Salina Facebook title

The 19 best things to do when you visit Salina, Kansas

Explore Salina, Crossroads of America

Salina, Kansas, is a charming city at the crossroads of America, where Interstate 70 and Interstate 135 meet. Salina is an ideal destination because of its rich history, vibrant culture, and friendly locals. It’s just under 50,000 in population, so visitors enjoy big-city amenities with small-town warmth and friendliness.

Visit Salina sponsored my most recent of many visits, but all opinions are mine. If you use our affiliate links, including Amazon Associates and Stay22, to make a purchase, we might earn a small commission for our time and website costs (at no additional cost to you).  These links are always disclosed. 

Salina provides much to see and do that will make a memorable road trip. Get ready for outdoor adventures, cultural attractions, delicious local cuisine, and great shopping. Salina is ready for its close-up, so read on for more details.

​​Roxie’s reliable report: Pronounce the city’s name as “Suh-LINE-uh,” but the Saline River and Saline County as “Suh-LEEN.”

If you haven’t visited Salina lately, you must return. Salina now is far different than it was in the 1980s and 1990s. Salina Downtown is vibrant, full of shops and eateries. The best places have remained, and new friends have arrived. Downtown is highly walkable and is dotted with intriguing sculptures. Murals also enliven the streetscape. It’s become one of my favorite places to shop.

Related: Salina is an hour and a half north of Wichita and half an hour west of Abilene.

Table of contents: Rolling Hills Zoo | Smoky Hill Museum | Stiefel Theatre | Art Center | Art Cinema | Theatre Salina | SculptureTour | Murals | First Friday | The Garage | Salina Fieldhouse | The Alley | Tony’s Pizza Event Center | Smoky Hill River Festival | Downtown | Central Mall | Restaurants | Stay

Two giraffes from the Rolling Hills Zoo, Salina
Giraffes are some of the world’s most endearing creatures.

1. Get wild at the Rolling Hills Zoo west of Salina

Walk on the wild side at Rolling Hills Zoo. More than 100 species await your visit at the award-winning zoo 15 minutes west of Salina. The zoo categorizes its species under big cats, primates, other mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and animals in Kids’ Country.

I love the giraffes with their customized spots and their purple tongues. Billie and Zuri are the adults, while Korey is a young giraffe. They were inquisitive, coming to look at the two-legged visitor. Giraffes rarely drink; they obtain liquid through the plants they eat. Bending their long neck over the water renders the giraffe vulnerable to predation.

And some predators are nearby in the zoo’s new Pride of the Prairie exhibit, which opened in August 2022. The zoo used the Kansas prairie to emulate African lions’ natural savanna habitat. The remodeled exhibit doubled the lions’ existing space, which now includes a massive visitors’ cave. Lions like to observe their domains from above, and their new Salina home includes a high “cliff” that enables them to survey their surroundings.

In the cave, three windows enable visitors to view the lions and watch as the zookeepers care for them. Rolling Hills Zoo teaches its animals to cooperate in their care. For example, the keepers train the lions to show their paws. The keepers can inspect them for any damage, like from a thorn.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Ride the sprawling zoo’s tram, and visit during cooler hours because the animals are smart and avoid the heat.

Diorama of a water buffalo fighting a lion and lioness at Rolling Hills Zoo, Salina
Nature is red in tooth and claw.

Experience the world of wildlife at the wildlife museum

The Rolling Hills Museum is full of astounding dioramas. Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously wrote that nature is red in tooth and claw. The museum illustrates Tennyson’s point. In one diorama, a lioness takes down a buffalo while the buffalo gores a lion. Another displays a fight between zebras and hyenas. However, not all of them are gruesome. A herd of yaks stands in grasses before a mountain range, and polar bears stand guard on icebergs. Animatronic figures include a snake charmer and an Inuit hunting party.

Patchwork hippo outside the Smoky Hill Museum
The patchwork hippopotamus outside the Smoky Hill Museum awaits your visit.

2. Visit the Smoky Hill Museum in Salina Downtown

A huge patchwork metal hippo greets guests outside the Smoky Hill Museum. The Art Deco gem was once the Salina post office. Inside, learn about Salina’s history as the nation’s crossroads. For a time, Salina’s entrance had a wrought iron arch decked with a lighted sign, “Salina Your Opportunity Welcome.” The sign now adorns the entrance to the museum’s galleries.

Salina Your Opportunity Welcome neon sign
Salina welcomes guests.

For 12,000 years, abundant game and fertile soil have attracted people to the area. In 1858, Salina’s founders established the city as a free-state colony of Lawrence. They named it for the Saline River, which enters the Smoky Hill River east of the city. The city grew slowly until the Union Pacific arrived in 1867. A flood nearly destroyed Salina in 1903, but the citizens rebuilt the resilient city.

The museum explains Salina’s signature stories. During wheat harvest, remember that explorer Stephen Long called the Great Plains the Great American Desert. Did you know that abundant wheat made Salina the nation’s fourth-largest flour producer? I didn’t. Unfortunately, the flour mills are now gone. 

Schilling Air Force Base came to Salina in 1942 as a staging area for heavy bombers. The base remained as a Salina mainstay until its 1967 closure. The military’s departure was a heavy blow to Salina’s economy, but the base became the Salina Regional Airport and Kansas State University Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus. An exhibit explains the story.

However, my favorite exhibit allowed me to pretend to be a radio announcer. What fun!

Stiefel Theatre marquee in Salina Downtown

3. Check out the in-spire-ing Stiefel Theatre for the Performing Arts

The Stiefel Theatre’s 45-event season annually attracts 40,000 patrons to downtown Salina for cultural events. They hear headliners like Chicago, Pam Tillis, Melissa Etheridge (who is from Leavenworth), Josh Turner, Peter Frampton, Bonnie Raitt, Three Dog Night, Trombone Shorty, and Emmylou Harris. However, not every act has a national reputation. The theatre staff desires to broaden its patrons’ musical experiences. Because of that, the staff books diverse acts and genres. 

Local musicians also perform live music at the Steifel, including the Salina Symphony.

The venue opened in 1931 as the Fox-Watson Theater. The lavish Art Deco chandeliers, an elaborate staircase, opulent gold leaf, and other details pushed the movie palace’s construction costs to $400,000. That’s nearly $8 million in 2022 dollars. A four-story tower, 78 feet high, dominated downtown Salina’s skyline. Lightning damaged the tower in 1954, and the owners removed its top tiers. 

The theatre closed in 1987, and the City of Salina bought it two years later. The City replaced its roof and shuttered the building.

Norm and Kristy Yenkey spearheaded fundraising for the historic theatre’s renovation. It gained the Stiefel name after Milton Stiefel made a large contribution. It reopened on March 8, 2003.

In 2023, 69 years after the tower’s demise, the foundation replaced it.

The theatre opens an hour before performances begin.

Paint-splattered fabric partitions are the exhibit at the Salina Art Center
The Salina Art Center regularly rotates its exhibits.

4. Expose yourself to art at the Salina Art Center

The Salina Art Center continually rotates its exhibitions in its 3,300-square-foot gallery space. The museum selects regional to international contemporary artists across all visual media.

The Salina Art Center's Art-O-Mat
Buy a small piece of contemporary art from the Art-O-Mat.

Start collecting contemporary art from the Art-O-Mat, a repurposed cigarette vending machine.

The Salina Art Cinema's box office
The Salina Art Cinema

5. Watch movies at Salina Art Cinema

The single-screen arthouse cinema runs a show nightly. The 2023 renovation installed state-of-the-art projection and live-streaming equipment.

Please sign up for our newsletter.

Just to make things easy, we don't sell or share your information.

6. Observe local talent at Salina Community Theatre

Theatre Salina puts on multiple productions each season. The Center for Theatre Arts trains people of all ages in acting, dancing, and signing. Many CTA alumni have enjoyed theatre-related careers.

Catfish riding a bicycle, part of SculptureTour Salina.
This catfish can ride a bicycle.

7. Vote for your favorite SculptureTour Salina artwork

Every year, SculptureTour Salina rotates sculptures through downtown Salina. The Salina Arts & Humanities Commission holds an UNwrap Party each May, but voters may choose their favorite through December 31. Fill out the ballots in the silver boxes at the mid-block crosswalks on Santa Fe Avenue. Return the completed ballot to a downtown business or deposit them into the boxes. The City of Salina buys the People’s Choice Award winner for its permanent collection.

Mural on the Mill, Salina
Salina Kanvas turned this old flour mill into a giant mural.

8. Gaze at Salina’s murals

The downtown area is full of murals, but one mural dominates them. The Mural at the Mill shows children dancing around the old H.D. Lee Flour Mill on Santa Fe Ave. Australian artist Guido van Helton painted the mural in 2021.

Related: Fort Dodge, Iowa, also enjoys a grain silo mural.

The City Lights stage, Salina Downtown
The City Lights stage awaits its performers for First Friday Live.

9. Join the party at First Friday Live

Every first Friday of the month, Salina Downtown comes alive with music on the City Lights Stage. Join the party.

The Garage exterior
Look for lots of chrome behind the walls of The Garage.

10. Take a spin at The Garage Automotive Museum

The Garage is Salina’s newest museum. It has two parts: the Crossroads Car Experience and the Kustom Kemps Museum and Hall of Fame. Pour a brew at the in-house tap and drink while you ogle the cars.

The car experience includes pristine classic cars. The Kustom Kemps side displays top-notch car customizers’ work. (A “kemp” was 1950s teen slang for a customized car.) You’ll enjoy the space between each car, enabling you to examine them closely. Close your eyes and picture yourself behind the wheel.

Willys pickup at The Garage, Salina
This Willys 6-226 pickup helped to build Interstate 70.

Exhibits change quarterly, so come often. Sometimes vintage cars parade past the museum on Iron on Thursday nights.

Roxie’s reliable report: The KKOA Leadsled Spectacular Car Show comes to Oakdale Park each year on the last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in July.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Read more about the museum in my book Secret Kansas: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. Buy a copy in the gift shop.

Roxie’s reliable report: Director Joshua Logan shot the first scenes of his classic movie Picnic in Salina. The movie adapted William Inge’s book of the same name. Inge was from Independence. The crew filmed the railroad scenes at 275 E. Iron Avenue, north of The Garage. A house at 417 E. Country Club was a mansion in the film.

Salina Fieldhouse exterior
Exterior of the Salina Fieldhouse

11. Build a team at Salina Fieldhouse

The 68,500-square-foot Salina Fieldhouse is one of the state’s premier sports facilities. Hardwood and synthetic courts and turf fields provide numerous sports opportunities, including volleyball, basketball, futsal, pickleball, soccer, and football. Drop-down batting cages and pitching tunnels are also available.

Salina Fieldhouse court
Salina Fieldhouse’s playing surfaces change rapidly to accommodate various sports.

A large lobby and concession area, plus ample parking, allow room for large competitions.

Bowling alley at The Alley, Salina
Does the birthday boy or girl want to be on the monitor?

​12. Say, “Tag, you’re It,” at The Alley

The Alley is next to the fieldhouse. If the fieldhouse’s sports menu doesn’t fit you, The Alley’s will. Bowl, play laser tag, defeat aliens in the arcade, or step into the hologate.

Beer and pizza at AJ's Sports Bar, Salina
Even if you can’t bowl a Perfect 300, you can eat one at AJ’s.

Play a game of pool and savor a Perfect 300 Pizza at The Original AJ’s Sports Grill.

Salina Liberty punting team
The Salina Liberty kicks a punt.

13. Root for the Salina Liberty at Tony’s Pizza Events Center

To spectate instead of participate, root for the Salina Liberty indoor football team at Tony’s Pizza Events Center. The team won the Champions Indoor Football title in 2022 after finishing second in 2021 and 2019. The venue also holds events like circuses, monster trucks, concerts, and fairs.

14. Join the party at the Smoky Hill River Festival

Salina’s Oakdale Park provides a botanical garden, tennis courts, and fishing, but it’s busiest during the annual Smoky Hill River Festival in early June. The festival’s website counts up to three stages, 151 artists, 158 performances, and 35 food vendors. With all that variety, you will enjoy a good time.

More than 40 musical groups from all genres will entertain you; not all are on stage. Some stroll through the crowds. Meet artists from across the country. Discuss their work with them and bring some home. Accompany your children to Artyopolis for hands-on activities.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Parking is available at the Tony’s Pizza Event Center lot and elsewhere. Read the guide beforehand.

The Smoky Hill River Run opens the festival on Saturday morning at Kenwood Park. Line up for the five-mile and two-mile runs, a two-mile walk, and t the children’s races. After the races, cool off at Kenwood Cove Aquatic Park. The largest pool in the region features slides, waves, thrill rides, and regular swimming.

15. Shop Downtown

Beautiful Salina Downtown has unique shops, wide streets, and murals. It’s the perfect mix of culture, eateries, and shopping. The last time we visited Salina, we were en route to my cousin’s wedding. We found the perfect gift displayed at Penny Layne. We wondered how we would wrap it, and then we noticed that the staff had already gift-wrapped the items not on display. Kudos for their thoughtfulness.

My most-complimented necklaces came from PB&J next door.

As a tall, plus-size woman, I appreciate True Betty Boutique‘s selection of flattering clothing from sizes small to 3X.

Red Fern Booksellers is across the street in the next block south. Browse the titles and their games, puzzles, and stationery. There’s nothing like curling up with a good book.

16. Shop at Central Mall

At Central Mall, buy the latest craft supplies at JoAnn Fabric and Craft Stores, and step out in clothes from Old Navy, Maurices, The Buckle, Famous Footwear, and TradeHome Shoes. Obtain a manipedi at Fashion Nails, then relax at Oriental Massage and AMC Theaters.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Don’t miss the mall’s aquarium.

17. Eat at Salina’s signature restaurants

No trip to Salina is complete without meals at Martinelli’s Little Italy, Cozy Inn, Dagney’s Ice Cream, and Blue Skye Brewery.

Martinelli's Little Italy exterior
Flavor explosions await you at Martinelli’s Little Italy.

Martinelli’s Little Italy

I hope that lasagna soup is on the menu when I visit Martinelli’s, but if it isn’t, I order the lasagna instead. No cottage cheese hides in Martinelli’s lasagna. Instead, it’s bursting with savory tomato sauce, meat, ricotta cheese, noodles, and delicious herbs and spices.

Lasagna soup with crusty bread at Martinelli's
Savor the delectable lasagna soup and crusty bread at Martinelli’s.

The cozy restaurant’s classic décor invites you in and wraps you with love.

Salina's classic burger joint, The Cozy Inn
A classic diner like the Cozy Inn has to have neon.

The Cozy Inn

The Cozy Inn has served the same menu since its inception in 1922. Bob Kinkel stole the concept from Wichita’s White Castle. Eventually, White Castle left Kansas, and Kinkel was left holding a bag of Cozy Burgers. The original six-stool bar is one of the few remaining in the United States.

Cozy slider, a can of Coke, and condiments at the Cozy Inn
The classic Cozy meal, a slider (or two) with a Coke.

People buy the sliders topped with a dollop of onion by the bag. Unless you enjoy the scent of onions, don’t eat them in your car. The aroma takes time to dissipate. Eat them inside or at one of the nearby picnic tables.

Roxie’s reliable report: The Cozy Inn is No. 11 in my book 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die (ad).

Blue Sky Brewery & Eats

Enjoy a wood-fired pizza at Blue Skye Brewery & Eats. Choose the cauliflower crust for a gluten-free option. Pair the pizza with a crabapple ale featuring apple and vanilla notes.

Eating a spoonful of Dagney's raspberry ice cream.
Eating a spoonful of Dagney’s raspberry ice cream

Dagney’s Ice Cream

Complete your meal with a delicious sweet treat from Dagney’s Ice Cream. The treats are made in-house with fresh ingredients. Dagney and Ken Stromberg researched ice cream for two years before opening their shop. They took a class in Florida from their equipment manufacturer, then tweaked recipes at home until they were satisfied. We recommend the lemon custard and red raspberry flavors. Come in frequently because the shop rotates flavors.

Sunset at Indian Rock Park
Sunset at Indian Rock Park

18. Close the day with a sunset at Indian Rock Park

Indian Rock Park provides nature trails, a sledding hill, picnic shelters, and grills. Bring a picnic in the evening and watch the sunset behind Salina’s skyline. The loop trail is about a mile long with several overlooks. Look for a waterfall on the river. Leashed dogs are welcome. The terrain is varied and washed out at some points.

The Battle of Indian Rock set Salina’s future. The eastern indigenous peoples drove away the western ones at the 1857 battle after taking shelter under Indian Rock. The shattered western warriors never returned.

Col. William Phillips heard about the battle and established Salina with his friends A.M. Campbell and James Muir. Without the battle, the three likely would have settled near Manhattan. The 1859 Colorado gold rush ensured Salina’s future as a trading center.

19. Sleep the night away

Salina has all the top chains’ hotels, but I like to stay at the Hampton Inn. It’s a clean, cheerful hotel with good complimentary breakfasts. Camp at Salina KOA Holiday.

Enjoy your stay in Salina. It’s the right place for solo travelers, couples, and families. Salina has the perfect blend of big-city amenities with small-town ambiance. You’re going to love it.

Salina Pinterest title

Please pin this post.


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

Follow by Email