Disclosure: Wellington Chamber of Commerce/CVB hosted my visit. However, all opinions and photos are mine.
A 35-minute drive south of Wichita, Wellington is a Kansas town rooted in history with a thriving community of businesses and attractions. Three museums, scenic parks, unique shops, and hometown dining make it worth exiting I-35 South to see for yourself. Plus, the residents are just as welcoming as the town is charming.
The county seat of Sumner County, Wellington, is an agriculture/railroad town of about 8,000 residents. The town was established in 1871. At a stop along the Chisholm Trail, cattlemen drove herds through town.
According to the Sumner County Press on November 20, 1873, “A part of cowboys from the trail made time lively last Friday night. Several pistol shots were fired in a saloon and on the street. No arrests.”
Railroads made it a bustling town in 1879, and you still hear the occasional train horn blow. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad passes through town, and the Union Pacific Railroad’s main lines run north-south. Another industry, aircraft parts manufacturing, also helped the town’s economy.
Fast forward to today, Wellington draws people to town for festivals, including the annual Kansas Wheat Festival.
COFFEE & BREAKFAST
No. 7 Coffee House
No. 7 Coffee House (115 S. Washington Ave.) is your first stop when in town. A women-owned and operated business open Tuesday-Saturday, the coffee shop is known for its phenomenal baked goods and crafted coffee drinks.
With coffee beans sourced from Topeka’s PT Coffee, the baristas stay busy preparing traditional and specialty coffee drinks, and seasonal drink options like Bees Knees Chai keep it fun. Non-coffee drinkers will gravitate to their hot or iced tea menu.
No. 7 Coffee House is a morning hangout where locals greet one another as they walk in and discuss the day’s events. They sip coffee with dining on maple pecan scones, muffins, and sausage quiche.
My hazelnut latté and Cinnamon Streusel with Cream Cheese muffin surpassed my expectations. The muffin (the size of a softball!) was scrumptious. It’s no wonder locals rave about the café’s scratch-made pastries.
At lunchtime, locals gravitate to the coffee shop to market fresh sandwiches, salads, and wraps. The day I visited, the owner made homemade bierocks in the kitchen. Each day, the chalkboard displays a new menu special. Locals told me the Chicken Salad on Croissant sandwich is a must-have menu item.
PRO TIP: Plan extra time to shop the quaint retail section of the coffee house.
After breakfast, I walked a couple of blocks from No. 7 Coffee House to (214 S. Washington Ave.), where to my surprise, the artist was applying paint to sunflowers using soft brush strokes.
Local Ursula Goff explained that the concept of each of the mural’s panels evolved from organic conversations with locals and then brainstorming ideas using an Artificial Intelligence app. The sunflowers are a nod to the state’s official flower.Goff wants the mural’s vibrant colors to attract viewers who use it as an interactive backdrop to take selfies. I didn’t hesitate to take one with the sunflower’s petals in the background. The artist said she may not sign the mural because “it belongs to the town.”
Artist Majorie Hall Bicker painted a scene depicting moments in Wellington’s history around the corner from BeeHive Quilt Shop on 7th Street. Dedicated to the city in 2000, visiting the mural should be part of everyone’s visit to town.
PRO TIP: Keep your eyes peeled for ghost signs that appear faded on downtown buildings. The 120-year-old Jacob Engle Dry Goods sign at the corner of Washington Avenue and Lincoln Street was recently restored for Wellington’s 150th anniversary.
So often, tourists visit a town and neglect to learn about its historical architecture. In Wellington, the downtown buildings are strikingly beautiful. Brick, limestone, and artistic wood details make the details of the historic buildings awe-inspiring. A drive along Washington Avenue reveals a glimpse into the past.
Another can’t-miss architectural wonder, The Pink House (114 S. Jefferson), is a sight for the eyes. Unlike any other residence in Wellington, the home is not open to visitors, but people often take photos with it in the background.
The home, situated between two churches, took five years to build. The Smith family was inspired by homes they saw during a trip to California. The interior’s handmade tiles and moldings are Spanish Revival style.
PRO TIP: Look up while walking along Washington Avenue. The downtown buildings’ architectural details reveal the Gothic Revival style (1840-1880). Can you spot the decorative window frames and gables?
Woods Park/Donut Bay
Woods Park/Donut Bay (1110 E 4th St.) is a massive public park on the south end of town that sits near a picturesque 18-hole golf course. My leisurely visit was made better by the entertaining ducks and geese gathered near the water.
The park features picnic areas, playground equipment for the kiddos, a sand volleyball pit, and fishing areas. The well-maintained disc golf course includes concrete pads and wide fairways for beginner to moderately difficult play.
PRO TIP: If you’re searching for a place to enjoy the water on a good weather day, Wellington Lake is a six-mile drive west of town on U.S. 160. You can fish, boat, and camp (permits required).
A short drive outside of town, Worden Park (800 W. Hillside) consists of 61 acres of mostly athletic fields, but the paved track and an ADA-accessible playground area invite visitors to explore the area.
Feel free to bring your dog if you walk them on a leash. Doggy bag stations are positioned around the park.
PRO TIP: Wear comfortable shoes to walk the trails around the ball fields, and bring bottled water. You might catch a softball team practicing like I did if you’re lucky.
Memorial Auditorium & Bronze Field Guns
The home of concerts and local events, Memorial Auditorium (208 N. Washington Ave.) is an architectural wonder in its own right. In 1918, Wellington attorney Ed Hackney spearheaded its building to serve as a memorial for local and county soldiers.
Completed a few years later, Memorial Hall became an attractive downtown building, which included stained glass windows and wrought iron staircase railings.
Country concert performances on the main stage attract fans to the auditorium. Logan Mize and Tracy Byrd each entertained crowds.
Outside, the historical tour continues with the Bronze Field Guns exhibit. The cannons were delivered upon the request of the Grand Army of the Republic James Post of Wellington in 1909. Delivered in 1915, they serve as a memorial.PRO TIP: Visit the Wellington Chamber of Commerce to purchase branded merchandise, including ground coffee, t-shirts, holiday ornaments, and more.
At mid-day, one restaurant in town is always hopping. The Dore (114 N. Washington Ave.) is a family-owned bar and grill known for hamburgers. For the last 12 years, customers have come to count on the menu’s selection of comfort classics and daily specials.
After finding an open seat at the bar, I ordered a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries. I was surprised at how quickly my food arrived, considering that people continued filling up tables inside and on the back patio during lunch.
Regular customers watched horse racing and golf on TV while families tended to younger patrons and dined on sandwiches. If you go, Lauren and Amber will take good care of you.
PRO TIP: It’s a busy place at lunchtime. Arrive when the restaurant opens to score a table for two or more people
In my experience, tourists don’t always have access to multiple museums in a town the size of Wellington. Each one includes unexpected treasures a no cost to the public – donations are gladly accepted. Don’t forget to sign each one’s guest book.
National Depression Glass Museum
Let the fun continue at National Depression Glass Museum (107 N. Washington Ave.), where the collection will wow you. Even if you’re not someone who collects glassware, it is worth checking out, as the enormity of the delicate pieces in various colors and shapes is breathtaking.
The museum houses nearly every pattern of Depression Glass, and 90 percent of the over 20,000-piece collection is donated. Many of the cases showcase the family name that donated the glass.
The only museum in the nation that accepts all American glass companies, each case is organized by pattern. During my guided tour, we wandered from case to case admiring the handiwork of glassblowers and creators. I was mesmerized by the designs and especially impressed with the glow-in-the-dark collection. Brightly colored bowls, muted colored vases, translucent plates, glass utensils – the list goes on.
PRO TIP: Ask the employees if you can watch them open a box of donated glass items – it’s like opening a gift! If you’re a collector, ask to use the free resource library to conduct research.
Chisholm Trail Museum
Giddy up! Chisholm Trail Museum (502 N. Washington Ave.) is a sought-after attraction in Wellington for its historical content. The town was a central stop on the cattlemen’s trail from Texas to Kansas starting in 1867. According to kshs.org, 2,000-3,000 head of cattle would depart from Texas during the spring en route to Abilene’s stockyards.
Interestingly enough, the building itself is a historical treasure. Once known as Hatcher Hospital, Dr. A. R. Hatcher and his staff treated patients using state-of-the-art equipment in pristine conditions. The building was gifted to the Chisholm Trail Museum in 1965.
The museum honors Wellington’s history while showcasing artifacts from every decade since its establishment, and each room is designed with a theme in mind.
The 1875 Pioneer room contains home goods and tools. The railroad road displays a wall of framed black and white photographs and train memorabilia. Other rooms display antique cameras, old-fashioned dresses, and farm tools, while others are designed to replicate the room of a home during earlier times.
Donated pieces of a more quirky nature are also on exhibit. Sumner County’s original high school mascot, an alligator, is encased in glass.
Of course, I was fascinated by the room designed to resemble a vintage soda fountain complete with a vinyl booth, ice cream dishes, and the “Let’s Sell Ice Cream” book once used at the Chief Drug Soda Fountain until 1986.
No matter your personality, you’re bound to stumble upon a curated item that speaks to you at the museum. Locals will appreciate the high school artifacts.
PRO TIP: If you’re interested in touring with a group or outside business hours, contact the museum directly or complete a tour request form.
Panhandle Railroad Museum
Railroad lines passing through Wellington increased the town’s population over the years. Panhandle Railroad Museum (425 E. Harvey Ave.), located in a historic 1881 gas manufacturing building at Sellers Park, is a hidden gem for train enthusiasts and curious travelers. After Perry Wiley retired as a train conductor, he started collecting railroad memorabilia in 1990.
Perry and his wife Sherry renovated the building and filled it with the family’s collection, mostly BNSF items. Logo merchandise, uniforms, clocks, depot accessories, photographs, telegraph machines, passenger car dinnerware – you name it, the museum has it.At age 85, Perry enthusiastically gives guided tours of the museum, pointing out items he curated or gifted to him, like the two-sided depot bench and original Santa Fe merchandise featuring the company mascot, Chico. A clock wall displays timepieces that were inspected for the correct time to ensure trains arrived on schedule.Aside from the impressive collection, it’s possible that Perry’s love of all things railroad will rub off on you. Not only did I learn about railroad employees’ work, but I also had a better appreciation for the industry that helped develop so many Kansas towns, including Wellington.
PRO TIP: All aboard! Take a photo with the 1903 AT&SF steam locomotive on display across the lawn from the museum at Sellers Park.
Nothing excites me more than discovering a locally-owned business where I can shop to my heart’s content. On Washington Avenue, several quaint businesses deserve your business. Historical downtown Wellington provides one-stop shopping, from women’s apparel to toys and home decor.
Beehive Quilt Shop & Bee Creative Toys
Two stores in one, Beehive Quilt Shop & Bee Creative Toys (122 N. Washington Ave.), share the same space. People travel from far away to check out the quilt shop that stocks over 100 books, dozens of kits, hundreds of notions, and over 1,000 patterns. The store frequently hosts instructional sessions for quilters of all experience levels.
Having visited several quilt shops across Kansas, I was impressed by the staffers’ knowledge of on-trend designs and how to teach others the techniques for every kind of quilt.
At Bee Creative Toys, shelves, and turnable displays are stocked with every kind of game, interactive play set, and plush toy you can imagine. Toys designed for newborns to adults are available. They carry an extensive collection of brand names, including Lego, Fred & Friends, and Melissa & Doug.
The staff is great about finding a toy or game that matches a child’s skill set and curiosity.
PRO TIP: Follow the store on Facebook to stay up to date about upcoming events and toy arrivals.
Bay & Brielle Co.
Bay & Brielle Co. (207 S. Washington Ave.) is the women’s apparel boutique you wished you’d discovered sooner. The inventory consists of hand-selected classic pieces as well as current looks.
It’s the kind of boutique you’re guaranteed to leave with a blouse for an upcoming event or a dress to wear on a special occasion. The store is special because it includes clothes from size small to 3x, and the inventory is regularly restocked.
Besides beautiful apparel, Bay & Brielle Co.’s accessories are on par with the latest trends. A collection of seasonal shoes, hats, and colorful handbags make completing an outfit a cinch.
PRO TIP: The shop also sells non-apparel items, from jewelry to candles. Crocks Dinner Club meal starter packets are a popular purchase.
Salty Creek Decor
If you love to hunt down unique home decor pieces and antiques, visiting Salty Creek Decor (301 N. Washington Ave.) is a must. The multi-room store artfully displays decorating pieces such as custom chalk signs, pillows, candles, and metalwork.
Most of the inventory caters to shoppers looking for a refined rustic or farmhouse deco style. A corner of the store even carries nursery decor and toys for parents or grandparents looking for something new. Shopping at Salty Creek Decor is an interior designer’s dream and is sure to inspire.
PRO TIP: The store sits on the same property as a glass company, Vince Erwin Glass, so ask about residential glass projects if it suits your needs.
The food is fabulous at Fabiola’s (302 N. Washington Ave.). If you’re craving authentic Mexican food, it delivers. Since 1997, the family-owned restaurant has attracted regular customers. By consistently serving good food and providing friendly service, it’s easy to see why.
I tried something out of my comfort zone and sampled the highly recommended fresh pork rinds with pepper jack cheese and spinach queso, which I devoured. The rinds arrived at the table, crackling fresh from the fryer.
For dinner, I chose a beef fajita bowl, Kristi’s Special, made with grilled onions, peppers, beans, queso, and adorned with a tomato rose. The meat was tender, and the outer shell was crisp.
My server recommended that I save room for dessert, and even though I was full, I couldn’t turn down caramel churros with vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey and chocolate. 100% delicious.
When you visit Fabiolas’s, you can expect attentive service from locals who know most regular customers. At the time of my visit, the owner reminded customers that the restaurant was stocked with to-go enchiladas for sale near the register because the restaurant was closing for a week so staff could attend her wedding. People can’t resist the food.
PRO TIP: Visit on Thursdays for 1/2 price margaritas, and ask about daily food specials.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE & DO
If you plan to extend your visit to Wellington, I recommend visiting a few more gems while in town.
Wellington Regent Theatre
Nothing compares to watching a movie, like seeing it on the big screen with popcorn in hand. At Wellington Regent Theater (114 W. Lincoln Ave.), movie fans can view first-run films. You can count on screening times on Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm and 7 pm or Monday at 7 pm.
Follow the theatre’s Facebook page to view the latest movie release and confirm show times.
Did you know that steel industry tycoon Andrew Carnegie founded 2,059 public libraries and gave over $40 million to fund 1,679 libraries in America? From 1886 to 1919, libraries like Wellington’s Carnegie Library (121 W. 7th St.) opened to the public to provide access to books. One of 63 Carnegie libraries in Kansas, the Neo-Classical building is listed on the National Register of History Places.
Not all Carnegie libraries still serve as such, so a visit to the Wellington Public Library is worth a visit to admire its grand design and outdoor bronze sculptures.
I also like to locate interesting, obscure places or landmarks when traveling. You know, the kind that ignites your curiosity that you want to pull the car over to see. Inside the Sumner County District Courthouse (501 N. Washington Ave.), an archeological find unearthed a few miles from town sat inside glass on display to admire – a Columbian Mammoth’s skull.
The extinct Ice Age elephant’s skull was found by Tim Kelly in 1992, and records prove that the first farmers in the county found similar bones dating back to the 1870s.
Wellington is a wonderful place to spend a day exploring some of the top attractions in south-central Kansas. A short drive from Wichita, I was delighted to meet residents who made me feel welcome, and there were unlimited places to explore. I know you’ll fall in love with it, too.
Like me, mark your calendar for the annual Kansas Wheat Festival, which celebrates the Wheat Capital of the World in mid-July. What started over 100 years ago as a parade has become a four-day extravaganza with food trucks, a carnival, live entertainment, contests, and more.
Bonus: If you love a road trip within driving distance of Wichita, I encourage you to check out Fun Day Trips from Wichita, a quick guide to the region’s top town. Each town offers something unique just like Wellington.