Oklahoma City offers an exciting reason why you should visit the same city every few years. OKC has grown and added new attractions and businesses since our last visit in 2012. The city is undergoing major development projects, which will add to its major league reputation.
Meanwhile, current attractions and opportunities range from a revamped state capitol to manmade whitewater rafting. Toss in some impressive contemporary art and craft beer, and you’re set for a fun weekend in OKC. Don’t worry, though, the city’s tried and true attractions remain as popular as ever.
Oklahoma celebrates its capitol’s centennial in 2017, so state leaders thought it wise to give it a facelift. Don’t mind the scaffolds and workers; they’re working to make the capitol look beautiful once again. The construction work didn’t deter us from enjoying a guided tour of the capitol. Did you know that Oklahoma’s capitol has had a dome only since 2002?
Beautiful art depicting the state’s history features five prima ballerinas from Oklahoma; each happened to be Native American. Murals featuring the state’s oil and agriculture history are among the artwork.
A monument honoring the 17 Native American tribes that call Oklahoma home stands on the capitol’s grounds. Designed as a mound with the four traditional paths in the middle, each tribe’s flag flies above the monument.
Watersports at Riversport Adventures
Oklahoma City’s role as a major sports city grew with the addition of the Riversport Adventures in the Boathouse District. Located along a revamped Oklahoma River, the site serves as a training site for the US Olympic and Paralympic crew teams. During our visit, 1,500 athletes were expected to attend one of the nation’s largest regattas and featured competitors from low amateur level to college teams to Olympic-caliber rowers.
In addition to its role as a training facility, the park offers visitors adventures such as kayaking the river, riding a zipline across the water, as well as climbing along the trails on the world’s tallest sky trail, reaching up to 80 feet above the ground.
The most challenging aspect of the adventure park may be the manmade whitewater channels. On our first visit, the waterways were calm. Our second trip there, holy moly! The whitewater machine was turned on and the rapids looked vicious. Two channels allow people to navigate kayaks and rafts down a calmer route or take the more challenging one. Most people we watched took on the professional-level channel. Watching kayakers disappear under the rapids was slightly worrisome, but a split second later you see either their head popping out above the water or the bottom of the kayak flipped over with the athlete soon behind.
Watching rafters negotiate the channel with their guide was both intriguing and humorous. The rafts with people who knew how to use an oar were enjoyable as they took on the rapids with confidence. The rafts were rookies resulted in the guide doing most of the work. Regardless, the attraction is on our bucket list for a return visit (I should note it would be Lisa doing the rapids. Me, not so much).
Contemporary art and penguins
The 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City offers a unique experience for guests. The hotel’s first floor serves as a contemporary art museum. Housed inside a former auto assembly plant, the boutique hotel is part of a chain that seeks out older buildings for its locations. Currently, in seven cities around the country, 21c owners plan to open two more locations, including one in Kansas City, Missouri.
Lunch at Mary Eddy’s at the hotel provided us an opportunity to try new dishes, including a lamb sandwich melt and a campanelle. The restaurant changes its menu every two weeks, so it may not be a good idea to latch on to a favorite. You never know who may join you at lunch, as we welcomed a purple penguin to our party. Each hotel features different colored plastic penguins.
The 21c’s artwork was impressive. We are fans of contemporary art and the museum provided interesting views, such as one piece that looked at modern relationships. With a wedding cake in the middle of the table, a young couple “enjoyed” a date, each with their face on an iPad situated at either end of the table, while they each looked at their cell phones. Modern relationships defined. Other pieces offered commentary on social concerns.
Amazing food and drink
Our trail of new adventures continued later in the day with dinner at Hall’s Pizza Kitchen in the Midtown district, near our hotel at the Ambassador. Hall’s grew from a food truck concept in 2013 to a brick and mortar wood-fired oven pizza restaurant. The restaurant, popular and packed during our visit, has been open since May and offers a rooftop view of OKC’s skyline. The Devon Energy Tower stands tall among the downtown skyscrapers.
The food at Hall’s was amazing. Starting with an appetizer of dates, our treat featured olive oil roasted dates with yogurt, lemon, walnuts and crostini. We expect a small plate for an appetizer, but the plate we were served had enough dates to satisfy 3-4 people. They were some of the best dates I’ve ever tasted.
We ordered a full-size pizza, knowing it was doubtful we could finish it. Hall’s allows guests to order individual slices of their top three pizzas, but the ones we wanted to try were not among those favorites. We ordered a half-and-half of lasagna pizza and the Okie. The lasagna featured housemade meatballs, herb ricotta, garlic tomato sauce, Mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano. The Okie included pulled pork, pepper jack, mustard barbecue sauce, pickled red onion, Mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano. Each was delicious. But, since we’ve not had lasagna pizza before, that stood out a little more. We topped our dinner by sharing a dessert of strawberry shortcake, compliments of the restaurant.
Opened since June, Stonecloud Brewing joined Oklahoma’s craft beer industry. The brewery offers 19 beers on tap. We ordered a four 4 oz. brews to create our own flight to sample, ranging from a pale ale to a hoppy-infused beer. My favorite was the straight juice bro, a pale ale. Lisa favored the Neon Sunshine beer, a Belgian wheat with rye. Stonecloud calls the old Sunshine Laundry Cleaners building home, renovating the 88-year-old building on the west end of downtown.
Four-year-old Empire Slice House encourages people to loosen up and let their hair down. Enjoy some pizza and maybe a beer or two, while absorbing the eclectic atmosphere. The walls are splattered with music and movie posters or cartoon characters, while props located throughout the building feature the Statue of Liberty or a pink elephant outside on the patio. Located in the Plaza District, we visited based on a recommendation of a person we met at breakfast; he didn’t steer us wrong.
Pizzas have unique names, such as Uncle Buck, Fungus among Us, Rocksteady, as well as Figgy Stardust. I tried the Figgy Stardust, in honor of David Bowie. Topped with ham, chicken and dates, the slice was delicious. It had an interesting flavor, with the dates making it a great choice.
Oklahoma City offers a lot of neighborhoods or districts. The Wheeler District is an upstart area along the Oklahoma River. It features a Ferris wheel that formerly resided on the Santa Monica Pier at the end of Route 66. Along with a giant OKC sign, it creates the perfect photo opp. The district includes an area for people to play corn hole games, as well as enjoy food trucks.
While we ventured to some new places around OKC, our visit included old friends, such as the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, zoo, Bricktown, Myriad Botanical Garden, as well as paying our respects at the National Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum.
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum honors the history of the cowboy and Native Americans in 14 western states. The museum’s collection includes sculptures and paintings from artists such as Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. The most famous sculpture may be the “End of the Trail,” which features a Native American atop a horse. Exhibits range from Native American history to cowboy life on the prairie to modern day rodeos. The outdoor plaza provides a beautiful backdrop for a stroll among flowers and plants while enjoying the view of sculptures highlighting western life.
The Myriad Botanical Garden provides 17 acres of plants, trees, and flowers in the middle of an urban environment. The gardens offer a nice area to spend an hour or so to relax, reflect and recharge your batteries. The Crystal Bridge is an impressive conservatory offering about 750 plants, trees, and flowers in an indoor setting. Its tropical plants include palm trees that stretch to the roof. The Crystal Bridge is unique in that it has a walkway that takes you above the trees, so you can get a bird’s eye view of life in the conservatory.
While we were visiting the gardens, Oklahoma City was hosting its annual Pumpkinville festival, which runs through Saturday. The annual event features 16,000 gourds of all colors, shapes and sizes. Families enjoy visiting because it offers many fun activities for kids, including a maze that leads to a small house, as well as a prairie town.
Honoring a brother
Bricktown offered a special moment for me. An underpass entrance to the retail and entertainment district features a mural based on a poem by my brother John Trudell. “Strength of a Woman” was based on John’s poem “See the Woman,” which describes her life through the years. The Native American artists created the mural featuring John’s face, as well as five other Native Americans. My brother passed a couple of years ago, and it continues to impress me the impact he had so many lives.
Bricktown is home to a lot of great restaurants and stores. We loved our evening boat ride aboard a Bricktown Water Taxi on the canal. We took in so many new attractions along the way, including a miniature golf course and arcade. We ended the evening with a walk along the canal.
Oklahoma City Memorial
In April 1995, the United States suffered its worst domestic terrorist act when Timothy McVeigh parked a moving truck in front of the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. At 9:02 a.m., an explosion from the bomb hidden in the rental truck destroyed a third of the federal building and killed 168 people. The National Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum was dedicated five years later on the spot of the bombing.
The memorial features two gates of time – one at 9:01, the last minutes of innocence and 9:03, the beginning of recovery. In-between the gates, a reflecting pool allows visitors to see what happened and what grew from that devastation.
Nearby, 168 empty chairs occupy a green space. Each represents a person who died on each floor of the Murrah Building. The chairs are made from bronze and glass, and at night, when lit, appear to float.
Next to the memorial is the national museum that traces the day, from its beginning as a typical weekday morning through the chaos and eventually the recovery of not only the bombing but the city. I was moved emotionally while sitting in an exhibit listening to a recording of an otherwise mundane water commission meeting when suddenly you hear an explosion and someone telling people where to go for safety. This begins the museum’s coverage of that fateful day. Viewing the items pulled from the wreckage and their stories should make anyone emotional.
But, as you continue the tour and learn about McVeigh’s actions, as well as those of his accomplices, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, you appreciate the swiftness with which authorities resolved the investigation and apprehended them.
Elephants and beef
Oklahoma City’s zoo ranks as one of the top best in the United States. The 119-acre park offers a look at animals native to Oklahoma, as well as lion and tigers, grizzly bears, bison and primates. Its main attraction is easily its elephants. A herd of elephants roams several acres of the Expedition Asia trail. Visitors walk along a boardwalk that takes you above the pachyderms. It’s one of the best attractions I’ve seen at any zoo.
We enjoyed a delicious dinner at McClintock, a new saloon and chophouse in the Stockyards City district. The restaurant is based on an old western saloon. Our ribeye and tenderloin steaks were cooked perfectly, and the sides were well done. We capped our outing with desserts of chocolate cake and bread pudding.
Dark wood highlights the saloon. With whiskeys and other liquor lined up behind the bar, you can imagine a cowboy tieing up his horse and moseying on in for a shot or two.
Stockyards City offers boutique shopping, with a lot of it western themed, such as hat store and a boots store. The district is home to Cattlemen’s, the oldest steakhouse in the state. Nearby is the world’s largest cattle stockyard and auction.
Great stay, more food
We enjoyed our stay at the Ambassador Hotel. Located in the Midtown Plaza District. The Marriott signature-class hotel offered a comfortable room with a nice view of OKC, including the capitol dome. The staff was professional and helpful. I recommend using the valet parking for a small upcharge rather than searching for parking yourself. It made our stay so much more enjoyable knowing we didn’t have to search for parking late at night. The district offers some great dining and shopping options, and we look forward to checking out more on a future visit.
We loved both our breakfast choices. Located next to the hotel, we first enjoyed breakfast at Waffle Champion. The place is fantastic. These aren’t your mom’s waffles as they feature toppings such as s’mores and apple pie with ice cream. You can order basic ones, with fruit and syrup. Try a waffle sandwich. How about a cheeseburger waffle sandwich featuring bison? I went with a more conventional bacon, cheddar and egg waffle sandwich. The bacon was perfectly done.
Our second day’s brunch was at Café Kacao. People stand in line for several minutes to enjoy the food and coffee at the Guatemalan restaurant. After trying dishes such as the Machaca (scrambled eggs mixed with lime braised shredded beef, tomatoes, onion and jalapeño) and Izabal (sautéed potatoes with peppers, onions and chorizo and two eggs), it’s easy to see why people line up early and stand in line for the food.
On our way out of Oklahoma City, we stopped at a Tucker’s Onion Burgers restaurant for lunch. Opened in 2011, the restaurant offers Oklahoma’s famous onion burgers as pressed beef with fried onions on top (you can also get the burger sans onions). The burgers are impressive. Share a side of fries, and you’re set for a great meal.
While Oklahoma City greeted us with some of our favorite spots to visit, we appreciate the opportunity to experience new attractions and restaurants. The city definitely has grown since the last time we were there. We hope our next visit is a lot sooner than five years because some of the new attractions, such as a 70-acre park which will connect the Skydance pedestrian bridge to the downtown area. The pedestrian bridge is 380 feet long and features a 197-foot tall sculpture of the state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher. We enthusiastically recommend visiting Oklahoma City.
For more information on Oklahoma City’s attractions and dining, please visit www.visitokc.com.
Disclaimer: Thank you to the Oklahoma City visitors bureau for hosting our visit, including complimentary admission to the attractions, a gift card for meals, as well as hotel accommodations. However, all opinions and views are ours.