By: Scott S. Smith and Sandra Wells
Oklahoma City (aka OKC VisitOKC https://www.visitokc.com/) is a lively and diverse metropolis just a three-hour flight from LAX (quicker than you can drive across SoCal), with an annual average of 235 days of sunshine (albeit the weather is more changeable). There is a huge variety of things to do, like kayaking, a terrific science museum for the whole family, and a thriving restaurant scene. We were hosted in the central city by two top-rated hotels:
Ambassador, part of Marriott’s cool new Autograph Collection in a restored 1920s building in midtown (see the in-depth review: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/review-marriott-ambassador-hotel-oklahoma-city-scott-s-smith/).
Omni, with its stunning views of a 70-acre park and location next to downtown event centers (see the in-depth review: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/review-omni-oklahoma-city-hotel-scott-s-smith/).
Oklahoma City National Memorial
https://memorialmuseum.com/ is the first place visitors want to go and is more relevant than ever, commemorating the first modern terrorist massacre in the U.S., the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building that killed 168 and injured 680. Timothy McVeigh said it was revenge for the siege of an armed religious group in Waco, Texas, in 1993, and he hoped it would inspire a revolt against the government. The museum uses videos, photos, exhibits, artifacts, and timelines to create a powerful experience.
Oklahoma History Center
https://www.okhistory.org/historycenter/ covers 18 acres with over 200 multi-sensory exhibits. Sections include the musical “Oklahoma!” (set in 1906, the year before statehood), the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, the 20-year Dust Bowl which began in 1935, Route 66 (the first attempt at an interstate highway, which started here), local inventions such as grocery carts and parking meters, and famous Oklahomans, such as Will Rogers and Reba McEntire.
Skeletons: Museum of Osteology
https://www.skeletonmuseum.com/ is the nation’s only museum devoted to the bones of hundreds of creatures, ranging in size from a hummingbird to a humpback whale and including a komodo dragon, giraffe, vulture, and early humans. The signs explain how their differences affected their movement and daily life. A fun and educational place for the whole family.
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
https://www.okcmoa.com/ has a solid collection of major works from 17th century paintings to contemporary portraits and photos. But the main reason to visit is that it has one of the largest collections of the spectacular glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly.
https://www.factoryobscura.com/ is an immersive art experience, whose Mix-Tape installment, created by an art collective, was highlighted by Newsweek as one of the best of its type in the world.
Plaza Walls are the murals painted by a different set of artists each year in the alley behind 16th St. businesses in the Plaza District and are a primary reason USA Today ranked OKC No. 1 for street art.
https://oklahomacontemporary.org/discover/new-center features changing exhibits with the work of unusually talented artists, such as the ones when we were there, including the vivid images of wild animals by John Newsom and the hanging scrolls of Marium Rana that evoke the magnificence of the 16th century Mughal Empire of South Asia.
First Americans Museum
https://famok.org/ introduced us to the 39 Indigenous nations in the state (16% of Oklahomans are Native American, second only to Alaska’s 22%). Its exhibits in 175,000 sq. ft. showcase the history, culture, and contributions of each (the state’s name comes from two Choctaw words, Okla and Homma, meaning Red People). A fascinating story that everyone who not a tribal member should understand.
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
https://nationalcowboymuseum.org/ is the world’s premier museum of its kind and you should start with the film “Grit” on why the values of the frontier are still relevant today. Join a docent tour of the 200,000 sq. ft. space, which includes art galleries, a section on Western movies, the Rodeo Hall of Fame, an exhibit on how barbed wire was the key to settlement, famous firearms, examples of Native American lodging, and even a full-scale Old West town.
The prior late afternoon, we drove 90 min. south through beautiful countryside to Chickasaw Country
https://chickasawcountry.com/ , where this Indigenous nation owns 100 thriving businesses. From the arts district in its capital of Ada to the National Recreation Area, there is lots to do. We were hosted by the Artesian Hotel (see the in-depth review https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/review-artesian-hotel-casino-spa-scott-s-smith/), a luxury resort and casino in charming Sulphur. We had dinner at Flower Buff Manor https://www.theflowerbluffmanor.com/, a historic mansion famous for its tortellini, chicken fried steak, and blackened mahi mahi. The next morning, we browsed the ARTesian Gallery & Studio, which has studios for local artists, as well as the arts and crafts at the Chickasaw Visitor Center (buying directly avoids counterfeiters).
The Chickasaw emerged from the ancient temple mound cultures in the southeast U.S. and Anglo-Americans considered them one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” because they were largely farmers who lived in towns and were active traders. But all five were forced to give up their lands in the 1830s and removed to Indian Territory with great suffering, though the Chickasaw fared better than others because of their negotiating and business skills.
We toured the excellent Chickasaw Cultural Center, which uses interactive exhibits, sculptures, artifacts, storytelling, and a recreated 18th century village to enable visitors to better understand everything from their language to spirituality. We started with the terrific introductory film on the tribe’s history up to today and ended watching members perform traditional dances, sung in the native tongue.
We then left for Tishomingo, the tribal capital before statehood where its annual fall festival is still held. We visited the impressive Chickasaw National Capitol and Council House, which have thousands of artifacts about the region’s history, and the Chickasaw Nation Information Center. The town has the renowned Old Silo Winery
https://www.oldsilowinery.com/ (Sandra was impressed with its Chambourcin red) and we had dinner at country music legend and homeboy Blake Shelton’s Ole Red
Ole Red https://olered.com/, whose attached live music venue, The Doghouse, showcases new talent and the occasional star.
Frommer’s Travel and Travel+Leisure agree that you could spend weeks in Greater Oklahoma City and not begin to exhaust the list of interesting things to do, no matter what your travel agenda is.