be s beautiful thing!
October – Tallgrass Film Festival! Great time to visit for film buffs.
My maternal great-great grandfather got off a boat with his family in New York in the 1840’s. Went to Evansville, Indiana and moved his family to Wichita in the 1860’s, before it was even a city. I am now a 5th generation Wichitan. I love this city. I have visted most big cities in America and I wouldn’t live in any of them. I love everything about this city. If you hate it so much, as one commentor did, I suggest you find a city you like better and move there. One thing you didn’t comment on is all of the beautiful bronze artwork in our downtown area, but I could go on and on about the attributes of Wichita.
Wichita Kansas is awesome and don’t forget about the Sedgwick county zoo.I was born and raised here
Make sure to visit the Starlite Drive-In next time you’re in town! Open March on weekends then everyday for the summer. Great deal and lots of fun.
I was born here…Husband born in San Diego. After 25 years of military life, we could have chosen ANYWHERE to retire (yes…that includes Hawaii) We moved to Wichita–at my husband’s urging! We absolutely LOVE it here! For all the reasons your article stated and so much more…
We live in Kentucky, and we have friends in Wichita. We want to move there for retirement. We love our friends and that town that much.
We agree. If you hate Kansas, you haven’t really been there!
I was born and raised in Wichita. I have also lived in Overland Park Ks., Dallas TX. and spent much time in California. I always come back. Most Wichita people will tell you, “it’s not where you go, it’s who you know.” Those that live here have so many amazing stories that don’t include the tourists locations. You would need so many more days to see the sites that we love depending on what you like to do. Race tracks, clubs, music, food, museums. The zoo is one of the best I have ever seen. Very seldom do I have to open my own door when I go to places in Wichita. It’s a small town feel with just as many big city sites, if you know who to ask and where to look..
If you didn’t eat breakfast or brunch at the Doo Dah Diner, you missed out on a great meal.
Come back to see Koch Arena and our WSU Shockers Basketball…..but not in March…they’ll be doing March Madness then. Glad you liked our city. It’s also a jewel when it comes to theater. From Music Theater at Century II to Mosely Street Melodrama, it’s great entertainment.
Glad you like Wichita! You should definitely return- there’s so much more to see! This is a nice thing to hear, considering so many people my age hate our town and do not speak well of it.
Anyone under 30 typically doesn’t think much of their own home town unless they travel a lot. 🙂
To be honest, I’m under 30, travel a lot, and am really not a fan of Wichita.
After traveling, I’m always glad to be back to the “no traffic,” especially after making the huge mistake of driving through OKC on my way back to ICT.
But I’m not a fan of the complete lack of mountains. Even the lack of traffic can’t make up for that tragedy.
Still, glad you liked Wichita. I would agree with most of what you said in the article. Unfortunately, you missed Nifty Nuthouse! Nifty Nuthouse is THE BEST candy store on the planet, and maybe one of Wichita’s few redeeming features. The other would be Eighth Day Books, which has actually been called “The Happiest Place On Earth” by a prominent journalist.
People keep mentioning the zoo. My opinion? Don’t waste your time. Spend more time at Nifty Nuthouse and Eighth Day Books.
Well, you seem to be in the minority, considering this article has now crashed my website twice and you’re the only one that hasn’t been a fan so far! 🙂 If no mountains are your biggest gripe, I’d say it’s not too bad. 🙂 I mean, we can’t have it all, right? And yes, I did go to the Nifty Nuthouse. Cool place. And being from Saint Louis, I’m sort of biased – I’ve yet to see a zoo better than the one in STL. But, I’ve been in cities all over the country and Wichita is one of the best!
Then there is that fair and direct trade coffee shop on the corner that started the local coffee shop response to Starbucks. Mead’s Corner Coffee Shop on the corner of Douglas and Emporia has been in Old Town sine 2008 and serves award winning PT’s Coffee from Topeka, KS in addition to hand crafted Gelato and local supplied pastries. Where faith and community meet, Mead’s Corner Coffee Shop has given over $70,000 to local and global missions from the customer tip jar in addition to the numerous fund raisers for local non-profit organizations.
Don’t forget Reverie Roasters on Douglas and Grove. They were voted one of the best coffee roasters in the country recently! It’s a long wait for a cup of coffee there, but it’s worth every second.
Mead’s is great, but it wasn’t remotely the first response to Starbucks… Wichita has been a coffeehouse town since at least the 1950s, when it was regarded as Little San Francisco… lots of beat poetry, lots of Wichita-West Coast connections.
Anyway, the zoo. Definitely. But I’d suggest waiting til Memorial Day at the earliest — got the new elephant exhibit opening that weekend.
You really need to go to the zoo! And see the troll by the Westar building! There’s so much more to see. I truly love this city!!
I need more time!
I fully agree. One of my favorite places on the planet. I love Wichita. Truly do. I fully agree with Clark and Al.
Visit any of the #ICTFoodTrucks on your next visit. It’s easily done down at the #ICTPopUpUrbanPark or at one of our many rallies. Or, follow all of them on Facebook @Wichita Food Trucks. I am certain you will add this to your list of amazing things to do in Wichita, Ks.
Wow. And you didn’t even get to most of the places we insist on taking our out of town guests. Though this is probably the short list for first time visitors.
Probably so… I only had two days and I had to sleep for some of it. 🙂
Me and wife visit Wichita on a frequent basis (live in Oklahoma) and we just love it. It’s a great balance of big city amenities and small town feel.
I agree with Hollie about the zoo. Our Sedgwick County Zoo ranks in the top 10 zoos in the country and has for several years. The zoo will be opening a new elephant exhibit soon with seven elephants!
Thanks so much for visiting our city!
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