One of the biggest misconceptions about Wichita is that there’s nothing to do there. But with a downtown of hip districts, colorful public art, brick-paved streets and twinkling lights, this city with a metropolitan area population of 650,000 on the Arkansas River is a worldly
destination in the Midwest.
Wichita has been a lot of things throughout its storied history. It began as a trading post and cattle town and a site of rich indigenous life. Later, it became known for innovation and manufacturing in the burgeoning aircraft industry.
Today, the city honors each aspect of its heritage with a mosaic of museums and one-of-a-kind attractions. These, in addition to the upscale meeting and convention space, make Wichita a dream destination for planners and attendees.
Wichita is known as the Air Capital of the World, serving as a hub for aircraft production. At its peak, there were more than 30 aircraft manufacturing companies in the city. Before planes could cover the long distances they fly today, Wichita’s central location made it the perfect place for a stopover. It should come as no surprise the city’s aviation attractions double as elegant spaces for meetings and events.
The B-29 Doc Hangar is home to one of the last two airworthy B-29 planes in existence. Known as Doc, the plane was lovingly restored and is maintained by knowledgeable volunteers. It sits in a massive, 40,000-square-foot hangar, which is also one of the city’s largest venues. Attendees can climb inside the aircraft to look around and take a selfie in the pilot’s seat. The hangar’s upper-level exhibits detail the history of the B-29 aircraft and a classroom space overlooks the hangar.
At the Kansas Aviation Museum, exhibits detail the city’s role in aircraft manufacturing and display rare and vintage planes. Many of the historic building’s most interesting design details have been preserved including the painted ceiling above the atrium, a popular space for banquets of up to 200. Exhibits, particularly the rare planes, make excellent photo-ops.
Beyond aviation, Wichita is known for one of its signature landmarks, the Keeper of the Plains. This 44-foot-tall steel sculpture by renowned Native American artist Blackbear Bosin stands at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas rivers and symbolizes the cooperation of all the Plains tribes. Every evening, the Ring of Fire around the Keeper is lit, illuminating the quintessential Wichita landmark in an impressive display. When in Wichita, groups should see the Keeper lit up in all its majesty. Before that spectacular evening show, they can catch a baseball game at Riverfront Stadium nearby or grab a bite to eat.
Wichita’s food scene is eclectic, and its restaurants, cafes, sweet shops and spice shops proudly promote community involvement and the use of seasonal, local ingredients. Whether they venture out in their downtime or enjoy locally catered refreshments at an event, attendees are in for a treat. They can enjoy notorious breakfast spots like Doo-Dah Diner, HomeGrown and Leslie Coffee Company. A wide selection of spices, teas, coffees and accessories await at the Spice Merchant, while Nifty Nut House has an enviable collection of candies, nuts and other sweets.
Meeting space and good local eats also go hand in hand in Wichita. Chicken N Pickle, a trendy yet laid-back restaurant, doubles as a pickleball venue. The expansive complex has indoor and outdoor spaces for dining, socializing, meeting and playing. Public, a pub in the Old Town District, is a casual spot for local, craft beverages and food.
Major Meeting Spaces
Folks in Wichita are proud of their convention center, Century II Performing Arts and Convention Center, which opened in 1969. Its large, domed top is easily recognizable to air travelers.
The Concert Hall, home to theater productions and the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, has 2,195 seats. The Carl A. Bell Jr. Convention Hall’s retractable loge seating can accommodate 5,022 people and when the seating is retracted, the hall becomes 32,000 square feet of open space. On the other side of a retractable wall is the Exhibition Hall, with an additional 62,000 square feet of space, including 17,000 square feet on a mezzanine level. The largest space in the convention center is the Bob Brown Expo Hall, with 93,000 square feet. Opening the retractable walls between the Convention Hall, Exhibition Hall and Expo Hall results in nearly 200,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space.
The Hyatt Regency Wichita connects to Century II, which means a seamless experience for attendees and additional event space. Many of its 303 guest rooms overlook the Arkansas River and downtown Wichita. Guests can dine at the Harvest Kitchen/Bar or grab coffee and snacks at Perks Market in the lobby. The hotel has the city’s largest ballroom, the 10,000-square-foot Grand Eagle, for receptions up to 1,100 people and banquets of 660. All totaled, the hotel has 29 other meeting spaces, including a smaller ballroom, outdoor areas and a boardroom, and on-site AV techs, catering and planning assistance.
Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview Wichita was originally the Broadview Hotel, named for its “broad view” of the city. The 200-room hotel opened in 1922, and original features like ornate restored molding on the ceiling and checkered floors preserve the lobby’s grandeur. Its rich history is also remembered with a speakeasy in the basement and a 1,500-square-foot mural depicting “The Advance of Civilization in Kansas” by Bosin in the Bosin Ballroom. It’s the longest continuous mural in Kansas, wrapping around the 9,204-square-foot ballroom. Additional meeting spaces include the River View room and several breakout rooms.
Another meeting option is the DoubleTree by Hilton Wichita Airport, located just outside the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. The 302-room hotel has 22,000 square feet of meeting space and is known for its restaurant, Chisholm’s American Beef and Ale House.
Museums on the River
Luckily for planners, many of Wichita’s coolest attractions double as meeting venues. Most of its museums are clustered in a district called Museums on the River. They cover a wide range of subjects. Old Cowtown Museum, a living history museum, takes visitors back to 1865. Small historic buildings can be used for team building, breakout session and small meetings; the Great Room in its Visitors Center can seat up to 150 for a banquet.
The Mid-America All-Indian Museum teaches about the country’s many tribes through artifacts, instruments, jewelry and art made by indigenous people, including the largest public collection of works by Bosin. The Gallery of Nations, a spacious indoor hall decorated with the flags of indigenous tribes, has a capacity of 350. The museum also has several smaller meeting rooms, like the Riverfront Room and Buffalo Hall.
The Wichita Art Museum is home to impressive artworks by American artists like Mary Cassatt and Georgia O’Keeffe and rotating exhibits. It makes a refined venue with options including the S. Jim and Darla Farha Great Hall and its glossy black granite floor and distinctive, colorful glass Chihuly chandelier. It’s large enough for a seated dinner for 300 guests or a reception for 500.
Botanica Wichita’s 17 acres of beautifully manicured gardens and outdoor space make it an excellent venue for indoor-outdoor activities. Lotus Hall, a new 4,200-square-foot event space, can seat 200 for a banquet and has views of the Chinese Garden of Friendship. Other popular event spaces include the Terrace Room, the Shakespeare Garden, the Pavilion and the Carousel Pavilion with its restored, historic carousel. Rentals include use of certain gardens, terraces and patio spaces as well as admission to the gardens.
Another museum on the river — quite literally — is Exploration Place, a one-of-a-kind science museum with exhibits for patrons of all ages. The building crosses right over the water, giving stunning views of the Arkansas River, and its contemporary design enhances elegant meeting spaces, like the Waterway Hall and Terrace. The building has many spaces to accommodate presentations and lectures, such as the Dome, the largest theater of its kind in Kansas, with 360-degree views and a 60-foot screen.
Fun Around Town
Although it is not in the Museums on the River district, the Museum of World Treasures is worth visiting. What started out as an individual’s collection has grown to a world-class museum that covers world history from prehistoric times to present day. Home to Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, ancient Egyptian mummies and extensive exhibits on world military history, the museum has banquet space for up to 200 attendees. Rentals include admission to the museum, which will entertain attendees for hours.
One of Wichita’s wildest and most unforgettable venues is Tanganyika Wildlife Park, where visitors can connect with exotic animals. It’s a good option for team building and networking and events can also be customized to include animal encounters, from photo ops with lemurs to feeding giraffes and petting kangaroos.
And the park isn’t Wichita’s only wildlife-viewing opportunity. The award-winning Sedgwick County Zoo is a beloved Kansas attraction that provides plenty of spaces for meetings and team building events within view of the animals. From the Tiger Trek to the Gorilla Tent Room to the Elephant Learning Lodge, attendees can get a closer look at species around the world during an event or meeting at the zoo.
Thanks to Visit Wichita for sponsoring this Be Our Guest feature.