Backed by a long history as an oil and cattle town, the arts and culture scene is still going strong in Wichita Falls. Joseph Kemp and Frank Kell, brothers-in-law, helped grow the city for decades, and today you see them commemorated at museums and other landmarks. I feel a bit nostalgic, knowing that my daddy was born here in 1929 when Granddaddy worked a stint in the oil fields before moving back to the old home place. Sheppard Field, an Army Air Corps training facility, bolstered the economy and reopened as Sheppard Air Force Base in 1948, a significant training center for the Air Force and NATO.
In April 1979, a devastating tornado struck the southern part of the city, destroying 20 percent of the homes and businesses, killing 45 people, and injuring more than 3,200. The resilient city recovered within 3 years, enjoying an early 1980s boost in the oil business, then suffering a late-decade slump. You’ll find historical surprises, lots of green space, art attractions, and foodie destinations that will keep you busy. Here are some of my favorite places to visit in Wichita Falls.
Street Art, The Train, by Ralph Stearns (Photo Credit: Janie Pace)
Things To Do In Wichita Falls
I love the many art attractions, green spaces like Lucy Park, wineries and breweries, and historical museums in Wichita Falls, an hour and a half drive northwest of Fort Worth.
The Mane Event
One of the first things I noticed were beautifully painted horses all over town. Over 70 fiberglass Painted Horses decorated by local artists are scattered across Wichita Falls, decorating businesses, parks, and facilities throughout the city. Proceeds of the Mane Event support the Youth and Adult Programs of Leadership Wichita Falls.
Lucy Park –178 acres in the city’s center – was donated in 1963-64 by Mrs. Frances Ann Dickerson in memory of her mother, Lucy O’Neil Saunders. Located in the elbow bend of the Wichita River, the park boasts a natural setting filled with giant cottonwoods, pecan trees, and other native plants. You can hike or bike the 1.7-mile concrete trail that circles the park and is the west starting point for the city-wide Circle Trail System.
You’ll find playgrounds, basketball hoops, a swimming pool, an 18-hole disc golf course, three volleyball courts, two restrooms, and plenty of picnic tables. The old log cabin in Lucy Park is available for meetings, parties, weddings, or family reunions.
Wichita Falls Waterfall
The Wichita Falls Waterfall was built in 1986 and dedicated in 1987, replacing the falls that washed away in a flood over 100 years ago. The 54-foot multi-level waterfall backs up to Lucy Park via a mile-long hiking trail.
River Bend Nature Center
The River Bend Nature Center, a 20-acre education facility, connects people to nature with a 7,000 square foot meeting pavilion, a natural forest, and a wetland trail. The most popular attractions are the Ruby N. Priddy Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, the United Children’s Garden, and the River Bottom Forest Trail. The best time to visit is during the spring and summer when flowers bloom and things have greened up.
The Newby-McMahon Building, the World’s Littlest Skyscraper, is a small Neoclassical red brick building in downtown Wichita Falls. It stands 40 feet tall and 18 by 12 feet. This con investment scheme, constructed in inches instead of feet, was a great embarrassment to the city. It was featured a hundred years ago in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and the nickname has stuck ever since. Today it’s a Texas Historic Landmark.
Cleopatra’s Eyes by Ralph Stearns (Photo Credit: Janie Pace)
Cleopatra’s Eyes at the corner of 8th and Burnett is one of a dozen giant murals painted on the sides of buildings across Wichita Falls. You’ll see a gorilla clutching a beautiful woman, a parrot staring at a startled man, or a train by artist Ralph Stearns.
Jenny To Jet Exhibit
Located in the Wichita Falls Regional Airport, the Jenny to Jet Exhibit commemorates the “Jenny” biplane, Call Field, and the U. S. Army Air Corps training camp during World War I. It features a T-38 jet, a jet engine from an A-10, and displays about Sheppard Air Force Base. See the Model-T Troop Carrier, Model-T Staff Car, WWI uniforms, equipment, and multimedia displays.
Museum Of North Texas History
The Museum of North Texas History features local history including handmade naval vessel replicas, a Native American tepee, and Nat’s Hats, a display of the trade-in hats that customers from Wichita Falls left at the store when they purchased a new Western hat. See stories of the city’s remarkable women and an after-hours Art Walk featuring Tom Roberts. Learn about the Sweeney family and their contributions to the town and see the Emil Hermann exhibit and ten of the artist’s portraits, plus a portrait of a prize-winning Hereford bull, Larry Domino, owned by J.S. Birdwell.
The Ward Building
The Ward Building downtown is the home to the original Zales Jewelry Store, established by Morris Bernard Zalesfsky (Americanized to “Zale”). He learned the jewelry business from his uncle Sam Kreuger, opened his first store with his brother, and grew the company to the world’s largest jewelry retailer. Today you’ll find the Karat Bar & Bistro, where you can enjoy locally sourced dishes made from scratch and classic Prohibition-style cocktails.
Kell House Museum
The Kell House Museum tells Wichita Falls history via the Kell family history. One of the most historically significant homes, the museum features original family furnishings, historical costumes, fabrics, and furnishings, plus guided tours sharing the history of the Kell family. The museum is currently under renovation, restoration, and preservation.
P’s Crazy Car Museum
Featuring more than 40 renovated classic cars, trucks, motorcycles, and tractors, see an ever-changing collection at P’s Crazy Car Museum that is free to the public when you donate to two of Patterson Auto Group’s favorite charities. You may also inquire about purchasing any of the vehicles. The car of the month is the 1969 Excalibur SS Phaeton.
The Wee-Chi-Tah Sculpture
This life-sized legendary sculpture features the story of a Comanche family crossing the Wichita River – a Comanche woman, her child, two braves, a colt, and their horses in the rocks and flowing water. As the legend goes, the woman is testing the river’s depth, and answers, “it is waist deep,” which is translated Wee-Chi-Tah.
Hotter’N Hell Hundred
One of the nation’s oldest and largest cycling events is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The Hotter’N Hell Hundred features more than 13,000 riders from across the world who spend 4 days of challenging riding in Wichita Falls. You still have time to register!
Dr. White’s Sanitorium – Old Insane Asylum
Opening its doors in 1926, Dr. White’s Sanitorium offered 13.5 acres with walking paths and a stable with horses for patients’ outside activities in the sunshine. The property lay idle for years, with most of the land sold, leaving the old hospital on 1.5 acres. The building was bought for back taxes and restored for $250,000.
Today, the property is a private home with three bedrooms, a living area, two bathrooms, a laundry, a kitchen on the second floor, and one giant open space on the lower floor. The place is haunted, the owner says, but not by evil spirits. They often hear a young woman call out, “hello!” The family used to hear children laughing and playing together. They bought Christmas presents and left them out for the kids and haven’t heard them since. The Historical Society of Wichita Falls issued a Preservation Award. You can drive by and take pictures, but they ask that you respect the no trespassing signs.
Restaurants In Wichita Falls
Download the Wichita Falls app and peruse the city’s brewpubs, casual dining, and specialty restaurants.
Progress Pizza (Photo Credit: Janie Pace)
Progress Pizza At Wichita Falls Brewing Co
My Farmer John Detroit-Style Pizza at Progress Pizza inside Wichita Falls Brewing was a veggie pizza with cheesy goodness and crispy edges and loaded with arugula, created by Chef Kyle Dalka. There are some meaty versions like Texas BBQ and Da Wolf.
Wichita Falls Brewing offers up to 28 beers on tap including WF Taco Chaser, a Mexican-style lager, the WF Town Pale Ale, and the award-winning WF Alcalde Red Ale. Order the WF Odd Duck – a stout with notes of chocolate, espresso, and burnt toast – if you feel like an odd duck.
Back Porch Draft House
You’ll find 24 beers on tap at Back Porch Draft House, plus 30 bottles and 47 cans, so you’re sure to find a beer you like. Enjoy brisket sliders, killer wings, Nashville hot chicken sliders, loaded queso cheese fries, fried pickles, salads, wraps, hand-crafted cocktails, and more.
Do you love old arcade games and eating cereal? Then you’ve found it at Maniac’s Mansion. Play classic arcade games and eat cereal to your heart’s content for a flat entry. The free-play bracelet allows you to come and go, enjoy cruising downtown and then return for another round of Ms. Pac-Man and Mortal Kombat.
8 Cocoa Artisan Chocolate
I found my chocolate place! In the heart of downtown, chocolatier Brooke Willis makes fine chocolates by hand in small batches at B Cocoa Artisan Chocolate. With a background in European truffle making, she began making bonbons and truffles back in Texas and started a business in her kitchen in 2014. Try her Texas Rita Bark, Texas Turtles, and The Odd Duck Coffee Truffle.
Hotels In Wichita Falls
I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott for points and convenience, in the southwest part of town near lots of shopping and eateries. You’ll find the usual list of branded hotels.
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