In the 1860s, trader Jesse Chisholm forged his way north from the Red River into Kansas to establish the famed Chisholm Trail. At the confluence of the Arkansas and the Little Arkansas Rivers, he founded a trading post that served cowboys and American Indians who ran goods and cattle along the trail. Between 1867 and 1872, more than 3 million head of cattle were driven up the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Abilene, and Chisholm’s trading post grew into what now is the city of Wichita, Kansas.
For those hoping to taste the color and grit of cowboy history associated with those cattle drives, Wichita offers Western-themed attractions including the Old Cowtown Museum – an authentic cow town set in the late 1800s, featuring historic structures such as a blacksmith and carpenter shop, a dressmaker and the city marshal’s office. Munger House, an 1869 log combination house and trading post, is thought to be the city’s oldest two-story structure.
And if that doesn’t satisfy your inner cowboy, check out the Delano District. This was the cowboy “entertainment” area after city fathers decided Wichita was too sophisticated for the Trail transients. It’s especially worth seeing Hatman Jack’s, where founder and owner Jack Kellogg has created headwear for working cowboys and celebrities from Luciano Pavarotti to Harry Connick, Jr.
My favorite stay in Wichita is the Hotel at Old Town, a repurposed warehouse in the middle of a bustling downtown arts and entertainment district. Lots of restaurants to choose from here, as well as the fascinating Museum of World Treasures, covering everything from dinosaurs to the Berlin Wall. Public is one of my favorite restaurants; be sure to try its homemade pickles with Yoder salami, horseradish cheese and a toasted baguette. For South American favorites, Sabor’s menu is sure to please.
The Museums in the River District is home to the Wichita Art Museum, Exploration Place (science center) and the Mid-America All-Indian Center.
Botanica is Wichita’s garden spot. Highlights include a Chinese garden with a spectacular dragon wall, the Children’s Garden, the Sensory Garden, Railroad Garden and, in summer, a butterfly house.
If shopping’s your thing, upscale Bradley Fair has big-name shops plus cool local boutiques. Cocoa Dolce is a great spot for coffee, chocolates and even wine pairings. For an elegant meal, try Newport Grill. While it specializes in fish and seafood, the menu includes numerous other options. The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor dining overlooking a beautiful little lake.
Wichita, known as the birthplace of commercial aviation manufacturing, claims that part of any American plane flying today once spent time in Wichita. For some aviation history, head for Eisenhower National Airport and the B-29 Doc Hangar, Education and Visitor Center. During World War II, the Wichita Boeing plant turned out nine complete, ready-to-fly B-29 Superfortresses every two days. Doc, built here in 1944, is one of only two flyable Superfortresses known to remain.
The museum has all sorts of information about the planes and their manufacture. And they have Doc. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to meet Connie Palacioz – a real Rosie the Riveter – who worked on the plane. Check the website at visitwichita.com to make sure the plane isn’t flying somewhere before you go.
If you’re in for a wild weekend, visit the Sedgwick County Zoo with 3,000 animals representing almost 400 species. Further west in Goddard, Kansas, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, a family-owned, fully accredited facility, is definitely worth a visit.
For an easy drive and a wow of a weekend, head for Wichita. This Kansas city offers great accommodations, great food, an alphabet of attractions and an all-around great getaway at a good price.