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May 29, 2022

A Travel Guide to Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa, Oklahoma has long been called one of the country’s best-kept secrets. While many may raise an eyebrow at this, I’ve found this sentiment to be true over the past two years. In fact, my friends and I are constantly heard saying, “Tulsa… who knew?”

From having America's third-best concentration of art deco architecture, to being the home of the recording studio where Tom Petty signed his first contract, to being named one of the top vegan-friendly cities, Tulsa is a hidden gem worth visiting. Here are some recommendations of what to do, see and eat:

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Route 66 is one of the most iconic pieces of Tulsa’s history. Driving down the stretch of road, you can still spot the architecture and neon which made the road so memorable. You will want to plan for a few stops along the drive including:

  • Mother Road Market is a great food hall to grab lunch. No matter who you’re with, everyone can find their favorite food or something new to taste. After lunch, you can shop gifts and wares from local artists.
  • There’s no better place than Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios to get your Tulsa souvenirs! From art to toys to home accessories, Buck Atom’s is filled with unique Tulsa merchandise you won’t find anywhere else.
  • The Dust Bowl is like walking into a time machine. The wood paneled walls, vintage carpeting and vinyl booths will bring you back to a simpler time as you turn into a lean, mean bowling machine.

Explore the Great Outdoors 

While Tulsa’s weather can change faster than a blink of an eye, getting outside to enjoy nature is a true perk of the area. Tulsa boasts 6,000 acres of parks and 50 miles of scenic trails with plenty of wildlife to pique your interest.

  • The Gathering Place is a perfect place to catch a sunset, watch a concert on the green, sit by the lake with the koi or hang out with a heron. Not to mention, it’s a park that was designed to provide inclusive and engaging experiences for all Tulsans to come together to explore, learn, and play.
  • While hiking Turkey Mountain be sure to keep your eyes peeled because you could spot a bald eagle or catch the monarch migration. The recreational area is currently expanding to include 10 trails of various difficulties.

Wake up and Smell the Coffee

One thing you’ll learn about Tulsan’s is they love Tulsa-based companies. And their taste for coffee is no different. The best Tulsan coffee spots feature locally sourced and locally roasted coffee.

  • Chimera features a range of your favorite coffee beverages from regional micro-roasters. Make sure you grab one of their vegan or gluten-free pastries to accompany your coffee. And don’t forget to take in your surroundings because you might even spot a Hanson brother. 
  • Coffee House on Cherry Street proudly brews Tulsa’s Nordaggio coffee. Their display cases are filled with the most mouth-watering pastries, cakes and cookies (most of which have gluten-free options). I recommend trying The Honey Badger and a chocolate crinkle cookie while sitting by the fire.

Take a Trip Down Memory Lane

The history of Tulsa is immense. The city was settled between 1828 and 1836 by the Lochapoka Band of Creek Native American tribe. The discovery of oil in 1901 changed the trajectory of the city forever. Moving forward, Tulsa was known as the “Oil Capital of the World” until 1982. Tulsa’s history also includes the 1921 Greenwood Massacre, one of the nation's worst acts of racial violence.

  • Visiting the Greenwood Cultural Center is a must to learn and understand the history of the race massacre, the rebuilding of Black Wall Street and the subsequent devastation of the community from the urban ‘renewal’ in the 1960’s. 
  • Unknown to the average visitor, Tulsa contains a system of secret underground tunnels which connect many of the early skyscrapers in downtown. The tunnels were used to protect the wealthy and elite from danger including kidnapping. The underground tunnels connect eight buildings.

Face the Music

Not only is the live music scene diverse, there are concerts happening every night of the week. Music has always been an important part of the fabric of Tulsa and continues to be influential around the nation.

  • Opened in May 2022, the Bob Dylan Archives are a must see for music fans. The museum is filled with priceless memorabilia, unreleased recordings and never before seen film performances from one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
  • Cain’s Ballroom is said to be one of the top five music venues in the nation. It has hosted everyone from Hank Williams to the Sex Pistols to Green Day. While many boast about the acoustics, the general consensus is that there’s something special about the music venue which is impossible to put your finger on. But when you experience it, you simply know.
  • Coming soon: OKPOP (the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture) is set to open across the street from Cain’s in 2023. The museum will feature the creative spirit of Oklahoma's people and the influence of Oklahoma artists on popular culture around the world.

Eat your way through Tulsa

One makes certain assumptions about restaurant options in various parts of the nation. Prior to living in Tulsa, my assumption was that the city would be limited to meat and potatoes. The most surprising discovery in Tulsa has been the food scene. Vegan, gluten-free and vegetarian options are all common fare, as well as the diversity of dining options.

  • Que Gusto features an Ecuadorian menu with carefully sourced ingredients. You must try the yucca fries and yucca bread.
  • La Tertulia is Native New Mexican food featuring a James Beard award winning chef at the helm. You must try the chicken adobo.
  • Neighborhood Jam serves upscale, healthy diner style food with a twist. You must try the breakfast poblano or the sweet potato hash.
  • Bohemian Pizza is “bougie” pizza. You won’t find pepperoni on the menu here. In fact, their menu is filled with one-of-a-kind pizza creations made with the finest, freshest, locally sourced produce that are cooked in their wood fire pizza oven. You must try their Cavoletti di Bruxelles.
  • Oren is a fruit and vegetable forward restaurant whose menu is developed from the available local produce. You must try the duck breast.
  • Bird & Bottle is fresh ingredient American fare. You must go on Sunday night and order their gluten-free fried chicken, which is accompanied by mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts.

Raise a Glass

Round out your days of exploring the city with some libations.

  • Valkyrie is the best place in the city to get craft cocktails. If you’re feeling adventurous, check out the list of words on the bottom of the menu. When you give three of them to your server, the bartender will make you a cocktail using the words as inspiration. They can even make mocktails in a similar manner.
  • Numerous breweries populate the city including Welltown, Cabin Boys, Nothing’s Left and American Solera. Grab a local beer and enjoy their outdoor patios. You might even catch an epic Tulsa sunset if you time it correctly.

Get in the Game

For being a ‘small town’, Tulsa contains several minor league teams including baseball, hockey and soccer. The fan base for each may be small, but they are mighty. 

  • The Drillers baseball team is a feeder team for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They play at OneOK Field from April to September.
  • The Oilers hockey team is a feeder team for the Anaheim Duck’s. They play at the BOK Center from October to May.
  • FC Tulsa is a minor league soccer team. They play at OneOK Field from March to October.

When coordinating your visit to Tulsa, make sure to plan enough time to take in all the sights, sounds and tastes. And prepare to be surprised. Because “Tulsa… who knew?”
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