The magic of Oklahoma shouldn’t be overlooked; the Great Plains, dense forests intersected with sparkling lakes and gushing waterfalls spread across 10 ecoregions and a myriad of landscapes. While the State is often defined by its tumultuous weather like the dangerous thunderstorms and frequent tornadoes, the drama of the skies makes for some lovely visuals– plus, if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour and see what happens.
For visitors, the Sooner State has a bevy of both metropolitan activities and ample opportunity to witness its natural beauty. Oklahomans are friendly folk, happy to chat and always willing to lend a hand to a stranger and make friends. About 39 Native American tribes and Indian nations who speak over 25 Native languages still call Oklahoma home and help to foster a unique and culturally diverse atmosphere.
Let us take you through some can’t-miss spots for first-time visitors from down-home eats, internationally appreciated museums and some accommodation options sure to round out your five-star Oklahoma experience. All aboard for Oklahoma!
Home to landmarks like the Golden Driller and the world’s largest statue of Praying Hands (over 30 tons of pure bronze and glowering over the city 60 feet above), one could map Tulsa according to these distinctive monuments. In fact, you can spot both landmarks from the seat of your plane should you fly over the city. Statues aside, Tulsa has more to offer than meets the bird’s eye view. Cute boutiques, delicious food, a lively music scene and a badge of honor for surviving tornado (we hope not) see visitors to Tulsa treated well. Get ready to fall in love– and we recommend visiting Sooner rather than later.
Where to Stay
THE CAMPBELL HOTEL
Let’s take you back to 1927: it was in this year that saw the Max Campbell building constructed in Spanish Colonial Revival style. Located near the original Route 66, it was here the Casa Loma Hotel opened for extended stays for world-weary travelers passing through Tulsa in need of a cheap place to sleep. Fast forward to 2011 and it was here that the Campbell Hotel opened as a luxurious boutique hotel with 26 rooms all uniquely devised by 40 local designers, giving visitors a slice of Tulsa history while they stay in the Sooner state.
The tasteful themes here range from the Pearl District room, Tulsa’s oldest neighborhood to the interconnecting Side Saddle and Equestrian rooms, inspired by Tulsa’s Fair Meadows racetrack, and perfect for families looking to keep a watchful eye on the younger generation while enjoying some privacy. Many of the rooms are also pet-friendly, to the delight of Rover or Kitten who can come along on your Oklahoma adventure. The calm of consistency is achieved through the natural stone, hardwood floors and free WiFi throughout the hotel as well as the complimentary continental breakfast. Onsite you’ll also find Spa Maxx, servicing all your hair, skin and nail needs should you need a day of beauty while in Tulsa.
THE MAYO HOTEL
Once the playground for Tulsa’s Oil boom tycoons and visiting celebrity friends like Babe Ruth and Lucille Ball, the Mayo Hotel was once the tallest building in the whole state, coming in at 19 floors when it was first built in 1925. Rooms had ice-cold tap water, a real treat when temperatures would soar in the summer. Ceiling fans also helped cool down famous visitors and champagne brunches sweetened the deal all the further. While it eventually fell into disrepair, this National Historic Register treasure received a generous $42 million dollar reno in 2009 by a local family. It finally resurfaced on the Tulsa hotel scene in 2009 with a fresh coat of colorful paint and modern furnishings bearing the historic name.
The art deco style soaring ceiling hanging over the lobby and bold marble floors remained to the delight of locals and guests alike. Delight in running your hands under that famous ice cold tap water and revel in rooms outfitted with beautiful dark wood furniture and bold red accents. Amenities include free car service in the Mayo Escalade, custom linens, walk-in showers with full body sprays and free WiFi. Britney Spears, Josh Groban, and Lady Gaga count themselves as more recent fans of the Mayo Hotel. Should you choose to visit, treat yourself to a drink in the Penthouse Rooftop lounge; once part of the Presidential Suite that hosted Elvis Presley. The panoramic views of downtown make the drinks taste all that much sweeter.
What To Do
THE PHILBROOK MUSEUM OF ART
The Philbrook Museum will see you transported to a 16th century Italian Renaissance villa in the heart of Tulsa. This world-class cultural institution boasts an incredible array of art from around the globe including Native American art, contemporary American artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, heavy-hitters like Picasso and antiquities all the way from Asia and Africa. Should you not consider yourself an art-lover, it still shouldn’t be missed as the expansive grounds are adorned with exquisite gardens inspired by a real villa north of Rome. During the summer months you can also catch a movie outside on their lawn– pack a picnic basket and a blanket or indulge with treats from the food trucks.
THE GUTHRIE GREEN
The Guthrie Green was once the site of several abandoned warehouses until a redevelopment in 2012 saw it become an urban green space with programming suited to the multicultural and multi-generational Tulsa population. The park is built upon geothermal elements creating green energy for local buildings and the massive lawn often plays host to live music or ball games with the kids or even Fido. Catch one of their weekly outdoor movies during the summer months or stop by for a taste of Tulsa on Food Truck Wednesdays. If you’re looking for a workout, join a free bootcamp fitness class offered by the local YMCA, dance or yoga classes.
Where To Eat
BURN CO. BARBECUE
Whether you indulge in “The Fatty”, a serving of sausage meatloaf carefully adorned with a lattice of bacon or go for the classic BBQ Ribs, don’t miss out on Burn Co. BBQ in Tulsa. Locals in the know suggest you should always close the door behind you once you manage to get in. Lineups start around 11:00 a.m. and you should definitely arrive at least 30 minutes before you want to eat. A side of mac and cheese, also made on the grill, is essential to your Burn experience.
When Ike Johnson, Tulsa’s original Chilli King and proprietor of Ike’s Chili in Tulsa passed away following a stroke in 1928, it made the front page of the Tulsa Daily World. His death was mourned city wide, but thankfully his chili legacy lived on. Originally located smack on Route 66 and today found in the Pearl District, Ike’s Chili has kept the original 1908 recipe still hot in the pot for the last century. Whether you get it straight, with spaghetti or with beans, Ike’s is worthy of a pilgrimage– and for some locals, on a weekly basis.
Where To Escape
Tulsa — 1h10min
Located in the lush Ozark Highlands among forests of dense maples, white oaks and carpets of sassafras and pawpaw is one of the tallest waterfalls (77ft!) of the state. The idyllic Natural Falls cascade through limestone rock formations in a V-shaped valley. The air here is fresh and serene and the surrounding landscape is dotted with hiking trails and opportunities to spot wildlife. You can also take a paved walkway for those with limited mobility straight to the falls and a comfortable viewing platform perfect for snapping a quick #fallsview selfie.
Tulsa — 1h20min
Once you’ve traveled down the bumpy road to the 17,000 acre J.T Nickel Wildlife Preserve, you will be delighted to uncover a natural water park in the area known as Bathtub Rocks. Centuries of flowing water wander from neighboring creeks have rendered the rock cuts smooth, turning the stones into slides that lead wriggling bodies into shallow pools as well as some deeper ones perfect for cannonballs. This State secret is a veritable geological waterpark with no entry fee, although please be respectful and leave behind no traces (ie. garbage) of your adventures.
Oklahoma City, or OKC is a big-league city with small-town charm. A rich array of natural resources including livestock, natural gas, and petroleum have given life to a lively downtown area, internationally-lauded museums, loads of kid and family-friendly activities and some sports teams that pack a punch on the national scene. Pair this with some cowboy culture, a great music scene and a municipal Philharmonic orchestra and ballet, and you’ve got a city of style — without any of the snobbery.
Where to Stay
The Colcord Hotel, rising up a barely-dizzying 12 stories, was OKC’s first skyscraper when it was built in 1910. While the height of the building by today’s standards would barely make an acrophobic bat an eyelash, the revitalized hotel that inhibits the same build brings luxury to Oklahoma City. Original marble columns and walls still welcome guests in the lobby while the bronze elevator doors are also remnants of a bygone era. We can’t recommend more that you grab some Jalapeño Hush Puppies and the Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Chop with sweet potato puree and apple chutney at the fabulous onsite Flint restaurant on the hotel’s first floor. Although, with its selection of fresh seasonal ingredients and lovely presentation, everything at Flint is sure to please.
Once you’ve checked into your room, scrub yourself clean with L’Occitane bath and shower products before slipping to an ultra soft robe and some dedicated TV & me-time. Follow that up with a fine night of dreaming courtesy of the Euro-top mattress with extra luxurious linens before taking off to explore OKC. Some perks of this historic OKC hotel include free WiFi throughout the hotel, fresh complimentary coffee or tea delivered to your door every morning and digital access to New York Times to keep you company while you enjoy that cup of Joe.
THE SKIRVIN HILTON OKLAHOMA CITY
OKC’s oldest hotel has a story to tell– should you believe in ghosts, that is. Opened in 1910 and closed down in 1988, a renovation 15 years later saw it revitalized and restored to its former glory as one of the premier luxury hotels in the city. A prohibition era romance story between the hotel’s original owner W.B Skirvin and a maid by the name of Effie has even in recent years caused quite a stir, notably amongst visiting NBA players. Back in the day, Skirvin wanted to avoid a scandal when he knocked up Effie so he reportedly locked her on the 10th floor until after she gave birth, after which she went a bit stir-crazy and jumped out of the window with her baby. Whether the story is true or not is debated but the ensuing ghost story is chilling.
She has since suffered the blame of the New York Knicks losing a game to OKC Thunder due to her mischievous antics including slamming doors, whispering sexual propositions, moving objects and according to Wesley Johnson of the Phoenix Suns, inexplicably filling a bathtub with water while he slept. Superstitions and stories aside, a stay at the Skirvin is nothing short of delightful. Elements of the historic grandeur of this century-old Dame have been flawlessly integrated with the modern conveniences you expect from a Hilton. Plus, you get to enjoy sleeping on the so-good-they-trademarked them Hilton Serenity Beds.
What To Do
NATIONAL COWBOY & WESTERN HERITAGE MUSEUM
Yeehaw! Oklahoma was once the frontier of the wild, wild west and the site of a massive land claim in 1889. The Oklahoma Land Run unfolded as thousands of homesteaders took off across the waters of the Canadian River on one April morning for a chance to claim one of the 160-acre plots that were divided from over 1,887,796 acres of unoccupied land that had been taken from Creek and Seminole Native American tribes after the civil war. This land run into unoccupied territory personified the pioneer spirit and oftentimes dangerous way of life. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum offers insights into this tough way of life. Romanticized versions of the cowboy way are depicted in large-scale paintings and are juxtaposed against glass cases of simple objects that defined this period including saddles, weapons and threadbare shirts. Wander through the replicated Prosperity Junction cattle town and don’t miss the slightly weird rodeo animal cemetery located in the garden of the museum.
MYRIAD BOTANICAL GARDENS
The Myriad Botanical Gardens is spread across 15 acres of the heart of OKC, offerings visitors coming with children or even dogs the opportunity to stop and smell the flowers. Watch the butterflies dance over top of the outside blooms or head inside the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory to see some rare varieties of plants, including delicate orchids. For the PokemonGo players among you, there are tons of Pokestops and ample opportunity to stretch out your legs and get those eggs hatched!
Where To Eat
With a mantra of Hot Melts & Cold Beer, it’s easy to understand what you’ll be getting at the Mule. Locals love the extensive tap and bottle beer selection including some local microbrews. A truly OKC infused sandwich selection comes with the Macaroni pony: Fresh-made Jalapeño Cornbread, Chipotle BBQ Pulled Pork, 3 Cheese Mac and Cheese and a pickle will send you to heaven and then back down again for seconds. The Okie poutine might be big enough for a main but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t order it and share around if necessary. The Caprese is also a strong choice but the Big Ass Grilled Cheese with an Ace Pineapple Cider from the tap is a twist on the classic after-school meal we all loved.
You can’t escape Oklahoma without a sampling of the local delicacy. Chicken Fried Steak is an OK staple; think a slab of local beef covered in seasoned flour and pan-fried. The dish is reminiscent of the Wiener Schnitzel and likely originated in OK with German and Austrian immigrants. While the location of the best CFS is up for serious debate among Oklahomans, Cheever’s Cafe has received enough accolades and fed enough CFS hungry mouths to merit one of the top positions. Located in an old flower shop, their slightly upscale version is served with red skinned mashed potatoes and garlic with a jalapeno cream gravy. Simply mouthwatering!
Where To Escape
OKC — 1h20min
Visitors to Oklahoma often expect rolling acres of prairie lands and dry grass across the state but locations like Turner Falls show a different side to the magic of this diversely landscaped state. Drive to Turner Falls, bathing suits in tow for a dip inside a waterfall. During the summer months the waters here glimmer a sparkling turquoise and the richly colored surrounding vegetation makes this OK gem feel like a tropical paradise. Arrive early or late to avoid overcrowding and be sure to bring certified flotation devices for any kids under age 12.
WICHITA MOUNTAINS WILDLIFE REFUGE
OKC — 1h40min
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is home to some of America’s most majestic wildlife including bison, elk, collared lizards and burrowing owls who live out their lives across 59,000 acres. Ready your camera because at every corner lurks photo opportunities. Hikers will be rewarded with a large variety of trails suited to different levels of experience. Other activities include mountain biking, rappelling and rock climbing as well as fishing (with suitable permits). Some jaw-dropping landmarks of the wildlife refuge include the Parallel Forest where hundreds of large cedars stand exactly six feet apart from each other and the Forty-Foot Hole, dominated by rock formations and waterfalls spilling into a creek.
Have we missed your favorite Oklahoma treasure? Be sure to let us know in the comments.
Cover image by Larry Smith CCBY