Maybe the air is different in Kansas.
On the state’s eastern border, Kansas City hosts NASCAR races and major league soccer. Heading west on Interstate 70, Manhattan has been affectionately nicknamed the Little Apple and lies within the tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills, one of the world’s most endangered ecosystems. For a slice of Scandinavian culture, Lindsborg, known as Little Sweden, USA, boasts red-brick streets, European-style storefronts, working artist studios and shops filled with Scandinavian imports. And as the Air Capital of the World, Wichita’s fascinating aviation legacy is just one of the many reasons to visit this diverse city.
Discover the diverse experiences available in these cities during your group’s next journey to Kansas.
Kansas City straddles the Kansas-Missouri line. Though the lion’s share of the city is in Missouri, the Kansas side has no shortage of great group attractions. At its epicenter is Village West. Built around the Kansas Speedway, Village West offers destination shopping, restaurant and lodging options at Legends Outlets KC. The adjacent Kansas Speedway features a one-and-a-half-mile racetrack that hosts NASCAR, plus more than 200 events that include the American Royal World Series of Barbecue. Your group can opt for a track tour and the NASCAR Racing Experience before or after a reception in the pit area or inside one of the garages.
Within Village West, the Kansas City T-Bones minor league professional baseball team plays at JustBats Field at T-Bones Stadium, where the farthest seat is only 50 feet from the field. A center-field party area and party decks make great spots for pregame receptions or dinners. One of the founding clubs of Major League Soccer and the 2013 MLS Champions, Sporting Kansas City, competes at Village West’s Children’s Mercy Park. This state-of-the-art venue seats 18,500 fans under a canopy roof that covers every section. Nonstop action can be viewed on the park’s massive high-definition video boards. Behind-the-scenes tours are available.
There’s more to discover in other parts of Kansas City, Kansas. Celebrating many nationalities, the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center is housed in an 1887 Victorian Queen Anne that was originally a private home. Another unique spot on historic Southwest Boulevard, Spicin Foods creates specialty sauces, salsas, snacks and dips for wholesale, retail and private label. At the tasting table, customers can try one of the company’s 150 products manufactured under 13 different brands and purchase “seconds” at bargain prices that aren’t available at retail.
Above the Kansas River bluffs at Zip KC, visitors can soar on nine zip lines and reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. Options include team building on a guided hike through the KC Timber Challenge Obstacle Course. After sundown, the Night Flight tour zips under the stars illuminated by glow sticks, lasers and headlamps.
“Day trips to three- or four-day itineraries are all customizable based on interest and need due to the breadth and diversity of our attractions,” said Maila Yang, marketing and communications manager for the Kansas City, Kansas, Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The $25 million Flint Hills Discovery Center is the capstone of Manhattan. The center showcases the tallgrass prairie: its ecosystems and geology, plus cultural and Native American history. All four seasons are highlighted in an immersive theater experience in which the audience feels the heat from the burning prairie and the chill of falling snow. Traveling exhibits rotate throughout the year.
“Groups will want to start their time in Manhattan at the Flint Hills Discovery Center,” said Karen Hibbard, director of Visit Manhattan. “It provides an understanding of the Flint Hills, the significance of the tallgrass prairie and the reason for our limestone buildings because many of them were constructed from limestone quarried right here in this area.”
The city’s historic downtown hosts Third Thursdays on Poyntz Avenue, May through September, featuring artist demonstrations, sidewalk performances and live music. Manhattan Town Center houses an Imax theater, plentiful shopping and four full-service restaurants. More than 100 years old, the Wareham Opera House hosts wide-ranging year-round events and productions such as comedy, musicals and concerts.
The Midwest Dream Car Collection opened in June. The museum features a pristine collection of classic and modern dream cars, including exotic, muscle and custom machines. Muscle cars from the ’60s to current models include the iconic Plymouth Superbird and a pair of 2018 Dodge Demons. Visitors can also view two 1966 Mustangs created for Sonny and Cher. Ride the Classics offers the opportunity to take a ride in cars from the museum’s collection. To start or end a visit or group tour, the Lounge serves self-pay-and-pour beer and wine.
Aggieville is the oldest shopping district of its kind in Kansas. The Aggieville Olympics, sponsored and organized by the Aggieville Business Association, invites groups of 40 or more to join the fun. The groups are divided into teams that rotate to a different bar every 15 minutes, where they play competitive games such as darts, pingpong, trivia and more.
Last year, the state legislature designated Lindsborg as the state’s Fine Arts Capital. Throughout the community, 49 pieces of original artwork decorate street corners, neighborhoods and building facades. Visitors can bike around town on a rented quadracycle that has four wheels, a sunshade, and two or four seats with pedals for everyone. Short trails were recently added for biking into the countryside.
“Among our many galleries, Lindsborg is one of the few places in the world where you can walk into the studio and gallery of a National Geographic photographer,” said the director of the Lindsborg Convention and Visitors Bureau, Holly Lofton. “The gallery also showcases custom jewelry made by the photographer’s wife and created from beads and stones from around the world.”
Noteworthy galleries include the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery on the Bethany College campus that displays Sandzén’s artwork and offers studio tours. The Red Barn Studio features the eclectic craftsmanship of Lester Raymer, a finalist in Eight Wonders of Kansas Art, who takes discarded or mundane objects and transforms them into beautiful works. The Hemslöjd gift shop sells Swedish gifts, crafts and housewares. Visitors can chat with folk artists or crafters as they make Dala signs and other specialties in their workshops.
Groups can stay at the 18-room Dröm Sött Inn — translated, “Sweet Dreams Inn” — which is reminiscent of small inns found throughout Sweden. Imported furniture and a Swedish breakfast buffet offer a touch of the old country. Serving authentic Swedish specialties for more than five decades, the Swedish Crown Restaurant celebrated its grand reopening in August after the restaurant was donated to Bethany College.
Although this tiny community celebrates its heritage year-round, the town sets aside special festival days. Residents dress in traditional Swedish folk costumes during Svensk Hyllningsfest, which commemorates the area’s Swedish pioneers in odd-numbered years in October. April brings the weeklong Messiah Festival of the Arts, when the Bethany Oratorio Society performs Bach’s “Passion According to St. Matthew” on Good Friday and Handel’s “Messiah” on Easter Sunday. The 300-plus-member community chorus and orchestra are joined by professional operatic guest soloists.
Iconic aviation brands Beechcraft, Cessna and Stearman were born in Wichita, and modern-day Airbus Americas, Bombardier, Spirit Aerosystems and Textron Aviation now design and manufacture aircraft and aircraft parts in the city. Visitors never know what aircraft will come flying in at Exploration Place, where Wichita’s aerospace experts and resources are showcased. Learn how airplanes are designed, built and flown at Exploration Place’s hands-on “Design Build Fly” exhibit. Kansas Aviation Museum tours start with learning about how a wing creates lift and demonstrations of Bernoulli, an R/C helicopter. Besides enjoying three floors of exhibits, visitors can pose for a picture in the bomb bay of a B-52, climb inside a flight simulator and build an aircraft using materials in the STEM learning center. Afterward, they can rub elbows with aviation enthusiasts at Stearman Field Bar and Grill while aircraft take off and land a mere 20 yards away.
Wildlife enthusiasts won’t be disappointed at Sedgwick County Zoo, the nation’s seventh-largest zoo with more than 3,000 animals and nearly 400 species in settings that mimic their natural habitats. The zoo’s boat ride passes the nation’s third-largest elephant habitat, which contains the world’s largest elephant pool, filled with 550,000 gallons of water. March through October at Tanganyika Wildlife Park, 15 minutes west of the city, animal encounter tours get close to giraffes, lories, bunnies, tortoises, guinea pigs and lemurs.
Sports play a central role in Wichita, too. Depending on water conditions, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding in the Arkansas River offers exceptional views of “Keeper of the Plains,” a 44-foot-tall Indian chief sculpture that stands at the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas rivers in downtown. Nightly, the steel sculpture lights up for 15 minutes, surrounded by the glow of firepots. At the Great Plains Nature Center, explore 240-acre Chisholm Creek Park on two miles of paved trails that wind through wetlands, prairie and riparian habitats.
“Spring 2020, a new $75 million Wichita ballpark, will be home to the Miami Marlins Triple-A minor league team, which will be renamed when they relocate,” said Susie Santo, president and CEO of Visit Wichita. “The stadium is part of revitalization happening all along the west bank of the Arkansas River. Not only will it add to the entertainment options in the area, but the stadium also anticipates hosting approximately 200 events annually, including 70 regular-season games with the potential for seven playoff games.”