There are certain things must be seen, gone to or eaten if you're visiting the Dayton area, and here are 25 of them.
Did you know that Dayton was named among the best places to live in the USA by U.S. News & World Report? You've been warned, if you visit, you may not want to leave. If you're visiting the Dayton area, there are certain things must be seen, gone to or eaten to get a full experience of the Miami Valley.
Based strictly on my experiences, here’s a list, in no particular order, of 25 such Must-Do’s in Dayton.
1. First and foremost, for anyone who has been in town for three or more days, a visit to the National Museum of the US Air Force (better known locally as the Air Force Museum) is required. If you haven’t been in recent years, it’s grown substantially to four hangers. Like all museums, the amount of reading done is optional, but hours can be spent just looking at the planes. Plus, admission is totally free.
2. Baseball! The hottest ticket in town is to a Dragon’s game. Almost everyone says it’s more fun than a Reds game and is also less expensive. Regardless of your baseball knowledge, the in-between innings activities entertain the whole family. Despite a world record streak of consecutive sell-outs, tickets are still available for purchase.
3. Pizza, Dayton-style. For many, Dayton is synonymous with Marion’s Piazza, as their most ardent fans claim it’s the best pizza ever. There are nine locations throughout the Miami Valley, serving square pieces of Dayton history.
4. Theatre. Even if musicals aren’t your thing, a wide enough range of shows including; concerts, comedians, and speakers are offered that everyone should see something at the Victoria Theatre, the Schuster Center, and The Loft.
5. Five River MetroParks. There are a number of MetroParks to enjoy, but Carriage Hill is a must visit. I’m a little biased because I went routinely throughout my childhood. Experience what life was like back in the 1880’s and see some barnyard animals. A visit to Carriage Hill is not complete without seeing a blacksmith at work and getting a supply of sweets at the penny candy store. I remember it would seemingly take me forever to get my dollar spent in the candy store as there were so many tough choices to make.
6. Waterfalls. In what other Midwestern city is there numerous waterfalls to see? The most popular (and biggest) is Charleston Falls. Enjoy a scenic walk to the falls and then continue on the trails through a wonderland of nature. There is also Ludlow Falls, Clifton Gorge, and the West Milton Cascades.
7. Carillon Park. While the bell tower at Carillon is certainly required viewing (and hearing), there is a lot more to see at Carillon Park. The park and museum highlight the history of technology in Dayton and some of its most notable residents since 1796. The grounds also contains some historic buildings, including Dayton’s oldest building, (Newcom Tavern). The 1905 Wright Flyer III is also on display.
8. Young’s Dairy. No life is complete (especially in Dayton) without some ice-cream from Young’s. There’s a flavor to satisfy everyone’s appetite. Young’s Dairy is not just an ice-cream shop though, it features two restaurants (Mmmm cheese curds) and other activities such as a miniature golf course and batting cages. Plus, there’s farm animals, including goats that love to be fed by hand. Did I mention the ice-cream?
9. Drive-In movie theatres are becoming a thing of the past, so the opportunity to still go to one in Dayton should be taken advantage of. Pricing is now by individual rather than car load, but watching a double feature under the stars is still a unique experience. The Dixie Twin Drive-In and Chakeres Melody 49 are still open.
10. Outdoor concerts. Much like movies, concerts are also extra enjoyable in the great outdoors. There are several venues in the Miami Valley for outdoor concerts, with more opening all the time. There is the Fraze Pavilion, Rose Music Center. Plus there are numerous parks that also host free outdoor concerts, including the new Levitt Pavilion.
11. Restaurants. My favorite restaurant in Dayton is the Hickory Bar-B-Q on Brown Street. It’s the only place I like to get barbequed ribs as anywhere else leaves me disappointed. Part of the experience is standing in line in the cramped waiting area, next to the bar. It’s worth it though, once you get seated and fed. Another Dayton original is the Mel-O-Dee Restaurant in New Carlisle (Park Layne), home of the best broasted chicken. I’ve heard their other entrees are good, but I can never pass up the chicken. Plus, their coleslaw and homemade bread also can’t be beat.
12. Scene75 is the largest indoor entertainment center in the country, and it's right on our doorstep. With laser-tag, indoor go-karts, bouncing, arcade games and more, there's plenty of fun for everyone.
13. Festivals! Whether it’s the Celtic, Greek, Strawberry or Popcorn...the Dayton area has dozens of festivals from May through October, and attendance of at least one festival (or county fair) is a requirement.
14. Woodland Cemetery serves as a type of who’s who in the history of Dayton as it’s where some of its biggest names is buried. The Wright Brothers, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Charles Kettering, and George P. Huffman (Huffy Bicycles) are all buried there. Woodland is one of the nation’s five oldest rural garden cemeteries.
15. To have a piece of Esther Price Candy isn’t a must just for its taste, but because it was started in Dayton back in 1926. Chocolate lovers (who isn’t?) will particularly enjoy Esther Price. Esther Price Candies is now sold in five states and its production facility is on Wayne Avenue. The real Esther Price enthusiasts can identify the types of chocolate in the box by sight.
16. Another Dayton original, which must be consumed is Mikesell's Potato Chips and other snacks. Mike-sell's claims to be the oldest continuous operating potato chip company in the U.S. The Mike-sells name and logo was started in 1925.
17. Corn Mazes. A plus of living in Dayton, is the availability of fresh corn-on-the-cob to eat during the summer, but in the fall, the fields also provide corn mazes. A seasonal highlight for the fall are Corn Mazes and all should try at least one in their lifetime.
18. Christmas Lights. If you're reading this during the winter season, there are a number of area light displays at Christmas, but an absolute must is the historic Clifton Mill. Millions of lights decorate the grounds, including the gorge, riverbanks, bridge and mill. Plus there’s a light show, a collection of Santa figurines, a village display and more.
19. While in the Christmas spirit, another can’t miss holiday tradition is the Wonderland Window Displays that used to be at Rike’s and is now in the Schuster Centers Wintergarden during the holiday season. The animated elves and animals are over 70 years old and brings back memories from those who remember seeing them in Rike’s and causes new memories for the younger generation.
20. Packard Museum. Did you know that one of the top 10 auto museums in the entire country is in Dayton? The America’s Packard Museum is on that list, according to ‘Car Collector’ magazine. The museum is located on Ludlow in an original Packard dealership, built in 1917. It contains the largest collection of Packard automobiles and memorabilia anywhere in the world, with cars from 1903 to 1958. It seems like the Packard Museum is rarely talked about, but is part of Dayton’s history.
21. Formerly known as the Museum of National History, the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery is worth visiting, especially with young children. A museum geared towards children with a focus on science and technology, also has a zoo with some lovable otters and a large play area. Trust me, the exhibits are educational for all ages. Seeing a show in the Planetarium is also a must.
22. Regardless of your interest in art, the Dayton Art Institute is a local institution…get it? It features art from around the world and throughout history, plus has a series of special exhibits each year. It’s renowned for its educational programs.
23. With Dayton’s strong link with flight, attending the Dayton Air Show should be a requirement, at least once. By attending, parking along the road or sitting up camp in a nearby parking lot or somewhere with a view is also acceptable.
24. La Comedia Dinner Theatre. Whether for the sweet potato soufflé or the show itself a trip to La Comedia is a must. The dinner theatre brings a taste of Broadway to the Miami Valley with a top notch musical production (an occasional non-musical) and a tasty buffet. I must also mention their signature salad with papaya chutney dressing.
25. Finally, is a walk or drive through the historic Oregon District. The brick streets are lined with a variety of architectural styles of buildings, as well as some fine dining restaurants and specialty shops.
How many of these things have you yet to do? What other Dayton-musts are missing from the list?
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.