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Spotlight: Wichita

Fly high in the aviation capital of the plains

Wichita, Kansas, has always been a major hub for both business and transportation. In the 1870s, it was a crossroads on the Chisolm Trail; countless head of cattle passed through on their way to market. In 1874, Wyatt Earp was brought in as deputy city marshal to bring order to the cow town.

Later, Wichita became the “Air Capital of the World,” and during World War II, four bombers a day were rolling out of its airfield production hangars. Boeing was the major employer, and the city was one of the fastest growing towns in America. Today, Wichita is larger than the next two Sunflower State cities (Overland Park and Kansas City) combined. Aircraft were not the only things taking off in Wichita—Pizza Hut, White Castle and Taco Tico all got their starts here as well.

Today, the town is a hub for history, and the Wichita heritage comes alive in some two-dozen museums around town. The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, housed in the gray-stoned Richardsonian Romanesque-styled City Hall building from 1892, is a catch-all for all things Wichita. Old Cowtown is a living-history museum set on 23 acres and is sprinkled with more than 60 restored and re-created buildings. In the revitalized warehouse district of Old Town, the Museum of World Treasures lives up to its name with wonders that include Egyptian mummies and one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons in the world. Stand in awe at the foot of the most ferocious land predator of all time.

The former Municipal Airport, once the fifth busiest in the United States, has been turned over to Kansas Aviation Museum for its displays of pioneering aircraft with roots in Wichita. The Great Plains Transportation Museum is devoted to railroading history, and the grounds at Union Station show off six locomotives along with several other examples of vintage rolling stock. You’ll also find museums honoring Kansas firefighters, the Kansas oil industry and Kansas sports.

Botanica

Botanica

Creativity Soars

Art lovers will want to check in on the Wichita Art Museum, which is 100 years old and houses the marquee collection in Kansas with more than 7,000 pieces. The Ulrich Museum of Art on the Wichita State University campus is a depository of modern and contemporary art. The live arts are well represented in the expansive Century II Performing Arts & convention Center that is home to four arts organizations: Wichita Symphony Orchestra, Music Theatre of Wichita, Wichita Grand Opera and Music Theatre for Young People. The restored Orpheum Theatre, designed in 1922 to evoke a romantic Spanish courtyard, hosts more intimate performances.

Wichita supports professional sports in minor-league baseball (the Wingnuts) and hockey (the Thunder), and indoor football (the Force). The 81 Speedway Race Track north of the city sends cars, trucks and motorcycles roaring around a 3/8-mile semi-banked dirt oval track on weekends throughout the year. At the Kansas Star Casino, gamblers can tempt chance with a full range of slot machines, table games and a 13-table poker room.

Wichita’s outdoor attractions are as varied as its indoor cultural footprint. Strataca, the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, is truly a one-of-a-kind exploration with tours 650 feet below ground in a working salt mine. Back in the fresh air and sunshine, Botanica, the Wichita Gardens, maintains a prairie oasis with 26 themed gardens entwined with sculptures and gushing fountains. For more naturalistic explorations, the Great Plains Nature Center has carved two miles of fully accessible trails through wetlands and native prairies.

Wild in Wichita

Wichita’s favorite family day out is at the Sedgwick County Zoo, one of the 10 largest zoological parks in the nation. More than 3,000 animals make their home here in habitats ranging from Penguin Cove to the Downing Gorilla Forest. Next door, the Sedgwick County Extension Arboretum showcases the nearly 100 trees that are indigenous to south central Kansas.

When Wichita parties—which is often—no one is left out. There are festivals for every taste, from celebrations of yore at the Renaissance Festival, to the Midwest Beerfest and Wingfest, to the annual Wagonmaster’s Chili Cookoff. Riverfest is the biggest celebration in Kansas, spreading across nine days with four stages of non-stop music.

Travel Kansas

Travel Kansas

The Tallgrass Film Festival has evolved into one of the movie industry’s premiere screenings for independent filmmakers. More than 100 feature and short films receive exposure over five days, and films first shown in the Tallgrass lineup have gone on to contend for Academy Awards.

And of course, the “Air Capital of the World” puts on an annual Salute to Aviation. In addition to flyovers of aircraft with Wichita breeding, there are hot-air balloons and paper airplanes. From their whimsical designs may come Wichita’s next contribution to aviation.

For More Information

Visit Wichita
316-265-2800
www.visitwichita.com
Kansas Department of Commerce, Travel and Tourism
785-296-2009
www.travelks.com