No longer just a pit stop on Route 66, Oklahoma’s capital city is on the rise thanks to a host of new amenities and attractions. For starters, the city has recently added a river walk, a landmark skyline bridge, an urban park and an aquatic adventure center. Plus, there’s a new downtown streetcar slated to open by late 2018. Combine this with the city’s rich heritage and down-home hospitality, and it’s easy to see why Oklahoma City is one of America’s best under-the-radar travel destinations.
First-timers should begin by exploring Oklahoma City’s western roots at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. In addition to showcasing a vast collection of western and American Indian artworks and artifacts, the museum houses a life-size, turn-of-the-century cattle town that’s complete with a railroad depot, blacksmith shop, livery stable and saloon.
Another must-see spot is Stockyards City, a historic district filled with western-themed shops, bars and restaurants. It’s also home to the world’s largest stocker and feeder cattle market. Stop by on Monday or Tuesday morning, when you can watch a few of the livestock auctions in action. And for country music lovers, there’s Centennial Rodeo Opry, a live-music venue that puts on family-friendly western shows every Saturday night.
Next up is Oklahoma City Museum of Art to see one of the largest collections of Dale Chihuly glass works in the world. Don’t worry about the kids getting bored; the museum keeps them entertained with hands-on activities and a variety of kid-friendly programs.
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Speaking of art, there’s a venerable treasure trove inside the Oklahoma State Capitol building. It’s also the only state capitol in the nation surrounded by active oil rigs.
After checking off these places from the bucket list, head over to Science Museum Oklahoma, a massive 8-acre complex featuring more than 350 hands-on science exhibits. Visitors can learn how to drive a Segway, explore a miniature city, create their own inventions and even step into an artificial tornado.
And make no bones about it, The Museum of Osteology (The Bone Museum) is arguably one of Oklahoma City’s most popular as well as most bizarre attractions. This 7,000-square-foot emporium of oddities is stocked with enough skulls and skeletons to wow even the most jaded teens. Specimens run the gamut, from human skulls and two-headed calves to the skeletal remains of a 40-foot-long humpback whale.
If connecting with nature is more in line with a family’s style, look no further than Oklahoma City Zoo & Botanical Garden, one of the top zoos in the country offering more than 1,900 animals spread out over 119 acres of pristine gardens.
Those craving something more action-packed should visit Riversport Adventure Park, an aquatic playground for all ages that is located south of downtown in the city’s Boathouse District. Here, families can go whitewater rafting, kayaking, paddleboarding and tubing. And if water activities aren’t in the cards, there’s also ziplining, highspeed slides, climbing walls, bungee trampolines and a six-level obstacle course where clients can take an 80-foot freefall drop from the top.
Of course, the city’s most glorious outdoor space can be found at the I.M. Pei-designed Myriad Botanical Gardens, a 17-acre urban oasis in the heart of downtown. Highlights include a children’s garden and the 13,000-square-foot Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory complete with a sky bridge and 35-foot cascading waterfall.
When the sun goes down, locals and visitors alike head to Bricktown, an old warehouse area that’s been repurposed into a bustling entertainment district featuring restaurants, bars, shops and water-taxi tours along a mile-long canal.
Lastly, if traveling with older children, families should stop by Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which was created to honor the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
WHERE TO STAY
Situated downtown within the city’s first skyscraper, this historic four-star hotel offers a free shuttle service throughout downtown.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Oklahoma City Downtown – Bricktown
Located within walking distance to many city sites, this modern hotel features an indoor heated swimming pool and an outdoor courtyard, among other amenities.
WHERE TO EAT
Featured on the Food Network’s hit television series “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” this Stockyards City icon has served everyone from past presidents to movie stars.
The Wedge Pizzeria
This is a local favorite offering terrific brick-oven pizza as well as gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
WHEN TO GO|Oklahoma City experiences a mild, climate throughout the year, with summers averaging 80 to 90 degrees and winter temperatures rarely falling below freezing. However, since it lies in Tornado Alley, there’s a chance for extreme weather between March and June. Aim to visit between September and November.
Oklahoma City is served by the Will Rogers World Airport, located approximately 10 miles southwest of downtown.