Oklahoma City is one of the country’s best examples of urban revitalization.
“Thanks to what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years, we’ve had great growth,” said Tabbie Burwell, communications manager for the Oklahoma Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The revitalization of historic districts has been just one of the keys to the city’s grand success. Oklahoma City, a popular tourist destination because of cowboys, culture and even cupcakes, has taken great care to preserve its “cool factor.”
Where the Buffalos Roam
Once an abandoned old warehouse district, Bricktown is now the place to shop, eat and see a ballgame. It’s also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Oklahoma.
Nestled in the heart of the city, Bricktown’s red-brick buildings house a brewery, dozens of restaurants and a professional sports stadium. Stunning large sculptures, paying tribute to the famous Land Run of 1889, when people flocked to the area to claim new homesteads, are part of the scenery.
“First, take a ride on the Bricktown Water Taxi, a one-hour, narrated ride on the water canal,” said Burwell. “You’ll be surrounded on both sides by nightclubs and theaters while an entertaining speaker describes the incredible history of the area.”
Although Bricktown is an easy walk from downtown and hotels, visitors can also use the water taxi as floating transportation throughout the area.
A five-minute walk from Bricktown brings visitors to the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River.
“This hot spot for outdoor recreation is the official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site, and individuals can canoe, paddleboard and kayak to see the elite boathouses along the river, large event centers that are so very incredible,” said Burwell.
The district also features Riversport Adventures, which boasts the tallest stainless-steel slide in America; the new 700-foot SandRidge Sky Zip across the river; and the Rumble Drop, where adventurous riders experience an 80-foot free fall.
“You’re strapped in much like a bungee jump,” said Burwell. “It’s so much fun.”
Oklahoma City’s Adventure District has more than a handful of venues that offer a variety of entertainment. Visitors can spend the day feeding the stingrays at Stingray Bay, the Oklahoma City Zoo’s newest exhibit; see an Imax film and cultural exhibits at Science Museum Oklahoma; and make a few bets at the Remington Park Racing and Casino, the state’s premier horseracing facility.
Burwell suggested that groups also spend time at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
“This is home to the most comprehensive collection of Western art in the world,” she said. “This is America’s story about the West — it’s not just about Oklahoma.”
In the heart of downtown, the Myriad Botanical Gardens and Tropical Conservatory features a breathtaking natural escape, according to Burwell.
“The Myriad just went through a multimillion-dollar restoration and is simply a lush paradise for our city,” she said. “This inside-and-outside venue features the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory, with 13,000 square feet of plant display and a 35-foot waterfall. They offer free movies in the summer and renowned restaurants — the exquisite Park House and the Ice House — serving the area’s famous Nic’s burgers.”
Food, Fun and Festivities
In early June, the Red Earth Festival celebrates Native American culture with three days of dance and artistry at the Remington Park Racing Casino.
Artists depict the history of the area through beadwork, sculpture, a grand parade and more. Burwell raved about the dance competitions within that visual and performing event.
“The participants are the masters in originality and skills,” she said.
Also in June is the OKC Fest, touted as Oklahoma’s premier outdoor music festival. Attendees will hear country, rock, bluegrass and jazz on production stages throughout the city. Past headliners have included Lady Antebellum and Merle Haggard.
In the spring and fall, the Oklahoma Regatta Festival in the Boathouse District offers food, fireworks, music and a variety of exciting boat races. More live music rocks Oklahoma City on the last Friday of the month from March through September at the famed H and Eighth Street Festival, the largest food truck festival in the world, according to Burwell.
“There are sometimes 42 food trucks for visitors to choose from,” she said.
Groups will find more great OKC food at Cattlemen Steakhouse in historic Stockyard City, where George H.W. Bush likes to dine when he is in town.
“One of the best steaks in Oklahoma City, this restaurant, over 100 years old, is a must,” said Burwell.
Just a few steps away from the Bricktown Ballpark and many more attractions is Nonna’s Euro-American Ristorante and Bar, which touts not only the best patio view in Bricktown but also the best farm-to-table cuisine in the area. “From steak to chicken to enchiladas to their tiramisu, you can’t get food anywhere else like here,” said Burwell.
And if you still have a notch left on your belt after dinner, make your way to Green Goodies, a bakery whose owners have won a championship on the Food Network show “Cupcake Wars.” Boasting over a dozen flavors, including salted caramel and red velvet, the bakery also caters to vegan customers and those on gluten-free diets.