The Dayton Museum of Natural History maintains a planetarium and observatory, and operates SunWatch, a twelfth-century Native American village restoration south of the city, which is considered the most complete prehistoric settlement of any culture east of the Mississippi. The United States Air Force Museum is the world's largest military aviation museum. Historic Dayton buildings and collections of artifacts from the city's golden age of invention are presented at the Kettering Moraine Museum. The Oregon Historic District, Dayton's oldest neighborhood, is a center of shopping, dining, and nightlife amidst nearly 200-year-old architecture. In downtown Dayton on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, the new "market district," centered around the National City 2nd Street Public Market and the Webster Street Market, showcases home-baked bread, fresh produce, and other foods and crafts. The National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, located in Wilberforce, a stop on the Underground Railroad, consists of the museum and renovated Carnegie Library.
At Carillon Historical Park, on 65 acres next to the Great Miami River, the carillon bells that are a Dayton landmark are among the featured displays, which also include the Wright Flyer III and the Barney & Smith railroad car. RiverScape provides facilities for paddleboating on the river and a venue for live music as well as serving as the setting for displays relating to Dayton's history and the many inventions born in the city. Festival Plaza, the focal point of Riverscape, features gardens, fountains, and pools in the summer and a skating rink during winter months. The Cox Arboretum is a 160-acre public garden set in native woodlands. Five miles of trails wind through woods and meadows containing more than 150 indigenous Ohio plant species at Aullwood Audubon Center, a 200-acre nature sanctuary. Other nature preserves in the Dayton area include Wegerzyn Horticultural Center and Bergamo/Mt. St. John.
The Paul Laurence Dunbar House, the restored home of one of the country's great African American poets, is open to the public. The Wright Memorial commemorates the spot where the Wright brothers tested their airplane during its invention; the Wright Brothers Bicycle Shop is a National Historic Landmark. At the center of Dayton's downtown district, the Montgomery County Historical Society is housed in the Old Courthouse, which was built in 1850 and is considered one of the nation's finest examples of Greek Revival architecture.
Dayton supports an active cultural community. The Arts Center Foundation was created in 1986 to plan and fund new facilities to house Dayton's major arts institutions. The restoration and renovation of Victoria Theatre, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, transformed the theatre into a modern performing arts complex. The Victoria Theatre is home to the Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series, a summer film series, the Victoria Children's Theatre Festival, the Dayton Ballet, and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. The Dayton Art Institute, founded in 1919, sponsors exhibition programs, Sunday afternoon musicales, twilight concerts, gallery talks, and studio classes. Artworks by the members of the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors, Inc., are exhibited in two galleries at the society's Victorian mansion quarters in the historic St. Anne's Hill district. Permanent collections include Oceanic, Native American, and African art, as well as a sizeable glass collection.
The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, founded as a chamber orchestra in 1933, is now an 85-member orchestra performing classical, pops, chamber, and a summer band concert series at Memorial Hall and other Dayton locations. Dayton Opera, founded in 1960, presents four fully staged operas at the new Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center. The Center, which opened in 2003, includes a 2,300-seat performance hall as well as a rehearsal hall, a Wintergarden and glass atrium, and an 18-story tower with first-class office and condominium space. Dayton Ballet's season of four productions includes traditional and new ballet works. Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, nationally acclaimed for innovative work, presents three performances a year in addition to national tours.
The Dayton Music Club celebrated its centennial in 1988; it sponsors free music programs at various city locations with performances by local and national artists. Other regularly scheduled musical events include the chamber concert Vanguard Series, the Soirees Musical piano performances, the Bach Society choral productions, the CityFolk ethnic and folk music series, and concerts at area churches.
Theater companies offering full seasons of traditional and experimental works include the Dayton Playhouse, the Human Race, and the Dayton Theatre Guild. The Victoria Theatre, which opened in 1865 as Dayton's first theatrical house for live entertainment, sponsors touring companies' productions as well as a season of children's drama. Wright State University, the University of Dayton, Sinclair Community College, and Antioch College stage theater performances for the general public. The Muse Machine, a Dayton organization designed to inform young people about the arts and culture, each year stages a theatrical production showcasing student performers. Blue Jacket, an outdoor drama about the white Shawnee war chief, is presented each summer at a facility 6 miles southeast of neighboring Xenia.
Art in the Park in May attracts artists from around the nation for an outdoor fine arts and crafts show. At A World A'Fair, held in May at the Convention Center, 35 countries share their native culture, cuisine, and costumes. Dave Hall Plaza Park hosts music festivals in the summer.
The Vectren Dayton Air Show, one of the largest of its kind in the world, draws more than 200,000 spectators to the Dayton International Airport in July. Aerobatic displays, military jet demonstrations, and entertainment for the whole family make the Air Show one of the most important events on Dayton's calendar. Arts and crafts, ethnic foods, music and dancing, and special children's activities are featured at Oktoberfest, held in early October on the grounds of the Dayton Art Institute. Each year the Dayton Holiday Festival begins the day after Thanksgiving with a tree-lighting ceremony at Courthouse Square. Ohio Renaissance Festival is held on weekends in August and September near Waynesville. In May, the Dayton Amateur Radio Association hosts Hamvention, a convention that draws ham radio enthusiasts from across the country.
Dayton is home to the Dayton Dragons, a Midwest League baseball Class A club in the Cincinnati Reds' farm system; they play at Fifth Third Field. Dayton also boasts a class AA ECHL ice hockey team, the Dayton Bombers. The Bombers play at the Nutter Center, which also hosts Wright State University athletic events and various regional and state high school tournaments. Dayton sports fans support both the Cincinnati Reds baseball team and the Cincinnati Bengals football team. The University of Dayton Flyers field a football team in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III, as does Wittenberg University in nearby Springfield. The Flyers' basketball team has a record of successful competition on the national level and is now in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference.
The Dayton Recreation and Parks Department sponsors sports programs for preschoolers to senior citizens at 78 parks and 10 recreation centers. Programs include soccer and tennis camps, summer-day camps for children, and softball leagues. Swimming, canoeing, golf, tennis, basketball, volleyball, boating, sailing, fishing, and winter sports are also available. Among the facilities managed by the department are the Jack Nicklaus Sports Center, the Wesleyan Nature Center, and the Horace M. Huffman River Corridor Bikeway, a 24-mile path along the Great Miami River. Golfing opportunities in Dayton include Kittyhawk Golf Center, the largest public golf facility in Ohio, and the Madden Golf Center, designed by notable course architect Alex Campbell. The Urban Krag Climbing Center features an 8,000 square foot vertical climbing wall in a beautifully restored church.
Downtown, the Merchants Row District offers jewelry, antiques, books, and more. The Oregon Historic District is a 12-block area near downtown that features shops, restaurants, and clubs among restored turn-of-the-century homes. The National City Second Street Public Market features the wares of local farmers and food and gift vendors, including fresh flowers and produce, gourmet coffee, and homemade baked goods. The Webster Street Market, housed in a restored nineteenth-century railroad freight depot, also provides a unique market-style shopping experience. The public markets are open Thursday through Sunday. There are nearly 30 shopping centers in the region, the largest being Dayton Mall and Fairfield Commons Mall.
Dining choices in Dayton include Japanese, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Indian, and American cuisine. One critically acclaimed restaurant, which specializes in French and continental cuisine, is known for its rack of lamb, duck, and fresh seafood. Another serves authentic German dishes. One of the city's most popular eateries is a traditional steak and chop house that does not take reservations or serve desserts.
Visitor Information: Dayton/Montgomery County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1 Chamber Plaza, Suite A, Dayton, OH 45402; toll-free (800)221-8235