Tour a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house. Check out a vibrant art scene. Enjoy a riverfront festival. This and more welcome visitors to Wichita. Kansas’ largest city continues to charm with a mix of western history and contemporary lifestyle.
We enjoyed a whirlwind weekend in which we participated in an Instameet (Instagram-based) sponsored by Kansas’ state tourism
bureau in conjunction with Wichita. The event brought together photographers, bloggers and travel enthusiasts from around the region. We took in some of the city’s art murals, sculptures and Riverfest, a nine-day event featuring concerts, food, games and activities. We toured the city’s Old Town retail and entertainment district, located downtown among century-old buildings.
Lisa and I were guests of the Wichita visitors bureau and it scheduled some fun adventures for us. We started the weekend with a late-night stop at one of our favorite places, The Donut Whole. The bakery is known for creating some unusual donut combinations, such as ones promoting the former TV series “Breaking Bad.” We each enjoyed a donut and drink before heading to our hotel, Hampton Inn and Suites Northwest, about seven miles from downtown. Opened about six months, the lobby still has that new hotel fragrance.
Hampton offers comfy stay
With it being a Hampton, we knew what to expect in our room – a nice comfortable bed, space, nice TV, plenty of desk space for work, as well as ample outlets, a necessity for travelers today. While we didn’t partake in breakfast during our stay, we do know they offer a nice complimentary breakfast in a spacious area. The hotel has a fitness center and swimming pool, which comes in handy for relaxing evenings. A small nook is located near the reception desk offers a variety of personal items, candy, treats and drinks.
We started our first full day in town with breakfast at HomeGrown Wichita, a farm to table restaurant. It’s located about a half-mile from the hotel and offers an outstanding menu. Lisa went with the West Coast Wake-up omelet, which included bacon, cheese and brie, with slices of avocado atop the egg. I went with the homemade biscuits and gravy with two cage-free eggs. I never realized how good cage-free eggs taste. There is a definite taste difference between these eggs and others. We enjoyed our experience there so much, we returned the next day, trying new items.
With some free time, Lisa and I decided to take in some of Wichita’s public mural scene. The city incorporates its flag into a mural campaign, with more than two dozen flag murals painted alongside area businesses. Other murals are spread out, too, most along the Douglas Design District, the city’s newest art, business and housing district.
Frank Lloyd Wright house
Our first tourist stop was to the Allen House in the College Hill neighborhood. Once the neighborhood of Wichita’s “finest” citizens, Henry and Elsie Allen hired famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design their new home. A three-year project, the Allens moved into the home in 1918. We took our first tour of a Wright-designed home after viewing other house exteriors. Our two-hour tour took us through the entire house, from the main entrance to a tea room designed for Mrs. Allen to entertain visitors.
The house was impressive, designed using a square as inspiration, each room featured the shape in furniture and design. From high-backed chairs to illustrate size to Japanese-style accents, Wright sought to ensure the Allens had a home they – and he – would be proud to live in. The house stayed in the family until Mrs. Allen sold it to an oil executive. It eventually was awarded to Wichita State University before a foundation took control of it.
Following our Frank Lloyd Wright tour, we headed to Old Town, the city’s historic district. We grabbed lunch at Public at the Brickyard, a unique restaurant in the basement of a building. The restaurant, with brick walls, has an eclectic collection of items on display, including train cars atop booths, a flag and eagle staff in a corner, as well as sports memorabilia, including a Barry Sanders high school jersey. The pro football Hall of Famer is a Wichita native.
The food is impressive. From homemade pickles with Yoder salami, cheese and bread to simple menu items, including tasty pizzas, Public offers visitors a fun and relaxing place for lunch or dinner.
We eventually met up with our Instameet comrades and strolled through Old Cowtown, heading along Douglas Avenue to the Arkansas River area, home of the nine-day celebration. As we walked, our group took in views of street sculptures. The city has a series of sculptures on Douglas, ranging from a hawk atop a street light to a replica of Carrie Nation, a prohibitionist who once took an ax to the bar at the Hotel Eaton. Her statue stands outside the building, which is now an apartment building.
Wichita’s iconic statue – Keeper of the Plains – has been copied as a community art project. The 2016 project placed a series of 10-foot tall fiberglass statues around the city. Three of the Keepers on Parade are located at a pop-up park.
Started in in the early 1970s, Riverfest brings out Wichita’s and visitors for fun, music, food, activities and special exhibits. This year’s festival included a family of circus fire and high wire performers, jet ski races on the river, as well as lumberjacks. The music ranges from country and rock to reggae.
We ended our evening on a covered wagon boat ride on the Arkansas River sponsored by the local Wagonmasters organization. The hourlong trip took us near the Keeper of the Plains plaza, where we watched the “Ring of Fire,” a nightly fire lighting at the base of the 44-foot tall statue. The Keeper recognizes the area’s Native American history and overlooks the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas rivers.
Tanganyika Wildlife Park
With a full day ahead of us, we started our final day in Wichita with a morning drive to Goddard, home of the Tanganyika Wildlife Park. The 51-acre park celebrates its 10th anniversary this year with 40 exhibits, 400 animals, nine animal encounters and 37 breeding programs. From feeding giraffes and pygmy hippos to lemurs, the park offers visitors up-close views of animals. We spent about three hours at the wildlife park, which is enough time to take in the exhibits, including the nine encounters.
We had a blast visiting the lorikeets exhibit. The little colorful birds will quickly become your friend when you hold a small cup of a sweet liquid. They drink it up while perched on your hand, arm or shoulder. You may find one in your hair, if you’re lucky.
We were invited to participate in a special encounter with an Okapi. Looking like a cross between a zebra and giraffe, the African hoofed animal is related to the giraffe. Our friend was a bit shy and wasn’t interested in the lettuce our group of about 10 had. So, our zookeeper had some carrots delivered. We had more luck with them, but when it came my time (last in line), he was done. I was OK with it, because I was more concerned with him than my getting to feed a wild animal. Lisa managed to feed him, so all was good for us.
Field Station Dinosaurs
Following our visit with the animals, we headed to a brand-new spot for an encounter with different animals…from millions of years ago. Dinosaurs once roamed Kansas and they’ve returned with Field Station Dinosaurs. The attraction – designed as a paleontology dig base camp – features more than 40 life-size animatronic dinosaurs, making it the largest park of its kind in the United States. Located in Derby, Field Station Dinosaurs opened Memorial Day weekend. The attraction offers an old-fashioned visit, people stroll through the area – divided into three regions – where they encounter dinosaurs, from a giant Brachiosaurus to the Saurophaganax, a carnivore discovered in Oklahoma in 1931.
The Field Station plans to add a maze this summer, which will feature three Velociraptors. So, make sure you take the correct path, or else.
Targeted toward three-11 year olds (and any dinosaur fan), Field Station Dinosaurs offers games and shows for visitors. You can take in a Tyrannosaurus-rex feeding frenzy (featuring a person-operated T-rex costume) to a limbo dance or play a matching game identifying dig items. Children can try their hand at finding fossils at a dig site or run tests in a science lab.
Visitors can also take part in a challenge dome. It features three levels of rope and bridge obstacle courses.
All told, we had another blast visiting Wichita. This marked our third visit to the city and each have offered different experiences. We are excited to return because there are a ton more murals to check out, as well as museums including the Mid-American Indian Center, Kansas Aviation museum and the children’s museum. We recommend putting a trip to Wichita on your bucket list.
For more information on Wichita, please visit www.visitwichita.com.