10 Reasons to Visit Tulsa
Photos by Lindsay Cuomo
With a quick two-hour drive up the Turner Turnpike or, as a change of pace, a leisurely trek up historic Route 66, Tulsa grants travelers a home-away-from-home feel with plenty of family friendly sights to see. Packed with unique museums as well as a recently revitalized downtown, your family has a lot of activities to choose from, whatever your interests.
1. Philbrook Museum of Art
Tucked inside an upscale neighborhood, Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum of Art takes on a whole new approach to an art museum. Originally the home of oilman Waite Phillips that he gifted to the city, the museum offers a one-of-a-kind experience. Guests are swept back in time to the grandeur of the 1920s and the success of the oil industry in Tulsa during that era by the beautifully preserved Villa Philbrook. In addition to the thousands of works of art on display, guests are treated to exquisite architecture and picturesque gardens. Some of the rooms are preserved so visitors feel as though the Phillips family has just stepped away. Families can weave in and out of the building as attention spans permit, enhancing the experience for all ages. The on-site La Villa Restaurant uses herbs grown in the museum’s Secret Garden to season the gourmet cuisine. Weather permitting: your family can dine al fresco with a beautiful view of the gardens, serenaded by swinging period music. If your schedule allows, plan your visit on the second Saturday of the month when the museum offers free admission as well as free family-friendly art activities, tours and scavenger hunts for kids of all ages. The Philbrook is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m and admission is $9 for adults and free for kids under 17.
2. Tulsa Zoo
Voted America’s Favorite Zoo in 2005 by Microsoft Gaming Studios, the Tulsa Zoo is a treat for families visiting Tulsa. The size, layout and design make for a full day of family fun. Wander the winding shady pathways as you discover wildlife from around the world. Explore four distinct climates and the animals that call each home in the WildLIFE Trek. Take in the silly and exciting antics of white ruffed lemurs from Madagascar, sea lions at the Helmerich Sea Lion Cove and penguins in the African Penguin exhibit. The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for kids 3-11 years old and kids 2 and under are free. The zoo is located in Mohawk Park, which charges $2 entry fee per vehicle on weekends.
3. Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art
Another mix of art and history, the Gilcrease Museum houses the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of art and artifacts of the American West. The exhibition began as the private collection of oilman Thomas Gilcrease and was given to the city in 1954. The museum is now under the care of Tulsa University, in partnership with the city of Tulsa. This collaboration is revealed by the vast collection of art and artifacts relating to the discovery, expansion and settlement of North America.
The iconic Sacred Rain Arrow sculpture by famed Native American artist Allan Houser greets visitors as they enter, an image easily recognizable to any Oklahoman who owns a car (the statue is featured on the state license plate). The museum’s archives are full of important historical documents including a handwritten letter penned by Thomas Jefferson. The museum hosts Funday Sunday on select Sundays offering families free admission as well as art-making stations, art hunts, interactive spaces, the Kids Site and the Kravis Discovery Center. The Gilcrease is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m to 5 p.m. and admission is $8 for adults and free for kids 18 and under.
4. Guthrie Green
If you are looking for an outing to slow things down and is easy on the budget, head over to Guthrie Green, an urban park and entertainment space named after Oklahoma singer and songwriter Woody Guthrie. This peaceful oasis, open since 2012 in the heart of Tulsa’s Brady Arts District, offers a calendar jam packed with special events, festivals, concerts, fitness classes, movies, a weekly market and food trucks. Visitors also can enjoy sprawling gardens, a splash pad and more. Stretch out on the large lawn for a picnic or a game of Frisbee, stroll down tree-lined paths for a healthy dose of fresh air or enjoy one of the many free activities happening in this bustling urban hub.
5. Tulsa Spotlight Theatre
For a more interactive experience in the arts, take in dinner and a show at the Spotlight Theatre. Home to America’s longest-running play, The Drunkard and The Olio. This family-friendly evening includes a variety show featuring dancers, musicians, jugglers, magicians and an audience sing-along of old-time tunes. The director is Tony-nominated writer-actor Joe Sears, the co-creator of the hilariously famous Greater Tuna series. The audience takes their part in the show as they launch tomatoes at the villains. Tickets are $18 for adults and $13 for kids and reservations are required. Doors open at 7 p.m., the sing-along begins at 7:15 p.m. and all the action comes to an end around 10 p.m. with a singing of God Bless America.
6. Tulsa Air & Space Museum and Planetarium
The Tulsa Air & Space Museum and Planetarium takes visitors on a journey of aviation from the first hot air balloon flight in Tulsa to Oklahoma’s war efforts during World War II and beyond. Launch a space shuttle from mission control, test your flying skills in the Viper F-16 Wind Tunnel, listen to the live radio feed from Tulsa’s airport tower and get an up-close look at an F-14A Tomcat, Navy HTL-7 Bell Helicopter and a variety of other military vehicles. If you are still in the mood for more exploration, take a seat in the James E. Bertelsmeyer Planetarium and encounter extreme planets, stars, galaxies, black holes and constellations, all in high definition. Then, head outside to the Discovery Center to step aboard a retired American Airlines MD-80. Once aboard, passengers are treated to a guided tour including a view of the cockpit, interactive exhibits and a screening of The Pursuit of Flight. To top off the experience, the museum’s location, right next to the airport, grants guests a look at modern aviation in action as planes land and take off at the Tulsa airport. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is $15 for adults, $10 for kids ages 4-12 and free for kids 3 and under. General admission includes one planetarium show. Tours and the MaxFlight Simulator are available for an additional charge.
7. Discovery Lab, Tulsa Children’s Museum
The Discovery Lab at the Tulsa Children’s Museum sits at the cross section of adventure, education and fun. Designed to use real stuff in new and different ways, kids and adults alike are inspired to create and innovate in exhibits like The Workshop. Throw caution to the wind and climb to the ceiling in tunnels and a suspension bridge made with miles of packing tape. Make your return to ground level using the 30-foot slide also made entirely of packing tape. Keep the kids active in the Move It! exhibit which offers a full-body experience of physics in action. Use your shadow to play music, crawl through the Bungee Maze, swing in the Rope Jungle, roll, slide, and bounce in the Arena and create incredible art with the Pendulum Swing. The toddler area, specifically designed for the youngest visitors, offers sensory play with a variety of hands-on activities for babies to young walkers. Discovery Lab is open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m to 5 p.m and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is $6 for anyone 2 years old and up.
8. Oklahoma Aquarium
Home to the largest bull sharks in captivity, the Oklahoma Aquarium takes visitors on an undersea adventure not commonly found in our landlocked state. The interactive facility invites guests to view jellyfish, seahorses, barnacles, sea urchins and impressive predators like sharks, pet shrimp and sea stars and feed turtles and stingrays tasty treats.
Explore beyond the ocean and learn about what is swimming in Oklahoma lakes and rivers in the Aquatic Oklahoma exhibit. Fish and reptiles aren’t the only aquatic animals you’ll see at the Aquarium. The Ozark Stream exhibit features river otters, beavers and raccoons. Be sure to check out the daily feeding schedule to further enhance your experience. Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., until 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, admission is $15.95 for adults, $11.95 for kids 3 to 12 years old and free for ages 2 and under.
9. Tulsa Botanic Garden
An up-and-coming Tulsa hot spot is the Tulsa Botanic Garden, a short drive outside of the city. Once complete, the gardens will be well worth the trip. The Garden’s 170 acres and rural location offer plenty of room to wow. Designed for inquiry and imagination, the Children’s Discovery Garden aims to integrate knowledge about the natural world. The two-acre fantastical wonderland will be centered around Stream Valley and the Spring Giant, a 15-foot rugged stone face water source, surrounded by the Meadow featuring tall grasses and flowering perennials. A grove of post oaks will house a tree fort. After more than a year of construction, the Children’s Garden is slated to open in October of 2016. Currently, the Gardens are open Fridays and Saturdays, April through October from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dress for nature and explore the seven-acre lake and nature trail.
10. Big Splash Water Park
Most Oklahoma summers require a way to beat the scorching heat. What better way than a trip to a water park? Big Splash Water Park will cool you down with The Master Blaster, Oklahoma’s largest and only water roller coaster. Also enjoy The Silver Bullet, which blasts riders 72 feet in seven seconds. The park also offers a lazy river, wave pool, slides, a high dive, rock wall and The Little Splash with slides and activities geared toward younger children. The park is open seasonally from late May to mid-August. Entry is $20 for those over 48 inches and $15 for those under 48 inches. Daily hours vary. For a discount, stop in after 4 p.m. for the short swim price of $9 per person or the Sunday Fun Day price of $13 per person.
With six professional and semi-professional teams, Tulsa offers a variety of athletic entertainment year round: the Tulsa Shock, WNBA basketball; Tulsa Oilers, American League hockey; Tulsa Roughnecks, USL Soccer; Tulsa Drillers, Double-A Minor League baseball, Tulsa Revolution, arena soccer and Tulsa Athletics NPSL, semi-pro soccer. ONEOK Field, home to the Drillers and the Roughnecks, offers all the traditional game day flare with a picturesque view of downtown Tulsa as the backdrop. When the kids need to get up and move, families can enjoy a spacious kids’ play area complete with a playground and splash pad or walk around the mezzanine and sample all the stadium delicacies you desire. Peanuts and Cracker Jacks, anyone?