From the moment I stepped foot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I realized that “windy” is just a way of life in this state that has seen more than 3500 tornadoes in the last 63 years according to the National Weather Service.
The friendly “Welcome to Oklahoma” offered by my shuttle driver was almost cryptic as he greeted me competing for volume with short gusts of wind. On my first visit here I thought for sure I could see it all in one day – but boy, what a surprise Tulsa served me when I got to see the great things that make this city a fun destination.
Here are 10 things to LOVE in Tulsa!
1. An evolving city
The city of Tulsa will look very different in the next five to ten years. It is in a booming state of change that includes transforming old downtown buildings into condos, lofts and businesses and turning previously unused green space near the Arkansas River into a multi-million dollar, multi-use public park. Many downtown districts are evolving from forgotten and abandoned spaces to thriving neighborhoods offering shops and restaurants.
2. Route 66
Oklahoma’s section of Route 66 is full of nostalgia. There are corner cafes on almost every street you pass and most feature kitchy decor and still serve breakfast for $4.99. It is fun to take a day to drive along The Mother Road that stretches for 400 miles through the state. There’s plenty to see from the National Route 66 Museum, rolling landscapes and three of the most significant oil and gas fields that contributed to Tulsa’s position in the oil boom.
The BOK Center is as stunning from the outside as the entertainers are who play inside. The enormous, uniquely designed arena has literally transformed downtown Tulsa becoming a central landmark for the city. The Brady Theater and Cain’s Ballroom are historic concert halls that provide a nostalgic backdrop to visiting entertainers. The Jazz Hall of Fame hosts many concerts, cultural events and depicts the great influence of Jazz in Oklahoma and as a national art form. Music lovers will also love The Center of the Universe Music Festival that takes place every summer and draws more than 70 bands and 80,000 people.
4. Art Deco and Architecture
If you love unique architecture, the Art Deco style throughout Tulsa in the buildings and homes will impress you! Buildings everywhere you turn showcase Zig-Zag, WPO and Streamline styles. From floor tile with brass inserts and marble and onyx wall details, both the interiors and exteriors of buildings capture the attention of even a casual visitor. Art Deco relics from the 1920’s and 30’s are fun accents to modern-day uses for these buildings.
Tulsa has some of the most spectacular hidden gems in Arts world. The Gilcrease Museum which houses the world’s largest collection of art and artifacts of the American West is a must see for art enthusiasts. The Philbrook Museum of Art is a museum complex that sits on 23 acres of manicured gardens and houses many permanent art exhibits. There’s also the Woody Guthrie Center, the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art and the Tulsa Performing Arts Center and the Brady Arts District that has dozens of galleries from glassblowing to chocolate.
6. Grand Lake
Just an hour and a half drive from Tulsa, Grand Lake is a top feature of Northeast Oklahoma. Take in a day on the water or spend an entire weekend fishing, boating and relaxing. The Grand River Dam Authority meticulously cares for these waterways ensuring that the water, the wildlife and the people who enjoy both have a clean and cared for place to enjoy.
There’s a fun fusion of restaurants in Tulsa. From the fine upscale dining at Juniper offering farm-to-table entres to many BBQ stops and $1 Taco Tuesdays at El Guapo’s Cantina in the Blue Dome district, you won’t go hungry. I also loved the Blue Rose Cafe for evening cocktails. It is situated on stilts on the banks of Arkansas River and surrounded by outdoor enjoyment of a local bike path and peaceful benches below.
8. Native American Culture
Oklahoma is rich in Native American culture so you will see influences of it in Tulsa. From cultural events to museums to decor, you will see influences from the 67 Native American nations that have settled in the state. There is a beautiful blend of progressive culture in Tulsa and deep respect and preservation of its Native American origins.
You are in Cherokee country and there’s no shortage of gaming opportunities. The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has a cool combination of Cherokee culture and good ‘ol rock and roll! Also nearby are the River Spirit Casino and the Osage Casino which has a great blues and jazz motif.
10. Family stops
I am impressed at the number of large family-friendly attractions in Tulsa. From the Tulsa Zoo that sits on 79 acres and the Oklahoma Aquarium that puts you up close to marine life in the shark tunnel to the Tulsa Children’s Museum and Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium, you can literally fill several days exploring. For a little water fun, there’s the Big Splash Water Park.
To find out more about what Tulsa has to offer, check out the Tulsa Convention & Visitor’s Bureau.