Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.
Oklahoma, every night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk
Makin’ lazy circles in the sky.
We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say
We’re only sayin’
You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O – K – L – A – H – O – M – A
I had to start this post about the 24 hours we spent in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma with the most iconic state song of all time. It was the song that was most played throughout our roadtrip, and, if I’m being honest, for a few weeks after our trip as well. (The second most played song was probably Oh What a Beautiful Morning, also from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! When we go on trips, Emma always builds us an amazing Spotify playlist that has songs about the region or songs from artists from the region, which is a fun way to infuse some local flare into our adventures.)
Oklahoma was hands-down my favorite spot we went on this trip — we saved the best for last and didn’t even know it. You can also read all about the genesis of our trip and our first stop in Omaha, Nebraska and our second stop in Wichita, Kansas.
My short time in the Sooner State left such an impression on me that since I returned from our trip, I’ve read two books about Oklahoma City. The first book I read on OKC was The Next Great American City in which Former OKC Mayor, Mick Cornett, discusses the strategic placemaking and investments Oklahoma City has made over the last two decades to revitalize their downtown core and attract top talent, companies, and even an NBA team. The second book I read on OKC was Boom Town by sports journalist, Sam Anderson. It’s a brilliantly told history of the city in which Anderson uses the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2012 basketball season as a storytelling vehicle to highlight the city’s long history of a boom and bust cycle.
Omaha, Wichita, and Oklahoma City are all mid-size cities, and it was definitely evident from the moment we drove into Oklahoma City that it felt like it had more of a vision for what it wanted to be — and, as we talked to residents, they were extremely proud of their city in a way I didn’t observe the other places we went. In short, it felt way more cosmopolitan and a city where its best days could still be ahead of it. Reading both The Next Great American City and Boomtown only served to affirm and provide color on why I felt this way during my time in Oklahoma City — and if you’re planning your own trip to OKC, which I highly recommend, I think reading one or both of these books before your trip would add so much depth to your time there.
HOW TO GET THERE & GETTING AROUND OKC —
We were journeying south from Wichita, Kansas to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, so we arrived via our White Ford Bronco via a straight shot down on I-35. While we were en route, one sign caught my eye on the highway — in Ponca City, Oklahoma, is the Marland Mansion, a historic home open for visits that was originally built in 1909 by E.W. Marland, founder of Marland Oil, who once controlled a tenth of the oil reserves in the world. We didn’t stop, but if we had more time, I would have loved to — so wanted to call this out as a great attraction if you’re taking a roadtrip similar to ours.
Once we were in Oklahoma City, everything was very walkable and felt very safe. We did call an Uber to go over to the Bricktown neighborhood from our hotel — more on that below — and it came very quickly and was very affordable.
We flew home out of Oklahoma’s Will Rogers World Airport, and I loved that they had a huge mosaic displaying scenes from the musical Oklahoma at the entrance of the airport near the security checkpoint. While on the smaller side, it was a very modern airport that appeared to have been recently renovated, with lots of great food and gift shop options. (I picked up a super cute Oklahoma sweatshirt and magnet for my fridge!)
WHERE TO STAY —
We stayed at The National, a Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel — and I cannot say enough good things about this hotel! It’s definitely now one of my favorites I’ve ever been to, and if you’re planning a trip to OKC, this is definitely where you want to stay.
It was originally built in 1931 as a bank, and recently underwent a massive renovation to become a gorgeous mixed-use “city within a city” that offers the hotel, residences, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and — my personal favorite — a speak easy in the old bank vault, Library of Distilled Spirits. On the ground floor of the hotel is a beautiful gift shop, Plenty Mercantile, that has not only a great collection of home goods, gifts, and stationery, but Oklahoma City souvenirs. We popped in before dinner, and I am so glad we stumbled on it.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK —
Here’s where we ate and drank in Oklahoma City:
The Great Hall at The National Hotel — located at the heart of The National Hotel, The Great Hall is an architectural masterpiece with a bar in the middle and bar tables and seating all around. (There’s also an Italian restaurant called Tellers off to the side, which is really cool because the tables are where the old bank teller stations used to be.) We enjoyed a pre-dinner drink here and enjoyed looking at the beautifully painted ceilings, the murals on the walls, and the stunning corinthian columns. Even if you’re not staying at The National, definitely stop by to enjoy The Great Hall.
Bourbon Street Cafe — this cute restaurant that is an homage to New Orleans is located in OKC’s Bricktown neighborhood, which used to be an abandoned warehouse district that has been transformed into a bustling entertainment + nightlife area. We took a tour of the area on the Bricktown Water Taxi — more on that below — and knew we wanted to sit outside by the canal for dinner. Our tour guide recommended this spot, and it was great. We split the spinach + artichoke dip and then I did a cup of gumbo and big southwestern style salad, which is one of my favorite meals. Right across the canal is the Tipsy Tiki, which looked like a super fun spot for drinks — and we were lucky the night we were there because they had live music going that was loud enough for us to enjoy while eating dinner.
Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse — Emma is a NY Yankees fan, and Mickey Mantle is a famous Oklahoman, so after dinner, we popped into his steakhouse for a drink at the bar. It would be the perfect chill spot to post up and watch a game.
Library of Distilled Spirits — We capped off our night, and the trip, with a drink at the speak easy in the bank vault of The National Hotel. This spot was so cool because other than building in the bar and seating, they hadn’t changed much about the vault — there was still the huge door, as well as the security deposit boxes. The drink menu was also excellent — I did their take on a “dirty Shirley” and it was the perfect grown up version of my college favorite as it was not overly sweet. If you find yourself in OKC, definitely come here for a drink!
Some other restaurants and bars that came up in our research that we didn’t make it to on this trip include: The Study, Cheever’s Cafe, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, The Metro Wine Bar & Bistro, Palo Santo, Vast, and McClintock Saloon.
WHAT TO DO —
We did some of my favorite activities on the trip while in Oklahoma City:
Visit the National Museum of the Cowboy — this is one of the best museums I have ever been to, and you could easily spend all day exploring its many exhibits! Emma and I made this our first stop when we arrived to OKC, and spent about three hours exploring the museum. They have exhibits dedicated to everything from Western Art to Cowboy Clothing to Native Americans of the Great Plains and more. There are docents stationed throughout to answer any questions you might have and share interesting facts about the art you’re looking at, which made it that much more enjoyable. They also have an incredible gift shop! (If you couldn’t tell, I never say no to shopping…)
Visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial — I was only four years old when the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred, so I don’t have many firsthand memories of what is still the largest act of domestic terrorism in the United States. As such, en route to OKC, Emma and I listened to Season 47 of the American Scandal podcast, which details the bombing and Timothy McVeigh’s trial in-depth, and provided the context needed to make our visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial that much more meaningful. At the Memorial, in addition to a reflecting pond, there are 168 chairs — one for each of the victims of the attack — and the hardest ones to see were those of the children who were killed in the daycare on the first floor of the Federal Building. There’s also a museum next to the Memorial — we didn’t have time on this trip to visit, but I would definitely do so on a subsequent trip to Oklahoma City.
Take the Bricktown Water Taxi — when Oklahoma City revitalized their Bricktown neighborhood, they put in a man-made canal throughout and you can take a water taxi tour of it. (It reminded me a lot of the boat rides you can take at the river walk in San Antonio!) The water taxi was about a 30-minute ride, and our tour guide was awesome — he gave us a great overview of the city’s history and its founding in the land run of 1889, making OKC famously the only city “built in a day.” (The tour goes right by the Centennial Land Run Monument, too!) He also pointed out great restaurants and bars throughout Bricktown, and we met some really nice locals who also passed along some great recommendations. I really loved this activity — and it would a great for kids and adults of all ages.
Other activities that came highly recommended in Oklahoma City include Scissortail Park, catching a Triple A baseball game at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, and the Henry & Anna Overholser Mansion.
As is evident in this post, I absolutely loved our time in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and would love to get back — and stay for longer next time! If you have any questions about our trip, please don’t hesitate to drop a comment below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.