School is back in swing with its slew of expenses. Clothes, supplies and activities can be a drain on your budget, and lest we forget, Christmas is coming. This time of year, it can be hard to balance financial priorities and still manage to keep kids active. This calls for a trip downtown, where families can spend a day exploring on a dime.
Bass Pro Shops
Just on the edge of downtown, Bass Pro Shops in Bricktown is the ideal spot to begin your adventure. The store has ample free parking and an incredible 15,000-gallon aquarium near the back of the store that kids love to watch. Daily boat shows are hosted in the Tractor Center and the store hosts free family activities throughout the year. During the holiday season, free pictures with Santa are available and the Easter Bunny makes an appearance in the spring. Find a list of upcoming events at www.stores.basspro.com/us/ok/oklahoma-city.
OKC Downtown Discovery Bus
Once you’ve explored the store, board the Downtown Discovery, Embark’s bus route that highlights major attractions downtown, including the Metropolitan Library’s downtown location and Myriad Botanical Gardens. The bus costs 50 cents per ride (a day pass can be purchased for $1) and also makes a stop at the transit hub on Hudson where passengers can hop on a bus and head in any direction throughout the metro for a very nominal fee. Children 6 and under always ride free. Downtown Discovery picks up passengers in front of Bass Pro Shops every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 15 minutes on Saturdays. Strollers are welcome aboard.
The downtown branch of the Metropolitan Library System has something for everyone. A café is located on the ground floor and free wifi is available throughout the building. The library hosts a variety of weekly activities for elementary-aged kids and tweens at 6:30 p.m. on Mondays. A preschool activity is hosted at 10 a.m. every Thursday. Noon Tunes brings live music to the library every Thursday, as well. Card-carrying members of the MLS can check books out while they are downtown and are able to return them to any of the other 18 MLS libraries located around the metro area.
Myriad Botanical Gardens
At the heart of downtown lies the Myriad Botanical Gardens. Paved paths wind around an array of flowers, trees and seasonal plants. Within the park is the Children’s Garden, downtown Oklahoma City’s premiere playground for young nature enthusiasts. Visitors can enjoy a packed lunch on the Grand Lawn and grab a budget-friendly sweet treat from on-site concessionaire Pitchfork in the Park. Purchasing an annual Family Membership for $65 grants patrons free access to the Crystal Bridge Conservatory, an indoor natural haven boasting more than 750 types of plants and a waterfall. Membership also allows free admission into Pumpkinville, the annual fall festival in the Children’s Garden each October.
Devon Tower Tours
Across from the Gardens is the tallest building in the city’s skyline, the Devon Energy Center. Free tours leading groups to the top of the tower are available at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Thursdays but preregistration is required. The tour lasts an hour and a half and is recommended for children 5 and older, though all ages are welcome. Registration details and waivers can be found at devonenergycenter.net/tour
Once you’ve experienced the top of the town, it’s time to go to the bottom. Devon Energy Center has a skywalk leading to one of downtown OKC’s best kept secrets. OKC’s Underground is a series of tunnels that run 20 square blocks underneath the city accessed by buildings scattered through downtown. The tunnels are open to the public Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Visitors can admire the themed galleries showcasing Oklahoma’s rich history, marvel at the multicolored lit-up hallways or just enjoy a nice walk during one of the metro’s extreme weather days. Find a map at www.downtownokc.com/underground.
Red Earth Art Center
Near the light green and orange sections of The Underground is the Red Earth Art Center located at 6 Santa Fe Plaza. Admire a culturally-rich art collection from Native artists. The Center has created a scavenger hunt perfect for older children to help foster the dialogue between art and audience. Lesson plans and activity ideas also are available on their website for parents to use as a framework to make the art experience interactive for all ages. Red Earth is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and admission is free. For the scavenger hunt, visit www.redearth.org.
The Downtown Discovery Bus will also take passengers to Bricktown Landing. It is one of four stops along the Oklahoma River where patrons can board a ferry and enjoy a ride, admiring the downtown view. Children 6 and under ride free, ages 7-12 are $3 per stop and adults are $7 per stop. Seniors 60 and older, persons with disabilities and Medicare cardholders are $3 per stop. The ferry runs June through November and schedules vary by day and season. Visit okrivercruises.com/schedule for specific date and time information.
OKC Trails in the Boathouse District
The OKC Trails connect 10 trails across OKC providing more than 80 miles perfect for walking, jogging and biking. The Oklahoma River Trail runs alongside the Oklahoma River and passes by The Boathouse District, a favorite hotspot for Okies. Near the end of the trail at the south end of the Bricktown Canal is the Land Run Monument, a larger-than-life series of sculptures depicting the Land Run of 1889.
After a day of exploring Downtown OKC on a dime, parents can load up the kids, drive over to the Skydance Bridge and watch the city light up as the sun sets. The Skydance Bridge also lights up, making the experience a little more magical. Benches are set up on the bridge so that visitors can sit and watch cars zoom beneath them on the highway, quietly contemplate after a long day or simply enjoy the view before heading home.