When you arrive in Tulsa, Oklahoma, you find that it is windy even when it is not tornado season. The city has deep Native American roots and a rich history in the oil industry, combined with the warmth of Midwestern nostalgia. Situated along Route 66 and the Arkansas River, Tulsa continues to expand its public green space; attract top chefs into its collection of creative farm-to-table restaurants; and keep the fun on a night out simple, like bowling at the historic Dust Bowl Lanes.
Tulsa is a walkable city, with small corner cafés and diners that still sell breakfast for $1.99. Observe the Art Deco architecture throughout the downtown streets and the unmistakable Gothic-style Philtower Building or the BOK office tower, which was inspired by the design of the former World Trade Center Towers in New York City.
Whether your visit to Tulsa is focused on the arts to see the famed Woody Guthrie Center and the Tulsa Arts District, or activities like an Art Deco Segway tour, you will leave with a new affinity for the city. Find the best places to visit and plan your sightseeing with our list of things to do in Tulsa.
The portion of Route 66 that runs through Tulsa is a throwback in time that is worth a slow drive during your visit. This portion of The Mother Road is lined with rustic buildings that escort you through one of the few places that still embraces the small-town lifestyle so reminiscent of old-school Americana.
During your drive, plan a stop at Ollie’s Station Restaurant, the inspiration for the animated movie Cars. You will find movie memorabilia along the walls, a railroad-inspired backdrop, and traditional home-cooked Oklahoma food.
Make a stop at the nearby historic Campbell Hotel, an elegantly restored 1920s building. The 26-room boutique hotel once offered overnight stays in 1927 for 50-cents a night. Conclude your historic drive at the Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza, where you can enjoy a number of sculptures and walk across the bridge over Route 66.
The Philbrook Museum of Art is worth a visit as much for the 23 acres of gardens that surround the historic building as it is for the artwork and exhibits inside. The mansion, once the 72-room home of oil tycoon Waite Phillips, is one of Tulsa’s prized tourist attractions. Observe the permanent collections of African, European, American, and Asian art and the antiquities gallery, which features a rich history of Egyptian mummification.
The Philbrook Museum has regularly changing exhibits throughout the year. You can take a docent-led tour or explore on your own. The Philbrook Gardens outside accent the Italian-Renaissance architecture of the museum. Take a moment to enjoy the tranquil, meditative areas and appreciate the many outdoor sculptures on the trails. The museum has extended hours into the evening on Friday nights.
One of the best things to do during your time in Tulsa is spend a few hours in the Woody Guthrie Center. Guthrie’s powerful lyrics and influence on the music scene are captured in exhibits throughout the facility. You can learn about the background of this Oklahoma native and his folk music interpretation on American life and see personal items, like Guthrie’s lyrics journal and mandolin.
For history buffs, the center houses archives of artwork, manuscripts, photographs, and books about the artist. There are many special exhibits throughout the year, some that feature other musicians.
Some of the best explorations into the American West and the Native American history of Oklahoma are in the Gilcrease Museum. You will find treasured artwork like Frederick Remington bronze statues and original Thomas Moran paintings. The museum houses 350,000 historical artifacts, from artwork to pottery and Native American regalia.
While in Tulsa, you might want to try your hand at basket making or painting at one of the day classes offered at the museum.
You can catch an evening baseball game when the Tulsa Drillers take to the field at the downtown ONEOK Field. Cheer on the hometown team and stay for the fireworks on many home game nights. There are always special promotions, and you are certain to have one of the best views of downtown Tulsa. The stadium has a wide variety of food choices beyond regular ballpark fare, like barbecue and even an all-you-can-eat buffet that is open during the game.
The Tulsa Zoo is focused on conservation and education, so you will see evidence of that as you walk through the grounds. The zoo animal habitats let you get closer than ever to animals in their simulated native environments.
Walk through Asian-inspired gardens and exhibits in The Lost Kingdom to see animals like the Malayan tigers and Komodo dragons. The Chimpanzee Connection gets you up close to the zoo’s chimpanzee families, which roam freely in the indoor and outdoor exhibits.
The Tulsa Zoo has regular educational programs and special events that you can take part in during your visit. You can also hop on board the ONEOK Safari Train to take a ride through the zoo grounds if you get tired of walking.
The Tulsa Botanic Garden is one of the most naturally beautiful and scenic spots in the city. A highlight in the garden is the towering A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Floral Terrace. Each year, the cascading terrace features 120,000 spring bulbs. It is an ornamental garden with water flowing into the lake below and more than 8,000 perennials, trees, roses, and plants surrounding it.
The gardens feature a Children’s Discovery Garden, Lotus Pool, and a Lakeside Promenade that takes you around a seven-acre lake. Be sure to make time to stop in the visitor center, where you can participate in drop-in activities.
For a nature-inspired visit to Tulsa, you can stay at the POSTOAK Lodge & Retreat, which sits on 1,000 secluded acres surrounded by the Osage Hills and is less than a mile from the botanic garden.
The Tulsa Performing Arts Center is actually four separate theaters and an art gallery. On any given night you can find ballet, symphony, opera, and Broadway performances. The building, which covers half a city block, is architecturally interesting having been built by famed architect Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the former World Trade Center Towers.
The center frequently has featured speakers and comedians in the line-up, so it is a hub of cultural interest and one of the top things to do in the city. You can catch concerts and Broadway tours almost every night of the week, so there is sure to be something available during your visit.
This might be one of the least time-consuming stops on your trip to Tulsa, but the Golden Driller is definitely a must-see because of its iconic connection to the city. Tulsa is rooted in the oil industry and thrived at a time when drilling derricks were as common as restaurants. The 76-foot-tall Golden Driller statue is worth seeing because it represents an important part of Tulsa history.
To take a photo for your vacation album, you will need to plan carefully, as getting the entire statue into one photograph is difficult without standing in the street.
Tulsa has a thriving arts district that is a destination all on its own. One of the highlights of the district is Cain’s Ballroom. Originally a dance hall in the 1920s, the renovated building is now a top performance venue in Kansas.
Throughout the Tulsa Arts District, you will find niche studios and shops, including a glassblowing studio, confectionary, and performance theater. It is an area where you can stroll around and stop to relax at one of several coffee shops.
This is one of the oldest districts, with red brick buildings that have been re-purposed. The Tulsa Arts District is a community gathering place and a low-key way to spend an afternoon or evening without an agenda.
One of the most spectacular spots in Tulsa is the Gathering Place: Tulsa’s Riverfront Park. The 100-acre public space along the downtown riverfront has interactive experiences designed for social interaction, outdoor adventure, and conservation.
Walk 56 feet above Peggy’s Pond on Swing Hill, which is the highest point in the park. There are nature trails, a lodge and boathouse, gardens, and sports courts where you can take up a game of basketball or volleyball.
The expansive public park along the Arkansas River is a popular place for both recreation and relaxation. The downtown park is the result of the largest private donation for a public park in U.S. history.
There are events at Gathering Place throughout the year, from lawn concerts to community festivals. Even if there is not a scheduled event during your stay, the Gathering Place is a must-visit.
The Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium is a favorite stop for visitors to the city. The museum exhibits look at Tulsa’s aviation history, from the early days of the smoke balloon to the city’s involvement with the International Space Station. Interactive activities like flight simulators and an entire space for kids to explore aviation are highlights.
Be sure to take in a show at the state-of-the-art planetarium, a 3D and immersive theater experience that completely surrounds you.
The Cave House is one of the more unusual attractions in Tulsa, but it is one you will not forget. The oddly-designed home is hard to miss in the downtown area because of its Flinstone-esque design. While it is privately owned, you can take a tour inside by making an appointment.
The home has unusual architecture and decor and even more unusual stories that go along with its history. The Cave House was once a chicken restaurant in Tulsa in 1924 with an interesting history in the city.
Exploring the Blue Dome District makes for a nice afternoon or evening in Tulsa. Noted for the Blue Dome building in the center of the district, this is the heart of Tulsa’s entertainment and culinary scene. There are shops, galleries, and some residential developments, making it a nice place to mix with the locals. The Blue Dome District has community events and festivals that take place throughout the year.
Discovery Lab is Tulsa’s children’s museum, designed primarily for kids in the middle-school age range and younger. The interactive exhibits engage kids as they learn about science, technology, math, art, and engineering.
One of the highlights for kids in the Discovery Lab is the Tape Tunnel. It is a 30-foot-long slide made from more than 16 miles of packing tape.
Many of Tulsa’s main attractions are located in the downtown area, so staying near the city center will enable you to walk to many things that you want to do. You will find a mix of traditional hotels and a number of historic properties in renovated buildings. Tulsa is known for its great architecture, so you might want to experience one of the historic hotels.
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