14 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Dayton, OH
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If you are an aviation enthusiast then Dayton, Ohio should top your list of places to visit. Crowned as the birthplace of aviation, you will find many attractions and things to do that pay homage to flight pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright.
From the Wright brother's bicycle shop to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, where you can see a NASA Space Shuttle, you will find the aviation theme throughout the city. While Dayton is proud of its aviation heritage, its appeal to tourists expands to visitors who appreciate art, archaeology, science, horticulture, and the outdoors.
Dayton is rooted in history, culture, and innovation with the world-class Dayton Art Institute; an array of music and theater performance venues; and the Carillon Historical Park, where you will be amazed at the number of innovations that came out of the city. While Dayton's numerous museums are worth a visit, so is exploring some of the historic neighborhoods on foot to see early 19th- and 20th-century architecture and local flavor in those communities.
Enjoy some Ohio outdoor adventure with a hike through one of the Five Rivers MetroParks, bike some of the hundreds of miles of paved trails, or play on some of the 16,000 acres of green space in Dayton. Enjoy a relaxing kayak trip along the Great Miami River or an energized night at the ball park for a Dayton Dragons baseball game. During your visit, you can download the Visit Dayton app for quick access to things to do, hotels, restaurants, and shopping.
For more ideas, see our list of the top tourist attractions in Dayton.
See also: Where to Stay in Dayton
1. Take Flight at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
The National Museum of the United States Air Force, located on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, is a national treasure and is promoted as the largest and oldest military aviation museum in the world. This is one of the top things to do in Dayton and worth scheduling for a full day during your visit to the city.
The free museum features changing exhibitions throughout the year and permanent exhibits that chronicle the phases of aviation from the beginning through space travel. There are galleries that showcase the role of aviation in wartime efforts in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, and in Southeast Asia.
One of the most impressive exhibits is in the Presidential Gallery, where you can walk inside some of the aircraft used by U.S. Presidents including Roosevelt, Kennedy, Truman, Nixon, Ford, H.W. Bush, and Clinton. Take in a show at the Air Force Museum Theatre, and if you are not sensitive to motion sickness you can enjoy the Virtual Reality 360-degree flight simulator.
You will spend most of the day at the museum, so plan on a lunch break at the Valkyrie Café, which has snacks and meals.
Address: 1100 Spaatz Street, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio
Official site: http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/
2. Learn about the Beginnings of Aviation at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park
Your visit to Dayton is not complete without a visit to the Wright Brothers' original bicycle shop and the impressive complex at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. The park includes the John W. Berry Sr. Wright Brothers Aviation Center, Huffman Prairie Flying Field and Interpretive Center, Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site, the Wright Cycle Company, and the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center.
One of the must-sees in the complex is the 1905 Wright Flyer III, the first airplane listed as a National Historic Landmark. Other key stops in the park are the Wright Cycle Company, where you can see the Wright Brother's bicycle shop and learn about the early days of Orville and Wilbur Wright's endeavors into transportation and even printing.
Another top stop is at the Paul Laurence Dunbar House, where you will learn about the literary contributions of one of the most prominent African American writers. Since the park is expansive and includes many things to do, from biking the Aviation Trail to a Ranger-led tour, you will want to stop by the visitor center first to get an overview.
Address: 22 S. Williams Street, Dayton, Ohio
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/daav/index.htm
3. Get Innovative at Carillon Historical Park
The Carillon Historical Park is a fun way to learn about the many innovations that came out of Dayton. The 65-acre park museum has more than 30 buildings and exhibits to explore. Learn about life in the 1700s in the Early Settlement Area where you can take part in candle-dipping, quilting, and musket firing, with period demonstrations, as you stroll through a community of historical buildings.
You can see the only operational 1930s letterpresses in the U.S. at The Print Shop and learn about how the disastrous flood of 1913 shaped Dayton at The Great 1913 Flood exhibit. Leave time during your visit to hop on board one of the oldest trains in the world at the James F. Dicke Family Transportation Center.
You can also plan a ride on the Carousel of Dayton Innovation, which was built in Ohio, featuring 31 figures and a hand-painted mural of the Wright brothers' experiments in flight. Wrap up your visit with a stop for lunch at Culp's Café at the park.
Address: 1000 Carillon Blvd., Dayton, Ohio
Official site: https://www.daytonhistory.org
4. Uncover Relics at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery
Get busy with some hands-on science experiments at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. The center features traveling exhibits throughout the year and permanent exhibits that cater to every age group, including Kids Place with interactive learning activities designed specifically for kids under the age of four.
Stop by the Discovery Zoo to see a collection of more than 100 animals and the Tidal Pool, where you can dip your hands into the ocean and touch a starfish. The Science on Sphere is a must-do in the museum. The experience plays out on a 68-inch projected view of earth, where you get an intimate view to explore landscapes around the world.
Address: 2600 DeWeese Parkway, Dayton, Ohio
Official site: http://www.boonshoftmuseum.org/
5. Feel Inspired at The Dayton Art Institute
The Dayton Art Institute is a world-class museum featuring artwork, sculpture, changing exhibits, and programs for families. If you have time to plan ahead, try to schedule your visit during a lecture or workshop for an engaging and educational experience.
The museum has galleries and displays featuring European, Asian, Oceanic, and American contemporary artwork and an impressive pre-Columbian exhibit. The historic 1930s building was designed in Italian Renaissance architecture and sits on a hill overlooking downtown Dayton. You can take a museum tour or explore on your own.
Address: 456 Belmonte Park North, Dayton, Ohio
Official site: http://www.daytonartinstitute.org/
6. Catch a Fly Ball at a Dayton Dragons Baseball Game
Plan a night out with some exciting Minor League Baseball with the Dayton Dragons. The team is affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds and lights up Day Air Ballpark with games and special entertainment nights at the ballpark. You can feel like a local by joining the fans who fill the stands on summer nights to cheer on the hometown team.
The Dragons broke a record in 2011 for the most consecutive sellouts for a professional sports team and the momentum keeps going. Every game has different promotions, from family movie events to yoga in the outfield.
If you hit a game, be sure to go hungry, as the concessions at the park are not your typical chicken tenders and hot dogs. You will find an array of traditional ballpark foods but also hearty pulled chicken sandwiches, as well as gluten-free and vegetarian foods.
Address: 220 N. Patterson Blvd., Dayton, Ohio
Official site: https://www.milb.com/dayton
7. Relax at RiverScape MetroPark
The beautiful RiverScape MetroPark in Dayton is a community gathering place where you can get some fresh air on trails, as well as biking and kayaking. It's also one of the top places for festivals in the city. The RiverScape MetroPark is an area of green space and trails through downtown Dayton along the Great Miami River.
Locals enjoy grabbing a blanket for a picnic lunch on the grass and watching the sunset over the water on one of the swinging benches along the walkway. You can rent a bike and hop on a section of the hundreds of miles of connected, paved bike trails and find kayakers in the water enjoying a little slice of the outdoors.
You can ice skate at the outdoor rink in the winter, take a fitness program in the park in the spring, and enjoy the Five Rivers Fountain of Lights of dancing fountains in the park during the summer.
Address: 111 E. Monument Ave., Dayton, Ohio
8. Watch a Performance at the Schuster Center
The Schuster Center is the performing arts cultural hub of Dayton. The center supports local performing arts groups and brings in national and international acts including Broadway shows. The Schuster Center is comprised of two theaters: the Mead Theatre and the Mathile Theatre, as well as a condominium complex and a restaurant.
The center is where you can catch regular performances of the Dayton opera, Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Dayton Ballet. The Schuster Center experience expands beyond the performances. The architecture and decor are attractions on their own. The dome architecture and fiber optic lights and celestial design in the Mead Theatre are designed to depict the night sky in Dayton during the Wright Brothers' inaugural flight in 1903.
Address: Second and Main Streets, Dayton, Ohio
9. Get Retro at America's Packard Museum
Transportation enthusiasts should plan a visit to the America's Packard Museum. The restored early 1920s Packard Dealership is now a museum featuring more than 50 automobiles in various stages of restoration.
The museum features many artifacts from 1899-1956. The Art-Deco style restored showroom gives you a glimpse into what the dealership looked like in 1917, originally named The Citizens Motorcar Company. It is one of the top automobile museums in the U.S. and a gem for Dayton.
Address: 420 S. Ludlow Street, Dayton, Ohio
Official site: http://www.americaspackardmuseum.org
10. Discover Ancient Settlements at SunWatch Indian Village Archaeological Park
The SunWatch Indian Village Archaeological Park offers a peek into life in Dayton more than 800 years ago, long before the area became known for its contributions to aviation. The structures of the village were reconstructed on their original sites, something you can learn more about in the interpretive center.
Archaeology is an important part of the visitor experience. Archaeologists began excavating the site in the 1970s and uncovered important details about Fort Ancient culture, which occupied the area more than 2,000 years ago. There are regular events at the park, as well as educational programs.
Address: 2301 W. River Road, Dayton, Ohio
Official site: http://www.sunwatch.org
11. Enjoy the Arts at Victoria Theatre
The restored 1866 Victoria Theatre is an elegant tribute to Dayton's cultural past. Originally the Turner Opera House, the theatre hosted prestigious entertainers in American history, including Harry Houdini and Mark Twain.
The theater suffered a devastating fire in the late 1800s and a flood in 1913 and eventually experienced a rebirth, which has evolved with the changing entertainment desires of audiences through the decades. Today, the Victoria Theatre is the crown of the local arts organizations and the hub for unique entertainment options, from movies to ballet.
Address: 138 N. Main Street, Dayton, Ohio
12. Embrace Nature at the Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm
While Dayton is surrounded by agricultural areas, it is a treat to find a 200-acre nature sanctuary and farm in the center of modern-day development. The Aullwood Audubon Center and Farm is a fun visit for families to enjoy more than six miles of trails, barns, farm animals, and herb and vegetable gardens.
There are many festivals at the farm throughout the year and interactive exhibits all the time. The Aullwood Farm is a working farm where you can see produce and dairy products, which are supplied to local markets.
There is also a nature center and sanctuary where you can explore various wildlife habitats like prairies, wetlands, and streams. The center promotes a mission of protecting wildlife and habitats.
Address: 1000 Aullwood Road, Dayton, Ohio
Official site: http://aullwood.audubon.org
13. Historic Neighborhoods
Dayton holds so much history, not just for aviation and innovation, but in its neighborhoods. You can make a day visiting several of the historic neighborhoods that each have unique homes, architecture, history, and culture.
A must-visit historic neighborhood is the Wright-Dunbar Village. As its name indicates, it was the home of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Orville and Wilbur Wright. The old streetcar suburb is also known as the West Third Street Historic District and features many unique homes, including the Fitch House, the oldest home in the neighborhood, built in the mid-1800s and characterized by its eye-catching yellow exterior.
Another historic neighborhood worth visiting is the St. Anne's Hill Historic District, which has some elegant Victorian homes that date back to 1860. It is part of the Historic Inner East neighborhood, with 14 blocks of restored homes, and the district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The oldest historic district in Dayton is the Oregon Historic District. It sits on the eastern side of downtown Dayton and has business and residential architecture that dates back to the early 1800s and early 1900s.
Dayton's historic South Park District is a nice area to visit for historic architecture and some community flavor. In the summer, you can experience Shakespeare productions in the park, and the community always has something to enjoy with its historic backdrop.
14. Five Rivers MetroParks
Dayton's Five Rivers MetroParks are a great way to see the city and get outdoors for some biking, hiking, kayaking, and recreation. There are more than 30 options around the city, ranging from parks to conservation areas, and more than 16,000 acres of outdoor space with natural surroundings. Dayton is a bike-friendly city, so it is easy to cycle to several parks and take advantage of the many connected bike paths.
Eastwood MetroPark connects to the downtown area from the Mad River Trail and is a nice way to balance a city visit with some nature. It has many picnic areas, a recreational lake, grasslands, and a quiet lagoon.
Cox Arboretum MetroPark is another stunning park with forests, ponds, and meadows with walking trails that wind through 189 acres. There are unique aspects to this park, especially the specialty perennial and rock gardens.
Deeds Point MetroPark is a nice park, with statues of the Wright Brothers in its Legacy Plaza. This park is one of the best places to visit if you want a panoramic view of the downtown Dayton skyline.
Official site: www.metroparks.org
Where to Stay in Dayton for Sightseeing
We recommend these great hotels in Dayton a short drive from the city's most popular attractions:
- Marriott at the University of Dayton: This mid-range hotel is known for friendly front desk staff, comfortable beds, and an inviting pool.
- Drury Inn & Suites Dayton North: Enjoy modern decor, an indoor/outdoor pool, free breakfast, and evening reception at this 3-star property.
- Hampton Inn Dayton/Dayton Mall: Find affordable rates, near shops and restaurants, indoor heated pool, and fitness center at the Hampton Inn Dayton.
- Comfort Inn & Suites Dayton: This budget hotel offers good-value rates, traditional decor, and a comfy stay.
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