Wichita’s art, food, and spectacular new riverfront make it the perfect weekend getaway
Wichita has had its distinctive city flag since 1937, but until recently, nobody really thought much about it. Then, everything changed. All of a sudden, the flag — featuring red and white rays flowing from a blue sun bearing a Native American symbol meaning “home”— was everywhere.
There’s a parallel between the re-emergence of Wichita’s flag and the explosion of civic pride in Kansas’ largest city.
Wichita was born as a Chisholm Trail cowtown, a history that’s celebrated at a 23-acre living history museum where you can traipse through 54 cowboy-era buildings moved to the banks of the Arkansas River. But in recent years the city has seen an explosion of new restaurants, breweries, shops and public art — including the world’s largest mural by a single artist. It’s a trend that’s only likely to grow in the next year as the city prepares to welcome the AAA affiliate of the Florida Marlins to a new downtown stadium.
Here’s your guide to a fun and busy weekend in Wichita.
Drinks at Central Standard Brewing
Central Standard is one of the best breweries in the Midwest, which you can tell by its impressive medal haul from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Central Standard’s sunny and stylish taproom (156 Greenwood, Wichita, Kan., 316-260-8515, centralstandardbrewing.com) on a quiet side street in the city’s Douglas Design District is outfitted with mid-century modern furniture and features a full lineup of killer beers. Everything is good, but steer hoppy or sour.
Dinner at Dempsey’s Biscuit Co.
Beware the hot chicken at Dempsey’s Biscuit Co. (3425 East Douglas Avenue, Wichita, Kan., 316-260-8579, dempseysbiscuitco.com). “Nashville hot” is usually a meaningless marketing buzzword, but this contemporary Southern spot isn’t playing around. The highest heat level, called “reaper,” is likely to leave you in serious distress. Go easy, and get some regular hot crispy tenders, a fluffy biscuit and smoky gouda mac and cheese.
See a show
Wichita is awash in live entertainment. On a typical weekend night, you’ll have your pick of several concerts, plus two or three theatrical productions. If you’re a fan of dinner theater, drop by Roxy’s (412 E. Douglas Ave., Wichita, Kan., 316-265-4400, roxysdowntown.com), a former movie theater, penny arcade and cabaret that morphed into a full-fledged dinner theater in 2014. On our visit, a four-man cast was doing a well-staged and extra-hammy adaption of three classic Golden Girls episodes. If you’d rather see a concert, check the schedule at Wichita’s brand-new venue WAVE (650 E. Second St. N., Wichita, Kan., 316-260-5141, waveict.com), which just opened a new 3,500-capacity outdoor stage that will host big touring acts throughout the summer.
Breakfast at Milkfloat
Milkfloat (535 W. Douglas Ave., Suite 140, Wichita, Kan., 316-558-8440, milkfloat.com) sits in the heart of west Wichita’s Delano district, a hive of little shops and restaurants across the river from downtown and near the new AAA baseball stadium currently under construction. This coffee shop-cum-cocktail bar is open early for tasty egg sandwiches on biscuits and late for decadent mousse pies.
Do some museum hopping
The western bank of the Arkansas River (locals pronounce it “Our Kansas”) is home to five museums, including an art museum currently housing a Georgia O’Keefe exhibit and a large hands-on science museum. Downtown, you’ll find still more museums, including a history museum called the Museum of World Treasures that takes you from prehistoric times to Trump. Be sure to stop by Cowtown (1865 W. Museum Blvd., Wichita, Kan., 316-350-3323, oldcowtown.org), a living history museum where you can wander through dozens of buildings salvaged from frontier towns on the prairie during the heyday of open-range ranching. Also highly recommended are the art museum, which is free on Saturdays, and the two-floor Kansas African American Museum (601 N. Water St., Wichita, Kan., 316-262-7651, tkaamuseum.org), which is housed in the former Calvary Baptist Church downtown, tells the stories of people too often given short shrift in other histories.
Slurp some pho
Two families, alike in dignity, on North Broadway lay our scene where dueling pho shops have each won fierce partisans over a generations-long battle. Saigon and Little Saigon (1015 N. Broadway, Wichita, Kan. 316-265-0054; Saigon is one block north) are the Gino’s and Pat’s of the plains, and locals will quiz you about which you went to and why.
Just a mile north of the pho shops, you’ll find the world’s largest mural by a single artist. Horizontes was painted by Colombian street artist GLeo on the side of a mammoth grain elevator (519 E. 20th St., Wichita, Kan. horizontes-project.com) in 2017. The mural is on the border of the city’s historically black and Hispanic neighborhoods and features a wide swath of people from both sides in an effort to bring the communities together.
Tour the Allen House
There is no college in the neighborhood of College Hill. The church scrapped the plan to build a Methodist university, but the name stuck. There is, however, Frank Lloyd Wright’s final prairie-style home, which was built for the publisher of the local newspaper and his family. The Allen House (255 N. Roosevelt St., Wichita, Kan., flwrightwichita.org) was completed in 1918 and is considered the pinnacle of Wright’s mid-career style. Its spacious living room is especially famous, having been named one of the great rooms of the 20th century. A tour departs at 1 pm on Saturdays.
Check out the Keeper of the Plains on a bikeshare ride along the Arkansas River
Wichita’s most recognizable landmark is the Keeper of the Plains, a 44-foot tall steel sculpture that sits at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers. The statue got a lift in 2006, when it was placed atop a rock pedestal that nearly doubled its altitude. The statue is reachable by two balletic pedestrian bridges that bow in to the statue from the banks of the river. The best way to experience the statue is to park in the science museum lot and grab a ride from the bikeshare at the station. From there, you can ride out to the island where the statue sits and out along 10 miles of mixed-use path along the river. During the summer months, fire pits at the base of the statue are hand-lit nightly at dusk.
Pizza at Piatto
Great Neapolitan-style pizza will change your life. And if you’ve never had the genuine article, get ready to be wowed by the pizziolas at Piatto (1706 E. Douglas Ave., Wichita, Kan., 316-866-6525), whose owner trained in Italy before opening here. This tiny pizza shop is one of only three local restaurants ever awarded four stars by the local daily’s longtime food critic. You’ll quickly see why if you grab a seat in front of the roaring wood-fired oven and cut into a paper-thin pie.
Dessert at Old Mill Tasty Shop
If it’s not yet 8 pm on a Saturday, swing over to this 85-year-old lunch counter for a treat. This downtown institution (604 E. Douglas Ave., Wichita, Kan., 316-264-6500) has classic ambiance and, on our visit, a teenage waitress who affects a British accent all day, every day (“I’m from here, I just like doing it”) while serving up chocolate malts and cherry limeades.
Drinks and a show at Norton’s
Dan Norton has been brewing beer in Wichita for a long time. As the head brewer at the city’s original microbrewery, River City, he was making beer before six other spots opened along Douglas Avenue. Last year, Norton got the chance to open his own 15-barrel brewery with his wife Becky, and he’s taken full advantage with this industrial chic brewpub (125 N. St. Francis St, Wichita, Kan. 316-425-9009, nortonsbrewing.com), which has a packed patio complete with swingset seating and live music on Saturday nights in the summer. Everything we tried was good, so aim for the weirder brews, where Norton demonstrates his creativity and experience with cups of mochaccino pastry stout with housemade caramel and two kinds of local coffee.
Breakfast at Beautiful Day Cafe
This hip-meets-hippie breakfast spot (516 E. Central Ave., Wichita, Kan., 316-977-9333, beautifuldaycafe.com) serves omelets made with produce from its adjacent permaculture garden and fried up in heavy cast iron skillets. To drink, pour a glass of juniper and hibiscus tea from the glass dispenser stuffed with green branches. The banana buckwheat pancakes are a must.
Shopping at The Spice Merchant and The Workroom
On the other side of Douglas Avenue, you’ll find a number of the city’s best shops, including the eclectic kitchen and cooking shop known as the Spice Merchant (1300 E. Douglas Ave., Wichita, Kan., 316-263-4121, spicemerchant.com) and the artsy upholstery and souvenir shop called The Workroom (150 N. Cleveland, Wichita, Kan., 316-295-4520, theworkroomict.com). Janelle King, who owns The Workroom, is one of the main people behind the resurgent popularity of Wichita’s city flag. After discovering it, she started marketing it on T-shirts and mugs, and the rest is history.
Where to Stay
Hotel At Old Town
830 E. First St. N., Wichita, KS | 316-267-4800 | hotelatoldtown.com
If you want to stay within a short walk of almost everything on this itinerary, check out the Hotel at Old Town. Housed inside a warehouse built in 1906, it offers spacious rooms, a lounge with live jazz on weekends, a light-filled indoor atrium and free parking in the deck next door.
Hyatt Regency Wichita
400 W. Waterman St., Wichita, KS | 316-293-1234 | hyatt.com
Situated on the waterfront and attached to Wichita’s mid-century modern convention and performing arts center, this hotel has all the amenities you’d expect of a large urban hotel, plus a great view of both the downtown skyline and the Arkansas River as it flows through town and out across the prairie.