For most of the 20th century, Tulsa, Oklahoma, had the nickname Oil Capital of the World. Today, many consider Tulsa a cultural center, with world-renowned art museums, Art Deco architecture, science centers and music venues.
“Tulsa has a cool vibe to it,” said Ray Hoyt, president of the Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s a very philanthropic city. It has a lot of old oil and energy money. We have woken up from the ’70s when the downtown fell asleep. The city is investing in itself. Money is being spent to turn Tulsa into a city for the future.”or most of the 20th century, Tulsa, Oklahoma, had the nickname Oil Capital of the World. Today, many consider Tulsa a cultural center, with world-renowned art museums, Art Deco architecture, science centers and music venues.
Groups looking to combine educational experiences with fun will enjoy Tulsa’s plethora of interactive attractions.
Architecture: Art Deco Tours
Gargoyles and other carved figures look down on visitors from high above on Tulsa’s numerous Art Deco buildings. After the oil boom in the early 1900s, Tulsa’s upper-class residents threw $1 million into developing the downtown to showcase their wealth. The amount of opulent architecture downtown and beyond earned Tulsa its new nickname: Terra Cotta City.
“These oil companies were making money like no one had ever imagined, so they were building these impressive Art Deco buildings,” said Hoyt. “You can spend all day downtown looking at these buildings. Only New York City has more Art Deco buildings than we do. Tulsa protected them and didn’t tear them down like a lot of other cities did.”
Groups can take self-guided tours or choose from various guided tours of the Art Deco buildings, including some offered by a company called Tours of Tulsa. The step-on guide service relates the stories of Tulsa, from the Native Americans and cowboys to those who struck it rich and reshaped the cityscape.
Tours can also venture underground to explore some of the 600 feet of tunnels that connect various Tulsa buildings. The fascinating history of these tunnels, built to protect wealthy businesspeople during a rash of kidnappings, makes them even more mysterious.
For more architecture: Tulsa Art Deco Museum
With a ceiling covered in gold leaf and mosaic tile, the Tulsa Art Deco Museum is itself a work of art.
Science: Oklahoma Aquarium
You can experience the thrill of “Shark Week” up close by walking through a tunnel underneath gigantic bull sharks. The Oklahoma Aquarium’s “Shark Adventure” has garnered all kinds of national attention, including featured episodes on the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” series. The 500,000-gallon tank holds the largest bull sharks in captivity, as well as lemon sharks, tiger sharks and nurse sharks.
Visitors can also examine the prehistoric creatures living in Oklahoma’s lakes and rivers in the “Aquatic Oklahoma” exhibit. An alligator snapping turtle and a seven-foot-long alligator gar prove that the state’s waters hold a fascinating collection of creatures.
“It’s a world-class aquarium,” said Hoyt. “From an educational standpoint, you can see all kinds of animals that are native to the Tulsa area. It’s an incredible aquarium.”
Groups can book a behind-the-scenes tour to discover how the aquarium keeps its various underwater species healthy.
For more science: Tulsa Zoo
The 85-acre Tulsa Zoo tends to 1,500 animals representing 436 species from around the world.