Keeper of the Plans

What to do between games: Wichita has more must-sees than you’d think

Kigali holds her 6-day old newborn gorilla February 28 while picking up treats off of the ground. The baby is the second gorilla born at the Sedgwick County Zoo.
Kigali holds her 6-day old newborn gorilla February 28 while picking up treats off of the ground. The baby is the second gorilla born at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

So it’s mid-March and you find yourself in Wichita.

You’ll likely be spending a lot of time in and around Intrust Bank Arena for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have down time.

What is there to do in this Kansas town?

We’ve compiled a quick-and-easy guide to the top attractions here, other than the tournament.

Don’t-miss attractions

Keeper of the Plains, 650 N. Seneca

The Keeper of the Plains is our town’s most recognizable icon – it’s a 44-foot-tall statue of a Plains Indian looking skyward, erected at the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas rivers – a stone outcropping accessible via pedestrian bridges. During the day, the Keeper of the Plains provides a restful spot to take in the Arkansas River. Park in the back of the Exploration Place parking lot, 300 N. McLean, for easiest access.

Hours: Open 24/7

Cost: Free

Don’t miss: At 9 p.m. nightly, fire pits surrounding the Keeper are lit in a “Ring of Fire” for 15 minutes. It’s free.

Sedgwick County Zoo, 5555 W. Zoo Blvd.

The zoo has a national reputation as one of the country’s top zoos and features a variety of animals – from penguins to lions to giraffes and elephants. Wear comfortable shoes, though, as you’ll be walking a lot.

Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

Cost: $15.95 adults 12-61, $11.95 seniors 62+ and youth 3-11, free for children 2 and under

Don’t miss: In 2016, the zoo finished the $10.6 million Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley exhibit. Check out the elephants as well as the Koch Orangutan and Chimpanzee Habitat, another popular exhibition.

Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, 701 N. Amidon

While plants are just beginning to bloom, there is still be plenty of greenery to appreciate.

Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

Cost: $7 adults 13-61, $6 seniors 62+ and military, $5 youth 3-12

Don’t miss: If you have kids, don’t miss the Downing Children’s Garden. It’s got an elaborate playground, rainbow arches to run under, a “musical maze” and other fun and educational areas. The garden’s most recent addition is its Chinese Garden of Friendship, painstakingly recreating a Ming Dynasty-era garden – complete with a pond and mini-waterfall and pagoda.

Kansas Star Casino,777 Kansas Star Drive, Mulvane.

Located about 16 miles south of Wichita on I-35, the casino has more than 1,770 slot machines, 50 table games, a poker room, nightclub and five restaurants. Must be 21 or older.

It’s home to the Keeper of the Plains, Exploration Place, parks, paths and – finally – new residential development. Yet few would argue that Wichita has fully capitalized on the potential of the Arkansas River.

Weird stuff

Underground troll sculpture, northeast of the Keeper of the Plains, along the north riverbank

A grate by the riverfront has a bronze carved troll lurking underneath, gazing up to the light. It’s something you should look for if you’re visiting the Keeper of the Plains, if for no other reason than its oddity.

Commerce Street train platform, east of Commerce Street, off Waterman (adjacent to the railroad tracks)

Just across the street from Intrust Bank Arena is this area, which at first glance appears to be nothing more than a parking lot. But look further back, near the Finn Lofts, and you will find a stage/platform that was recently built by area artists to allow people to watch freight trains pass. At night, there are light-up LED “railgrass” sculptures that blink when a train is passing through.

Central Riverside Park, 720 N. Nims

Not saying the park is necessarily “weird,” but it does have its quirks. Inside the park is a little free zoo of sorts, called the Kansas Wildlife Exhibit, featuring animals that can be found in Kansas. Its claim to fame came in 2015 when its beaver, named Chapa, escaped his enclosure, leading the entire city to go on #ChapaWatch in an attempt to locate the rogue beaver. That actually happened. He’s back in his enclosure for public viewing. There’s also a miniature Stonehenge-looking sculpture installation in the park that’s popular on solstice days, when light shines perfectly through orbs installed on the piece.

Museums

Museum of World Treasures, 835 E. 1st Street

This museum is the city’s most eclectic, as it was originally a wealthy Wichita man’s private collection of artifacts from all over the world including shrunken heads, a roughly 65-percent complete T. rex skeleton and a section of the Berlin Wall. It also houses two 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummies. Best of all: It’s in the heart of the Old Town entertainment district. 316-263-1311

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Cost: $9.95 adults 13-64, $8.95 seniors 65+, $7.95 children 4-12, free for children 3 and under. Family Day Pass (2 adults, 2 youth) available for $32.95

Don’t miss: The museum recently reworked its fossil area, which includes Ivan the T. rex. While they’re not originals, be sure to check out the Hall of Presidents, where you can see copies of presidential notes from George Washington through Barack Obama. The museum has the originals in its storage areas. Only copies are on display.

Exploration Place, 300 N. McLean

Wichita’s science museum is primarily geared for kids but also entertaining for adults. The domed IMAX theater daily screens educational films (and the occasional Pink Floyd concert). The building is one of the most unique, architecturally, in downtown Wichita. It was designed by the architect Moshe Sofdie, who also designed the Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas and the Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore. 316-660-0600

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat.

Cost: $10.50 adults 12-64, $9 seniors 65+, $7 youth 3-11, free for children 2 and under

Don’t miss: Exploration Place’s “Design Build Fly,” an homage to the city’s aviation industry. It includes interactive stations, on manufacturing aircraft from tightening bolts to spraying an even coat of paint.

Kate Wight Tyler, a conservator at the Brooklyn Museum, shows us how she inspects its art at every museum it is loaned out to. The exhibition opens at the Wichita Art Museum on Feb. 24. Additional footage by Jaime Green, music from bensound.com. (

Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd.

It has one of the most prestigious collections of American art in the country. While you’re there, learn about the Prairie Print Makers, one of the region’s most important art groups of the 20th century. It recently opened an outdoor “Art Garden” that’s free to the public. A large statue by Tom Otterness – a Wichita-raised artist – sits outside in the garden. Admission to the museum is free on Saturdays (except for admission to its newest traveling exhibition). 316-268-4921

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Cost: $7 adults 18-59, $5 seniors 60+, $3 students with ID and youth 5-17, free for children under 5. Free on Saturdays

Don’t miss: “Monet to Matisse: French Moderns, 1850-1950,” an exhibition on loan from the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Tickets to this exhibit are an additional $10.

For the family

Starlite Drive-In, 3900 S. Hydraulic.

One of the few remaining drive-in movie theaters left in the country, is officially open for the season. It costs $13 per carload. For more information and to see screentimes, visit www.starlitefun.com. 316-524-2424

Some of the sights and sounds associated with a night at Wichita's drive-in movie theater (April 2016).

Warren Theaters, east-side, west-side and Old Town locations.

Sure, you can see a movie anywhere, but Wichita’s Warren Theaters are a little more upscale. It was one of the best privately owned movie theater chains in the country. Last year the theaters sold to Regal. The east-side theater has a luxury 21-and-over section, the west-side theater has a world-class IMAX theater, and the Old Town theater has straight-to-seat food service. After 8 p.m., the Old Town theater is open to people 18 and older. The east and west side theaters are modeled after art deco theaters, featuring marble floors, neon lights and hand-painted murals. For showtimes, visit www.warrentheaters.com.

Wichita Ice Center, 505 W. Maple

Still in the figure-skating spirit? The Wichita Ice Center downtown holds public skating hours and rents ice skates. For more information on the ice rink, visit www.wichitaicecenter.com. Skating typically costs $7 with a $3 skate rental. 316-337-9199

The Arcade, 139 N. Mead

This retro arcade recently opened in the Old Town entertainment district, and it’s a hot spot for people who love arcade games. It has more than 60 classic game cabinets, primarily from the 1980s and ‘90s, including four games in the Pac-Man series. All machines are set on free-play, and you pay either $8 for an hour or $10 to play all day. It’s open 6-10 p.m. Thurs., 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri.-Sat., and 1-8 p.m. Sun. 316-844-0010

The Alley, 11413 E. 13th Street

Probably the nicest bowling alley in Wichita, this will entertain both adults and young ones. It has cosmic bowling lanes in addition to the regular lanes, an arcade, pool tables, go-karts and large bowling-alley pizzas. It’s open noon-11 p.m. Wed., 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Thurs., noon-1 a.m. Fri., 10:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Sat., noon-11 p.m. Sun. 316-618-1000

Wichita Sports Forum, 2668 N. Greenwich

If you have kids who need to burn off some energy, the Wichita Sports Forum is a popular indoor 20,000-square-foot trampoline park and sports venue. It’s got a ninja obstacle course, extreme dodgeball, trampoline basketball dunking, a trapeze and more. On Friday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m.-midnight it hosts “Club Aviate,” an event for teenagers 15 and older, where the park is lit up with blacklights, glow lights and laser lights. It’s $10 per hour. 316-201-1414

Still curious about Wichita? Here are more handy tips about this city:

Here's where to find the NCAA parties in Wichita this week

Wichita's dining critic tells you where to eat while in town for the NCAA tournament

Coming into town for the tournament? Here are the best bars and breweries in Wichita

Basketball fans: You don't need a car to get around downtown Wichita this week

A guide to Wichita shopping for NCAA tourney visitors

That flag you're seeing everywhere? It's a sign of Wichita pride

NCAA haters back off: Wichita is an interesting and fun place, and this list proves it

  Comments