Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Dayton, OH

  • Published 2022/10/26

Top-flight fun awaits every adventurer in Dayton, the birthplace of aviation and the seat of Montgomery County in the state of Ohio.

Also known as the “Gem City,” Dayton boasts a history of innovation as home to Wilbur and Orville Wright, the inventors of powered flight, and many other prominent luminaries.

Expect to spend most of your time in the city visiting attractions that will walk you through the history of flight and let you explore the technology of the future.

Aside from its aviation sites, you will find other destinations and amazing hubs connecting you to the natural world, pique your interests, and engaging you in various recreational and action-packed activities.

If you’re planning a getaway with family and friends, try the best things to do in Dayton, Ohio!

Revisit the History of Flight at the National Museum of the US Air Force

Exhibit in the National Museum of the US Air Force

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Start your journey at the world’s largest and oldest military aviation museum, the National Museum of the US Air Force, located on Spaatz Street.

Explore 19 acres of indoor exhibits and check out more than 350 aerospace vehicles.

Also located at the museum is the National Aviation Hall of Fame, recognizing world-famous pilots and space travelers.

The museum’s galleries touch on the early years of military air power, different conflict stories, and information on various artifacts and missiles.

Aircraft in the National Museum of the US Air Force

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At the William E. Boeing Presidential Gallery, you can have a closer look at the historical collection of presidential aircraft and explore four of them.

There is also a space gallery where you can discover NASA’s first Crew Compartment Trainer, other NASA items, and astronaut equipment.

Aside from the exhibits, the National Museum of the US Air Force has other features to elevate your experience, including the Air Force Museum Theatre and a simulator ride.

Blackbird aircraft in the National Museum of the US Air Force

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Unwind and Relax at RiverScape MetroPark

Aerial view of RiverScape MetroPark

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Head to RiverScape MetroPark on East Monument Avenue for an outdoor retreat.

This lively park along the Great Miami River is among the 25 facilities managed by Five Rivers MetroParks, founded in 1963, which protects nearly 16,000 acres of green space in the Dayton region.

Get inspiration for your own garden as you marvel at RiverScape MetroPark’s manicured gardens, flower pots, and hanging baskets.

Paved trail at RiverScape MetroPark

Art Anderson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Appreciate the city’s history of invention through Dayton Inventors River Walk, which presents seven invention stations along Monument Avenue and Patterson Boulevard.

There are activities to try for every season—you can go skating at MetroParks Ice Rink during the winter or splash around at the interactive fountains in Festival Plaza in the summer.

Other things you can do here are fishing, paddling, biking, and catching views of the Five Rivers Fountain of Lights, one of the world’s largest fountains.

Steps beside the hydraulic jump model at RiverScape MetroPark

(Koppas), CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Immerse in Nature at Aullwood Audubon

Nurture your love for animals and nature by exploring the 200-acre Aullwood Audubon featuring a nature center, farm, sanctuary, and trails.

Inside Aullwood Audubon’s Marie S. Aull Education Center, appreciate the wonders of nature and wildlife through its educational exhibits and interactive displays.

Take time to observe the animals, such as snakes, turtles, fish, and birds.

Deepen your understanding of sustainable farming at Aullwood Farm, home to some species of rare livestock called heritage breeds.

The farm features a discovery center, farm yard, barns, and more to teach and inspire others to preserve and protect the environment and at the same time, enjoy farming.

You can check out interactive farm exhibits, enjoy a picnic, and view more plants and animals.

Allot some time to navigate the six miles of walking trails in the sanctuary, passing through different habitats like prairies and woodlands.

The nature center can be accessed on Aullwood Road, while the farm is situated along Frederick Pike.

Enjoy Some Aquatic Fun at Eastwood MetroPark

Lovely sunset at Eastwood MetroPark

loganrickert, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Eastwood MetroPark is another go-to spot for outdoor recreation, especially for water-based activities.

This MetroPark sprawls over 441 acres, with a 185-acre lake and access to the pristine Mad River, making it a great place for boating, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.

There are nature trails that twist through the park and will treat you to majestic views of the river.

The waters of Eastwood MetroPark

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You may spot different species of birds, including Eastwood’s resident bald eagles.

Other park features include picnic sites and playgrounds perfect for family bonding.

The main entrance of Eastwood MetroPark is located on Harshman Road.

Cycling at Eastwood MetroPark

loganrickert, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Buy Fresh and Local at 2nd Street Market

Exterior of 2nd Street Market

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Managed by Five Rivers MetroParks, 2nd Street Market is a public market housed in a historical freight house.

Over 50 merchants fill this bustling market, from local growers to artisans and food vendors.

You can purchase a wide variety of fresh and local goods to stock your pantry and ingredients to create savory and mouth-watering dishes.

Daytime view of 2nd Street Market

Texas141, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Find handcrafted items such as homemade soaps and jewelry for gifts, and grab a bite from the numerous food stalls as you stroll through the market.

The market hosts several programs and activities like musical performances to keep the excitement going for visitors.

Access 2nd Street Market’s main entrance on East Second Street.

Take a Break at Carillon Brewing Company

Feeling hungry after all those tours and walks?

Within the Carillon Historical Park, stop at Carillon Brewing Company for a one-of-a-kind dining experience.

Step back into 1850s-era Dayton by savoring the prepared drink and food served by the nation’s only production brewery in a museum.

Carillon Brewing Company is the only US brewery replicating the historic brewing process, and the place is designed after the architecture of some original breweries.

You can taste beer recipes from different points in time, from ales to contemporary craft beers.

The sights, noises, and aromas building up in this brewery are a delight to the senses.

Discover the Wright Brothers’ Experiments at the Huffman Prairie Interpretive Center

Wright memorial outside the Huffman Prairie Interpretive Center

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Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park is the city’s premier destination composed of treasured historic places and sites that preserve the legacies of three renowned individuals in the city.

The park manages two visitor centers, one of which is the Huffman Prairie Interpretive Center, where you can retrace the steps of Wilbur and Orville Wright as they develop the world’s first practical airplane at Huffman Prairie.

The accomplishments of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are likewise featured in the center, situated at the intersection of State Route 444 and Kauffman Road, near the National Museum of the US Air Force.

Outside, you can visit Wright Brothers Memorial atop Wright Brothers Hill, a 27-acre landscape with benches and picnic tables for visitors.

Catch sight of the 17-foot pink granite obelisk and several Adena Native American mounds on site.

Reflect on a Poet’s Life at Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site

Exterior of Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site

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Dayton celebrates the contributions of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a gifted African-American poet.

You can visit Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site to learn more about his life through tours and interpretative exhibits.

Dunbar acquired the house in 1904 and lived there with his mother until his death in 1906.

The house was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1962 and a part of Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

Begin your tour of Paul Laurence Dunbar House Historic Site at the visitor center entrance on Edison Street, where you can watch a movie and view artifacts.

In the house, you will find original furnishings and the bicycle given to him by the Wright Brothers.

Learn about Native American Culture at SunWatch Indian Village

SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park is a sister organization of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, where you can view a partially reconstructed 13th-century Fort Ancient village.

It serves as an educational center for archaeology and Native American culture.

SunWatch became accessible to the public in 1988 after more than a decade of excavation and research into the three-acre site.

It’s included on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Experts found several preserved artifacts, many of which are on display at the interpretive center.

There are picnic tables for visitors where they can rest and have panoramic views of SunWatch Indian Village.

Discover more about this site located on West River Road.

Navigate through the Wright Cycle Company Complex

Entrance doors of the Wright Cycle Company Complex

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Gather more insights about the lives of the Wright Brothers and Paul Laurence Dunbar at The Wright Cycle Company and Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center.

The Wright Cycle Company building was the site of the aviation pioneers’ bicycle business from 1895 to 1897.

The building, listed as a National Historic Landmark, is adjacent to Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center on South Williams Street, just west of downtown Dayton.

Interior of the Wright Cycle Company Complex

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The interpretative center is found in the Hoover Block, where the Wright Brothers once operated their printing business.

A newspaper published by Dunbar was also printed in this location.

Learn more from the exhibits and displays featured at the center, which also houses the Aviation Trail Parachute Museum.

Exterior of the Wright Cycle Company Complex

Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See the First Practical Airplane at Carillon Historical Park

Bell tower at Carillon Historical Park

Susan Law Cain /

Dig deeper into Dayton’s innovative history at Carillon Historical Park, an open-air history museum spanning 65 acres along Carillon Boulevard.

Open since 1950, the complex has several buildings and artifacts that highlight the city’s achievements and contribution to progress.

Head to John W. Berry, Sr. Wright Brothers National Museum and explore the Wright artifacts on display, especially the 1905 Wright Flyer III.

Close view of Carillon Historical Park's bell tower

Susan Law Cain /

Have a closer look at the first practical flying machine, the only airplane listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Preserving the aircraft for the park was Orville Wright’s last major project before he passed away in 1948; thus, it was referred to as “the first pilot’s last project.”

Moreover, grab the opportunity to visit Hawthorn Hill, Orville Wright’s last home, by booking a tour that starts from Carillon Historical Park.

Soak in Some Art at the Dayton Art Institute

Find inspiration and feast your eyes on the exquisite collection of art inside the Dayton Art Institute, atop a hill around Belmonte Park North overlooking downtown Dayton.

Founded in 1919, the institute started as the Dayton Museum of Arts and was originally situated downtown.

With the help of several individuals, the museum grew and now has a collection of over 27,000 objects.

Discover 5,000 years of art history inside the museum that touches on Asian art, European art, American art, and more.

There’s always something to look forward to at the Dayton Art Institute, from its different exhibitions and special events to concerts and programs for visitors of all ages.

Bring the Kids to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

Exterior of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

Texas141, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for an educational and engaging site for the kids?

Include the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in your itinerary and have a fun interactive science learning experience with them.

Meet the residents of the museum’s Discovery Zoo and learn more about the fantastic animals and insects featured here.

Feed your curiosity about the universe inside Caryl D. Philips Space Theater, and catch stunning and informative shows about the night sky and what lies beyond Earth.

You can also do hands-on experiments at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, located along Deweese Parkway.

See the Unique Collections of the British Transportation and Packard Museums

Exterior of America's Packard Museum

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Dayton is not only home to aircraft artifacts, but it also has a fine collection of land vehicles at the British Transportation Museum and America’s Packard Museum.

Inside the British Transportation Museum, you will see a collection of vehicles and artifacts on display that put the British motoring heritage in the spotlight.

The museum also collects and preserves bicycles of British origin and a library of books, articles, and memorabilia.

America’s Packard Museum, on the other hand, showcases a wide collection of Packard automobiles and memorabilia from around the world.

Car buffs will have a delightful time examining the classic exterior and interior designs of these automobiles from 1903 to 1958.

Drop by British Transportation Museum on Hopeland Street and America’s Packard Museum on South Ludlow Street.

Play and Win in Dayton’s Amusement Sites

Hollywood Gaming at Dayton Raceway and Scene75 are some of the popular sites for those who look for entertainment and want to play fun and exciting games.

Located on Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood Gaming has over 1,000 video lottery terminals, seasonal live harness racing, and simulcast horse races.

If you need to take a break from the action, there’s a nearby food court, concessions, and a full-service restaurant with views of the gaming floor and raceway.

Scene75 on Poe Avenue, meanwhile, delivers family fun in its 160,000-square-foot amusement facility.

You’ll spend hours enjoying its various attractions, from go-karts and roller coaster to arcade games and a two-story drop tower.

In the center of the arcade, you’ll find The Center Bar with beers on tap, perfect for a night out with friends.

There is also a bar and grill where you can grab a bite of pizzas, burgers, and more in between games.

Final Thoughts

The city of Dayton presents a perfect blend of experiences that any traveler and tourist could wish for.

Several museums and landmarks allow you to dive deep into the city’s rich history of innovation and invention and at the same time, reflect on the many possibilities in the future.

The city is likewise abundant with beautiful parks, awe-inspiring landscapes, and great outdoor attractions where you can escape into bliss and experience priceless moments.

Save this list of the best things to do in Dayton, Ohio, and see for yourself what makes it the “Gem City.”

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