8 Reasons to Visit Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa is the fourth city and Oklahoma is the fourth state we are exploring on our Route 66 road trip. Not only does Oklahoma have the longest drivable stretch at 400 miles, it is where the dream of the cross-country highway originated from.

The Historic Byway is what led us here to visit Tulsa, but let’s explore reasons we will be coming back.

1. Tulsa Has A Lot Goin’ On

At first glance, Tulsa comes across as a quiet city but as we took a closer look, we found out it has a lot going on. From a growing arts scene to lively music venues to locally-owned restaurants, the city is evolving.

The Brady Arts District, for instance, is a cultural hotspot offering solid restaurants, unique art galleries, and hip bars. It is home to the Woody Guthrie Center, which not only celebrates the folk music legend himself but also his ideals of equality and social justice. We spent two hours at the Center learning about the man who wrote, “This Land is Your Land.” He had clear thoughts and hopes for a diverse, peaceful world. A message that was just as important then as it is now. We stuck around that evening to catch a special unplugged performance of two local artists in the intimate theatre. The acoustics are amazing. It was an outstanding introduction to the city!

2. Two World-Renowned Art Museums

Art and history collide at the internationally celebrated Gilcrease Museum. Thomas Gilcrease, a member of the Creek nation, struck it rich in his early twenties when the first oil discovery in Oklahoma was right next to his land.

Oklahoma Route 66

Throughout his life, he ended up collecting more than 10,000 artworks, 250,000 Native American artifacts, and 100,000 rare books and documents. It is the most extensive collection of art and artifacts of the American West.

We were hoping to get our eyes on the only surviving certified copy of the Declaration of Independence – one example of the rare documents kept at the museum – but it’s only displayed on special occasions. We quickly recovered from the small disappointment as we browsed the impressive collection.

Visit Tulsa

The Philbrook Museum has been accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM) as one of the top 50 fine art museums in the United States. It is also one of only five to offer a combination of a historic home, formal gardens, and an art collection. The diverse works of art include Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Auguste Rodin. It was one of our favorite places in Tulsa!

Oklahoma Route 66




Not only is it a pleasure to peruse the art, the Italian villa and gardens previously owned by oil magnate, Waitte Phillips, is absolutely stunning. The Philbrook Museum is undeniably a treasure trove of brilliance in the city.

Oklahoma Route 66

 

3. Art Deco Architecture

Who knew Tulsa has the third largest compilation of Art Deco buildings in the nation? Behind only New York City and Miami. Not us. But now we are in the know!

It all started in the early 1900s when oil was discovered on an Indian Reservation. Soon thereafter, Tulsa was in the midst of an economic boom and considered the “Oil Capital of the World.”

Just as the Art Deco movement was arriving on the scene, Tulsa was expanding upward and onward. Subsequently, leaving us with fantastic examples of the creative architecture.

4. To Stand at the “Center of the Universe”

I have no idea what or why this phenomena occurs nor does anyone else for that matter. We searched the internet for answers, we asked the Tulsans and no one seems to know why when you stand in this EXACT spot it’s like standing in an echo chamber.

If you take just one step out of the unassuming circle of bricks the effect is long gone. And anyone else around you – outside of that spot – does not hear it. It is the strangest yet coolest thing to stand at the Center of the Universe in Tulsa.

5. The Largest Collection of Bull Sharks in Captivity

The Oklahoma Aquarium, minutes from downtown Tulsa, is home to the world’s largest collection of bull sharks. Walking through the tunnel is hypnotizing. We could have spent HOURS sitting and watching them soar through the water right by us.

Not only is the 500,000 gallon shark tank entertaining, the aquarium also features many interactive exhibits including feed and touch tanks. We touched sharks, shrimp and horseshoe crabs and fed turtles and stingrays!

We learned about the aquatic life in the lakes and rivers of Oklahoma and the Ozarks. Did you know American Alligators can be found in southern Oklahoma?

Oklahoma Route 66

The new Sea Turtle Island exhibit is home to two 300-pound loggerhead sea turtles, reef sharks and other tropical fish. It has a 56,000-gallon tank surrounded by a boardwalk and can be experienced from three viewing levels – including an underwater observation station to view the exhibit from within the water.

The 100-plus exhibits divided into nine areas including Amazing Invertebrates, Extreme Fishes and Marvel and Mysteries was a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon in Tulsa.

6. The Futuristic Architecture of Oral Roberts University

Oral Roberts was one of the first well-known Christian televangelists. He is considered the godfather of the charismatic movement and one of the most recognized preachers of all time. To be honest, I had no clue who he was but my husband did and he was the reason we stopped by the campus.

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You notice the buildings immediately off the road. Never in a million years would I expect this place to be a Christian University. It looks like a George Lucas set for the next Star Trek movie.

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7. The Charms of the Mother Road

Cyrus Avery, a Tulsa businessman, is credited with being the “Father of Route 66.” He saw the need for better roads across his state and the nation. His proposal for a highway that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles was approved in 1926. He founded the U.S. 66 Highway Association and coined the route’s nickname, “Main Street of America.”

Visit Tulsa
Cyrus Avery Plaza, Where East meets West Sculpture

Arriving in Tulsa along 11th Street, we find a revitalized strip of Route 66. Bright neon lights, old vintage signs, colorful murals, a restored hotel, service stations and historic restaurants.

Oklahoma Route 66

El Rancho Grande Restaurant has been on the strip since 1953 with a reputation as having the best Mexican food on Route 66. That and the slick neon sign flashing out front lured us in one afternoon for lunch.

Oklahoma Route 66

We were not disappointed. The Chili Relleno, a mild Anaheim pepper filled with ground beef and cheese topped with ranchera salsa, was mouthwatering. The cheesy chicken enchiladas topped with Verde sauce was a melt-in-your-mouth delicious experience.

Which leads us to our final reason to visit Tulsa. 

8. The Great Outdoors

As nature lovers, it’s no secret that we enjoy getting outside even in cities. We were delighted to discover a recent addition just northwest of downtown, the Tulsa Botanic Garden. We combined our visit with a trip to the Gilcrease Museum as well since they are in the same neighborhood.

The botanic garden is 170 acres of land featuring over 8,000 trees, shrubs, and perennials as well as one of the largest spring bulb displays in the state. Even though we are not traveling with kids, we had to walk over and check out the Children’s Discovery Garden once we saw the Spring Giant peering out at us over a pond. How cool is this guy?

Visit Tulsa

The three-quarter mile lakeside path leads to the garden’s four terraces – Lawn, Rose, Perennial and Mediterranean. We love how the designer intertwined the Art Deco style within the gardens. And this is just the beginning! The Master Plan envisions developing 60 acres of gardens surrounding the lake within the next twenty years. Sounds like a master plan to me!

Visit Tulsa

We had a fantastic time exploring Tulsa, but it’s time to get back on the road and find out what else Route 66 has in store for us.

Start HERE for Day One of our Road Trip

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*Thank you Visit Tulsa and it’s associates for hosting us in the city. All thoughts and opinions, however, are my own.*

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12 Responses

  1. Lara Dunning

    I’ve never really thought about Tulsa, but I need to as I love Woody Guthrie and Arlo, of course too, and I had no idea they had so much art deco architecture. I never knew they had so much! I love when destinations surprise you.

  2. Helene D'Souza

    I didn’t imagine Tulsa was that artistically inclined. It can actually compete, by the looks, with European cities, so I think I would enjoy this US city because of it’s creative touch. There is always something to discover!

  3. Robert Huston

    Tulsa has a tremendously rich musical history. From jazz, blues and country.
    But not enough credit can be given to the man who’s daily broadcasts over powerhouse radio station KVOO introduced Tulsa to the world.
    That man was Bob Wills and his legendary band, the Texas Playboys. The tremendous popularity of his music spread across the western two thirds of the country originating daily from Tulsa’s Cain’s Academy of Dance over KVOO. Tulsans should embrace and recognize the significance Bob Wills and The Western Swing music genre he helped create has had on Tulsa, it’s history and it’s culture.

  4. Sarah

    Tulsa looks like such a cool place to explore on a Route 66 road trip. Also those enchiladas look SO good! Looking forward to reading more about your trip 🙂

  5. Corinne

    I must admit, Tulsa has never been high on my list. I loved Oklahoma City, though. I might have to go just to have that chile relleno…my favorite.

  6. Michelle

    This list doesn’t begin to cover everything to see and do in Tulsa. Come visit the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Lineaus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park, Greenwood and Black Wall Street, Tulsa Botanical Gardens, beautiful historic neighborhoods, cathedrals, ballet, opera, jazz, western swing…….. and much much more. Come see us.

    • Dang Travelers

      Hi Michelle. Of course it doesn’t cover everything, we only visited for a few days on our Route 66 road trip. We did enjoy what we explored (including the Botanical Gardens, if you read the full post it was one of the items we listed) and would love to come back. We actually had plans to visit the Historical Museum the day we visited Philbrook but unfortunately it was closed. We did not expect most places to be closed on Sundays and Mondays in Tulsa!

  7. Sandy N Vyjay

    Tulsa is indeed a vibrant and happening place. There is so much to see and experience. The art museums and the futuristic architecture is what had me riveted to the post and piqued my interest. Hope to get to stand in the centre of the World some day.

  8. Paul

    We would love to do this trip one day! It’s great to read about all of the amazing places along the way where you can stop. Oklahoma looks like a really place, I love the mix of historic and modern architecture. Thanks for sharing and we look forward to seeing more amazing places!

  9. Elisa

    WOW. Today I learned many new things thanks to your post and it is only 8am, lol! It seems that Oil brought many good things in Tulsa and now I know it is definitely a place to discover. Probably I would prefer its outdoor opportunities rather than the museums. I would have a look at the Art Nouveau architecture and try the centre of universe thing. Would not be bad to end the day with some unplugged music

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