Oklahoma City

Overview

Introduction

Most of the world has only one horrible image of Oklahoma City: the rubble of the Federal Building after the terrorist bombing that killed 168 people in April 1995. The Oklahoma City National Memorial now graces the downtown site where the building stood. It includes rows of empty bronze-backed chairs, one for each victim, and two large bronze-colored gates. A tree that survived the blast has an honored place on the grounds. The memorial's museum details the rescue and recovery efforts and exhibits artifacts from the building and pictures of the victims.

As striking as the memorial is, there's a lot more to this town. As you tour, you'll notice some of the 2,000 oil wells in and around town—there are even working wells on the Capitol grounds. You'll see almost as many churches: This is the heart of the Bible Belt.

Don't miss the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, a large complex that honors the cowboys and cowgirls of the past. Among its many galleries, you'll find an extensive art gallery that spotlights the works of Charles M. Russell, Frederic Remington and James Earle Fraser (look for the 33-ft/10-m statue of Buffalo Bill Cody); a firearms collection; and exhibits that focus on the way the west has been interpreted in film and other media. The museum's hall of fame honors famous cowboys of all stripes.

For big-city activities, try Bricktown in Oklahoma City. Built in the early 20th century as a warehouse district to serve the railyards of the new city, it has been completely renovated with restaurants, clubs, offices and cultural centers for indy films, while preserving the unique redbrick architecture. A canal has been built with water-taxi tours, and the adjacent stretch of the North Canadian River was dammed and renamed the Oklahoma River. Rowing and other watersport events are held there. On the riverbank, a grain elevator that formerly served the cotton mill has been converted into one of the largest indoor climbing walls in the country. Other Bricktown attractions include convention centers and the SBC Ballpark, home of the Oklahoma City Redhawks baseball team. Also, be sure to check out Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill.

For a glimpse of turn of the century small town life, forty minutes north on I-35 is Guthrie, whose town center is a well-preserved example of a prosperous prairie town.

We also recommend a visit to the Harn Homestead and 1889er Museum, a prestatehood home and gardens that were restored by descendants of the men and women who made the Land Run of 1889. Another must-see is Omniplex, the city's cultural and recreational center. It has a number of galleries and museums, including the International Photography Hall of Fame (see the huge mural of the Grand Canyon), the Red Earth Indian Center, the Science and Air Space Museum, an OmniDome theater, a planetarium and several gardens and greenhouses. The Homestead is very child friendly, with over 300 hands-on exhibits.

Veterans (and other military-history buffs) will enjoy the 45th Infantry Division Museum, named for an important unit from World War II. The museum recounts their story and also addresses the military experiences of other Oklahoma residents. Among the exhibits are some original Bill Mauldin "Willie and Joe" cartoons.

We were impressed—all the more because this is the Great Plains—by the tropical rain forest inside Crystal Bridge at Myriad Botanical Gardens. Part of a downtown greenbelt, the bridge is a huge glass conservatory with waterfalls and an upper-level skywalk that has great views of the gardens below.

Save time for the fine Oklahoma City Zoo. If you like the zoo, you might also want to see the Martin Park Nature Center, a large nature preserve with 200 species of birds as well as beavers and coyotes. Exhibits illustrate the center's ecosystem. For a different appreciation of animals, you can visit the Oklahoma National Stockyards (where millions of dollars' worth of cattle get sold with a wink or a nod).

Thoroughbred and Quarterhorse racing are held at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. You can watch from the stands or from your table at Silks Restaurant overlooking the track.

The Oklahoma City Firefighters Museum has exhibits and artifacts from the history of firefighting dating back to the 18th century.

Asia District has Asian restaurants, grocery stores and the "Gold Dome" at 23th and Classen. Originally a bank, the geodesic dome has been renovated and converted to office and retail spaces and an Asian Cultural Center.

The Lyric Theater is a professional summer-stock company that performs musicals June-August. For nighttime entertainment (bars and restaurants), try the Brickyard area.

Noteworthy Oklahoma City festivals include the International Finals Rodeo (January); the Spring Festival of the Arts (continuous entertainment, international food—April); the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival (thousands of Native Americans representing tribes from across North America at the largest intertribal gathering in the world—June); and the State Fair of Oklahoma (one of the top state fairs in the U.S., with entertainment and exhibits, including a PRCA Championship Rodeo and many contests and competitions—September). 115 mi/185 km southwest of Tulsa.

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