As a Wichita native, although I haven't lived in the city for six years, I always look forward to coming back home so I can explore my precious hometown, from taking walks around College Hill to revisiting some favorite childhood restaurants. It's been really amazing to observe over even the last couple of years how much Wichita has blossomed culturally—if only it were this cool when I was in high school!
I was lucky enough to partner with Visit Wichita on my recent trip home before my move to the Big Apple. I was expecting a nice staycation in my hometown, equipped with some familiar restaurants and friendly faces. What surprised me, though, is that I got so much more than that. Over the weekend, I was blessed with some of the best food I've ever had, a vibrant night on the town and access to some ultra-unique local hotspots.
It may be my life mission to share the unmatched character of Wichita with the world (although a selfish part of me wants me to keep it hidden so it's special only to me and its residents). Whether you live near or far, Wichita's history and individuality is something that you need to experience the next time you're needing a getaway. Surrounded by nothing but the Flint Hills and farmland, it's a place where you can breathe a little deeper and your problems feel far out of reach.
During my staycation in the ICT, I was able to experience the best of the best of the city, with the focus of highlighting locally owned shops and iconic Midwest destinations, from coffee shops and craft breweries to historic landmarks.
The Ambassador Hotel Wichita
First thing's first: if you want to soak in the best that the city has to offer, whether you're needing a relaxing staycation or if in town for a weekend getaway, you're going to want to stay at The Ambassador Hotel downtown. The Ambassador was named the best hotel in Kansas by US News & World Report and has received a Four Diamond Rating rating by AAA the past three years. Not only did I love its sophisticated French character, but also how perfectly situated it is in the city. I love staying at places that make the city walkable, and I was surprised at how little I had to use my car to get to my various destinations downtown (which I love!). The staff was amazingly friendly, and the rooms are so nice you'll want to stay in bed all day and soak in the hospitality.
Additionally, this hotel is great for history buffs—you can feel the historic importance of this place as soon as you walk in. What is now the Siena Tuscan Steakhouse used to be Dockum Drugstore, the site of the first lunch counter sit-in that would make history in July 1958 as the beginning of integrating segregated establishments in the United States. The hotel now has a Prohibition-style speakeasy in the basement of the hotel named after this drugstore. Here, imbibe in cocktail "prescriptions" at the nondescript bar, what used to be the hotel's storage room. You'll truly feel as if you stepped back in time, with the dimmed lighting, hush-hush atmosphere and 1920s decor. It's truly a one-of-a-kind experience in the ICT.
Piatto Neapolitan Pizzeria
If you follow me on Instagram (shameless self-promotion), you'll know that this girl loves her pizza. And my favorite kind of pizza is neapolitan-style, light and airy goodness. So, naturally, I was enthralled when Piatto recently opened downtown next to one of my other favorite establishments, The Donut Whole). The pizzas are authentically Italian made, from start to finish. You can sit at the bar and watch the pizzas quickly baked in the 900-degree oven, or enjoy the outdoors on the new back patio. Perfect for an intimate lunch or dinner with a friend or two, or your significant other.
Another newbie to downtown is District Taqueria, the perfect place for a margarita and delectable street tacos. Dare I say that their chips and salsa were some of the best I've ever had? Don't take my word for it—go find out for yourself.
George's French Bistro
If your tastebuds are needing a little TLC, then head to George's French Bistro in College Hill. This place is the perfect place for date night or celebrating a night with your girls. I loved the authentically French atmosphere and cuisine, as well as the ample seafood offerings that were available. I promise that you can't go wrong with anything on the menu. Pictured below are a few of their melt-in-your-mouth desserts, as well as their individually brewed drip coffee (that comes in a glass cup—so fancy!).
I was lucky enough to try out their menu before they closed for remodeling this summer. No worries—they will reopen August 1st, 2017!
Other favorites include: The Anchor (one of the best breakfasts I've ever had), Ziggy's Pizza, Dempsey's Burger Pub, Sport Burger, Scotch & Sirloin, Bella Luna and Doo-Dah Diner (also one of the breakfasts I've ever had).
One of my favorite discoveries this trip was the existence of the Q Line trolley. Of course, I had seen them drive by whenever I made it downtown, but I had no idea that the trolley is FREE to ride on weekends and during the lunch hour on weekdays. The line made it so easy for me to hop from place to place, from College Hill to Delano. It also helps how picturesque and cute they are! Save some gas, hop on the Q and take advantage of urban goodness.
Wichita Farmer's Market
Located in the square of the Museum of World Treasures, the weekend farmer's market in Old Town is the perfect morning activity and start to your day. Browse local goods and handmade art while listening to some live music. Bring along your canine friend, family and make it a weekend affair! From flowers to Mexican tortillas made from scratch, you'll surely find a way to treat yourself (and feel good about buying local!).
Wichita Botanica Gardens
If you're needing some peace, quiet and natural beauty, head to the botanical gardens in Riverside. I hadn't been for years, and was so delighted in the experience I'm going to go there every time I'm back in Wichita now. Imagine yourself waking up early on a Saturday morning, and strolling the gardens with a warm cup of coffee in hand, enjoying the gardens nearly all to yourself. It's a place that's great for reflection and rejuvenation, or even if you're just needing some inspiration for redecorating your backyard. This summer, they're hosting Tuesdays on the Terrace, where you can enjoy a good drink at the gardens while listening to some live music. Wichita friends, please enjoy this for me!
Old Cowtown Museum
Who knew that cowtowns were so hipster? (See photo below for some decor inspo.) Upon my visit to Old Cowtown, where I haven't been since I went there on a field trip in grade school, I was surprised at how cool it was, and what I've been missing out on in adulthood! Sure, it's a great place for kids, but I inherited a newfound appreciation for the place as I studied the buildings and soaked up the historic learnings. Head here to see the one-and-only, frozen-in-time Cowtown that has been duplicated (with many original buildings) as a community along the Chisholm Trail. Step back into time and see how people lived on the prairie in the 1870s, experiencing everything from the homes they lived in to where they got their meat and where they saw the local doctor. You can even sit down for a meal at the saloon! It's a great tourist destination to learn about Wichita's cowtown history, for kids and adults alike.
Keeper of the Plains
Although I've been to the Keeper of the Plains many times before, it was interested to see it this time around with a tourist lens. I was astounded by the beauty of the sculpture, situated along the Arkansas River at sunset. We came during the Ring of Fire lighting (which happens at 9 PM during the spring and summer). Whether you want to get an iconic view of the city or have a nice walk with a friend, this sight will make you appreciate the city's history and cultural background.
Other must-dos: Catch a game at Intrust Bank Arena, get entertained at the Orpheum Theatre (those architectural details will give you heart eyes 😍), browse both local and renowned artwork at Tessera Fine Art Gallery and the Wichita Art Museum, catch a Wingnuts summer ballgame at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium and receive some hands-on education at Exploration Place.
Aero Plains Brewing Co.
Although I'm not much of a beer connoisseur, I still enjoy checking out local breweries when I travel. Not only can you taste some unique beers, but you can also get a strong sense of the local community and culture. I think it's safe to say that Aeroplains Brewing Co. is the quintessential Wichita brewhouse. When you come here, you can tell that this place was created from love and passion; each part of the brewery and bar was so thoughtfully imagined, from the handicap-accessible bartop (made from the wing of an airplane) to the community art gallery that lines the walls. Even the bar's floor was inspired by those infamous and beautiful Kansas thunderstorms. The brewery was also just named Best Kansas Craft Brewery by Midwest Beerfest. Come here to get a sense of the Wichita community, and indulge in some great brews as well.
Central Standard Brewing
Whenever I make it home now, Central Standard Brewing is always on my list. I would describe the atmosphere as chill-electric—there's a happy buzz about the place but doesn't feel overwhelming or like you're going out to a club or college bar (you can actually hear the person you're talking to and have a nice conversation!). Whether you're wanting a mid-day weekend beer or place to catch up and have fun with your friends under the stars, this is the place to go. I also love that they also serve cocktails in addition to beer (try their red sangria—it's one of the best I've had!). CSB makes grandma's vintage furniture cool, and embodies an atmosphere that transcends decades, creating a modern vibe with 70s decor. I'm sure their beer is great, too! ;)
Other favorites include: Public at the Brickyard, The Hill (couldn't help but mention my neighborhood bar!) and River City Brewery.
It's great to see how localized Wichita has become over the past few years, and how much pride people have in their city (come to Wichita, and you'll be sure to see the Wichita flag paraded around town). One of the places that this pride is most expressed is through the artwork and craft goods at The Workroom.
Lucinda's in Old Town is the perfect place to shop for a gift or upgrade your wardrobe. Browse everything from coffee table books to this season's trends at this locally owned boutique shop. I left with some great new rings as well as some affordable, high-quality sunglasses—but could have come out with so much more! Come here for a mother-daughter shopping spree and spend some quality time shopping for unique products and goods.
The Spice Merchant
I'll admit, I'm a bad Wichitan for not having been to the Spice Merchant before this summer. And as a coffee addict, all the things I was missing out on! Shop European snacks while sipping on their amazing coffee (and you can buy the beans while you're there to make at home!). They also have a tea shop connected to the main store where you can buy dozens and dozens of different kinds of tea from all over the world.
Other favorites: Clifton Square, Delano shops and Bradley Fair.
I challenge you head to Wichita (or if you're there already, enjoy a staycation and experience the ICT like a tourist)—take things a little slower, engage with the locals and enjoy some authentic Kansas hospitality. I promise you won't be disappointed!
A warm thank you to Visit Wichita and The Ambassador Hotel for sponsoring this post.