Travel and Leisure Magazine named only seven U.S. cities on their list “The 50 Best Places to Travel in 2020“, and Oklahoma City was included. The writers cited it as an upcoming arts and culture destination, and they are spot on. Oklahoma City is filled with interesting places to visit; it’s a must-see destination and definitely not a fly-over city.
1. National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
This museum combines art with history. The art is outstanding. The galleries are filled with realistic paintings, sculptures, and items from the early days of the west. There are bronze statues of many old west characters as well as historic cavalry and rodeo figures.
If you are a history lover, the exhibits will appeal to you. An entire gallery is devoted to the culture of Native Americans.
Less serious history is also brought to life. If your inner kid longs to go back to the thrilling days of the Wild West with the cowboys of the silver screen, you can ride the range with Roy and Gene. There are displays focusing on the old Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns.
In short, the museum has something for everyone. My favorite exhibit is Prosperity Junction, a recreated frontier village. You can visit the full-sized replica schoolroom, bank, and more.
2. Oklahoma History Center
The Oklahoma History Center takes a different approach to history. It takes you through the state’s history from the Native Americans to the present day. One of the most impressive exhibits is the Heroine Steamboat on the second floor. The Heroine predates the romantic era of steamboats on the Mississippi. It was built in 1832 and sank on May 6, 1838. It was recovered from the Red River. In those days most steamboats didn’t last six years; the Red River was very treacherous.
Another exhibit showcases the native peoples of Oklahoma. It takes you through life there from the early days to contemporary Native American cultures. Until 1907, Oklahoma was not a state but considered Indian Territory.
Other exhibits cover commerce, warfare, and the musical Oklahoma.
3. The Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum
The most moving historical museum in Oklahoma City deals with one of the most horrific acts committed in modern history, the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. This museum walks you through the event minute by minute when a homegrown terrorist murdered 168 innocent people, including 19 children, with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
The Memorial Museum is housed in the former Journal Record Building on the corner next to where the bombed Federal Building stood. The Journal Record escaped the worst of the bombing. The museum tells the story of what happened that day; it shows the often overlooked, yet poignant little details. Amid the crumbled rubble a filled coffee pot remained on a table almost untouched. A briefcase was found in the rubble that belonged to a woman coming to the federal building.
The museum begins with the start of a normal day in Oklahoma City. The Federal Building opened for business. Everything seemed normal. 53 kids were at the YMCA Daycare; 21 were at America’s Kids Daycare. Emergency Medical Services Authority began a class on paramedic training. The Employee Credit Union opened. At 9 a.m. it seemed like just another day. Two minutes later all Hell broke loose.
The artifacts retrieved from the wreckage, photos, informational placards, and interactive exhibits tell the story of an event that should never be forgotten. There are photos of the Federal Building and adjoining buildings.
There is an exhibit displaying the rubble and destruction with artifacts like a crumbled mini-blind from an office window, a piece of a streetlight, and a clock stopped at 9:02 a.m.
One placard shows one of the rescues. There is a Gallery of Honor with the photos and information about the victims. There’s an exhibit about the heroic rescue dogs that helped save lives and find bodies amid the rubble. One section of the rubble is preserved behind glass, so you see the actual damage. It’s a powerful reminder of the havoc one terrorist can create.
The museum then takes visitors through the trials of McVeigh and his coconspirators. You’ll see a neon sign from the Dreamland Motel in Kansas where McVeigh planned the bombing. Interestingly, by the time the FBI figured out who was responsible for the bombing, McVeigh was already in jail. He had made the mistake of not having a valid license plate on his yellow Mercury Marquis. An observant Oklahoma State Trooper pulled him over, found him carrying a concealed gun, and arrested him about 80 miles from Oklahoma City less than two hours after the bombing.
Near the end the exhibits explain the trial. Investigations led to his coconspirator, Terry Nichols. A third conspirator, Michael Fortier, escaped his punishment with a plea deal and agreed to testify in exchange for a lesser penalty. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The Field of Empty Chairs, Reflecting Pool, and Rescuer’s Orchard now stand where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and other buildings were destroyed in the blast.
4. Centennial Land Run Monument
The Centennial Land Run Monument consists of 47 bronze statues, one-and-a-half times life-size. It is the largest series of sculptures in the world. It spans a distance of 365 feet in a city park, open to the public year-round, where you can follow the path through the park and observe each sculpture up close. It commemorates the opening of the Unassigned Land in the Oklahoma Territory with the Land Run of April 22, 1889. The detail is so realistic you expect the horses to gallop forward and the wagon wheels to turn.
The statues begin with the cannon and the man who fired it starting the run. Then there are the people, horses, three wagons, a dog, a cannon, and even a jackrabbit trying to scramble out of the way of the rush. It was created by artist Paul Moore whose great-grandfather participated in the Land Run.
Oklahoma City’s love of art flows onto its streets. Walls of buildings and even bridges are painted with murals. Many are in the Bricktown District where much of the dining and entertainment venues are found, including Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. Even the railroad bridge between Downtown and Bricktown is covered with colorful murals.
If you fly into town, the baggage claim wall at Will Rogers Airport has a futuristic sci-fi painting. There are lots of murals located near the Paseo Arts District and along Western Avenue.
6. Banjo Museum
A visit to the American Banjo Museum is fun and educational. The story of the banjo begins in the cabins of enslaved people who played homemade banjos. The instrument was first introduced to white audiences at minstrel shows in the 1840s.
There are different banjos on display from each era. One from the minstrel era is a banjo from the 1840s built by William Boucher, one of the main instrument makers of the time. You will also see a Bullock Fretless from 1854.
As America moved into the 20th century, the banjo was accepted as a classical instrument. In the exhibit here, you’ll see the improved instruments being produced by manufacturers like Fairbanks, Steward, Cole, and other manufacturers.
With the rise of the jazz age, the banjo came into its own. There are more than 300 jazz age banjos here, the most in any collection in the world. The banjos of this era became more refined and beautiful.
Les Paul was a musician who modified the banjo to fit his tastes. Les Paul, sometimes more recognized for his guitar work, played the banjo under a hillbilly pseudonym, Rhubarb Red. One of his banjos, a Gibson PB 250 modified with an electric amplification system, is on display. Folk singers also played the banjo and one owned by Dave Guard of the Kingston Trio is on display.
Another display is a costume worn by Eddie Peabody, known as the king of the banjo. He developed a unique type of plectrum banjo called the Vegavox. There’s a special exhibit of a Gipson bass banjo from 1929. It’s a one of a kind instrument.
In modern times Earl Scruggs, along with his partner, Lester Flatt, played the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies. He has a large exhibit there. There’s a Vega Earl Scruggs Model from 1964.
The museum also has an event center that looks straight out of the 1960s called Your Father’s Mustache and an interactive Learning Lounge with touch screen displays where you can learn to play the banjo. Music lover or not, this museum is for everyone.
7. Oklahoma City Rattlesnake Museum
If you want a cross of weird and nature, you can find it at the Oklahoma City Rattlesnake Museum. It’s a small museum, but it is interesting if you want to learn about reptiles. They have many different kinds of snakes. More than rattlesnakes, they have cobras and the biggest python I have ever seen.
There are the everyday snakes you might come across in Oklahoma woods like the diamondback rattler. Then there are the ones you won’t find in Oklahoma outside a zoo. One of the more unusual ones is a West African Gaboon viper that’s only found in Sub-Saharan Africa. It has the largest fangs of any snake, at about two inches long, and the second highest venom yield of any snake except the Malaysian King Cobra. You don’t want to reach into that cage.
There are other animals besides snakes like lizards and a giant tortoise. Another interesting resident is the Goliath bird-eating spider; they are members of the tarantula family and the largest spider in the world. Despite its name, it rarely eats birds.
This is a donation-only museum but remember the snakes, and their owners, need to eat. Be generous.
8. 21C Museum Hotel
The 21C Museum Hotel is an awesome art museum as well as a 135-room boutique hotel. Either can hold their own against any other art museum or hotel in the world. The building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, once housed the 1900s Fred Jones Ford Motor Company’s assembly plant that crafted Model Ts. The hotel has a five-star rating. All the guest rooms feature high ceilings and large steel windows creating a bright cheerful atmosphere reminiscent of the 1900s. Naturally, they have unique art in each room.
You have all the 21st-century amenities, a spa with massage services, a 24-hour fitness center, a sauna and steam room, a business center, a laundry service, and great free Wi-Fi. The hotel is pet-friendly. They also offer complimentary shuttle service to downtown locations which can come in handy. Valet parking costs extra, but street parking can be hard to find and there are usually meters you have to feed.
Mary Eddy’s Kitchen and Lounge, with executive chef Jason Campbell, provides dining at the hotel.
The museum in the hotel has some unique and original art. It is home to a flock of Purple Penguin sculptures by Italian artist collective Cracking Art Group. The wandering birds mysteriously move around the hotel. They are in front of one room one time and the next time you look they have flocked to the front of another door.
The museum is on the first floor but starts when you step into the lobby and continues throughout the hotel. One of the first objects you see is a very realistic looking sofa with an adolescent child sound asleep. The art ranges from sculptures like You Always Leave Me Wanting More, a series of multiple large, red enamel arrows banded with LED lights and pointing helter-skelter on the top three floors, to paintings like the one of President Obama. The art changes often so when you go you may see something different but equally interesting.
Oklahoma City not only has world-class hotels and fantastic museums but also 80 miles of greenway trails and an Olympic training facility with a kayak park. The city is easily reached from Will Rogers Airport and is at the crossroads of Interstate 35, Interstate 40, and Interstate 44 if you are driving. There is a train station as well.
Driving is not bad in the city, but parking can be a problem in some places. One way to avoid that is to look for the green, blue, and pink cars of Oklahoma City Streetcar that link the major neighborhoods downtown. Seven cars run on two loops six days a week. There are 22 platforms on the 4.7-mile loop, so a stop is never far. Day passes are available on each platform for $3 or single-use tickets for $1. Enjoy your visit to Oklahoma City!
Last Updated on September 8, 2020