It’s been 5 months since I began working as concertmaster with Wichita Symphony Orchestra. Getting to know the culture of the city and the people has been enlightening on several levels.
Wichita is a unique city in that its history is something people are extremely proud of, and its future is something they are equally proud. From the early days of Wichita where Wyatt Earp and the Chisholm Trail helped build a mythology of the Wild West, to the 20th century where names like Stearman, Beechcraft, and Cessna helped create the “Air Capital of the World,” to the present where Spirit AeroSystems and Textron Aviation are continuing the tradition of aviation excellence, there is a great sense of pride.
That feeling of reverence to the past and excitement towards the future is echoed in the Wichita Symphony’s programming. WSO has been deliberate and thoughtful by offering traditional works as well as new ones. Never before have I experienced an orchestra so purposefully plan musical offerings with its city and people in mind. That careful balance has been noticed by the audience who have come to expect to be captivated by the past and future.
Besides the regular Wichita audiences, there have been a number of people who travel to Wichita to hear particular works. People have come the distance to hear pieces by Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning composers like Michael Daugherty to Jennifer Higdon, and more are coming this April 2020 to hear George S. Clinton’s violin concerto, The Rose of Sonora.
For the audiences who travel into Wichita to hear a concert and want to be tourists of the area as well, I’ve created a list of places to see, eat, and stay. The list is based off my experiences so if I miss anything, feel free to leave a comment!
Where To Stay
The Hyatt Regency: This hotel is next to the Century II Performing Arts Center and right on the Arkansas River. There are lovely sidewalks along the river and the hotel has an airport shuttle.
Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview: This hotel is across the street from Century II Performing Arts Center and also right on the Arkansas River. It has a free breakfast.
Ambassador Hotel Wichita: A few blocks down from Century II Performing Arts Center, this hotel is boutique hotel in a historic building. There is a free airport shuttle and upgraded amenities.
Where To Eat/Drink
Leslie Coffee Company: Excellent lattes, teas, coffee drinks, and a nice assortment of foods like avocado toast and pastries. Very cool atmosphere.
Delano Barbeque Company: I ate here with some award winning composers in the fall of 2019. We all agreed it was top notch “Q”.
Tanya’s Soup Kitchen: Can soup be exciting? Yes. This place offers the best soups and an imaginative menu. Price point makes it possible to have multiple soups since you’ll be curious!
Gabby’s Peruvian: The best Peruvian food in a very welcoming restaurant. I’ve enjoyed many dishes at this restaurant, and it was a treat to see Gabby herself come out of the kitchen to say hi!
Stearman Field Bar and Grill: A really fun lunch spot where you can enjoy a burger and watch planes land. This restaurant is named for the Stearman bi-plane, sits next to a runway, and has fun aviation décor.
What To Do
Old Cowtown Museum: This is 23 acre open-air history museum that recreates a western town. Most of the buildings are original buildings which have been preserved from various locations around Kansas. When you walk into the buildings you can sense the authenticity and history. There are all kinds of artifacts from farming to iron work, buildings representing jailhouses to general stores and tack sheds. The volunteers and interpreters are well versed in the history and enjoy sharing their passion. Truly a must see!
Visit The Spice Merchant and Nifty Nuthouse: Between these two shops you can cover most, if not all, of your gift shopping. The Spice Merchant offers an amazing variety of freshly roasted coffees, teas, spices, cooking accessories, and gifts. You could spend hours browsing and sampling! Nifty Nuthouse is another place you could enjoy for an extended period of time. Freshly roasted nuts, a gigantic variety of candy and snacks, this shop offers a unique buying experience that is similar to an adventure. Around every turn in this store is a new flavor or texture you feel compelled to try and then buy. And for the jaded travel who comes from a bigger city, one who might assume this nut shop can’t possibly be special, you are in for a treat! This jaded traveler speaks from experience!
Kansas Aviation Museum: Previously an airport terminal, the art deco museum offers a self-guided walk through the early days of aviation to the present. Learning about the history of Cessna and Beechcraft while large planes take off and land at McConnell Air Force Base next door, gives a unique perspective. The museum has a hall of fame where you learn about some of the United States best aviators had Kansas beginnings. There are also several aircraft you can walk around outside as well.
Great Plains Nature Center: Walking trails, birdwatching, history, and ecology wrapped up into one relaxing trip. Get a sense of the importance of the Great Plains while relaxing!
Buy a hat at Hatman Jack’s: Founded in 1976, Hatman Jack’s has become the third-largest hat store in the nation, and a cornerstone of the historic Delano neighborhood in Wichita, Kansas. I own two (so far)!
A Little Further
Tall Grass Prairie Preserve: About an hour or so from Wichita is this amazing preserve. Get a sense of how the Prairie once looked, walk or hike trails, see bison, and appreciate what has been preserved of our Great Prairie.
Cosmosphere: Amazing collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts including Apollo 13 Capsule, Dr. Goddard’s Lab, and Planetarium. It’s a short drive from Wichita to see these historical pieces.
Visitors who have already traveled to Wichita have all said the same things: it’s the people that really make the experience extra special. The people in the orchestra who share music with joy, the people at the hotels who really make you feel welcome, the people who are passionate about their culinary creations, the people who are excited about their history and your future….all of this adds perspective and meaning to an already exciting itinerary.