Known as the birthplace of aviation, Dayton’s aviation culture is one of its largest draws. However, there are tons of other things to do in this Ohio city, that deserve a spot on your itinerary.
So, if you’re coming from another, larger Ohio destination to check out one of the aviation-related attractions, extend your stay and hang out a while. You may be surprised at all the great things you find!
Let’s explore the best things to do in Dayton:
1. The Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center
Of course, you do have to at least get the main aviation attractions on your itinerary.
Start at the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center, a National Historic Landmark where the Wright Cycle Company on South Williams Street was located.
Did you know, by the way, that the Wright Brothers weren’t always airmen…they actually were in the printing business? This center shows you their early lives, and also the life of their friend, high school classmate and poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.
The free attraction is open Wednesday-Sunday, during normal business hours, and features film and exhibits.
2. Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center
Thought you had to go to Kittyhawk to see where the Wright brothers flew? Not quite! You can stop in at this huge (84 acres) field where the brothers actually started perfecting their flight skills, using the third iteration of their plane, the Wright Flyer III. This was actually the first practical airplane in the world.
This spot is owned by the U.S. Air Force and the National Park Services, so admission is totally free, and it’s also open during the same hours as the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center.
3. The Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site
Okay, let’s take a step back from the aviation history (but only for a second, and not too large of a step) and revisit the Wright brothers’ friend mentioned above, Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Dunbar was the first internationally acclaimed African-American poet, and he had a huge influence on many of the African American writers we know and love today, such as Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou.
Born to former slave parents in 1872, Dunbar catalogues the various challenges facing African Americans in a post-Civil-War world.
Dunbar didn’t live very long, dying at age 33, but during his very short life, he was able to publish more than 400 poems, six novels, some plays, short stories and even lyrics for musicals.
4. John W. Berry, Sr. Wright Brothers Aviation Center
Now, if you actually want to see the 1905 Wright Flyer III (which, is the only plane to earn status as a National Historic Landmark), then you have to go to the John W. Berry, Sr. Wright Brothers Aviation Center.
In addition to this gorgeous airplane, you’ll also see a replica of the Wright Brothers bicycle shop, one of their actual bicycles and then the various tools they used when they were designing their plane. Plus, you can see the camera that took the iconic photo of the first flight.
5. Hawthorn Hill
This historic home was that of Orville Wright and his family members.
They moved in, in 1914, into what was at the time an early suburb of Dayton.
The spacious Georgian revival mansion, though, unfortunately was never home to Wilbur Wright, who died from Typhoid Fever while it was still being built.
His brother, Orville, however, would live there until he died in 1948.
6. National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Fast-forward through time and check out the rest of aviation’s history, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
This is the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum and also the most-visited free tourist attraction in Ohio.
More than a million people visit each year! There are more than 360 aerospace vehicles, missiles and tons of artifacts.
It’s all set on 17 acres of indoor space.
Exhibits are situated chronologically, so that you can walk through history and see things develop and change over time.
There are lots of hands-on activities, such as sitting in a jet cockpit and walking through a NASA shuttle.
Plus, you can see the only display of a B-2 stealth bomber in the entire world.
There’s a simulator ride for the adventurous, a theatre for daily movies and a cafeteria serving up astronaut food.
7. Five Rivers MetroParks
The Dayton park system combines nearly 16,000 acres of outdoor space in 25 different facilities.
So many of these are also accessible via bike, so you can get back to nature from nearly everywhere.
Plus, Dayton has been awarded a bronze level in bicycle friendliness, which means that every person in the city lives less than 10 minutes away from a bike path! Check out the park system’s calendar during your stay, as there are many great, free activities, that don’t even require registration to attend.
8. Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm
This 200-acre site has not only all the farm and farm animals you could want, but also educational resources, walking trails, gardens and a sustainability program.
Plus, the farm is open during normal business hours and very affordable, with tickets being only $4 for adults, and $2 for children.
Check out their normal lineup of events, but also visit just to see the beautiful property.
The Bank Barn is especially noteworthy, built in the German heritage style of the 1800s.
You can even see fossils in the limestone blocks used to build the barn! The upper level of the barn houses hay and grains, while the lower level is home to the horses, goats, pigs, cows and other animals.
Dayton offers a ton of golf courses for you to check out, if you want to get in a game during your stay.
There are 11 different courses, but the two closest to you may be the Madden Golf Course and the Kittyhawk Golf Center.
But if you want to try your hand at some different types of golfing, they also have lots of disc golf for you to enjoy, at two free courses.
One is at the Englewood MetroPark, and the other is at the Indian Riffle Park.
Both are 18 holes.
10. Ice Skating
Much like golfing, if you visit in the winter and want to get active, Dayton has you covered.
You can go to the Five Rivers MetroParks RiverScape ice rink, located in downtown Dayton, right on the bank of the Great Miami River.
The huge rink is 70 feet by 150 feet, and is totally picturesque.
Rent your skates right there, and don’t forget to warm up by the fire pit afterward, with some hot chocolate.
But, even if the weather isn’t very wintery, you can still skate from August to April indoors, at the Kettering Recreation Center.
Plus, Kettering also hosts youth hockey, if that’s your thing.
11. The Dayton Ballet
Don’t think that just because you’re in the middle of Ohio, you can’t enjoy some beautiful ballet! The Dayton Ballet is currently in its 80th year, and it produces five programs within each season.
This year, they’re bringing two recognizable favorites to the stage — The Great Gatsby and Swan Lake.
If you’re a ballet fan, these are two shows you definitely won’t want to miss!
12. Dayton Contemporary Dance Company
Maybe you like dance, but you’re not a ballet fan? The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company may be more your style.
In their 49th season, the company is setting the stage this year with amazing shows, from a salute to jazz, to a retelling of a Christmas story, to outdoor concerts to a collaboration.
Check their schedule to see what’s up, and where you can find them performing next.
13. The Dayton Opera
Yes, Dayton even has an opera! This season features all Italian composers, but each is wildly different.
Catch work from Giuseppe Verdi, Menotti and Rossini.
The Dayton Opera has been around since 1960, when it started with a meager budget of $30,000. Now, it works with a budget of $2 million, and it shows! The amazing performances are not to be missed, if you’re even slightly interested in attending your first opera, or if it you’re an old opera-going pro.
14. The Dayton Philharmonic
The Dayton Philharmonic puts on a large variety of shows, so there’s something for every interest, regardless of the genre or style you prefer.
Their Masterworks Series is just what it sounds like — a celebration of the classical composers.
Then, there’s the SuperPops series, and the Rockin’ Orchestra Series (featuring music from Prince, Elton John, David Bowie, U2 and more). There are also chamber series, a family concert and holiday concerts.
15. Buckeye Brew Tours
Brought to you by Buckeye Road Trips, a Buckeye Brew Tour will help you get just a sampling of the almost a dozen different local breweries that are popping up all over Dayton.
A Buckeye brew hop bus will take you to three different brew pubs on an afternoon, and there you get to try three different flights, for a total of 12 brews to try.
Some of the stops on the tours include Lucky Star Brewery, Star City Brewing Company, the Dayton Beer Company, Eudora Brewing Co.
and so many more!
16. Boonshoft Museum of Discovery
A discovery and science museum for adults and children alike, there are tons of exhibits here on every subject from anthropology to paleontology, to geology and biology.
Permanent exhibits include the tidal pool, African room, the Discovery Zoo, a fully-enclosed treehouse and more.
Just about anything in the natural world that you want to discover, you’ll find it here!
17. America’s Packard Museum
While the last museum may have been kid-friendly, this one might not really catch their attention all that much.
America’s Packard Museum is one of the Top 10 auto museums in the United States, and is the only restored Packard dealership currently operating as a museum.
There are more than 50 cars on display in the Art Deco showroom, and has had such an influence on the city, that the surrounding neighborhood has been named Dayton’s Motorcar District.
18. Dayton Art Institute
The Dayton Art Institute’s permanent collection includes more than 26,000 pieces, from as long ago as 5,000 years.
While obviously not all of these objects can be on display at once, you can still find a ton to explore while you’re there.
The museum has three different sections, one for European art, one for American art and one for Asian art.
There are also separate galleries set aside just for African art, Oceanic art, Pre-Columbian art, Native American art and glassworks.
Founded in 1919, the institute overlooks the Great Miami River and also downtown Dayton, and the architecture was modeled after villas in Italy, near Rome, and supported by famous community leaders such as Orville Wright.
19. Victoria Theatre Association
This non-profit organization presents more than 300 performances each year, for all ages, within all genres.
They also feature touring Broadway shows, comedians, concerts and more.
They additionally show films, through their Cool Film series, which includes free popcorn and soda! You can’t really get any better than that, particularly for a family night! Other series include National Geographic Live and the Morris Furniture Co.
20. SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park
This park is preserving the SunWatch National Historic Landmark archaeological site, as well as the Native American culture related to it.
There are exploration opportunities both indoors and outdoors, all centered around the 800-year-old lifestyle of the former inhabitants.
Audioguide tours are available, and will tell you about the astronomical alignments of the recreated village, the process of building houses and bringing in the harvest and various stories that bring the center to life.
Each tour lasts about 45 minutes, and it’s only $2 per person, making it an easy and affordable attraction to visit in the Dayton area.
21. National Aviation Hall of Fame
Back to the aviation history! The National Aviation Hall of Fame recognizes those who have made an impact on the world of aviation, and was founded in 1962. The Learning Center both honors the enshrinees, and also addresses aviation history.
The center is separated into seven different areas, including an enshrined lab, and sections on early flight, World War I, the golden age of flight, World War II, the jet age and space exploration.
There are lots of hands-on experiences, perfect for younger visitors interested in learning more about aviation.
22. Fifth Third Field
Catch a minor league baseball game while you’re in town! At Fifth Third Field, the Dayton Dragons play for the locals, and they’ve held records for most consecutive sold-out games (more than 800!), so you know they must be doing something right.
The games are fun, filled with audience interaction and in a convenient location.
The Fifth Third Field is also home to the Midwest All-Star Games.
Overall, a minor league baseball game like this is a perfect way to end a day filled with celebrating America’s aviation history.
23. The Oregon District
If you like walking around historic neighborhoods, you definitely don’t want to miss the Oregon District.
Located in central Dayton, the 12-block area includes homes that date back as far as the 1820s! There are lots of dual residential and commercial structures that were built during the Victorian era here.
Now, the district is a hip neighborhood to hang out in, so you won’t just get to enjoy the beautiful architecture — you’ll also enjoy the various little shops, cafes, bars and galleries that are located within, thanks to the neighborhood’s attractive and distinct feel, that’s brought in popular business owners from around the city.
24. PNC 2nd Street Market
Do a little shopping before you leave town, with a stop at PNC 2nd Street Market.
This is Dayton’s oldest and largest public market, and is a great spot to check out the local goods.
It’s enclosed and open all year, so you never have to worry about the weather interfering with your plans.
Buy some local produce, cheeses, baked goods and more, to either take home in your suitcase, or to enjoy right then and there.
Plus, the market hosts various different events for the holiday seasons, adding a little something extra to the environment.
25. Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum
One of the five oldest rural garden cemeteries in the country, Woodland Cemetery was founded in 1841 and is not only a historic burial ground, but also a botanical resource.
There are more than 3,000 trees and 165 native specimens located on the 200 acres.
Many of these trees are more than 100 years old.
The chapel at the cemetery is on the National Register of Historic Places, and features a beautiful Tiffany window.
The gravesites there include those of the Wright brothers, Paul Laurence Dunbar and many more.
You also won’t want to miss the Woodland Mausoleum, and its 12 stained glass windows depicting themes from “The Messiah.”