Greetings Internet Stranger! You, of course are a highly cultured person. Yet sometimes you feel surrounded by cretins. You get to work wanting to discuss philosophy or the meaning of life and all your co-workers want to talk about is the latest episode of Real Housewives. Why not change all that and follow this itinerary of the best things to do in Wichita? You’ll meet culture vultures like yourself at the Wichita Art Museum, and you can talk about Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper to your heart’s content. Follow me!
24 Hours: Things to Do in Wichita
Where to Stay?
The most fun part of Wichita for a tourist is the Old Town. So I suggest picking a hotel with a good central location right in the middle of Old Town. And for my money, you can’t do better than Courtyard Wichita at Old Town. The rooms are huge and comfy, and the location was flawless. Also the staff couldn’t have been more helpful, even when I needed to get to the Wichita Airport at 4:30 in the morning!! Thanks Courtyard Wichita!
24 Hours: Things to Do in Wichita
Morning: Sedgwick County Zoo
No list of the best things to do in Wichita would be complete without the Sedgwick County Zoo. (Wichita is located in Sedgwick County, which I find a bit confusing. Why don’t they just call it Wichita County?) It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire state of Kansas. This AZA-accredited zoo is full of animals from all over the world. I visited on a balmy spring day, but since there are both indoor and outdoor attractions, you can visit the zoo any time of year.
24 Hour Treat
Pick up some breakfast on your way over to the zoo. I recommend the Donut Whole, which is a funky cafe on East Douglas Ave. My cherry streusel donut was light and fluffy with a deliciously cherry-ful frosting. Then once your belly is full of sugar and caffeine, you can fully appreciate…
Three Fun Facts: Sedgwick County Zoo
1) How is the Zoo organized?
The Sedgwick County Zoo organizes the animals based on their continent of origin. So you can walk from Australia to Africa in just one morning! It’s a very cool concept. I enjoyed seeing animals from all over the world, whether it was the Asian tiger or the South American anteater.
But my favorite continent had to be Africa. You get all the unusual African suspects like the elephants and the lions, but I have a real soft spot for the odder animals like the meerkat. I was very tempted to try to hold his hand and sing “Hakuna Matata” with him, but then I realize that probably would have gotten me arrested.
Also don’t miss the chance to see the red river hog, also an African beastie. I appreciated the sign explaining that the hog gets its name because its fur is red, not because it lives in a red river. Are there really red rivers out there? Are they flowing with blood instead of water? This image is going to haunt my nightmares for a long time!
2) Are there any more local animals?
But of course, Internet Stranger! North American animals are not neglected here at the Sedgwick County Zoo. The North American exhibit was under construction when I visited, but I was still able to get an eyeful of our adorable black-tailed prairie dog. Apparently these cutie-pies are under attack from people who believe they are dangerous to farming. Because of that, ferret populations are declining, since prairie dogs are their food.
Nature is so vicious and complicated! I feel sad when I think of all those ferrets starving to death, but I also feel sad at the thought of a ferret gobbling an adorable prairie dog. It’s rough out there for a prairie dog!
On a happier note, you can also see the American bison at the zoo. These majestic beings were once almost extinct. Fortunately Teddy Roosevelt and other conservationist friends started a breeding program at the Bronx Zoo. Now there are many more bison in the world. But don’t forget these bison are New Yorkers at heart. If you listen closely, you can hear them say, “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!”
3) What can I do if it’s cold?
There are several indoor exhibits at the Sedgwick County Zoo. The tropics greenhouse is sunny and warm year round. You can get up close and personal with lovelies like the Victoria crowned pigeon. This bird is not quite endangered, but its status is vulnerable. I suppose that’s because so many people want to steal its fabulous hat and wear it to a royal wedding.
Another major indoor exhibit in the zoo is the Koch orangutan and chimpanzee habitat. I was surprised at the name because where I come from, the Koch brothers are mostly famous for donating to conservative and libertarian political causes. I didn’t realize that they were actually from Wichita.
At the ape habitat, I learned that ape populations are in decline all over the world. In fact, there are more people than Sedgwick County than there are apes. I feel like there’s a mean joke to be made there, but I’m not going to be the one to make it. I had a very nice time in Sedgwick County, and I’ll not be part of mocking its citizens!
24 Hours: Things to Do in Wichita
Afternoon: Wichita Art Museum
Yes, up next on our list of the best things to do in Wichita is the extremely classy Wichita Art Museum. The museum was jam-packed when I visited. It seemed like every classy person in Kansas had come out for the day to see the amazing special exhibit on Georgia O’Keeffe. But even without the special exhibit, the Wichita Art Museum is well worth your time. Allow me to take you through my…
Approximately Top 5: Wichita Art Museum
1) The Muse Cafe
We won’t want to take time out of our busy schedule of things to do in Wichita to go track down some random lunch place. Fortunately the Muse Cafe inside the Wichita Art Museum has very tasty food. I recommend the soup and sandwich lunch special, which is a great deal. I had the nicely sour corned beef soup (yes it was soup, not a sandwich), and a sweet and rich cranberry chicken salad croissant.
Just be warned that the service can be a little slow here. It’s not the wait staff’s fault, but I was told by other frequent museum-goers that the cafe is sometimes understaffed. So leave yourself plenty of time if you’re getting lunch here.
2) Special Exhibits
Some art museums are too large for a first-time visitor to see both the regular collection and the special exhibit. The Wichita Art Museum is not one of those museums! You’ll be able to see the entire museum in one afternoon. I was doubly lucky when I visited because the Wichita Art Museum was hosting an amazing show on Georgia O’Keeffe and her personal style. (I’m a major O’Keeffe fan.)
But I was also lucky because there was a free docent tour of the exhibit when I was there. Be sure to check the museum’s calendar and see if there are any docent tours or free lectures available when you visit.
One fun fact I learned is that if Georgia O’Keeffe found an article of clothing she liked, she would usually buy six different copies. I do something similar, except I make sure to buy each copy in a different color. That’s it for today’s installment of “Fashion Tips From Great Artists”. Up next: mustache grooming advice from Salvador Dali!
3) Kansas Cornfield
I’m now going to draw your attention to some of the most notable works from the permanent collection. You can’t visit the Wichita Art Museum and skip “Kansas Cornfield”. It was one of the first works acquired by the museum, and it was painted by Kansan John Steuart Curry. There are so many images of Kansas as a dull and boring place. Obviously the opening of The Wizard of Oz springs to mind. I was happy to see a vision of Kansas that was so lush and beautiful. I hope this painting inspires you to give Wichita a try.
4) Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper is one of my favorite American artists. Of course his most famous painting can be found in an entirely different Midwestern art museum. But I am very partial to this painting, Sunlight on Brownstones. The contrast between the sunny building and the shadowy trees in the background is most intriguing. Are these people being menaced by some unknown threat lurking in the trees? And why are they staring into the distance instead of looking at each other? What are they looking at?
I just assume that the threat is an alien invasion because that’s the most intriguing option. I think someone should paint a sequel to this painting in which the brownstone has been blown up with laser beams from the skies.
5) Art Garden
One of the most pleasant things to do in Wichita on a sunny day is take a walk in the Wichita Art Museum garden. They have sculptures from notable contemporary artists like Jun Kaneko and Tom Otterness. You can always recognize an Otterness because of the diminutive, rotund, Doozer-like figures who recur in his sculptures.
Sadly it was too late for me to save the Doozers from this fiendish hook-handed man. Between this villain and the alien invasion, the Wichita Art Museum is a surprisingly dangerous place.
24 Hour Tip
If the weather is still nice when you leave the Wichita Art Museum, go for a stroll down the Arkansas River. There are many interesting sculptures along the way. This walk is truly one of the best hidden gem things to do in Wichita. And don’t miss the massive Keeper of the Plains statue. (You can see it in the distance in my photo above.) It’s a tribute to the Native American tribes from the Wichita area, and it was sculpted by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin.
24 Hours: Things to do in Wichita
Evening: Dinner at Public at the Brickyard
Of course one of the best things to do in Wichita is eat! And Public at the Brickyard in Old Town is one of the most well-reviewed restaurants in the city. Start your meal with one of their creative craft cocktails. I recommend the Public Smash made with Bulleit Bourbon, mjnt, and jalapeño. I appreciated that the drink was sweet and spicy at the same time, like an angry mint julep.
Public is a small plates restaurant so two or three dishes should be enough per person. I started with the Buffalo cauliflower. They’re just like Buffalo wings, only made with fried cauliflower instead of fried chicken. So that’s okay because I’m pretty sure fried vegetables don’t have calories. That’s just science.
It might actually be a crime to go to Public and don’t get the prairie sliders. These were ranked the best bar snack in Kansas by Thrillist, in case MY humble recommendation is insufficient for you, Internet Stranger. The flavor of the slider meat is incredibly rich, probably because they are made with bison and beef. (Don’t feel sad; bison is actually a very sustainable and healthy meat.
You get your choice of side with the sliders and I recommend the potato salad. The paprika added a nice kick, and the potatoes were as firm as a John Grisham novel. And along with the rec, you get a Slider Fun Fact. The slider was actually invented in Wichita because White Castle got started right here in Old Cowtown. So when you bite into your slider, you’re actually biting into history.
That’s 24 Hours: Things to Do in Wichita
What are your favorite things to do in Wichita, Kansas? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Wichita right now? And is that hook-handed men in league with the alien invasion? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours finding the best things to do in Wichita that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Wichita. If you’re looking for another 24 hours with great things to do in Wichita, click here!