It’s known for starting the NCAA, it’s from the Wizard of Oz, it’s got the band of the same name, Kansas seems to have everything. The Sunflower State is a hotbed of history and culture from the Civil War to Civil Rights and producing heartland artists like Martina McBride and Jerrod Niemann. Kansas has a strange past from establishing the Air Capital of the World in Wichita to establishing a state capital whose name originates from a Kansa-Osage phrase meaning “a good place for potatoes” according to one of the best Native American dialectic professors, John B. Dunbar of Topeka.
The Kansas Statehouse is the only US capitol building where the public can go to the top of the dome and walk along the outside balcony.” McDaniel also extols the NOTO Arts District which has been featured in the New York Times and is highly acclaimed by
the National Endowment for the Arts for its historic buildings fi lled with studios, galleries, and antique stores.
The Kansas Expocentre is a Topeka marvel and can handle any event with ease including monster truck rallies. McDaniel told us that the “five venues are routinely transformed from concrete shells into just about anything.” Using their state-of-the-art sound, TV security, large video screens, and 13-foot, drive-in entrance there isn’t much that the Expocentre can’t accommodate. Not too far down the road from the Expocentre is one of Topeka’s best restaurants according to McDaniel. Rowhouse is a more upscale eatery that focuses on local, seasonal ingredients on a menu that is updated weekly. The hours for this restaurant are a bit unique so be sure to make a reservation to savor those local eats.
The largest city in Kansas is Wichita which wound up the hub of the state after finding itself caught up in cattle trading, then an oil boom, and then aircraft assembly constantly bringing in droves of workers with each new boom. There happens to be a good deal of museums in Wichita dedicated to its varied history. The Old Cowtown is a living history museum which is one of the oldest open-air museums over 23 acres of land off of the old Chisholm Trail. For more recent history your group can head to the Kansas Aviation Museum which used to be the old airport. This air museum was once one of the busiest airports with all the air-testing needed on aircrafts during WWII, then it became a military airbase for a time.
Meeting and eating in Wichita are both things that will be worth the trip with great facilities. The Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center has over 195,000 sq. ft. of floor space while also being attached to the Hyatt Regency Wichita providing 303 rooms. The INTRUST Bank Arena is a massive spot that holds 15,000 seats and over 325,000 gross sq. ft. in the whole arena with in-house catering and special LED screen capabilities. The restaurant selection for the area is equally impressive with choices like Cafe Bel Ami which offers succulent French Mediterranean cuisine like grilled halloumi cheese with tomatoes and olive oil or a filet of grilled tilapia with a tart yet creamy sun dried tomato sauce. This is a city rife with food as rich as its history and as plentiful as its meeting spots.
For those looking for more of a midwestern small-town feeling then Salina is a great place because it features big city amenities with a surprisingly quaint atmosphere. Jo Ann McClure of Visit Salina gave me an insider view of some of the hot spots around town. On top of working with meeting planners that come to town to design events McClure mentioned helping create “scavenger hunts in downtown including the Smoky Hill Museum which is also free admission” to keep things interesting for anyone visiting.
Hungry? Then check out the Blue Skye Brewery and Eats. Not only is it locally owned and operated but the brews are all done by the local firefighters to add that special touch that you’ll only get in Salina. Couple the beer with a build-your-own wood fi red pizza or a locally-sourced angus burger and you may just forget why you’re in town in the first place.
Salina also has an interesting affi nity for the arts, McClure detailed some of the workings of the SculptureTour Salina, “This exhibition brings sculptures loaned by artists from across the country to our downtown creating a free outdoor arts installation which changes each spring.” This is an interesting way to draw in artists and also stimulate local interest in the arts as well, so be sure to check out the sculptures if your group finds themselves in Salina.