Explore Hidden Gems in “Gem City” | 33 Unique Things to Do in Dayton Ohio

Renowned as the birthplace of aviation, Dayton is the sixth-largest Ohio city. As such, it has dozens of attractions — parks, museums, and entertainment centers. Also, the city is full of fantastic restaurants and a growing craft brewery scene. If you aren’t a resident, exploring all the things to do in Dayton Ohio that interest you will probably take a few days. Fortunately, there are several lodging options available too.

Whether you’re planning a staycation or vacation, our comprehensive list of things to do in Dayton Ohio can get you started. But before we get to that, it doesn’t hurt to get familiar with the city.

A Brief History of Dayton Ohio

In 1796, 12 settlers referred to as the Thompson Party founded Dayton after traveling up the Great Miami River from Cincinnati. The group landed at the now named St. Clair St. where two Native American camps were established. The following year, Mad River Rd. was laid out and was the first overland connection between the city and Cincinnati.

It wasn’t until 1803 that Ohio was admitted into the Union, and Dayton wasn’t incorporated as a village until 1805. Then, it took until 1841 for it to become an official city.

The name of the city came from Jonathan Dayton, an American Revolutionary War captain who signed the Constitution and owned a lot of land in the area. Construction on the Dayton-Cincinnati canal started in 1827 to improve the transport of goods between the cities and boost economic growth.

Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark | photo via @adithial

Dayton Ohio Nickname: Gem City

Most people in the Miami Valley will know that Dayton Ohio’s nickname is “Gem City”, but do you know why Dayton is called the Gem City?

Historians link Dayton’s nickname “Gem City” back to August 1845 when a reporter from the Cincinnati Chronicle gave the city praise for its recent improvements:

“…it can be fairly said that Dayton is the gem of our all interior towns; it possesses wealth, refinement, enterprise and a beautiful country.”

Within a few years of the article’s publication, Dayton businesses began to use the phrase “Gem City” in their names, cementing it as the town’s official nickname.

Dayton Innovations

The manufacturing business started booming in 1884. James Ritty’s National Manufacturing Company made the first mechanical cash registers and helped shape the city’s reputation as a manufacturing epicenter in the early 1900s.

An engineer at the company helped develop the first electric cash register in 1906. Additionally, the company helped develop a code-breaking machine for the U.S. Navy, which assisted with cracking World War II’s Enigma machine cipher.

Furthermore, Dayton has been the home of many other inventions and patents. In particular, it’s where Wilbur and Orville Wright constructed and demonstrated the first powered flight. Even though the first actual flight occurred in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the brothers built and improved the Wright Flyer at Huffman Field near the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Wright Cycle Company Complex | photo via @tombilcze

Current Growth

Currently, Dayton is continuing to expand its downtown area, which started in the 2000s and has helped encourage growth. For example, Day Air Ballpark is the home of the Dayton Dragons and was built in 2000.

New parks have been added to the Five Rivers MetroParks, the Schuster Center performing arts was opened in 2003, and a large health network has been expanded. The Greater Downtown Dayton Plan focuses and continues to focus on improving collaboration, housing, recreation, infrastructure, and job opportunities.

Now, let’s get to the list of the best things to do in Dayton Ohio. Some of these are unique attractions that aren’t common in other Ohio cities, so don’t miss out!

Indoor Things to Do in Dayton Ohio

Dayton is no stranger to unfavorable weather from time to time. Whether it’s winter in Dayton or the Dayton Ohio weather is non-conducive to outdoor fun, it’s nice to have some indoor activities to enjoy, and you’ll find plenty in Gem City.

Here are some of our favorite indoor things to do in Dayton Ohio

Wild Axe Throwing

For a one-of-a-kind experience in Dayton, try your hand at Wild Axe Throwing. This facility is open to anyone 13 and older. It has 11 lanes, and each is 6 feet away from the other.

The individual lanes can accommodate up to six people, while the party room hosts up to 15 people. As a safety precaution, a trained ax master oversees each group.

Scene75

Offering some of the best entertainment in the country, Scene75 is suitable for the whole family and perfect for indoor birthday parties.

The amusement park is 160,000 square feet and features numerous attractions — such as inflatables, go-karts, laser tag and maze, virtual reality, blacklight mini-golf, and an arcade.

Scene75 | photo via @andrewlikescoasters

Wright Cycle Company Complex

The Wright brothers had an important role in the birth of aviation as we know it today, and the Wright Cycle Company Complex includes several buildings. The Wright Cycle Company building is where the brothers made their own bicycles between 1895 and 1897, a business that enhanced their experimentation with flight.

The Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center on the complex features interpretive displays and exhibits, as well as an auditorium that plays the “Wright Brothers On Great White Wings” film. The center houses the Aviation Trail Parachute Museum, while the complex is home to the Aviation Trail Visitor Center too.

Wright Cycle Company Complex | photo via @dayton_architecture

Outdoor Things to Do in Dayton Ohio

When the Dayton Ohio weather is nice, there’s nothing better than spending time in the great outdoors. In Dayton, you have a ton of options of outdoor things to do, but we’ve highlighted just a few to get you started.

Here are the best outdoor things to do in Dayton Ohio

Charleston Falls Preserve

With over 215 acres of forest and prairie land, Charleston Falls Preserve is home to Charleston Falls. The origins of the waterfall are small underground springs to the east. The 37-foot falls drops into the Great Miami River, and you can enjoy a good view from the observation boardwalk.

Also within the preserve are picnic tables, 3.5 miles of hiking trails, a limestone cave, a wildlife pond and observation deck, and a tallgrass prairie with a viewing platform.

Charleston Falls Preserve | photo via @arthurgphotography

SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park

A unique outdoor attraction, SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park teaches you about the village’s history and inhabitants. You get to see a range of artifacts and immerse yourself in an 800-year-old lifestyle while exploring the reconstructed structures.

The three tours last 1.5 to 2.5 hours each, and don’t forget to stop by the store and gift shop for a souvenir before you leave.

SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park | photo via @cecilia_proffitt

Carriage Hill Historical Farm

Celebrating the Miami Valley’s agricultural heritage, Carriage Hill Historical Farm has been cared for by several generations of farmers.

Visiting the farm immerses you in a 19th-century farming lifestyle. Interpreters in the preserved house and barns demonstrate a variety of crafts and skills, while the crops and livestock are heritage varieties and breeds.

Carriage Hill Historical Farm | photo via @theloganr

Seasonal Things to Do in Dayton Ohio

No matter when you decide to visit Dayton, you’ll find a host of activities. Below, we highlight some things that (in our opinion) are some of the best Dayton attractions to experience during each season of the year.

Attractions to Enjoy During Spring in Dayton Ohio

Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark

Using environmentally friendly techniques, the Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark features traditional and native plants that start blooming in the spring. Kids love interacting with nature in the Children’s Discovery Garden, and locals can grow produce for their families in the designated 800-square-foot plots.

The park has the 1-mile Marie Aull Nature Trail, the Stillwater River Trail, and the Swamp Forest, which has the only habitat in which fairy shrimp thrive.

Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark | photo via @turnrow

Young’s Jersey Dairy

Established in 1869, Young’s Jersey Dairy has been selling Jersey milk since 1958 and has been included on our list of the best places to enjoy ice cream in Ohio.

You can enjoy many events at the farm throughout the year — such as car shows and family value weekends.

The farm has a lot of family-friendly activities too, including petting farm animals, exploring a corn maze, playing mini-golf, and riding in barrels. It even has a fast slide, batting cages, and tee driving range.

Young’s Jersey Dairy | photo via @youngsdairy

Day Air Ballpark

The beginning of spring is also the beginning of baseball season, which makes going to Day Air Ballpark a classic spring activity. You can only get the flavors of ballpark concession food at a ballpark, and this one has seven permanent stands and 13 specialty carts.

With more than 6,800 seats, there’s plenty of room to kick off both seasons. On top of that, the ballpark has a tunnel for indoor batting and pitching.

Dayton Ohio Places to Visit During Summer

Miamisburg Mound State Memorial

You could visit the Miamisburg Mound State Memorial at any time, but we think it’s one of the best things to do in Dayton Ohio during the summer. The mound is one of the two largest cone-shaped mounds in Eastern North America.

Containing 54,000 cubic yards of soil, the mound is 65 feet high with a circumference of 800 feet. Since it rests on a 100-foot-tall ridge, you can see it from several miles away.

You can take the stairs to the top of the observation platform, which provides a panoramic view of the area.

Miamisburg Mound State Memorial | photo via @the_grave_hunters_society

John Bryan State Park

Known as one of the most beautiful places in the region, John Bryan State Park has more than 10 trails for hiking and mountain biking during the summer. However, the main feature here is the limestone gorge.

With access to the Little Miami River, you can go paddleboarding and fishing. In addition, the park has a disc golf course, picnic tables, a campground, and opportunities for rock climbing.

John Bryan State Park

Great Miami River Trail

Stretching for 93 miles along the Great Miami River, the Great Miami River Trail runs through the center of Dayton as it connects Piqua, Ohio, in the north to Middletown, Ohio, in the south.

The path is paved and has multiuse surfaces, so it offers something for everyone. Sections of it pass through natural parks and by picnic facilities.

Things to Do in Fall in Dayton Ohio

Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum

It might seem odd to recommend visiting a cemetery during the fall, but Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum is absolutely gorgeous. Founded in 1841, the cemetery is one of the oldest with a rural garden and a unique botanical experience.

There are 165 species of native woody plants and over 3,000 trees. The Lookout Columbarium is the highest point in Dayton and overlooks the city, giving you the ultimate sightseeing spot for Ohio fall colors.

Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum | photo via @misssombersarah

Tom’s Maze and Pumpkin Farm

To get into the harvest spirit, visit Tom’s Maze and Pumpkin Farm. It has a lot of autumn activities, including a pumpkin train ride, a punkin’ chunkin’ cannon, and the chance to select a pre-picked pumpkin.

One of the most fun things to do in Dayton Ohio in fall, though, is escape the 8-acre puzzle maze. It has a completely new theme and design every year.

Tom’s Maze and Pumpkin Farm | photo via @graphman47

Riverside Jaycees Haunted Castle of Carnage & Trail

Halloween is one of the first major holidays in fall, and you can kick it off right with a trip through the Riverside Jaycees Haunted Castle of Carnage & Trail. Riverside Jaycees is a community service organization that has been celebrating the holiday with a haunted attraction since 1986, making it one of the longest-running haunts near the city.

From the end of September through Halloween, you can go through the haunted castle and trail attractions as much as you want until midnight.

Dayton Ohio Winter Attractions

MetroParks Ice Rink at RiverScape MetroPark

Nothing says winter like ice skating, and you can enjoy the largest outdoor ice rink in the region at RiverScape MetroPark. The MetroParks Ice Rink is 70 feet by 150 feet and features scenic views of the downtown Dayton skyline and Great Miami River.

It’s sheltered under a pavilion and offers open skating, lessons for beginners, curling, and broomball. Tunes play in the background as you skate, and you can take a hot chocolate break.

Rink at RiverScape MetroPark | photo via @annaeb29

Skateworld of Kettering

If the weather is unfavorable, you might prefer indoor skating. Skateworld of Kettering has been providing family-friendly entertainment since 1974.

The Miami Valley roller skating rink hosts events throughout the year, and other facilities, such as a Soft Play playground, The Trails Miniature Golf Course, and an arcade.

Skateworld of Kettering | photo via @thelaurenwilde

Laser Web Dayton

Another indoor activity during winter is laser tag at Laser Web Dayton in Centerville. This 5,000-square-foot facility features special lighting effects, dynamic sound, state-of-the-art laser tag equipment, and a play area with upper-level platforms.

There are several different missions — such as solo, team, and zombie infection — and each lasts for about 20 minutes.

Laser Web Dayton has a laser maze, arcade, and virtual reality as well.

Free & Cheap Things to Do in Dayton Ohio

There are many free Dayton Ohio things to do outdoors, as well as cheap activities. Take a look at these favorites.

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

With free admission and parking, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is situated next to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. At 827,640 square feet (19 acres), it’s the world’s biggest military aviation museum.

It features thousands of aviation artifacts and more than 350 aerospace missiles and vehicles. In addition to temporary exhibits, the museum has several permanent exhibits, such as for the Cold War, Korean War, and World War II.

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force | photo via @spotter.mco

Levitt Pavilion Dayton

Bringing you the best in musical entertainment for free, the Levitt Pavilion Dayton hosts high-caliber concerts during the year. The concerts are suitable for all ages, including children.

Simply bring lawn chairs and blankets for the grass so that you can relax while you listen. You’re welcome to take snacks and picnic dinners, and don’t be afraid to get up and dance too.

Levitt Pavilion Dayton | photo via @daytonhospitality

Dixie Twin Drive-In

Taking you back to the 1950s, watching movies at the Dixie Twin Drive-In is a cheap activity for the whole family. The theater plays first-run movies on two mega-size screens using state-of-the-art digital projectors.

Every open night between April and the end of October, you have the option of seeing two movies on each screen. For all your movie snacks, order from the full-service concession stand.

Dixie Twin Drive-In | photo via @rolandopujol

Fun Things to Do With Kids in Dayton Ohio

Most of the things to do in Dayton Ohio are family-friendly and suitable for kids. Here are a few of the best things to do in Dayton Ohio with kids.

Sky Zone Trampoline Park

Kids will love the variety of Dayton Ohio things to do at Sky Zone Trampoline Park. They can practice doing stunts into the Foam Zone, jumping on the Freestyle Jump wall-to-wall trampoline courts, and balancing on the Skyladder.

Other activities at the indoor park include bouldering, parkour, dodgeball, and jousting.

Sky Zone Trampoline Park | photo via @katdhartshorn

Englewood Fun Center

Another facility with a variety of activities is the locally owned Englewood Fun Center. It has an arcade with over 60 classic and modern games. For instance, you can play Skee Ball, Deal or No Deal, and Pop-a-Shot.

The indoor batting cages offer slow, medium, and fast softball and baseball pitches. Other things to do at this fun center include a bounce house for young kids and an 18-hole mini-golf course.

Englewood Fun Center | photo via @shawnhall2005

Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

Offering engaging experiences, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery creates entertaining and meaningful learning experiences.

Since it was launched in 1893 as the Dayton Museum of Natural History, it has added science and history exhibits. Now it offers planetarium shows, a hands-on science lab, artifact encounter, and science theater.

Boonshoft Museum of Discovery | photo via @annaeb29

Local Restaurants in Dayton Ohio

No matter what your mouth and stomach want, you can bet that Dayton has the right restaurant. Here are our top picks for casual, upscale, and fine dining Dayton Ohio restaurants.

416 Diner

Serving traditional breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, 416 Diner makes amazing comfort food with a focus on quality. That doesn’t mean that service is put on the back burner, though. In fact, the restaurant has outstanding table service.

The menu is one of the most diverse in Dayton and includes a range of pancakes, waffles, burgers, sandwiches, and more.

photo via @chefdanefly

Salar Restaurant and Lounge

Giving you the best upscale dining experience, Salar Restaurant and Lounge makes world-fusion dishes that are influenced by French, Mediterranean, and Peruvian cuisines.

The restaurant is located in the Oregon Historic District, and the highly trained and certified bar staff serves delicious handcrafted cocktails.

If you want a more intimate experience, you can arrange for private dining.

photo via @hofcreativellc

Meadowlark Restaurant

For a fine dining experience, the chef-owned Meadowlark Restaurant is the perfect place to go. The restaurant creates imaginative dishes for brunch, lunch, and dinner using high-quality ingredients for American palates.

Some of the most popular menu items are pancakes, fluffy mashed potatoes, housemade pickles and cornbread, and flavorful burgers. With a wide selection of cocktails, craft beers, and wines, you can find the right drink to pair with your meal.

photo via @truegems937

Breweries in Dayton Ohio

With a growing brewery scene, there’s no shortage of breweries in Dayton. Here are a few of our favorite Ohio breweries located in Miami Valley.

The Dayton Beer Company

Founded in 2010, The Dayton Beer Company is the first locally owned and operated brewery in Dayton in about 500 years.

Within three years, it became an award-winning brewery and grew from regularly producing just 1 barrel to 15 barrels of beer. The secret of this success is making the freshest, most flavorful handcrafted beers without taking shortcuts.

You can get a taste in the taproom, which always has 36 brews on tap.

The Dayton Beer Company | photo via @differentandthesamemusic

Warped Wing Brewing Company

Located in a 1938 industrial building, the Warped Wing Brewing Company was established in 2014. This microbrewery makes a range of creative beers, and each one is inspired by Ohio’s rich history of innovation and invention.

In the taproom, you get the chance to experience these award-winning beers while munching on sandwiches, snacks, and more.

Warped Wing Brewing Company | photo via @karrieapenn

Lock 27 Brewing

Creating small batches of artisan craft beers, Lock 27 Brewery is located next to Day Air Ballpark. The brewery focuses on exploring beyond what’s conventional, which is why the beers come out so “authentically different.”

In fact, this phrase carries a lot of weight at the brewery. While you get a taste of the quality, you can order from a diverse menu of dishes that are all made from scratch in the kitchen.

Lock 27 Brewing | photo via @lock27brewing

Unique Dayton Ohio Hotels & Lodging Options

Dayton has numerous unique hotels, bed and breakfasts, vacation rentals, and camping opportunities. Below, we’ve chosen three lodging options to highlight, including one of the best hotels in Dayton Ohio, a Dayton Ohio bed and breakfast, and a campground in Dayton Ohio

Mills Park Hotel

Located in Yellow Springs, Mills Park Hotel offers luxurious rooms and award-winning hospitality. Modeled after the Victorian home of a local settler, the three-story hotel blends modern amenities with Plantation-style comfort.

There are 28 guest rooms categorized as traditional, deluxe, and premier suites. The deluxe rooms are equipped with mini-refrigerators and microwaves alongside the standard amenities, and the premier suites add balcony access and sleeper sofas.

For a meal, visit the on-site restaurant — Ellie’s Restaurant.

Mills Park Hotel | photo via @anne.straus

Emma’s Bed and Breakfast

Featuring indulgent accommodations, Emma’s Bed and Breakfast was built in 1833 in Springfield. The four spacious rooms on the second floor feature modern amenities and antique furniture. Another room is on the main floor and has a personal outdoor porch and separate dining and living areas.

The property has a covered deck, gardens, and a public dining room. Each morning, you’re served a typical breakfast, and vegetarian and gluten-free options are available if you ask.

John Bryan State Park Campground

With 17 electric campsites and 43 non-electric sites for tents, John Bryan State Park Campground is located within the 752-acre state park.

Most of the campsites have picnic tables and fire rings, and a group camp area is available. You’re welcome to take advantage of all the park amenities while you’re camping.

Frequently Asked Questions About Things to Do in Dayton Ohio

What is Dayton Ohio famous for?

Dayton is a center for manufacturing, supply, and shipping companies. Also, it’s the home of substantial research and development in the aeronautical, astronautical engineering, and industrial fields.

You can experience and learn about the aeronautical advancements at the Wright Cycle Company Complex. If you’re more interested in Dayton’s history, check out SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park and the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery.

What county is Dayton Ohio in?

Dayton is located in Montgomery County and is the county seat. However, some of the east side of the city lies in Greene County as well. Also, the city is located within the Miami Valley, an area of southwest Ohio that surrounds the Great Miami River.

How far is Dayton Ohio from me?

If you’re driving to Dayton from Cincinnati or Columbus, it will take just over one hour. The drive takes about two hours and 15 minutes from Toledo and about three hours from Cleveland. From Fort Wayne Indiana, the drive takes about two hours and 15 minutes.

What food is Dayton Ohio known for?

Dayton is known for a few different foods, including square-cut pizza, Buckeye Vodka, and stewed tomatoes. Square-cut pizza slices took the area by storm around 60 years ago. The locally distilled and bottled Buckeye Vodka was established in 2011 and quickly grew in popularity. Stewed tomatoes are a favorite side dish, which you can order at local favorite The Pine Club.

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