Top 12 Museums in Wichita

Last Updated on February 4, 2024 by Emily Johnson

As Kansas’ largest city, Wichita has no shortage of intriguing museums that offer glimpses into the region’s heritage along with artifacts spanning interests from music to sports. Beyond the rolling plains it’s known for, Wichita packs a cultural punch with dozens of distinguished destinations to discover. From the iconic Old West to contemporary art, aviation achievements and more, the city’s museums open windows to bygone eras with authentic artifacts and interactive exhibits sure to educate and captivate visitors.

Museum NameFocus Area
Old Cowtown MuseumHistory of the Old West
Wichita Art MuseumArt Collections
Exploration PlaceScience and Technology
Museum of World TreasuresHistorical Artifacts
Kansas Aviation MuseumAviation History
Wichita-Sedgwick Co. Historical MuseumLocal History
Great Plains Transportation MuseumRailway History
Ulrich Museum of ArtContemporary Art
Mid-America All-Indian CenterNative American Culture
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Allen HouseArchitecture
The Original Pizza Hut MuseumCultural History
Kansas Firefighters MuseumFirefighting History

Here are 12 of the best museums in Wichita that history buffs, culture aficionados and curious travelers shouldn’t miss.

Iconic Cowtown: Old West Immersion

Old Cowtown Museum (Wichita, KS)

Collections and Exhibits: This open-air history museum covers 12 acres with over 40 historical buildings transported from frontier cattle drives to 1880s boomtowns that recreate 1890s Wichita. Costumed interpreters demonstrate blacksmithing, carpentry, knitting, washing clothes, candle dipping, and more 19th century crafts.

What to Expect: Get hands-on to churn butter, pan for “gold”, watch live-action old west gunfights, play townball & croquet, explore tents with traveling peddlers, print your own souvenir tin-types, and visit authentically dressed characters for an immersive glimpse of prairie settler life.

Visitor Information: Open March-December, Wednesday-Sunday. Hours vary by season. Admission charged but free for 4 and under. Special holiday programming. Free motorcoach parking and wheelchair/stroller access. Picnics welcomed; pets must stay home.

For a lively journey back into Wichita’s Wild West days, make Old Cowtown Museum a must-do stop. As one of the nation’s largest open-air history museums sprawling over 23 acres, Old Cowtown authentically recreates an 1870s to 1890s frontier town brimming with heritage breed farm animals, horse-drawn wagons and residences, shops and saloons modeled after buildings from the era.

Costumed interpreters enhance the atmosphere demonstrating blacksmithing, boot making, printing presses and more plus opportunities trying activities like gold panning. Living history events further immerse visitors into scene reenactments from cattle drives to courtroom showdowns. Inside former speakeasies and brothels are intriguing exhibits on the underside of frontier life discussing vigilante justice, prostitution’s prohibition and folk medicine.

The Transportion Zone spotlights various modes of travel crucial for settler survival including covered wagons, steam engines and more. Kids can play sheriff, teacher or shopkeeper with dress-ups too. From rowdy saloon shows to Victorian teas, Old Cowtown promises adventures through the West brought vividly to life.

Celebrity Cycles: Evel Knievel Museum

Evel Knievel Museum (Topeka, KS)

Collections and Exhibits: This museum celebrates the life and achievements of legendary American stunt performer Evel Knievel with one-of-a-kind artifacts and tributes spanning his meteoric celebrity rise to pop culture icon status through death-defying jumps watched by millions on ABC’s Wide World of Sports during the 1970s.

What to Expect: Peruse Knievel’s hall of fame Harley Davidson and Mack Truck jumpers, rhinestone jumpsuits, X-rays proving broken bones, fan memorabilia, and digitally remastered footage from historic long jumps like Caesar’s Palace and Snake River Canyon alongside colorful personal effects capturing his showmanship, swagger, and spirit.

Visitor Information: Located downtown, 1 hour west of Kansas City. Tickets $12 for adults. Open year-round; hours vary monthly so check museum site for latest times. Handicap/ADA accessible. Photography encouraged!

Few names embody machismo and showmanship as boldly as daredevil Evel Knievel, who pioneered pushing life’s extremes to the limits throughout the 1960s and 70s with his death-defying motorcycle jumps. The Evel Knievel Museum chronicles his gravity-flouting career and ubiquitous pop culture imprint with a high-octane collection of costumes, bikes, x-rays and other relics that made him an icon including the steam engine rocket he attempted to vault over the Snake River Canyon.

High-tech exhibits combine stunning visuals, adrenaline-pumping audio and imaginative interactives for an electrifying glimpse behind the scenes revealing how Knievel repeatedly risked life and limb to achieve fame with epic jumps watched by millions. Stand beside his towering Mack Truck and feel dwarfed by the enormity of such obstacles. Kids can suit up to experience virtual jumps, attempt foam stunt ramps plus earn their Evel Operators License. For thrill seekers and nostalgia chasers alike, it’s a rockin’ reputation worth remembering first-hand.

Cultural Insights

Wichita holds fascinating stories for understanding oft-overlooked communities that shaped the region underrepresented in mainstream heritage attractions. Museums spotlighting their influential perspectives provide perfect primers for witnessing the city’s broader social impact.

As the keeper of Kansas’ Native American legacy, the Mid-America All-Indian Center hosts the impressive Indian Veterans Memorial alongside galleries displaying indigenous fine arts. The center demonstrates living culture through hosting heritage festivals with traditional music, dance, foods and more.

Likewise, the Kansas African American Museum contains interactive exhibits relaying compelling chronicles from slavery to civil rights. Walk through a recreated barber shop, church and home interiors while listening to prominent Wichitans share poignant memories overcoming discrimination through unity and persistence.

For spotlighting achievements over adversity, don’t miss the historic Dunbar Theater exhibit as well. Saved from demolition, it now commemorates Wichita’s first movie house for African American audiences operating despite obstacles throughout the 1930s. Its revival reminds how seemingly ordinary places possess extraordinary stories of marginalized communities awaiting rediscovery.

Aviation Alley: Wichita’s Soaring Status

Aviation History (Wichita, KS)

Collections and Exhibits: From Cessnas to Boeing bombers, Wichita earned its “Air Capital” title by building over two thirds of America’s general aviation fleet. The Aviation History Museum honors that soaring status with profiles of foundational engineers plus displays of classic Stearmans, Falcons, and other pioneering planes made locally alongside aviation wares, engines, and artifacts.

What to Expect: Interactive exhibits let you inspect aircraft up-close, climb aboard fedora-clad seats, digitally build an airplane, load photo luggage onto a moving ramp, add your face to historic aviation murals, and use a cockpit simulator to virtually taxi down Wichita runways towards liftoff beside aviation pioneers like Olive Ann Beech and Walter Beech who shaped global aeronautics.

Visitor Information: Located adjacent to Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport off Greenwich Road. Open year-round Tuesday-Saturday; check site for latest hours and rare holiday closures. Adults $7; discounts for youth/military. Free parking plus wheelchair access.

As the Air Capital of the World where majority of planes worldwide contain parts built in the city, Wichita unsurprisingly houses phenomenal museums to satisfy sky-high curiosity. The crown jewel is the Keeper of the Plains exhibit at the Mid-America All-Indian Center. This Hall of Fame highlights aviation innovation tracing early balloon flights through trailblazers like Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman whose Wichita companies became industry linchpins.

Hands-on science exhibits let kids understand aerodynamics powering flight through building foam gliders and wind tunnel experiments. Aviation buffs will marvel over plane prototypes and engines progressing in design over decades plus displays on local factories supporting wartime efforts producing bombers. Don’t depart without seeing displays on Wichita native astronaut Joe Engle either.

For observing aviation milestones firsthand, the Kansas Aviation Museum houses over 35 restored aircraft plus replicas of the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer chillingly built using their original patent drawings. Visitors can climb aboard bombers, executive jets and fed ex prop planes while leaning how Kansas aviators left their mark across eras of exhilarating open air escapades.

If seeing models doesn’t sate your soaring fix, visit Jabara Airport to witness vintage war birds in action during air shows or book a ride yourself above the city for bird’s eye views of this mile-high industry still dominating the landscape.

Quirky & Curious Niche Museums

Wichita Art Museum (Wichita, KS)

Collections and Exhibits: Founded in 1935 during the Great Depression, the Wichita Art Museum holds over 7,500 works spanning ancient to contemporary pieces with strengths in 19th-21st century American paintings plus iconic Western, wildlife, and landscape art along with glass, ceramics, furniture, folk art, and fashion plus global indigenous prints, masks, textiles and more.

What to Expect: This renowned yet relatable museum balances community connections with exceptional rotating exhibits like Postmodern Design, Burning Man sculpture, kinetic art mobiles, modern graffiti, and standout shows from legendary artists Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Ansel Adams, Robert Rauschenberg while preserving beloved classics like Albert Bierstadt’s massive Emigrants Crossing the Plains.

Visitor Information: General admission only $7 for adults thanks to benefactor patrons. Kid-friendly. Closed major holidays. Free parking; wheelchair accessibility. Popular summer concert series under the stars.

Aviation and cowboy motifs may frequent Wichita tourism ads but the city harbors many eclectic museums housing superlative collections that surprise and intrigue visitors ranging from presidential pups to painted theater backdrops exceeding the height of buildings.

Tiny but terrific finds include Mid-America Toy Museum jam packing early playthings from dolls and trains to video games and Legos guaranteed to summon adults’ inner child. Nearby, the Museum of World Treasures spans millennia of world history from dinosaur fossils and Egyptian mummies to Einstein’s blackboard and Ivan the Terrible’s battle armor.

For musical motiffs, Wichita boasts the King of Rock n’ Roll. The Music Theatre Wichita maintains Kansas’ Official Elvis Presley Museum exhibiting jumpsuits worn by the hip-swiveling icon plus insight into his unexpected influences like gospel music roots. Similarly unexpected, the Masonic Museum housed at the swanky Scottish Rite Center uncovers the secret society’s cryptic codes and rituals.

Fans flock to Great Plains Transportation Museum too for one-of-a-kind autos like the original Beverly Hillbillies truck, Batmobile and President Eisenhower’s limo. Yet it’s their collection of presidential pooch paintings that really makes history come alive with each pet’s personality shining.

No niche obsession goes unmet it seems for inquisitive travelers passing through Wichita curious to peel back its layers of fascinations waiting within unassuming plains buildings.

Contemporary Culture

Beyond its vintage vibes, Wichita keeps culture current at venues spotlighting everything avant-garde from edgy local artists to international icons. The Wichita Art Museum canvases creations spanning pop art to contemporary works in newly expanded facilities, also hosting regular performance art events. Santiago Calatrava’s architectural marvel also proves eye catching.

Smaller galleries add context too like TFN Underground’s converted warehouse displaying works from aspiring talent and MADE activation projects activating unused spaces with large scale murals around downtown. Don’t miss the massive Keeper of the Plains bronze sculpture either striking imposing poses as Wichita’s most iconic symbol.

For thought-provoking drama and provocative plays, Wichita Contemporary Theatre delivers reputation-making performances from envelope-pushing treatments tackling taboo topics that rouse reflection on relationships’ darker dichotomies. Live original scores played on their in-house piano enhance the intimate experience.

Music lovers make pilgrimages to the Wichita Boathouse too, an iconic venue supporting local bands that also hosted soon-to-be star performers like Ed Sheeran early in their careers. Its beloved dive bar ambiance right on the Arkansas River keeps the indie scene rocking.

There’s no excuse not to catch cutting-edge culture thanks to Wichita’s grassroots arts community continuing to thrive.

Epic Sports Legacy

Sports Hall of Fame (Wichita, KS)

Collections and Exhibits: Showcasing south-central Kansas sports legends, the All Sports Museum pays special homage to Newton-born Walter “Big Train” Johnson, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher for the original Washington Senators. See his bronzed glove, signed baseballs, and official 1919 MVP trophy alongside 1940s memorabilia from the city’s induction as an original minor league baseball town.

What to Expect: Beyond baseball history like Babe Ruth’s “called shot” home run ball and Connie Mack’s pass for stadium access from the 1923 World Series in NYC, findwheat state high school sports trophies plus game jerseys, balls, shoes worn by Shocker greats from Wichita State basketball along with commemorative footballs, gloves, and wrestling legend pins saluting inductees from regional college programs with storied legacies too.

Visitor Information: Located inside Intrust Bank Arena downtown. Guest passes $15 adults; youth discounts. Open summers plus group tours by reservation. Street parking at arena; rideshare drop-off encouraged.

Wichitan athletic talent grabs national attention as hometown heroes excelling from collegiate courts to professional playoffs year after year. Pay proper tribute to the city’s champions at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame where interactive exhibits cover over 200 inductees across dozens of disciplines.

Try your hand shooting hoops on replicas of Wichita State’s basketball court or test punch with a wired boxer dummy. Major league memorabilia includes Ivan Rodriguez’s signed catchers mitt along with Walter Johnson’s uniform dubbed “Baseball’s Big Train” for his speedball pitches.

Don’t miss out on the Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibit either articulately showcasing tight end Kellen Winslow and linebacker Will Shields’ storied careers with the Chargers and Chiefs showcasing their resilience battling chronic injuries to become legends at their positions.

Auto racing fans shouldn’t overlook Wichita’s left turns into fame either at the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing Exhibit highlighting acclaimed drivers like Indy champ Jeff Gordon tearing up local dirt tracks enroute to the fastlane of superstardom. It’s proof Wichita athletes accelerate to the top.

Artful Afternoons Await

Beyond downtown, Wichita rewards intrepid explorers venturing into charming neighborhoods revealing independent businesses brimming with passion projects, creativity workshops and cozy hangouts. The Douglas Design District and Delano districts tempt with local boutiques filled with handcrafted wares, decor stores stocking regional art plus cafes ideal for unwinding during leisurely gallery hops.

Start sipping at Reverie Coffee Roasters, then pop into workshops like Made to Create DIY Bar offering crafting classes from candle pouring to terrarium building perfect for partaking with friends or planning playful date nights. Nearby Paint the Towne allows BYOB group painting sessions for sparking inspiration over wine, cheese boards and blank canvases.

The nearby Beehive Salon also offers hair styling complete with honey wine and mead tastings. Classrooms at Create replace desks with pottery wheels for getting hands dirty during seminar sessions on throwing clay vessels.

For more hip hoods, don’t overpass Wichita’s Douglas Avenue Claymation corridor containing hidden speakeasies like Dockum Drugstore abounding with craft cocktails and cozy charm harkening to an earlier era. Similarly, Norton Building’s former auto factory covered in classic neon signs like Vicky Vick now hosts 20-plus eclectic shops selling art, antiques and more awaiting afternoon rambles. Beyond banking or books, Wichita’s communities are the cities treasure troves.

History that Hits Home

Beyond buffalo and plains settlers, Wichita’s past contains poignant sagas from those enduring oppression to secure freedoms enjoyed today. Museums spotlighting marginalized viewpoints overlooked in textbooks provide invaluable insights making the city’s broader struggles palpable with emotional resonance that humanizes headliners.

The Holocaust Exhibit educates on Nazis’ suffocating spread across 1930s Europe and the haunting fate for non-Aryans unable to escape the traumatic reach of concentration camps. First-hand accounts, authentic artifacts and architectural renderings chillingly convey circumstances faced by victims, with presentations tailored for different age groups on this harrowing history.

Likewise, darker days existed locally even post-slavery yet perseverance prevailed as shown at the Jackson Metropolitan AME Church. Their moving exhibit honors the key Kansas Colored Migration organization that helped 4,000 former slaves resettle to Nicodemus pursuing promises of new lives out west. Photos, narratives and restored wagons celebrate their remarkable resolve overcoming discrimination.

Also spotlighting good emerging from hardship is The Lord’s Diner exhibit at the bistro by the same name. Here the largest free charity kitchen reveals riveting stories behind its operations cooking more than 100,000 meals for struggling homeless and disabled neighbors monthly. It’s living proof one helping hand can change lives.

Artworks with Heart

Music Theatre Wichita (Wichita, KS)

Collections and Exhibits: Housed inside the grand century-old Crown Uptown Theatre downtown, Music Theatre of Wichita stages outstanding Broadway-caliber shows each summer season with full casts, sets, live orchestra, plus talents fresh off recent Tony Award-winning and nominated productions on Broadway and in national touring companies.

What to Expect: With a reputation for high production values rivalling big-city theatres at a fraction of the price thanks to generous Wichita corporate sponsors and patron donors, expect dazzling spectacle and intimate storytelling through beloved modern musicals like Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, Hairspray, and classics like Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, and Guys and Dolls performed by rising stars and local youth.

Visitor Information: Early booking for best seats recommended. Handicap accessible theatre with paid parking garage behind. Season runs June-August. Some shows replace typical exhibit programming at local museums. Special meet-the-cast events.

Wichita loves championing community causes using canvas as its microphone for amplifying marginalized voices. Murals transform bland buildings into platforms of representation, healing and hope transforming ordinary walls into extraordinary conduits of change.

The West Bank Tunnel stands out covered top-to-bottom in colorful characters marching towards sunnier horizons thanks to artist Danielle Hill. Around Kellogg Avenue and Sycamore, intrinsically interwoven motifs decry systemic injustice facing minorities alongside icons of black resiliency like Harriet Tubman with celebratory scenes of unity captioned “we are greater together.”

Beautifying construction barriers, the Wichita Black Lives Matter CollectiveVisionaries Project calls for compassion, equality and peace via portraits of those taken too soon alongside visionaries continuing their fight like John Lewis with positive prose for future generations. Elsewhere, radiant butterflies adorn walls metaphorically symbolizing metamorphosis towards progress still underway.

From grassroots graffiti to prodigious galleries, art across Wichita depicts societal snapshots observed from thought-provoking angles that provide pause to appreciate more kind, just perspectives. For culture both meaningful and beautiful, Wichita lifts the arts to soaring heights sure to move egos and expand minds with rewarding revelations as richly textured as the city itself.

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