Tulsa comes as a big surprise to a lot of visitors. Let’s face it: Many people have a mental image of Oklahoma that combines Laurey and Curly and the surrey with the fringe on top, Indians galloping across the plains, and the Joads heading for California. At some time, in some places, these images may have had a kernel of truth but they’re as out of date as high-button shoes.
Tulsa is Oklahoma’s most cosmopolitan city. Skyscrapers tower over a downtown area that is undergoing revitalization. Bikers, hikers, and skaters zip down miles of tree-lined paths along a river that is broad and beautiful. And the closest you’ll get to a surrey is at Discoveryland!—the national home of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in nearby Sand Springs.
Tulsa’s major attractions are scattered throughout the metropolitan area. But fortunately, Tulsa’s easy to navigate. And, of course, the city’s more than its museums and amusement venues. It’s all the places where Tulsans live, work, play, and pray.
With the revival of downtown, lofts and city living are becoming more popular. With the westerners’ sense of space, most residents, however, opt for single-family dwellings in neighborhoods of small, postwar bungalows, larger homes in historic districts, or new developments in suburbs like Broken Arrow, with 90,000 residents, a city in its own right.
Though known for petroleum and natural gas, other major industries include aerospace manufacturing and transportation, health care, and telecommunications. Tulsa’s economic diversification has helped the area weather the economic downturn more easily than many other destinations.
Tulsa’s lifestyle also provides stress relief—a slower pace, an emphasis on family, and lots of outdoor and recreational opportunities. Some of Oklahoma’s most popular lakes are within easy driving distance—Grand Lake, Keystone Lake, Lake Oologah, Tenkiller Lake, and Fort Gibson Lake. Nearby state parks offer accommodations and camping, and Tulsa itself has beautiful parks and green spaces for everyday getaways. It’s also a mecca for the country’s best golfers. Southern Hills Country Club has been the site of three U.S. Open championships, four PGA championships, and seven other major championships.
Religion is an important part of community life in Oklahoma, and visitors looking for a service won’t have to look far. Some of the city’s most stunning architecture is in its houses of worship.
And the architecture is a big attraction. Fueled by oil money in the ’20s and ’30s, Tulsans built amazing buildings in the art deco style. Visitors come from all over the world to examine the genre in variations from early zigzag, middle Public Works Administration (PWA), and late streamline versions.
All in all, Tulsa is a great place to visit—and it’s a great place to live.
Attractions in Tulsa? The city’s an attraction. With its amazing collection of art deco buildings, which span the gamut of the genre, Tulsa attracts architecture enthusiasts from all over the country. But there’s a lot more to see and do here—for the whole family. Few cities this size can boast two art museums of the caliber of Gilcrease and Philbrook. Interesting areas like Brookside and Cherry Street draw not only shoppers but those looking for good restaurants and a little nightlife. It’s hard to divide all Tulsa’s attractions into neat categories. Some will be cross-referenced, like Cain’s Ballroom, which has historical interest but is also a live-music nightspot. Some places or activities are listed in other chapters like Outdoors or Arts or Kidstuff. So don’t stick to one chapter—there are attractions throughout this book—just like there are attractions throughout town.
Tulsa’s a great place for families and a great place for children. With lots of days of sunshine and not too many that are too cold—or hot—to go outside, the list of parks and outdoor activities is a long one. Be sure you check the Outdoors chapter. A number of activities and places are cross-referenced, but you know your child better than anyone else and you’ll probably find things throughout the book that aren’t mentioned here. These are just some of the very obvious choices.
While you’ll find plenty to keep you busy in Tulsa, there are a number of interesting spots to visit in the area. Visiting some of these places will help you appreciate the history of this part of the state.
Tulsa wasn’t the only city affected by the discovery of oil. So, too, was Bartlesville. From the early part of the last century, Phillips Petroleum has been an important part of the community. Even though the company’s presence has been reduced by defections to Texas, the years of company generosity have written indelibly on the town. Ponca City has its own oil legacy with the story of E. W. Marland and Conoco.
To the east, Muskogee and Tahlequah are good places to learn more about the Native Americans in the area. And the Illinois River draws huge crowds of people who want to float downstream in its cool, clear waters.
And you can’t forget Route 66. Jaunt north to Miami—there are some highlights in this chapter. Or head toward Oklahoma City. You don’t have to stop at Arcadia, where the route in this section ends. There’s a lot to explore in Oklahoma City. So much that we recommend you buy Insiders’ Guide Oklahoma City. Yes, that’s a shameless plug, but it really will be helpful.
This chapter is arranged alphabetically by city except for the two Route 66 Road Trips, where towns and attractions are listed in the order in which you’ll come to them.