As cowboys pushed the great cattle herds across Kansas' endless plains, they longed for a glimpse of Wichita on the horizon. Today, the city makes a great stop for travelers touring the nearby Flint Hills or heading south to Oklahoma City or Dallas. Seven don't-miss stops:
Keeper of the Plains Hands reaching to the sky and feet anchored on a stone pillar, the Keeper of the Plains pays tribute to the elements of life (water, fire, earth and wind) at the junction of the Big and Little Arkansas rivers. At 9 p.m. in the summer (7 p.m. in the winter) flames spring from fire drums surrounding the Keeper, illuminating the statue and the water. (800) 288-9424; visitwichita.com
Keeper of the Plains.
Museum of World Treasures The theme may be a little ambiguous at this Old Town collection of historical curiosities, but don’t let the eccentric-uncle’s-attic tone fool you. The 9,000 artifacts are enlightening. Wandering three floors, you’ll find two dinosaur skeletons, a segment of the Berlin Wall and personal letters from U.S. presidents. (316) 263-1311; worldtreasures.org
Tanganyika Wildlife Park If you love zoos but have always wanted to get just a little closer to the animals, check out this park 10 minutes from downtown. Visitors can help feed many of the 300-plus residents. Hold lettuce out to giraffes, or share Craisins with ring-tailed lemurs. You can also see a tiger up-close, but he’s on his own for dinner. (316) 794-8954; tanganyikawildlife.org
Museums on the river A 2-mile walk along the Arkansas river connects four museums and the 18 acres of Botanica, the Wichita Gardens, where displays showcase wildflowers, woodlands and glades. Other highlights include The Exploration Place for its planetarium; Wichita Art Museum’s three centuries of American art; Old Cowtown Museum, a re-created town with covered wagon rides and sarsaparilla tastings; and the Mid-America All-Indian Center, with the nation’s largest collection of art by Keeper sculptor Blackbear Bosin. (800) 288-9424; visitwichita.com
Botanica, the Wichita Gardens.
Larkspur Bistro and Bar A happening patio and a great wine list make Larkspur one of Old Town’s most respected restaurants. For dinner, the ahi tuna has a kick of wasabi-teriyaki glaze. And they’re serious about their sauce here: The ribeye demiglace requires four days of reduction. (316) 262-5275; larkspuronline.com
Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper There’s no place for 21st-century cynicism at this dinner show 20 minutes from Wichita. Come ready to celebrate God, country and classic cowboy tunes. Ranch gates open at 5 p.m., giving you time to ride in wagons and watch cowboy movies before heading into the dining hall for all-you-can-eat barbecued brisket, sausage, baked beans and apple crisp. After dinner, the Prairie Rose Rangers play classics like “Tumblin’ Tumbleweed.” It’s four hours of family fun. (316) 778-2121; prairierosechuckwagon.com
Hotel at Old Town In Wichita’s entertainment district, this 1906 warehouse-turned-hotel preserves much of the original architecture and vintage charm, including old-fashioned black-and-brass telephones in some rooms. From $130. (316) 267-4800; hotelatoldtown.com