Why We Would Visit Oklahoma City...and You Should Too, via @TravelLatte.net

Why We Would Visit Oklahoma City … and You Should Too

Have you ever had the feeling that the whole world knew something that you didn’t? That’s exactly how we felt after visiting Oklahoma City recently. To be fair, we should have known. We’re essentially neighbors; our home base is just a few hours down the interstate. We have driven past Oklahoma City, but never made it a destination. Until now. And we suddenly realized, we didn’t know OKC at all!

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Oklahoma City in History

Oklahoma City had a big and colorful beginning, being a land rush town with a population that went from zero to 10,000 virtually overnight in 1889. Within 20 years, the nation’s largest stockyards were in full operation, stealing business away from Chicago and Omaha. The oil business boomed in the 1920s, and Oklahoma City was flush with money and success. The city came of age as a prominent stop to “Get your kicks on Route 66.”

In the later half of the 20th Century, Oklahoma City’s fortunes mirrored those of other large cities suffering declining populations. People moved out of the city center, and large sections of downtown laid vacant. The myth of OKC is that the recovery never came.

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Why Would We Visit OKC?

If your knowledge of Oklahoma City is limited, don’t feel bad. We were in the same situation, which is why we never visited the city before. In fact, when we mentioned our plans, the number one question was, “Why Oklahoma City?”

For sports fans, that’s easy: the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder! Baseball fans know it as the home of Johnny Bench, Bobby Mercer, and the OKC Dodgers minor league baseball team. Which is more than we knew!

Many people visit just to see the Oklahoma State Capital, and the site of the Murrah Federal Building bombing. But we’d be willing to bet that you, like us, never thought of Oklahoma City for innovative restaurants or fine art. Or, for that matter, rock climbing and river rapids. After all, Oklahoma is flat as a pancake and dry as a, well, dust bowl. (Other myths, by the way.)

Dinner at The Jones Assembly - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

We really didn’t know what to expect when we decided to visit the heart of Oklahoma City, but we did not expect what we found: A vibrant, metropolitan downtown with a thriving arts scene, stunning architecture, sports and adventure, and damn fine dining.

In coming posts, we’ll talk about itineraries and specific things to do. First, though, we want to dispel any doubts you have that Oklahoma City deserves a place in your travel plans.

A Modern Masterpiece

Oklahoma City (as we write this) is a work in progress. Since the 1990s, more than $3-billion has been pumped into public/private partnerships to revitalize downtown. We won’t lie, there is a lot of construction in the Downtown / Midtown areas, but that’s a good thing. The fact that many historic buildings are being preserved is an even better thing. It means that modern is meeting Modern, right in Oklahoma City.

Many of the historic buildings date from the first half of the 20th Century, when Modernism was the architectural style in vogue. The concrete and limestone Municipal Building, and the neighboring Civic Center Music Hall, are beautiful “government issue” Art Deco buildings. Both were part of the Public Works Administration’s efforts to put people to work after the Great Depression.

Contrasting them is the modern the steel-and-glass Devon Tower, completed in 2012 less than half a mile away. Nearby, the I.M. Pei-designed Myriad Gardens atrium recalls a futuristic vision of a space colony that could be right at home at EPCOT. They anchor a thoroughly modern 21st Century Oklahoma City.

Donald W Reynolds Visual Arts Center - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

A fine example of modern meeting Modern is the sprawling Donald W. Reynolds Visual Arts Center, home of the OKC Museum of Art. Opened in 2002, it encompasses the beautiful Samuel Roberts Noble Theatre, built in 1947. From the towering modern atrium, to the Art Deco flourishes, it’s a destination that should be on your itinerary, inside and out.

Museum City?

Chihuly Glass Tower at OKCMOA - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

That might be an exaggeration, but Oklahoma City shines with the unexpected. Did you know there is an American Banjo Museum? How about a National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum? Would you believe, a Museum of Osteology? (That’s bones and skeletons, folks!) They all exist, right in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City Museum of Art

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is, by far, our favorite in the city. The exhibits on display during our visit were outstanding, and include one renowned artist that people have been known to travel for: Dale Chihuly. The exhibit at the OKCMOA is a one of the world’s largest Chihuly collections, and features a 55-foot tall tower of more than 1,000 individual pieces of glass. The exhibit includes etched glass and drawings, as well as his trademark series.

21c Museum Hotel

You can even spend the night in an art museum in OKC! The boutique 21c Museum Hotel mixes Modern Art with Industrial Chic in an historic Ford Motor Company assembly plant that’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The lobby is all art gallery with sculpture, paintings, and assorted media. Upstairs are 135 guest rooms with custom furnishings and art work. The lobby gallery is free and open to the public 365 days a year.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

Unfortunately, when most think of Oklahoma City, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is still the first thing that comes to mind. The horrific events of April 19, 1995 are still hard to fathom, but this museum does a phenomenal job. The use of technology and interactive displays is impressive.

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

The self-guided tour walks you through an uneventful day of “business as usual” suddenly thrown into chaos in one horrific instant. The surrounding memorial plaza is as impressive and moving as the museum.

Oklahoma’s Adventure Center

The Oklahoma River flows leisurely through the city; a fact that locals and visitors take full advantage of. And so do Olympians!

You read right: Olympic kayakers and hopefuls train at RIVERSPORT Adventures, with world-class rapids that are also open to the public. Not rowing at an Olympic level? No worries. From sculls to sailboats to stand-up paddleboards, there is a variety of water options on the river, and at Lakes Hefner and Overholser. RIVERSPORT offers lessons and excursions, as well.

What’s more surprising than Olympic-class rapids in Oklahoma City? How about world-class rock climbing?

ClimbUp Gym - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

Despite a distinct lack of mountains, the city has one of the nation’s top climbing gyms! ClimbUP has repurposed a grain silo complex a short way from the Downtown district. These silos are 90 feet tall, and have climbing routes up to 140 feet, and longer – that’s among the longest in the country. For experienced climbers, there’s a challenging multi-pitch climb; perhaps the only such gym in the country. For the best views in the city, there’s an outdoor route to the top of the silos.

High Caliber Noshing

If you’ve seen our Instagram account, you know we’re fond of food and coffee. Before we decided to visit Oklahoma City, we never noticed it on any list of cities known for food or coffee. All that has changed.

Just before we left for OKC, Bon Appétit magazine came out with their Best New Restaurants for 2018. At number one was a novel restaurant in – you guessed it – Oklahoma City. It’s called Nonesuch, and it’s a literal hole-in-the-wall that’s making a tidal wave in the dining world. With seating for only 20 people, the restaurant serves only a tasting menu featuring locally sourced and foraged ingredients. With only 20 seats, reservations are mandatory, and hard to get.

If you don’t get into Nonesuch – or if breakfast is more your thing – head to Waffle Champion. The genesis for Nonesuch was here, and you should be too. They do things with waffles that you might think are unnatural. BBQ Pulled Pork. Crab Benedict. Migas…on a waffle? Yes. And yes, delicious. (Also very large.) Other waffles are more understandable: banana cream pie, S’mores, eggs and bacon, all on waffles. Get there early; the line starts growing as soon as the doors open.

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Mary Eddy’s Lounge x Kitchen is the 21c Museum Hotel’s restaurant, with upscale twists on classics like pork rinds, an Asian-inspired pork shoulder, and Grilled Cheese made with Watonga Cheese Curds. More craft cocktails worth investigating are made here, as well. Brunch goes to another level, with innovative dishes alongside hearty classics.

Another great option is The Jones Assembly. Tucked into an historic building on Film Row, the restaurant is a design gem with a mix of open and cozy spaces, a performance venue, and outdoor seating. Billed as “refined regional cuisine,” the menu is varied and enticing: Nashville Hot Chicken, wood-fired pizzas, and the vegan Impossible Burger are just a few highlights. Locally influenced craft cocktails are as enticing as the menu. Our recommendation: the Dagwell Dixie (Pecan-infused Rye? Yes please!) accompanying a J Burger. But it’s the fries you’ll finish first.

Outdoor seating at The Jones Assembly - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

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International Flare

In our book, it’s high time that pretzels, beer, and brats got their own restaurant. That’s Fassler Hall, with a beer list that boggles the mind. Like any good Bavarian beer hall, there’s kraut and schnitzel, too. With indoor and outdoor seating, the family-friendly restaurant offers ping pong and live entertainment, too.

Beer and Pretzels at Fassler Hall - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

Café do Brasil serves lunch, brunch, and dinner, but we enjoyed the OKC views with tapas and cocktails on their rooftop patio. If we had a national drink here at TravelLatte, their traditional Caipirinha would be a leading contender.

Coffee Coffee Coffee

Sadly, we did not get to visit as many coffee shops as we’d like. However, that is a permanent state for us. So many coffees, so few hours in a day. One we heartily recommend, though, is Elemental Coffee. It’s often ranked as the best in town, but the real reason to visit is the range: from simple coffee to complex espresso mocktails, you will find something to love. Also, baked goods and healthy bites for breakfast, lunch, and brunch.

Elemental Coffee - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

All About Cha is a favorite café near our home base in Texas, with a location in Oklahoma City, too. Our friends at A Brit and a Southerner visited recently, and reported back that it’s just as good as our local extension. We can’t wait to stop in on our next trip north.

Another location that’s highly rated, and was recommended by a several locals, is Clarity Coffee. Although they are coffee nerds who know the science behind the best brews, they really just want to give you a great cup of joe, with cool latte art, and maybe some pastries from local bakers.

Oklahoma City Skyline from Midtown - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

Map It
Find the places in downtown Oklahoma City that are featured in this post here.

That OKC Vibe

Some cities just have a feeling about them; a personality of their own that sets the tone and brings together different parts and facets of the city. If Oklahoma City lived next door (which it kind of does), we’d say it’s fun, adventurous, and a little bit sophisticated. Despite being 130 years old, we’d say it seems young and full of promise. It likes good food and family, and good, clean fun.

Above all, we’d say Oklahoma City is surprising for a first time, or infrequent visitor. You could say it’s delightfully random. Walking in Midtown, we encountered bocce ball courts with an amazing view. Near our hotel was a huge neon sign for a defunct drycleaner that leant its logo and building to the new Stonecloud Brewing. A sprawling beer hall over a retro-looking bowling alley. A sandy, albeit temporary, beach in Bricktown. A restaurant making magic with waffles. We found surprise and delight around every corner, and that’s reason enough for us to want to visit again!

Myriad Gardens Atrium - Why You Should Visit Oklahoma City via @TravelLatte.net

Summary

Somehow, the image of Oklahoma City as all stockyards and oil wells is an enduring one. It’s not a city that frequently makes cultural headlines, nor is it known as a hotbed of entertainment or innovation. As a result, it’s easy to believe OKC is a sleepy, uninteresting point on a map.

We were happily surprised to find that’s not the case. The city has been changing rapidly, and continues to do so. Oklahoma City is vibrant, hip, and growing. There’s plenty to do, no matter your interest. We enjoyed our first visit thoroughly, and are looking forward to going back for more. Let us know if we’ve convinced you to #SeeOKC as well, and what you’re most looking forward to!

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Disclaimer: TravelLatte was hosted by the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau. While we enjoyed their generous hospitality, all experiences and opinions are strictly our own.

21 comments on “Why We Would Visit Oklahoma City … and You Should Too

  1. Like most people, the extent of my OKC knowledge was centred around Timothy McVeigh and that hideous act. I’m impressed by the museums, art and foodie spots. You’ve tempted me with craft cocktails too. 😉
    OKC is now on the list!

    • To be fair, we didn’t sample all of the craft cocktails we saw. However, the Dagwell Dixie at The Jones Assembly – even if we only tried that one, it would totally justify the whole trip. Mind. Blown. Pecan-infused bourbon? Yes please. 🙂

  2. Pingback: The Weekly Postcard – 7 September 2018 - TravelLatte

  3. Wow, I have to say that I’m intrigued. I really enjoy reading about these kinds of cities as someone whose knowledge of the US is admittedly limited. And I knew nothing about Oklahoma City or even the state (it is a state right?). It seems a lot of walking outside and in the museums is necessary for all the food – that waffle joint has particularly caught my attention! Great post guys #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Thanks David – we’re glad you enjoyed it! Sadly, there are plenty of us in The States who don’t know much about Oklahoma. It’s largely consigned to being “fly over” territory, which is partly why we wanted to go. Turns out, the city deserves – and is starting to get – a lot more attention. By the way, Waffle Champion is awesome. Nonesuch may be getting a lot of foodie attention now, but Waffle Champion is where it’s at, brother! While I’m sure it draws tourists like us, the crowd seemed completely local and family-friendly when we were there. We were so impressed – and stuffed. 😉

  4. Oklahoma looks an interesting place to visit. The pork at Mary Eddy’s sounds divine too. We have not travelled much in the USA, but would love to and Oklahoma has been added to our USA city list. Have pinned for future reference,. #feetdotravel

    • Hi Paul & Carole! Have to say, we were impressed with the food all across the city! It’s definitely part of the attraction – it’s always nice to have activities and attractions, but having that cuisine is the literal icing on the cake. Oklahoma City is a nice slice of middle-America. We’re sure you’d enjoy it! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. To be honest with you, I’ve only heard negative things about Oklahoma City and never thought it would be worth a visit. I had a neighbor who moved to California from there. From what I read in your post, the city has experienced a revival and that’s good to know. If I’m ever in the area, I’ll make sure to visit Oklahoma City and some of the attractions you mention here.

    • You’re not alone, Anda. At best, most people have heard next to nothing about the city, which is mostly remembered for the federal building bombing and a dying downtown. “Back in the day,” it was a high point along Route 66. So much of that died away with the advent of the freeway system, but the revival is in full swing! OKC is turning into a great destination on its own. As always, thanks for reading!

  6. It’s sad I have only been to the OKC airport and that is when my flight to Dallas was temporarily diverted there. It definitely looks worth a visit. The art museum looks really nice. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • That’s funny, our first landing in OKC was being diverted from DFW too! Glad we finally made the trek to properly visit the city. Or at least some of it – we definitely need to go back for more! The art museum was fantastic – again, more than we expected! Thanks for your comment, Anisa.

  7. Good to hear Oklahoma City was a pleasant surprise for you! I haven’t considered going either, up to now. I would especially like to visit the Memorial and Museum. I’m sure it can be very moving. And I followed your photos of delicious food during your trip — mouthwatering meals!

    • Yeah, we sort of over-indexed on yummies. But we walked all over the place, so we kind of made up for it. Which is another point we probably should have included – much of the downtown / midtown area is very walkable. Or bikeable, using city’s bike share app/program called Spokies. We hope you get a chance to visit – you’ll enjoy it! Thanks for reading, Sharon!

  8. Wow! My knowledge of Oklahoma City was also quite limited LOL It´s great to know it´s such a vibrant, modern and growing city with a plenty of things to do and see! Would love to explore it one day #feetdotravel

  9. You got me! I would never have considered visiting Oklahoma City! Though now you definitely have me intrigued! I love that American cities are finally starting to rejuvenate downtown areas, cleaning them up and bringing life back into them! Oklahoma City definitely seems like a cool new-ish city though! #TheWeeklyPostcard / #FeetDoTravel

    • Good! 🙂 The city has been quietly rebuilding for quite some time, and it’s really showing now. It’s exciting that there’s still more to come – even though we need to go back just to see some of the new and older things we missed on this last trip. Maybe we’ll see you there one day!

  10. Glad you’ve debunked some myths about Oklahoma City. You’ve inspired me to try and stop there on a road trip down south. Love the “government issue” Art Deco buildings. Our Minneapolis downtown post office is one of those. OKC would be worth the trip just for the Chihuly exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art—that’s what I most want to see. That tower is fantastic. Look forward to learning more about OKC in coming posts!

    • We love the Art Deco and Beaux Arts buildings in Minneapolis and St. Paul! In fact, OKC kind of reminded us of MSP – lots of old, lots of new, and still looking to the future. And yes, the Chihuly exhibit is worth the drive! You don’t often see his sketches and other work, so that made it unique for us. The Chihuly Tower is aaaaamazing – you should go! 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Cynthia!

  11. You are right,I would never have considered Oklahoma City as a destination. But sleeping in an art museum? And not because you accidentally got locked in it? I’m sold. Seriously, it looks and sounds like a great place. Maybe I won’t be there any time soon, but at least if I have an opportunity to go, I won’t turn it down, thinking there’s nothing there. Thanks for the post. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • I have to admit, we’d kind of like getting locked in at a museum overnight! But the comfort of a cushy hotel room is probably much more enjoyable. 🙂 The artwork at 21c is very interesting, too. We’ll do a post about that, so I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a kinetic sculpture there we had read about, and it’s so cool! We’re excited to go back – glad we’ve convinced you not to pass OKC by!

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