Outdoor (and socially-distanced) activities in Wichita, Kan., were just what we were hoping to find when we ventured out to a new place for the first time in months.
We’ve been working on losing weight and developing more healthy habits over the past few years. Now we seek out places and ways to incorporate more movement into our travel. Wichita delivers with lots of opportunities for outdoor activities and movement. We’re also happy that most of these outdoor activities provide plenty of space for social distancing, which is so important during the coronavirus pandemic. Finally, exploring someplace new and being out in nature was also good for our mental health.
Note: Visit Wichita hosted us on our recent visit to the city. As always, opinions expressed are our own.
Wander the garden paths at Botanica
Who knew that Wichita offers 17 acres of beautifully manicured community gardens? We didn’t, but were excited to visit Botanica Gardens from the moment we first heard about it. Walking through the gates, we discovered a wonderful place to get in our 10,000 steps. We loved meandering down the winding paths, enjoying new, beautiful flowers and plants around every turn.
Botanica is used for weddings, but also has a strong educational program. There is a children’s area that explains a great deal about plants as well as where plant-based foods come from. There’s also an area where visitors can touch and smell many of the herbs commonly used in cooking.
Botanica Gardens also has a fully functioning carousel. It’s indoors, but the day we visited, we were the only ones there. A central part of Wichita’s historic (and now closed) Joyland Amusement Park for 59 years, the carousel has been painstakingly restored so that children of all ages can continue to enjoy it today. Of course we had to, um, take it for a spin.
Take a historic walking tour of downtown
Downtown Wichita is going through a bit of a renaissance, but the history there is being kept alive. We took advantage of Wichita Library’s History Walk app, and were able to take an educational self-guided tour while moving our legs and getting some steps.
A downtown tour was super-convenient to do from our hotel, the brand-new Hilton Garden Inn Wichita-Downtown. We stepped out the front door of the hotel and were on our way, about one block from our first stop.
Visit the site of the Dockum Drugstrore sit-in
On our tour, we visited the Ambassador Hotel, which has taken over the location of Dockum Drugstore, the site of one of the first lunch counter sit-in protests of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. In the summer of 1958, a group of young African-Americans came into the store, peacefully sat at the lunch counter, and ordered a Coke. They did this daily for three weeks before the owner relented and agreed to serve the protesters.
Today, what was the Dockum Drugstore is a fine dining steakhouse restaurant in the lobby of the hotel. It’s worth noting that the restaurant has cheerfully hosted some of the original sit-in participants for dinner.
A couple of blocks down the street from the Ambassador Hotel, we found the Eaton Hotel building. On December 27, 1900, prohibitionist Carrie A. Nation entered the saloon in the lobby of the former hotel and smashed it to pieces–it was the first time (but not the last) that she used a hatchet to destroy a bar.
Today, the space is occupied by a beautiful home decor store, Urban Interiors. We stopped and briefly perused the store, all the while imagining what that tumultuous evening must have been like.
For the good part of a morning, we walked up and down Douglas Ave. stopping, reading, and learning about the history of Wichita. From checking out the depot and the historic railroad overpass to taking in bronze statues and landmarks, we got a lot of steps, and, perhaps more importantly, learned a little something along the way.
Enjoy dozens of murals
We enjoy and appreciate art, so when the kind folks of Visit Wichita suggested a tour of murals, we loved the idea. Many cities these days are rightfully proud of their public art. Often a city has an alley or an area of two or three blocks on which you’ll find perhaps a dozen murals. Not Wichita.
A mural tour could be one of many day-long outdoor activities in Wichita. You’ll get as many steps as you want–indeed, you could probably do a mural marathon (so we drove to some of them). Wichita offers more than 70 public murals of various shapes, sizes and colors on its buildings. One, by Columbian street artist GLeo is on the side of a huge grain elevator and actually set the record as largest mural in the world by a single artist.
From the NOMAR district to the Dunbar District to the Douglas Design District, these works of art are all over town making a mural tour a great way to get to know the city. The best part is that you can tour year after year, because Wichitans add more each year during Avenue Art Days.
Walk back in time at the Old Cowtown Museum
What better way to spend an afternoon of outdoor activity in Wichita than by taking a few steps back in time? We did just that at the Old Cowtown Museum. In its early days, Wichita’s connection to the railroad made it a destination for cowboys from Texas and Oklahoma moving their herds to market. They’d bring the cattle up the Chisholm Trail and would put them on trains in Wichita bound for packing houses in cities like Chicago.
This rough-and-tumble history comes to life with the help of docents at the Old Cowtown Museum, a living history museum where you can stroll the boardwalks and see what life was like in the late 1800’s. The museum has collected buildings of the era and has restored and furnished them so they appear as they would have more than a century ago. It’s one thing to read about history, it’s another to experience it.
In this time of COVID, the museum has been very careful to ensure that each open building has appropriate space for social distancing. In addition, they are limiting the number of people allowed in each exhibit at any one time and requiring masks. We visited on a cool Tuesday morning during the school year, so we felt like we had the place to ourselves.
This was truly one of the most complete living history museums we’ve seen. Indeed, we found businesses highlighted that normally aren’t included in a museum of this type, like a funeral parlor.
By the time we left, we had learned a lot about the history of Wichita and the old West. Best of all, we’d gotten in a good walk doing it.
Enjoy outdoor activities in Wichita and explore nature
The Great Plains Nature Center is a museum dedicated to the ecology of the Wichita area. Inside there are displays on wildlife and plant ecology as well as a large aquarium with fish native to the area. The museum has worked hard to establish a COVID safety plan and has tried to reduce risk by limiting the number of visitors allowed, requiring masks, and helping ensure social distancing. They have also closed a number of interactive exhibits that will again be highly educational after the pandemic.
Leave the museum, though, and you’ll step into one of the most beautiful outdoor activities in Wichita. There you’ll find 2.5 miles of paved, accessible trails that meander through the 282-acre Chisholm Creek Park.
We loved that in this park we could walk through native and restored prairies as well as woodlands, ponds, and wetlands. It is apparent that there has been an effort to showcase multiple ecosystems in the park for the enjoyment and education of everyone. Best of all, we could enjoy some fresh air and a beautiful walk through nature.
Keeper of the Plains and the Riverwalk
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the most popular outdoor Wichita destinations: The Keeper of the Plains. This 44-foot statue by Kiowa-Comanche artist Blackbear Bosin has become a symbol of Wichita. We had planned to visit, but the weather didn’t cooperate with us, so we saved it for another day. When we go, though, we’ll update this post.
PIN FOR LATER
Finally, we’d also been scheduled to take a stroll on the trails near the Keeper of the Plains that run along the Arkansas River in downtown Wichita. Sadly, the same rain showers that interfered with our visit to the Keeper of the Plains conspired to push our plans for a trail walk to another day. Still, from what we saw driving past, the trail is definitely something we want to explore.
Outdoor dining: An activity in Wichita you can savor
Wichita has a terrific food scene, and with the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants have worked hard to make dining out safer. We had food from nine different restaurants while in town, and didn’t have a single meal inside a restaurant building.
Instead, we were able to dine outside on patios, under tents, next to heaters, or just take it back to our hotel. We liked the food so much, we’re planning a separate blog post on the restaurants.
Bonus: a useful tidbit of information
Know this when you visit: All over town we saw the Wichita flag and the letters ICT. They were on t-shirts, keychains and even in hashtags like #ICTDining. We weren’t sure what ICT meant at first, so we did a little digging.
Wichita’s history has been steeped in the aviation industry and the construction of airplanes since the early days of flying. Because of that, it’s now known as the “Air Capital of the World.” ICT is Wichita’s airport’s three-letter code, like ORD is Chicago O’Hare or LAX is Los Angeles-International. So, Wichita has adopted ICT as a nickname for the whole city. It’s one of those names everyone understands and of which the whole city is rightfully proud.
What are some of your favorite outdoor activities in Wichita?
Again, thank you Visit Wichita for hosting us and thanks to the business owners and residents for your warm hospitality during a cold week in the Midwest.