In south-central Kansas, Derby is an outlying suburb of Wichita, with a population swelled by the McConnell Air Force Base, which sits to the north of the city.
Until the base was founded in the 1950s Derby was a sleepy agricultural community of no more than a few hundred.
Today the economy is supercharged by the aviation industry, and the population continues to grow, increasing by 10,000 in the last 20 years.
The city’s story is told in rich detail at the Derby Historical Museum, a real treasure trove of artifacts reaching back to prehistory.
With ever more residents, Derby has opened several top-notch new parks in the last decade, and promotes a tight-knit community with an exciting calendar of events in summer.
1. Madison Avenue Central Park
A new place for Derby to meet, play and celebrate, Madison Avenue Central Park became the city’s premier park when it opened in 2016.
Most of Derby’s community events take place here, from the farmers’ market to the Spring into Art fair in April.
This spot is designed to entertain, with an amphitheater and two indoor facilities. But you’ll also find all of the amenities you would want from an urban park, including a splash pad, accessible playground, half-mile trail, picnic areas and two open shelters.
A couple of blocks east of Baltimore Avenue, the park was developed on the former site of a church and school.
2. Derby Historical Museum
April through October, Saturdays are a great day to be in Derby. As well as the farmers’ market you can also drop by the city’s historical museum, just a short walk away.
On the National Register of Historic Places, the building is a former school, raised in 1923-24. This imposing building has 16 rooms of exhibits to pore over, so you’ll need to give yourself plenty of time.
Those exhibits come from some extremely rich collections of pre-settlement objects, with marvelous fossils, prehistoric tools, knives and dart points and artifacts from the Wichita tribe.
There’s also ample information about 19th-century daily life in Derby, agriculture, early schooling, the railroads and the development of McConnell Air Force Base.
3. High Park
Derby’s largest park is on the east side of the city and is framed to the south and east by Spring Creek.
Whereas Madison Avenue Central Park is for markets and fairs, and Warren Riverview Park has idyllic scenery, High Park is all about recreation.
There are amenities for baseball, softball, soccer, fishing, biking, hiking and sand volleyball here, while little ones have two modern playgrounds to choose from.
High Park’s wide open spaces are suitable for Derby’s July 4 fireworks show, as well as the ever popular Smoke on the Plains BBQ & Music Fest.
4. Warren Riverview Park
A new public space for a growing city, Warren Riverview Park opened by the bank of the Arkansas River in October 2018. In four acres, this neatly landscaped, ADA-accessible space offers a mix of relaxation and adventure.
For outdoor recreation you can launch canoes and kayaks on the river here, and there’s a ropes course for kids, a camping area for scouts and a hike and bike bath.
With sweeping lawns and ample seating Warren Riverview Park is somewhere to soak up the scenery or host a family reunion or birthday party at the covered shelter.
Something to check out is the totem pole, carved by Danny Ray Warren in honor of his parents and important community members, Ray and Virginia Warren.
5. Field Station: Dinosaurs
This unique theme park in the north of Derby opened in 2018 and has a variety of paleontology-themed attractions.
The standout is more than 40 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, many for species that have been discovered in the Great Plains.
These detailed models are motion activated, moving their heads, mouths or tails when you approach.
The largest is the humongous sauropod, Alamosaurus, measuring 90 feet in length. Among the other attractions is a live show featuring a lifelike T-Rex, a ropes course, an 18-hole mini golf course, a “Raptor Maze” and the dinosaur-themed Paleo Playground.
6. Derby Farmers’ Market
On Saturday mornings, April through October, Derby’s farmers’ market takes place in the parking lot at Madison Avenue Central Park.
For visitors this is a chance to experience Derby’s sense of community, and pick up super fresh fruit and vegetables, local honey, baked goods, eggs, meats, salsas, jams and crafts.
The choice of fresh produce is normally huge, with the likes of cucumbers, kale, spinach, cauliflower and asparagus earlier in the season, and tomatoes, corn and then pumpkins as the summer progresses.
7. Rock River Rapids Aquatic Park
Derby is home to the top water park in South-Central Kansas. This is on the east side of town, next to Derby High School, and has the kind of attractions you might find at a water park in a theme park.
On 12 acres there’s a 50-meter lap pool with eight lanes, a heated zero-depth entry, six water slides, a lazy river more than 600 feet long and a fantastic tree-house themed play area for little ones.
Also on hand here are lockers, a gift shop, party shelters and concessions for a complete day out in the summer.
8. Derby Bowl
On S Baltimore Avenue in the southwest of Derby is a modern 24-lane bowling alley with a busy schedule of open and league bowling.
Friday and Saturday nights mean Cosmic Bowling, when you’ve got black light, music and extended hours until 12:30am. The 25th Lane is a fully-stocked pro shop and inside the same building as the alley is Kegler’s Sports Bar & Grill.
This is a fine place to watch the game, with a menu of burgers, sandwiches, wraps and shareable dishes like onion rings and cheese sticks.
9. Derby Sports Zone
One of a string of new developments along Rock Road, this giant indoor/outdoor sports facility was due to open when we wrote this article.
The Derby Sports Zone will be located at the intersection with Cambridge St, and will accommodate activities like volleyball, pickleball and sand soccer.
These will be outside in the spring and summer, and then covered with a huge temporary dome in the off season. There’s also a two-story restaurant, with a 5,000-square-foot deck on the top level overlooking the courts.
10. Derby Skate Park
This large skate park in Derby came about thanks to a campaign by local teens who found themselves prohibited from skating elsewhere in the city.
The site is actually Derby’s former municipal pool, which was closed down when Rock River Rapids Opened.
Completed in 2006, the Derby Skate Park is a great facility, with a 9,000-square-foot flat deck and several concrete deck structures varying in shape and size.
Also here is a four foot deep bowl with a variety of side slopes such as ramps, rails and stairs. There are bathroom facilities here, and if you come on a hot day you’ve got a shelter at the park.
11. Derby Plaza Theaters
For a modern, first-run theater, the ticket prices at this seven-screen multiplex are surprisingly low. Just off K-15 in the east of the city, Derby Plaza Theaters is rare for being completely family-owned and run.
This spot first opened in 1995 and has constantly evolved since then, adding new screens in 2000 and full digital sound and projection in 2011.
Sometimes with theaters, the ticket prices can be low, while the concessions are inflated, but that isn’t the case here. When we compiled this list you could get two large drinks and a jumbo popcorn for just $12.
12. Derby Fourth of July Celebration
There’s a program of festivities to celebrate July 4 in Derby, with something for all ages.
In rough chronological order, there’s the farmers’ market in the morning, the Independence Day Parade at 10:00am, an open day at the Derby Historical Museum, an open house at Fire Station 81 and the Derby Running Club’s annual Derby Firecracker Race, which has been run for more than 40 years now.
The day is brought to a close in traditional fashion, with fireworks at High Park, accompanied by a roster of food trucks.
13. Air Capital Drop Zone
This skydive company is based at Cook Airfield, less than ten minutes east of Derby. So if skydiving is one of those things you’ve always wanted to try, there’s no better place than right here.
If you opt for a tandem jump you won’t even need to do any training. Attached to a qualified instructor you’ll leap from the plane 10,000 feet above the Wichita area, freefall for 5,000 feet before a gentle descent to terra firma with a soft landing.
Special video & digital still package will help you relive the experience. Of course, tuition is available if you want to try a solo jump, and these classes take place on the second and fourth Saturday of the month.
14. Spring into Art
Madison Avenue Central Park sets the scene for another great public event in Derby. Spring into Art is a one-day affair in late April, and if the weather is bad then the event will take place in The Venue.
At the core of the event is a large art fair for local and regional artists to show off exceptional painting, sculpture, woodwork, photography and jewelry.
The fair is combined with live entertainment, wine tastings and make-and-take art stations. The start of Spring into Art also coincides with the weekly farmer’s market at the park, giving you another reason to swing by.
15. Smoke on the Plains BBQ & Music Fest
Finally, High Park is the setting for a weekend-long blowout, serving up great food and great music in aid of the McConnell Air Force Base Airman and Family Readiness Center.
Free to attend, Smoke on the Plains BBQ & Music Fest is now into its second decade and attracts more people than any other event in Derby.
On the schedule is a series of contests like the Kansas City BBQ Society Cook-off, the Backyard BBQ Cook-Off and the People’s Choice Contest, together with tons of family fun in between and live music on the mainstage until late into the evening.