Oklahoma Holiday Planning Guide
Boasting a rich Native American heritage and named after the Choctaw word for "Red People," Oklahoma remains home to about 40 native tribes who speak 25 distinct languages. Though the state remains one of the country's top producers of agricultural products, most of its inhabitants live within two metropolitan areas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. The state is home to the 500-million-year-old Wichita Mountains, noted for being the site of the oldest national wildlife refuge in the United States. Explore the state's pristine natural areas while on your Oklahoma vacation, but be sure to leave plenty of time to tour its characteristic small towns, known for their food, music, and cultural festivals.
Places to Visit in OklahomaOklahoma City
: Known as the "Big Friendly," Oklahoma City is the metropolitan hub of the state and, despite a evolving and modern entertainment scene with nightclubs and theaters, the city retains traditional Old West characteristics.Tulsa
: Filled with skyscraping white and glass buildings, Tulsa harbors a successful business industry and several Fortune 500 and 100 companies, as well as one of the United States' best museums for modern and contemporary art.Norman
: Home to the University of Oklahoma, Norman boasts a lively culture of university sports and football games, counted among the most popular things to do in Oklahoma.Pauls Valley
: Despite this town's small size, Oklahoma tourism thrives here largely thanks to popular water parks and lakes, great spots for fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, and camping.McCurtain County
: Explore Oklahoma's great outdoors at McCurtain County, where you can hike, bike, climb, camp, and more in the oldest national forest in the southern United States.
Things to Do in Oklahoma
Popular Oklahoma Tourist AttractionsOklahoma City National Memorial & Museum
: Learn about the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995 in this large museum, which displays a recording of the bombing, news footage, items found in the rubble, and the gut-wrenching Gates of Time that house 136 empty chairs representing the victims.Oklahoma City Zoo
: From native species like bears and alligators to exotic tigers and elephants, this zoo invites you to learn about animals of the world while also providing interactive exhibits for children and boat tours for the whole family.National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
: An Oklahoma tour is not complete without getting to know its cowboy roots, and visitors are welcome to explore this culture among this attraction's Western Heritage Award-winning artwork as well as artifacts and rodeo exhibitions, while being enlightened with stories of Old West.Museum of Osteology
: Get to know the science of how our skeletons work and view the bones of about 300 animals, including a humpback whale, at this museum, which also features an exhibit of pathologies that explains ways to determine cause of death.Philbrook Museum of Art
: Housed in a 1920s villa, this Oklahoma attraction houses artwork from all over the world, including Europe, Asia, and Africa; the museum also boasts a sculpture garden.Tulsa Zoo
: This award-winning zoo houses more than 2,000 native and exotic animals and offers train and camel tours, excavation exhibits, and scheduled feedings with professional keepers.Oklahoma Aquarium
: In addition to all types of marine creatures, this aquarium offers interactive exhibits, scheduled feedings, and an underwater tunnel where you can spot the largest bull sharks in captivity.Gilcrease Museum
: Browse the world's largest art collection of the American West, as well as smaller collections from Central and South America.Turner Falls Park
: Enjoy a swim or hike around the forested park to explore caves and a castle built during the 1930s, and experience the state's gorgeous wilderness at this Oklahoma attraction.Science Museum Oklahoma
: This Smithsonian Institution affiliate features interactive exhibits that include a weather forecast station, tornado simulator, space station, dome theater, and many more educational displays with space, aviation, and cultural artifacts.
Planning a Oklahoma Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Oklahoma with Kids
An Oklahoma vacation may not be the first thing to spring to mind when planning a family trip, but this state has developed exciting tourism opportunities in recent years. Start your journey in Oklahoma City
, where you can visit theaters, museums, theme parks, and much more. When you are ready to see some of Oklahoma's smaller towns, head to Stillwater
, or explore Enid
and Park Hill
, featuring learning centers where children of all ages can discover Native American history, science, and more. When all else fails, delve into Oklahoma's great outdoors. The state harbors dozens of parks and wildlife refuges like Natural Falls State Park
and Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve
, where bison roam free.
Things to Do in Oklahoma with Kids
There is no shortage of activities for children in the Panhandle State. Whether you are looking for educational museums or thrilling roller coasters, there is an Oklahoma attraction for every age and interest. Oklahoma City
offers endless options, but some highlights you may want to check out include The Escape OKC
, a live-action escape challenge that encourages teamwork to solve puzzles, find clues, and escape the room in an hour. Also spend a day at Frontier City
, the state's largest theme park. Older children and kids-at-heart can brave the seven-story, looping roller coaster, while the park's Paul Bunyan's Kids Area provides several rides suitable for the youngest visitors.
Oklahoma has no shortage of museums. Keep your kids' interests in mind and choose from places like Cherokee Heritage Center
, a historical exhibit about the Cherokee people. Let its early-1700s recreated village enlighten your family with old Native American culture, activities, and lifestyles. If science appeals to your group, stop in Leonardo's Children's Museum & Adventure Quest
instead. With a maze of bridges and tunnels and a simulated space shuttle, this museum is bound to keep kids busy for hours. A similar attraction intended for very young visitors, Oklahoma WONDERtorium
encourages development through playtime in creative settings that include a farm, general store, and an eye exam room.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Oklahoma
If there are any animal lovers in your group, the state's zoos make the perfect addition to your Oklahoma itinerary. Big animal parks and aquariums remain your best options, but do not disregard the smaller zoos and wildlife refuges. Places like Lost Creek Safari
offer your kids a much more interactive, hands-on experience, and this particular attraction allows you to feed ring-tailed lemurs, camels, ostriches, deer, and even zebras.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Oklahoma
Cuisine of Oklahoma
You will not find a signature cuisine on your Oklahoma trip, but expect hearty, Southern-style foods like biscuits and gravy, chicken-fried steak, fried okra, and grits. You may not expect it, but wine is widely produced and very present in this state. Although the winemaking industry suffered greatly during the Dust Bowl and Prohibition, today over 50 wineries exist in Oklahoma. Take a tour of Girls Gone Wine
, a winery offering dry, semi-dry, and sweet wines. This winery's relaxed atmosphere encourages friends to gather on the patio and chat over a few drinks, or reserve the tasting room and get the full experience before purchasing a bottle or two. If you prefer more traditional and historical facilities, consider StableRidge Vineyards
, located on Historic Route 66 in Stroud
Shopping in Oklahoma
You can enjoy an eclectic selection of shopping options in Oklahoma. The Pink Pistol in the small town of Tishomingo
is a bedazzled, pink boutique filled with country-themed items like wine glasses, bath products, clothing, and much more. This attraction is hugely popular largely because of its owner, country music star Miranda Lambert. Add a personal touch to your Oklahoma holiday by purchasing souvenirs at Purple Glaze Studio
, a walk-in pottery and mosaic studio where you can pick up ceramic plates, bowls, mugs, and vases. If a shopping mall is all you seek, your best bet is The Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City
. Browse through nearly 100 stores like Nike, Disney, and Coach, all accompanied by a large food court and free WiFi.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Oklahoma
History of Oklahoma
The area that would become the state of Oklahoma originally contained multiple Native American cultures. No one tribe had become dominant in the region by the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when the eastern part of Oklahoma was sold by France to the United States.
When the Indian Removal Act was passed, the Native American tribes were resettled farther west. For more information about this period and a fascinating look into Native American culture, visit Oklahoma attractions like Chickasaw Cultural Center
, which introduces visitors to traditional art, music, and villages.
The Oklahoma Territory gained its western panhandle after the admittance of Texas into the Union. At that time, Texas released claims to areas in Oklahoma and four other states.
During the American Civil War, the territory of Oklahoma remained neutral, despite the fact that many of the settlers and Native Americans in the region harbored pro-Confederate feelings. By 1863, the strengthening of the Union made Confederate control of Oklahoma unlikely to continue. In July 1863, the Union and Native American forces pushed into the territory and won a victory at Honey Springs. This drove many of the pro-Confederate tribes out of the territory.
At the conclusion of the war, most of the Indian Territory became government land. Slavery was outlawed, and the lands now available for settling attracted citizens from the east. This movement was largely helped by the Homestead Act, which gave land to settlers for little or no cost. Learn more about this time at a festival called 89er Celebration in Guthrie
, which celebrates the Land Run of 1889 with a parade, carnival, food and craft vendors, an 1889-style baseball game, and more.
By the end of the 19th century, the Native American tribes in the area demanded statehood for the Indian Territories. This eventually failed to get approval, but it became the base for a combined Oklahoma-Indian Territories push for statehood. President Teddy Roosevelt signed the statehood proclamation in 1907, officially making Oklahoma America's 46th state.
Shortly after achieving statehood, the oil industry began to boom in Oklahoma. This drove the economy until the Great Depression hit in 1929. Oklahoma also suffered during the Dust Bowl storms, which deposited soil over farms, caused massive crop failures, and forced many small farmers to leave the area.
Oklahoma began its economic recovery before the outbreak of World War II. During the war, the state boasted the highest war-bond sales. At USS Batfish
, you can tour an actual World War II submarine that sank multiple enemy vessels during her tenure in battle. After World War II ended, the state focused on infrastructure and economy. The state saw a change after the oil burst, in which many of the small population centers went into decline. The state has been trying to reverse this in recent years.
Landscape of Oklahoma
Oklahoma is laden with mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, rocky hills, and plains. Start your adventure at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge
and explore the area by hiking and mountain biking on the rough paths. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for free-range buffalo and longhorn cattle. Once a hideout for outlaws, Robbers Cave State Park
in the Sans Bois Mountains offer rugged paths ideal for rappelling, hiking, and horseback riding.
More than just mountains, Oklahoma tourist attractions also include Broken Bow Lake
, featuring crystal-clear water for fishing, swimming, and boating. You can even go scuba diving and observe catfish, rainbow trout, and freshwater jellyfish. Consider Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge
--a terrain comprised of grasslands, forest, and salt flats beside the Salt Fork River--for its excellent bird-watching opportunities. Admire the endangered whooping crane, and learn how Native Americans once regularly hunted bison here.
Holidays & Festivals in Oklahoma
No matter when you visit Oklahoma, you are bound to encounter some festival celebrating Native American traditions or food. Oklahoma City
hosts most of the major celebrations. In early February, locals and visitors flock to the Chocolate Decadence, an extremely popular event featuring chocolates, wine, and jazz music performances sponsored by local restaurants and caterers. At the Red Earth Festival in early June, watch hundreds of Native American artists and dancers from about 200 tribes join together. The last of the capital's best festivals is Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo, typically scheduled near the beginning of April. Witness the best professional rodeo competitors attempt to ride for eight heart-pounding seconds.
If you schedule your trip for spring, consider adding the Dogwood Days Festival to your list of Oklahoma things to do. Held in Idabel, this event celebrates the blossoming of dogwood trees and offers dance contests, chainsaw carving demonstrations, craft vendors, cook-offs, and much more.
Oklahoma Travel Tips
Climate of Oklahoma
Temperatures and weather patterns vary throughout Oklahoma due to its multiple mountain ranges. The state typically runs hot in the summer, and southwest temperatures tend to stay above 37 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) most of the season. If you visit during the winter, wear layers to protect yourself from the cold. Keep in mind that the state's southeast areas often experience winter temperatures below freezing and receive significantly more precipitation than the rest of Oklahoma. Plan your Oklahoma trip with tornado season in mind--brush up on safety procedures, especially if you visit in the spring.
Transportation in Oklahoma
The easiest way to get around while Oklahoma sightseeing is by car. Whether you drive your own or rent a vehicle, you are bound to end up on Interstates 35, 40, and 44. Do not miss the chance to take a road trip on Route 66, which once crossed much of the Midwest, Great Plains, and Southwest. Even in Oklahoma City
, public transportation is limited to buses, which do not run on Sundays.