I visited Wichita, Kansas as part of a summer road trip with my son. I was surprised that the town offered a terrific array of activities for family fun. Wichita is a small town (population 400,000) that offers big city perks like a great zoo, waterslide park, arcade, and old-fashioned ice cream shops.
Fun Things to do in Wichita KS with Kids
A day of family fun in the prairie state begins with a visit to Homegrown for from-scratch comfort food, followed by your choice of three potential attractions: The Sedgwick County Zoo, Old Cowtown Museum, or the Rock River Aquatic Park. After that, it’s on to The Wichita Arcade for some retro arcade video games and pinball machines. You’re in Kansas, so dinner at the Bite Me BBQ is a must. Top your day off with dessert at the Old Mill Tasty Shop and a stroll to visit the Keeper of the Plains.
The Family Best Breakfast Spot in Wichita
Homegrown is one of the best family-friendly restaurants in Wichita. They source all ingredients from Kansas. Along with the usual eggs, pancakes, and cereal, Homegrown offers Cinnamon Swirl French Toast, Homemade Pop Tarts, Avocado Toast, and Coffee Cake with Buttermilk Caramel Sauce (that alone should draw you right through the door). Fussy kids? How about the pancakes with sprinkles?
The rosemary potatoes are a must, with the first bite instantly transporting you to Thanksgiving feasts, while the homemade jam relegates anything you spread it on to a delicious treat.
You may want to, but you just can’t fit all three suggested attractions into one day so the following descriptions will help you choose which ones your family will most enjoy.
As someone with a gluten allergy, I was excited to see gluten-free bread and pancakes on the menu.
Fun fact: Wichita is the birthplace of both Pizza Hut and White Castle.
Sedgwick County Zoo
The number one outdoor family tourist attraction in Kansas, Sedgwick County Zoo is the seventh largest in the country, and houses close to 400 species, totaling nearly 3000 individual animals. Plan to allow two to three hours for a visit. You can feed the brilliantly colored koi fishes, see the tigers up close and personal in their glass-walled enclosures, stroll through an indoor rainforest, and enjoy one of the largest bird collections in the country.
Sedgwick features the third-largest elephant habitat in the country, the phenomenal “Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley.” Encompassing more than five acres of sprawling outdoor space, the Valley also includes the world’s largest elephant pool at 560,000 gallons.
Many of the zoo exhibitions are interactive. For a unique encounter grab some lettuce and climb to an elevated platform on one side of the giraffe enclosure, where you can hand-feed these magnificent creatures.
For a singular view of the zoo catch the boat ride, running every half hour in the summer from 10-4. A narrated tram ride is free, and a great way to get around if you or the kids tire of walking. The zoo should be at the top of your list of things to do in Wichita KS!
Rock River Rapids Aquatic Center
Where do you go to cool down in the prairie state? Whether you are looking for a wild slide or a lazy day in the water, Rock River Rapids in small-town Derby, Kansas, can deliver. Only 17 minutes south of Wichita, the water park offers amenities for both kids and adults.
An Olympic sized swimming pool can be used to put in your day’s aerobic requirements…with some fun along the way. Climb a wall at the end of a lap, leap off a diving board, or shoot some hoops before resuming your swim. The Zero Depth Pool provides kids with endless entertainment including slides, a water walk, a treehouse-themed spray-ground, and a massive bucket that releases a “tsunami” of water to douse unsuspecting kids.
Adults can lounge around the Lazy River, floating away from their stress while cooling off. Six slides running the gamut from tame to terrifying shoot guests into a deep pool. Concessions are available as well as lockers, a bathhouse, and plenty of lounging areas for relaxing.
Old Cowtown Museum
A third family-friendly choice in Wichita is the Old Cowtown Museum (www.oldcowtown.org), where you can experience Wichita like it’s 1865 at this small-town treasure. The living history museum lets you immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and activities common to a Midwestern cattle town. The twenty-three-acre living museum contains 54 buildings (some original and some recreated) which portray local, as well as some national, history. Wichita was one of the endpoints of the landmark Chisholm Trail, a trail used to drive cattle from Texas to the railheads of the mid-west.
Past visitors call the museum “a must-see” for anyone visiting the area. The site includes a working saloon, a blacksmith shop, post office, livery, grain elevator, jail, and one-room school house among others. Volunteers dressed in period costumes play the roles of townspeople and are happy to answer questions.
If your kids are ready for some old-fashioned fun, or just need their electronic fix, take them to The Arcade in Old Town (open till 6) for some retro video games. Asteroids, Baby Pac-man, Atari Football, and Dragon’s Lair are some of the arcade games available, while pinball machines are represented by such classics as The Addams Family, Nightmare on Elm Street and Austin Powers.
Bite Me BBQ
What’s for dinner? You are in Kansas, so it’s time for some barbecue. Bite Me BBQ was voted by Kansas! Magazine as one of the best BBQ restaurants in the state for its mouthwatering ribs, while Southern Living says it is “The Kansas BBQ to put on your BBQ Bucket List.” Customers particularly love the Smoked Prime Rib (sounds like it’s worth the trip from anywhere). Cold beer and a full bar are available in addition to the complete menu of brisket, pulled pork, chicken fried steak and anything else in your barbecue dreams.
The Old Mill Tasty Shop
After your barbecue dinner, it’s time for a sweet treat. Stop in at the Old Mill Tasty Shop for a milkshake. Or head to the Nifty Nut House for an extensive variety of sweet treats including jelly beans, lemon cream almonds, chocolate…and nuts of course.
Keeper of the Plains
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Finish the night with a visit to Keeper of the Plains 650 N. Seneca, (Park at Exploration Place, 300 N. McLean). This is a can’t miss experience in Wichita! The Keeper of the Plains is a 44-foot tall steel sculpture standing at the point where the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers join together in downtown Wichita. The complete renovation of the sculpture and installation of the Keeper of the Plains Plaza now brings people out each evening to see the Keeper and the “Ring of Fire” which can be viewed nightly for 15 minutes.
Best Family Friendly Hotel In Wichita
A great family-friendly place to stay during your time in Wichita is The Hotel at Water Walk. Featuring free breakfast, a swimming pool, a fitness area, and a pet-friendly attitude, the hotel will provide you with a comfortable night’s rest without blowing your budget.
We hope you enjoy your day in Wichita. It’s a city big enough to offer a wide range of attractions, yet small enough to get around easily. There are certainly loads of fun things to do in Wichita and it’s a town I hope to visit again!
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Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.