12 Best Things to Do in Dayton, Ohio (with Photos)

Known for being the ‘Birthplace of Aviation’, Dayton has many historic sites related to the Wright Brothers and US Air Force. Ohio’s sixth-largest city also has interesting archaeological sites, delightfully diverse neighborhoods and amazing art museums, alongside countless other attractions.

Set in the southwest of the state, ‘Gem City’ is an important centre of industry, trade and transport thanks to its proximity to many of America’s main population centres. It also has a strategic setting along the banks of the Greater Miami River. Boasting thriving arts and culture scenes, most people visit for its aviation-related tourist attractions.

Things to do in Dayton related to aviation include not only the workshop where the Wright Brothers designed and developed the first practical plane in the world but the National Museum of the US Air Force, too. With lively markets, fabulous performing arts, delicious dining and outdoor activities on offer, Dayton is well worth checking out.

12. Oregon District

The historic Oregon District lies in the center of the city with many of its beautiful buildings being over a century old. In addition to incredible architecture, there are countless bustling businesses with little cafes and shops set alongside art galleries, restaurants and bars.

Sprawled across a twelve block area, the charming neighborhood has a whole host of arresting architectural styles, from Federal and Italianate to Greek Revival, Queen Anne and late Victorian buildings. While some are residences, others are occupied by local establishments with the earliest edifices dating to the 1820s.

The quaint and quiet Oregon District is often cited as a perfect example of dual commercial and residential architecture. It shows off the success and wealth of the merchants and residents who lived and worked in the area at that time.

11. SunWatch Indian Village

SunWatch Indian Villageflickr/Ted

Offering a fascinating look into the history of the region, SunWatch Indian Village is just ten minutes drive southwest of the center. Set along the shores of the Great Miami River, the open-air museum has a reconstructed Native American village with interesting artifacts, exhibits and excavations.

Opened in 1988, the site protects the extensive, ongoing archaeological excavations of an Indian village that flourished 800 years ago. While strolling about, visitors can see replicas of lath and daub dwellings, defensive palisades and a native garden.

In addition, there is an excellent interpretive center that houses ancient archaeological findings and exhibits on the history and culture of the people, their rituals and burial practices.

10. Caesar Creek State Park

Caesar Creek State Park© dreamstime

Caesar Creek State Park lies just over half an hour’s drive south of the city. Besides offering all kinds of outstanding outdoor activities, it also has a recreated pioneer village and educational nature center.

Established in 1978, the sprawling park is centered around the large Caesar Creek Lake with lush forests and pristine beaches lying along its shores. In addition, you can also find steep ravines and flower-filled meadows to hike, bike or horseback ride, there’s a total of 43 miles of trails to explore.

Visitors can also sunbathe on its sun-kissed sands, fish, swim or boat on the lake or stay overnight at one of the park’s cozy campsites with plenty of picnic areas also dotted about.

9. The Wright Cycle Company Complex

Wright Cycle Company Complexflickr/Jimmy Emerson

No visit to Dayton is complete without checking out The Wright Cycle Company Complex. Located just five minutes drive west of downtown, its historic buildings, museum and visitor center offer interesting insight into the lives and legacy of the famous flying brothers.

Orville and Wilbur Wright actually started out in the bicycle business before also opening a printing shop, with the profits from both helping fund their aeronautical studies. At the complex, you can explore their former facilities which now display old equipment, artifacts and exhibits on their achievements.

Besides seeing their brand of bicycles and century-old printing presses, you can also peruse all their inventions and aviation experiments. These led to them successfully designing and developing the first aircraft in the world – the Wright Flyer – in 1903.

8. RiverScape MetroPark

RiverScape MetroPark© dreamstime

One of five MetroParks in the city, the lovely RiverScape and its lush green spaces lie alongside the banks of the Great Miami River. Set right in the heart of Dayton, the park is popular with locals and tourists and hosts countless concerts, cultural events and festivals throughout the year.

Despite its proximity to downtown, the park feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Home to pretty flower beds, sparkling fountains and scenic riverside walks, it is a treat to visit. There’s also cycling and kayaking on offer.

Enjoy the fabulous Five Rivers Fountain of Lights, which is impressively one of the largest fountains in the world. Or stop off for a bite to eat at one of its cafes, or watch fantastic music and dance shows at its pavilion.

7. America’s Packard Museum

America's Packard Museum© dreamstime

Full of shiny classic cars, historic automobile artifacts, memorabilia and more, America’s Packard Museum is certainly well worth checking out if you have the chance. Situated just a short stroll to the south of downtown, its extensive collection now occupies what used to be a Packard dealership.

Regularly ranked among the best automotive museums in the States, it now displays more than fifty vintage vehicles with the earliest of them dating to 1903. Besides exploring all the makes and models in its amazing Art Deco showroom, there are also spare parts, car accessories and sales signs on show.

Founded in 1992, it now remarkably boasts the largest public collection of Packard automobiles and memorabilia in the world with interesting exhibits shining a light on the history of the car company.

6. Second Street Market

Second Street Marketflickr/Ted

If instead of history and nature it is fresh food and local produce you are after, then you’ll definitely want to head to the Second Street Market. The largest and oldest public market in Dayton, it has countless stands and stalls with fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, cheeses and baked goods on sale.

Not far from downtown and the RiverScape MetroPark, the colorful and chaotic market is home to more than fifty vendors and is open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Since opening in the nineties, it has proved to be very popular with locals and tourists alike.

Reminiscent of European markets, its enclosed space is lots of fun to wander around with hot coffee and fresh food stands, stalls laden with local produce, artisan jewellery and verdant plants and flowers.

5. Schuster Performing Arts Center

Schuster Performing Arts Centerflickr/Dave Lundy

Just a short walk from the market, you’ll find the excellent Schuster Performing Arts Center, which puts on an array of concerts, ballets and operas every year. When in town, it’s a good idea to check out its packed schedule of events to see if there is a particular play or performance that you’re interested in.

Opened in 2003, the state-of-the-art center and its two theaters exhibit extraordinary architecture. Its gorgeous Wintergarden Lobby and fiber-optically illuminated domed ceiling are particularly impressive. The elegant auditorium also makes for a fine sight with all its seats, boxes and balconies offering up perfect views of the stage below.

Besides enjoying performances by the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Dayton Ballet and Dayton Opera, you can also watch Broadway shows and music recitals at the atmospheric venue.

4. Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

Boonshoft Museum of Discoveryflickr/Marc-Anthony Macon

A fun, family-friendly place to visit, the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery is ten minutes drive north of downtown. As well as being home to a science and technology center, it includes a zoo, aquarium and planetarium with the important Apollo Observatory also located on-site.

What started out in 1893 as the Museum of Natural History has since transformed into a sprawling site with something for everyone. While many of its exhibits focus on the fauna and flora of the state, others take you back to Ancient Egypt or to the outer reaches of the cosmos with fun hands-on activities shining a light on subjects such as biology, geology and paleontology.

In addition to exploring the night’s sky and watching educational films in its planetarium, guests can also see over 150 animals in its small zoo. Sloths and foxes reside alongside meerkats, otters and even a water monitor.

3. Dayton Art Institute

Dayton Art Instituteflickr/Scott Beale

Set across the Great Miami River from downtown, the Dayton Art Institute has an extensive collection of amazing artworks. Besides boasting incredible paintings, photos and sculptures, it exhibits some exquisite architecture with gorgeous green grounds lying all around it.

Established in 1919, the excellent art museum occupies a lovely Italian Renaissance-style building, which was specifically built to house its collection. In total, there are more than 27,000 art pieces to peruse with numerous galleries devoted to African, Asian, Native American and Oceanic art.

Aside from seeing masterpieces by Degas, Monet and Rubens among others, you can stroll about its outdoor sculpture garden, see ancient Egyptian artifacts or attend one of its regular talks, tours and temporary exhibitions.

2. Carillon Historical Park

Carillon Historical Parkflickr/Ted

Another great place to head if you want to learn more about the rich history and heritage of the city is the outstanding Carillon Historical Park. Set just south of the center on the banks of the Great Miami River, the open-air museum contains innumerable exhibits that look at transport, technology, invention and industry in Dayton over the centuries.

While exploring its expansive grounds, you’ll come across various sections that look at how the city was settled and how the canal system developed. Besides watching live demonstrations of candle-dipping and musket-firing, guests can see inventions like the Frigidaire refrigerator and Liberty aircraft engine that were created in town.

In addition to this, the Kettering Family Education Center features changing exhibits on the history of the city, while the Wright Brother Aviation Center houses the world’s first practical plane – the 1905 Wright Flyer III – alongside other interesting items. With so much to see and do, Carillon Historical Park makes for a great day out for all the family.

1. National Museum of the US Air Force

National Museum of the US Air Force© dreamstime

The city’s standout sight, however, has to be the enormous National Museum of the US Air Force. This is impressively both the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world. Set just a ten minute drive east of the center, its humongous hangars are packed with amazing old aircraft with countless artifacts and memorabilia also on display.

Founded in 1923, it now has more than 360 aircraft and missiles. You can see shiny spacecraft set alongside several presidential planes, big bombers, gleaming jets and epic rockets. While its replica of the Wright Brothers’ 1909 Military Flyer is one of the collection’s main highlights, there are also excellent exhibits that document the history and development of aviation.

Located on the massive Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the museum also has fun flight simulators to try out while its theater shows interesting educational films and documentaries.

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