May 1, 2017

The Great Wichita Weekend

It’s time to look at Wichita, Kan., in a different way. There’s so much for a family to do in 48 hours, it’s changed how I see the city.

For me, it’s always been a fuzzy memory from childhood when we were there to visit family. But after visiting the city this spring, I was surprised to discover it is a Midwestern cultural destination. Good thing to note: My visit was hosted by Visit Wichita, so I probably did way more in two days than you would with your family.

Wichita Weekend

I made my Wichita bucket list and got to check some, but sadly not all, off it. There’s only so much you can pack into a weekend.

Family-Friendly Attractions

In the heart of Wichita, along the river, is a collection of museums that is a good starting place for your trip. We took the kids, ages 5 and 7, to three of the attractions there: Botanica Wichita; Wichita Art Museum; and Exploration Place.

Botanica Wichita children's garden

Climb, dig and explore at the Downing Children’s Garden at Botanica Wichita.

Botanica Wichita is the botanical gardens, 18 acres of space with a lot to see. Kids will absolutely love the well-designed children’s garden.

Also stop by the koi pond to feed them and go look for the dragon in the Friendship Garden. We thought we’d only be at Botanica Wichita for an hour or so, but could’ve easily spent two hours in the children’s garden alone.

Exploration Place Wichita

Exploration Place in Wichita has a newly reopened space dedicated to Kansas, and it includes this cool fossil scanner for kids.

Exploration Place is Kansas’ premier science center with a cool mix of permanent exhibits and temporary ones. My daughter spent most of her time playing in the three-story castle. Other rooms had a ton of hands-on activities teaching about Kansas history and geology; weather; flight; and more. Plan on spending a few hours here.

Keeper of the Plains Wichita

Flames shoot up from pots around the base of The Keeper of the Plains nightly (weather permitting).

In that same area, you’ll spot the huge statue Keeper of the Plains. There’s a nightly show, where fire fills the huge caldrons at that base.

It’s an impressive and free show to catch, and it lasts about 15 minutes.

Wichita Art Museum

The most memorable experience at the Wichita Art Museum was taking our shoes off and walking over a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture.

We spent the least amount of time with the kids at the Wichita Art Museum, but it had some excellent experiences for them. We went on Saturday, which means free admission for us. The first stop was the Living Room, a kids space with activities. There’s also a space downstairs for even more activities for kids; since it was Earth Day, we were building with repurposed materials.

For anyone, no matter your age, you’ll want to go upstairs in the museum and walk across the Chihuly sculpture. When else will you get to do something like that?

Dart Warz Wichita

Dart Warz in Wichita is the love child of Nerf guns and paintball.

Outside of downtown, near our hotel, was a unique experience for me: Dart Warz. Think Nerf guns meet paintball. My son liked it, my younger daughter, not so much. It’s definitely more suited for older kids, and parents who’ve maintained their cat-like reflexes (so not me). You pay by the hour to play.

Head out of town for a very memorable afternoon, especially if your kids love animals. Tanganyika Wildlife Park creates amazing ways to connect with animals through encounters you might not find anywhere else. Expect to spend a full afternoon here.

Tanganyika Wichita

Feeding a giraffe is one of nine animal encounters at Tanganyika Wildlife Park near Wichita.

It’s funny. The things I liked best, like feeding exotic animals the behind-the-scenes to tour to feed and pet a rare opaki, were not my kids’ favorites. They loved feeding the guinea pigs and rabbits. No joke. I think they loved being able to linger in the space among gentle and small creatures.

Kid-Friendly Eats In Wichita

Wichita Old Mill Tasty Shop

Old Mill Tasty Shop opened in 1932 in downtown Wichita, and its classic soda fountain is still used today.

I love trying local eats on vacation, especially ones that welcome kids. If you want Wichita favorites, you can’t go wrong visiting Old Mill Tasty Shop and Doo Dah Diner in the downtown area. The Old Mill is a working soda fountain, so we ordered shakes, but you may want to plan a lunch stop there to get their famous chicken salad (but expect a line out the door).

Doo Dah Diner seems to be a local favorite. Everyone responded the same way when I mentioned it: “Ooooh, good choice.” It’s a diner, for sure, but there are some quirky offerings on the menu. My friend said you’ve got to try the monkey bread there. Our other stop was for barbecue at Delanao BBQ.

Wichita donut shop

Fun varieties of cake donuts are sold at The Donut Whole in Wichita.

I’m a sucker for a quirky donut shop, and The Donut Whole fits the bill in the best possible way. We went for breakfast and tried some relatively tame varieties, um, maple bacon donut, anyone? But the drive-thru is 24 hours a day, so if for whatever reason, you need a cake donut at 2 in the morning, they’ve got you covered.

The Disco Fries at The Kitchen in Wichita is Jersey’s answer to poutine, but done using clean foods. Total comfort food.

The Kitchen is a new kid on the scene, featuring American comfort cooked clean – so no nitrates in that ham and cheese Panini. Get the disco fries. You’re welcome.

The Anchor is a more grown-up place to enjoy local craft beer and a burger, but there is a kid’s menu, so we stopped there for dinner.

Moms and dads who like local beer with good food, go earlier in the day to The Anchor. They feature 50+ craft beers on tap and great burgers. The Haystack is an open faced burger, and it’s the most popular entrée there for a reason. They have a kid’s menu, so they won’t snub families.

Wichita NIfty Nut House

Nifty Nut House was called “a national treasure” by Alton Brown. I kinda agree, it is a one-of-a-kind candy shop/whole seller.

Do not leave without getting some snacks at Nifty Nut House. Any huge snack house that gets Alton Brown’s seal of approval is a place to visit.

Where to stay

The dining area for breakfast at the Hampton Inn & Suites near the Wichita airport. A hot breakfast is available for free every day for guests.

When we first arrived in Wichita, we were told you can get to most places in less than 10 minutes. We found that to be the case staying at the Hampton Inn & Suites at the airport. It’s a sparkly new hotel right off the interstate, and convenient if you’re flying in.

You could certainly find accommodations closer to the downtown. This one fit our needs: Pool, comfy beds, free hot breakfast, and located between our destinations in the downtown area and Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Goddard, Kan.

Getting there

Wichita is about 300 miles from Omaha. If traveling with kids, I’ve got two stops for you.

If you take Highway 81 and I-135, I recommend pit stops in Hebron, Neb., to see the world’s largest porch swing, and Lindsborg, Kan. Lindsborg’s the cutest small town I’ve seen in ages full of all things Swedish, but a big highlight was visiting Coronado Heights, which has a shelter that my kids swore was a medieval castle. There are short trails near it and picnic areas with great views.

* * * * *

Want to start planning your own Great Wichita Weekend? Start with My Wichita Bucket List to get some inspiration, then dive into these for more fun ideas:

A Kid-Favorite Destination: Botanica Wichita

Wichita’s Good Eats

Wichita Home Base: Hampton Inn & Suites

Visiting Exploration Place With Kids

Exploring Tangyika Wildlife Park

For even more ideas for family fun in Wichita, check out my Pinterest Board: 

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Visit Wichita. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.


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