How many of you remember the original “Wichitawesome” skit on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”?
The 2012 skit, which lampooned Wichita as a hip spring break destination, spawned a flurry of righteous indignation from Wichitans that year. The city even went so far as to create a video response to the skit, subjecting a cardboard cutout of Kimmel to decided debauchery here in town.
The original Kimmel video is nowhere to be found online, but the name stuck.
It’s five years later, spring break is once again upon us, and Wichitans are left with an existential question: Can spending spring break in town actually be “Wichitawesome”?
I’d submit that it’s indeed possible, if you follow a few of my tips.
A lot of these ideas revolve around getting outside and seeing the natural beauty of Kansas. Many newcomers to Kansas, and even lifelong Wichitans, never make an effort to get out and see the beautiful landscapes this state has to offer. Regardless of how long you’ll stay in Kansas, you won’t regret being able to say that you actually went to the effort to see all that the state had to offer geographically.
It’s not too hard to find a satisfying spring break activity in Wichita proper for the whole family, as many museums and other local attractions host special events nearly all week long.
Here are some of those events.
▪ Wichita Art Museum: During spring break, the Wichita Art Museum is hosting special events for students from elementary to high school, its own Artcation. All week long, there will be special projects in the museum’s Living Room and screenings of family films. Every day has a new theme. And, of course, the galleries are open. All students through college-age get in for just $1. Regular admission applies for adults.
▪ Museum of World Treasures: All week long, the Museum of World Treasures is putting on what it calls the Mel Hambelton Ford Week of Heroes. Members of the armed services and local law enforcement, fire protection and more will be on hand to visit with museum attendees, give talks and provide demonstrations. Military members, veterans, first responders and their families get $1 off each ticket. Tickets are $8.95 for adults, $7.95 for seniors and $6.95 for children.
▪ Sedgwick County Zoo: Not to be outdone, the Sedgwick County Zoo is also hosting spring break festivities all week with its Wonders of Wildlife Spring Fling. These sessions are all-day affairs for children in grades 1-5. Parents can drop off their kids at 8 a.m. and pick them up at 5 p.m. daily from Monday to Friday. Every day, zoo staff members will lead the children in learning about the animals at the zoo. Children are expected to bring a packed lunch. Reservations must be made for the entire week – you can’t pick and choose dates. Total cost is $150 for members and $170 for nonmembers. Register at www.scz.org.
▪ Mark Arts: Mark Arts is offering classes for ages 6-12 all week long, part of its STEAM Camp initiative. If your kid wants to spend spring break exploring mixed media, drawing, painting and clay, this is the activity for you. Mark Arts provides all necessary supplies. Camps for ages 6-9 will be from 8 a.m. to noon daily and camps for ages 9-12 will be from 1 to 5 p.m. daily. The cost to attend camp is $120, or $110 for Mark Arts members. Register at www.markartsks.com.
▪ CityArts: Wichita’s CityArts is also putting on an art-themed week of spring break camps for ages 6 and up. The theme, “Road Trip Across America,” will teach attendees the history and artistic culture of five different major art cities: New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, Santa Fe and Los Angeles. Campers can choose between a mixed-media art camp (ages 6 and up), complete with painting, drawing, sculptural and ceramic projects, or a digital arts camp (ages 11 and up) with all projects completed on iMac computers. Camp runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day during spring break. Cost is $40 per day. To enroll or for more information, call 316-350-3245.
▪ Exploration Place: Every day during spring break (which Exploration Place counts as this Friday through March 26), Exploration Place is hosting a special event for kids and families. It also offers camps from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily from Monday to Friday, its Spring Break Edventures, themed after its “Discover the Ice Age” exhibit. The day-long camps, which are tailored for kids from kindergarten to 5th grade, are $30 a day for members and $35 a day for nonmembers. To register and for more information, visit www.exploration.org.
▪ Wichita Park and Recreation Kids Konnection: For ages 6-13, the Wichita Department of Park and Recreation is sponsoring daily Kids Konnection camps at Edgemoor, Linwood and Orchard parks. The camps are $18 per child and will keep your child occupied from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Students must bring their own sack lunch. Camp will include sports, games, contests, arts and crafts, and other special events. It’s licensed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. For more information and to register, visit www.wichita.gov/Government/Departments/Park/Pages/Camps.aspx.
Many more places in town are hosting special spring break events. For the best information about what’s going on at your favorite museum or attraction, call or visit their websites.
For older students yearning for the beaches
▪ Camp out at a Kansas lake: For those looking to broaden their horizons, a trip outside the Wichita city limits is going to be a likely scenario. I’ve always been of this mindset, though: You can spend a few hundred dollars for a hotel room for a couple of nights in a big city, or you can spend that much on a quality tent and sleeping bags for a camping adventure. If you’re not quite ready to try going totally primitive, many Kansas state parks have cabins you can rent for the night. There’s nothing quite like catching a Kansas sunset and sunrise at one of our state parks. Some of Kansas’ most scenic parks: Lake Scott State Park, Cross Timbers State Park, Wilson State Park and Kanopolis State Park. If you’re looking to unwind, spending your nights in the great outdoors can do wonders for your psyche. Just ask Thoreau.
▪ Drink at a Prohibition-style saloon: OK, I get it. One of the hallmarks of spring break for college students is imbibing on liquid courage. But what if I told you you could do just that, but with a 1920s-themed twist? In Wichita, a new bar recently opened, Dockum Apothecary at the Ambassador Hotel, that specializes in Prohibition-style cocktails. But at Dockum, leave your spring break shenanigans at the door. It’s a classy joint, and the bar doesn’t tolerate disruptive behavior. Some nights, you need a reservation to even get in. If you’re looking for another, less-strict Prohibition-style experience, the Underground Saloon in Ellinwood is a Prohibition-style bar in the basement of the haunted Wolf Hotel. You can get all sorts of period cocktails there, including drinks made with absinthe. Stay the night afterward in the Wolf Hotel for an allegedly haunted experience.
▪ Hike on one of Kansas’ many trails: Yes, Kansas does have ample attractive hiking trails both for fitness aficionados and for people seeking the perfect picture. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel on this one, as my colleague Michael Pearce, who is The Eagle’s outdoors expert, compiled a list of the five best hiking trails within two hours of Wichita last year. Check out his story at http://www.kansas.com/sports/outdoors/michael-pearce/article80558162.html.
▪ Experience life on a cattle ranch: Now, this is authentic Kansas if I’ve ever seen it. There are ranches in Kansas that offer overnight accommodations and home-cooked cowboy meals, for a uniquely Western experience. The Flying W Ranch near Clements in Chase County lets you experience the life of a working cowboy, with trail rides for horse riders of all skill levels and more advanced cattle drives. Owner Josh Hoy trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has appeared on “Master Chef,” flexing his cowboy-cooking muscles. Prices vary by location, though you can probably expect to spend a few hundred dollars on a weekend getaway. For more information, visit www.flinthillsflyingw.com.
▪ Kayak in a Kansas river: Just because Kansas is in the Great Plains doesn’t mean it doesn’t have scenic waterways for kayakers and other water enthusiasts. The Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri rivers are open to the public, and in many places, you can rent a canoe or a kayak. If you’re a newbie, pick a placid river or a lake and don’t go immediately after a storm or heavy rain upstream. My colleague Michael Pearce compiled a list of the top 5 Kansas canoe and kayak trails last year as well, so be sure to take a look at his list here: http://www.kansas.com/sports/outdoors/article84604832.html.
▪ Go to the underground salt museum: All of my suggestions so far have been above-ground, but what about 650 feet below the surface? One of the most unique experiences you can take around the Wichita area is a visit to Hutchinson’s Strataca, the underground salt museum. In the salt caverns hundreds of feet underground, you can learn about the history of salt mining in the area as well as see some pretty interesting archives. Movie studios traditionally stored props and other things they were intending to save in salt caverns, and you’ll find such artifacts at Strataca. For more information, visit www.underkansas.org or call 620-662-1425.
▪ Day trip to Greensburg: This May, it will have been a decade since the tiny town of Greensburg was nearly wiped off the map in an EF-5 tornado. In the decade since 2007, the town has rebuilt itself as a “green” city, and it’s really quite fascinating to see how much the town has recovered in the years since the tornado. Take a visit to the Big Well Museum, one of the top attractions in town – which survived the 2007 tornado – as well as the 5.4.7 Arts Center if you get a chance. Then cap off your night by watching a movie at the new Twilight Theatre, which Bill Warren helped design and equip. The theater screens movies on weekend nights.