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. Here’s your Tulsa guide on all the fun things to do.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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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?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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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.
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?
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!
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.
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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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