Heartland’s Surprise: Wichita, Kansas
May 22, 2009
Filed under Destinations
From music to aircraft to hamburgers, Wichita, Kansas, abounds with surprises for travelers
of all ages and all interests. Here in the largest of the state’s cities, RVers will discover that, indeed, things are up-to-date. Boasting 36 museums, 31 art galleries, 34 golf courses and 20 live theaters, Wichita is a town bursting at the seams with culture, history and recreation.
Originally inhabited by the Wichita Indians, the area became the home of J.R. Mead, the first white settler, in 1864, when he opened a trading post. When a branch of the Santa Fe Railroad made its way through town, Wichita “busted-wide-open.” The bustling cow town flourished through the ’70s and ’80s, when farming and shipment of grain became its major businesses. Grain was followed by the discovery of oil, and eventually it was replaced by the burgeoning aircraft industry.
In between all this development, a couple smaller enterprises were also growing; mentholatum was invented here by Albert Hyde and went on to become an international industry, and Walter Anderson established 22 White Castle hamburger shops in the town. Most of this history can be viewed and enjoyed in the dozens of museums dotting the city today.
Exploring Wichita could prove challenging, considering the plethora of attractions, but one good place to begin is at the confluence of the Arkansas River and the Little Arkansas River. Tucked away in this verdant arm, the Museums on the River district offers a taste of past, present and future; Botanica, The Wichita Gardens; Wichita Art Museum; Diamond W Chuckwagon Supper; Old Cowtown Museum; Mid-American All-Indian Center; and Museum of the Plains all reside in the neighborhood. Flanking these sites, the Central Riverside Park, South Riverside Park, Veterans Memorial Park and Delano Park provide some outdoor relaxation and recreation.
If time is a concern, a few sites should not be missed. The Old Cowtown Museum is one of a handful of living-history experiences in the country; re-enactors meander among 26 historic buildings, offering a taste of life on the plains in the 1800s. The nearby Kansas Aviation Museum contains the history of aircraft in the area, which today produces 42 percent of the world’s general aircraft.
Visitors who prefer to park their vehicles and leave the driving to someone else should consider the extremely inclusive Historic Trolley Tour, which begins in Old Town Square and circumnavigates the most interesting buildings and attractions in the town, including The Great Plains Transportation Museum, the Coleman Outlet & Museum, the Museum of World Treasures, the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, and the Sedgwick County Historical Museum among several others. The Western Heritage Drive Tour is also available, via individual vehicles.
When it comes to dining, Wichita rolls out the red carpet with more than 1,200 restaurants sprinkled throughout the city, boasting eclectic food and décor. Shopping does not suffer in Wichita, with eight distinct and distinctive
neighborhoods celebrating chic boutiques and national outlets. Located in almost the exact heart of the country, Wichita experiences four seasons, with January hitting lows of 20° F and July reaching highs of 92° F. Travelers definitely have an easy time of visiting this exciting town via US Hwy. 81 and US Hwy. 54/400 at the junctions of I-35 and I-135, just three hours southwest of Kansas City. For campgrounds and RV resorts in the vicinity, see the 2009 Trailer Life RV Parks, Campgrounds & Services Directory, and see the park included on this page.
Information on Wichita, Kansas is available atwww.visitwichita.com.
See individual addresses for specific attractions below.
Museum of World Treasures, www.worldtreasures.org
Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, www.kshof.org
Great Plains Transportation Museum, www.gptm.us
Coleman Factory Outlet and Museum, www.coleman.com
Kansas Underground Salt Museum, www.undergroundmuseum.org
Old Cowtown Museum, www.oldcowtown.org
Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, www.botanica.org
Sedgwick County Zoo, www.scz.org
For more ideas about some cool destinations, check out the ABA 2009 Top 100 Events.