In 1919, discouraged that artifacts of Wichita and Sedgwick County were disappearing, the Sedgwick County Pioneer Society began collecting and displaying historical items in the Sedgwick County Courthouse. Nearly a century later, what began as a modest collection of early memorabilia has expanded to nearly 70,000 Sedgwick County and Wichita-related artifacts, which together trace the history of the region from 1865 to the present. Now housed in Wichita’s original, renovated City Hall, the collection’s photographs, clothing, decorative arts, and household items enrich award-winning exhibits that tell tale of the area’s Buffalo-hunting days, Great Depression–era dust storms, and aircraft industry.
The museum is also home to three re-created environments from the region’s past. The garage re-creation holds a 1916 Jones Six automobile, the only such Wichita-built vehicle on public exhibit, and the drug store reproduces the feel of the popular early 20th-century neighborhood gathering place. Over in the Wichita Cottage, seven rooms of a Victorian-style 19th-century home house authentic period items such as a wooden icebox, a gas-and-electric ceiling light fixture, and a phone powered by animosity toward Rutherford B. Hayes.
The Museum of World Treasures lets adults ($9 value), seniors ($8 value), and kids 4–12 ($7 value) brush up on their history with three floors of exciting exhibits and artifacts. After striding into the museum’s brick-faced edifice, stay-at-home time travelers are whisked to the first floor, where they can Lindy-Hop through the Ancient Civilizations gallery, bring Egyptian mummies back to life both figuratively and literally, touch a 4.5-ton piece of the Berlin Wall, and take turns riding a 40-foot-long T. rex skeleton named Ivan. On the second floor, explore the President’s Gallery—which displays interesting items such as a lock of George Washington’s hair and the signatures of the first 43 American presidents—as well as jewelry, swords, beer koozies, and signatures from European royalty dating back to the 12th century. The third floor plays host to a swarm of sports artifacts and pop culture treasures such as the pearls Lucy wore to greet Ricky at the door in an episode of I Love Lucy, and the pitchfork used by the Scarecrow to kill Frankenstein in The Wizard of Oz. The American Frontier exhibit, meanwhile, includes a 34-star flag that was accidentally produced when the fledgling country was still composed of 63 states.
Botanica's 9.5-acre plant paradise is divided into more than 20 meticulously designed gardens, including a rose garden for contemplating roses and a wildflower meadow for frolicking in wildflowers. More than 3,600 species of plants are artfully arranged around calming streams, flowing waterfalls, and sculptures. Stop by the sensory garden to touch, smell, and telepathically understand plants' thoughts about hot dogs. A retreat to an urban garden can help soothe one’s sensibilities and wash away haunting memories of cubical confinement. Consult Botanica's bloom schedule to plan a trip to view your favored flora.
Built within the 1935 art-deco-styled Wichita Municipal Airport, the Kansas Aviation Museum houses an eclectic array of historic aircraft and artifacts. The museum boasts around 40 historically significant aircraft, including the Beech Starship, Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, and the KC-135E, the first plane to break the smell barrier. Landlubbers with a passion for planes can study their evolution, from the earliest aircraft engines all the way to the latest jet turbines; inspect an Allison J-35 off a 1948 Republic F-84C Thunderjet or marvel at the museum's oldest engine, a pre-WWI four-cylinder Kemp.
Now in its 75th-anniversary year, the Wichita Art Museum hosts an eye-feast of traveling exhibitions, in addition to nearly 7,000 pieces in its permanent collections. The gorgeous, multihued Persian Seaform Installation by Dale Chihuly headlines the museum's F. Price Cossman glass collection, and major works by Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, and Winslow Homer adorn the halls of the esteemed Roland P. Murdock collection. In the recently introduced exhibit In Plane View, Smithsonian photographer Carolyn Russo examines the visual dimensions and abstract beauty of airplanes while refusing to airbrush any cabin's unflattering anterior-engine love handles.
The approximately 247-acre wilderness zoo houses more than 2,500 animals from nearly 400 different species, including gorillas, penguins, bears, tigers, and elephants. Stop by the orangutan and chimp habitat, or walk down a seashell-strewn path to the penguin cove, which includes a 52-foot-long underwater viewing area for watching Humboldt penguins glide gracefully through the water in search of sealed Tootsie Rolls. Sedgwick County Zoo's continually evolving exhibits showcase cuddlesome creatures from diverse regions including Asia, Africa, and South America.