Oklahoma gets its name from the Choctaw name for 'Red People.' One look at the state's vividly red earth and you'll wonder if the name is more of a literal than an ethnic comment. Still, with 39 tribes located here, it is a place with deep Native American significance. Museums, cultural displays and more abound.
The other side of the Old West coin, cowboys also figure prominently in the Sooner State. Although pickups have replaced horses, there's still a great sense of the open range, interrupted only by urban Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Oklahoma's share of Route 66 (the largest of any state) links some of the Mother Road's iconic highlights and there are myriad atmospheric old towns.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Oklahoma.
Image by Walter Bibikow / Getty RF The story of the worst incident of domestic terrorism in the US is told at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, which avoids becoming mawkish and lets the horrible events of April 19, 1995, speak for themselves. There are two facets to the poignant memorial - the outdoor memorial and indoor museum. Visitors to the museum can take a self-guided tour through the stories of those who were killed, those who survived and those whose lives were changed forever by the incident. It also traces the world’s response in the aftermath of the atrocity. The moving outdoor Symbolic Memorial has 168 empty chair sculptures for each of the people killed in the attack, with the 19 small ones representing the children who perished in the day-care center. The museum and memorial are must-sees for those visiting the city of Oklahoma. History of the memorial and museum Perpetrated by anti-government extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the truck-bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 killed 168 people, injured more than 680 others and destroyed more than one-third of the building, which had to be demolished. The blast destroyed or damaged 324 other buildings within a 16-block radius, shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings and destroyed or damaged 86 cars. In 1995, Oklahoma city mayor, Ron Norick, appointed a 350-member task force to explore ways to remember the tragic event and honor the victims. It issued its report, the Memorial Mission Statement, in 1999. This called for the creation of a permanent memorial to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those whose lives were changed forever by the bombing. In September 1996, the task force became the Oklahoma City National Memorial, dedicated to fulfilling that mission. Committees were drawn from the families of those who were killed in the bombing, survivors, first responders and volunteers who participated in the rescue and recovery efforts, as well as community volunteers. The outdoor Symbolic Memorial was dedicated on April 19, 2000, by President Bill Clinton, and the Memorial Museum was dedicated on February 19, 2001, by President George Bush. What to do at the memorial and museum Visitors to the outdoor Symbolic Memorial find a moving place for quiet reflection. It encompasses the now-sacred soil where the Murrah building once stood, as well as the surrounding area devastated by the attack. Each chair in the Field of Empty Chairs represents and memorializes a person killed in the bombing. Check out The Survivor Tree, an American elm that bore witness to the violence and withstood the full force of the attack. It continues to stand as a living symbol of resilience, and the circular promontory surrounding the tree offers a place for gathering and viewing the memorial. The Memorial Museum is an interactive learning experience that occupies the west end of the former Journal Record Building, which withstood the bombing. Take a self-guided tour through the story of the atrocity, the trial of the perpetrators and the world’s response to the incident. The museum uses 35 interactives as well as hundreds of hours of video and artifacts to show visitors the personal and poignant details of the devastating attack . Tickets and other practicalities The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is located at 620 N. Harvey Avenue. The Symbolic Memorial is free to visit and open to all 24 hours per day all year-round, while the museum is closed on Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. There is free parking with admission at Memorial Garage, located at 231 NW 6th Street. Museum tickets for adults cost $15, seniors and military pay $13, school and college students pay $12 and children aged 5 and under go free. Tickets can be booked online here. Accessibility at the memorial and museum Designated accessible parking spaces are available on 6th Street between Harvey Avenue and Robinson Avenue on the north side of the museum. Designated wheelchair-accessible entrances are in place at the memorial. The entrance to the museum is wheelchair accessible, along with each floor of the museum and all restrooms. Elevators are located on each level. Manual wheelchairs can be obtained free of charge from the admissions desk. Each video within the museum is open captioned and the app provides a tour for visitors with sight disabilities.
On November 27, 1868, George Custer’s troops launched a dawn attack on the peaceful village of Chief Black Kettle. It was a slaughter of men, women, children and domestic animals, an act some would say led to karmic revenge on Custer eight years later. Trails traverse the site of the killings, which is remarkably unchanged. An excellent visitor center 0.7 miles away contains a good museum; seasonal tours and talks are worthwhile.
You can tour the only Frank Lloyd Wright–designed skyscraper ever built, the 221ft Price Tower (1956). Inside and out it is like Architectural Digest meets The Jetsons. Wright shopped the design around for 30 years before he found clients willing to build it here. All but abandoned in the 1990s, the building now houses a ground-floor art gallery and the Inn at Price Tower. Visitors can also ride the creaky elevators to the 15th-floor Copper Restaurant + Bar.
The 59,020-acre Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge protects bison, elk, longhorn cattle and a frenetic prairie dog town. Wildlife is abundant; observant drivers might even see a spindly, palm-sized tarantula tiptoeing across the road. At the visitor center, displays highlight the refuge’s flora and fauna and there are inspiring views of prairie grasslands. For a short-but-scenic hike, try the creek-hugging Kite Trail to the waterfalls and rocks at the Forty Foot Hole; it starts at Lost Lake Picnic Area.
Tulsa's beautiful Union Station is filled with sound again, but now it's melodious as opposed to cacophonous. During the first half of the 20th century, Tulsa was literally at the crossroads of American music with performers both homegrown and from afar. Learn about greats like Charlie Christian, Ernie Fields Senior and Wallace Willis in detailed exhibits. Sunday jazz concerts are played in the once-segregated grand concourse. On Tuesday nights there are free jam sessions.
Part museum, part souvenir store, part bookstore, part candyland, this multifaceted place should be your first stop in downtown Tulsa. All things art deco are celebrated. Pick up the free walking map that will guide you to nearby soaring architectural treasures, including the magnificent Philcade Building right across the street.
Woody Guthrie gained fame for his 1930s folk ballads that told stories of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. His life and music are recalled in this impressive museum, where you can listen to his music and explore his legacy via the works of Bob Dylan and more. Evening concerts are held at the on-site theater (check the website for dates and times).
The excellent Cherokee Heritage Center features Native American–led tours through a re-creation of a pre-European-contact woodland village and 1890s reservation life. It lies on 44 heavily wooded acres, the grounds of the former Cherokee Female Seminary, the first public institution of higher learning for women west of the Mississippi.
Four dozen huge bronze sculptures, spread across several hundred feet of open land near Bricktown, capture the chaos and drama of the 1889 land rush that settled a large part of the future state – and dispossessed Native Americans from their lands. Despite the enduring controversy, the land rushes remain etched in Oklahoma's soul.