Spring over to Shawnee for sunshine, art & culture - MetroFamily Magazine
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Spring over to Shawnee for sunshine, art & culture

KidSpace Park in Shawnee

by Debbie Murnan

Reading Time: 6 minutes 

After a long stretch of cold winter days, I bet your family, like mine, is ready for new adventures. Not too far from home, Shawnee is a unique, multicultural gem located just 45 minutes east of the Oklahoma City metro. Easily accessible via I-40, take a family road trip to Shawnee this spring to enjoy sunshine at the brand new KidSpace Park, experience rich history and culture at area museums and indulge in tasty eats.

Shortly after the Civil War, the area around Shawnee was settled by several Native American tribes, including the Kickapoo, Sac and Fox, Shawnee and Potawatomi, and by the late 1800s, the city’s continued growth and prosperity was fueled by the railroad industry. This rich history is captured beautifully throughout several of the museums found in Shawnee today. Plus, outdoor fun abounds, including at one of Oklahoma’s newest playgrounds, and unique dining experiences combine fresh seasonal favorites with live music and crafting.

Spring Break is right around the corner, so hop in the car for an easy weekend excursion to experience these highlights of Shawnee.

 

History & museums

Santa Fe Depot, Shawnee Oklahoma

The Santa Fe Depot, built in 1902, is a perfect place to kick off a historical tour of Shawnee. This unique depot was built with limestone blocks and features a 60-foot turret, reminiscent of a castle. After operations ceased in 1971, the property was handed over to the Pottawatomie County Historical Society to be remodeled and managed as a railroad and historical museum.

While the interior of the depot is closed to the public, it still serves as a visible reminder of the city’s dependence on trains back in the late 1800s. On the depot’s grounds, visitors can tour a historic tiny cabin, the first house built in Shawnee and once the home of Etta and Henry Beard, pioneers who helped shape Oklahoma. You can also visit the Pottawatomie County Museum to see the vibrant and diverse history through artifacts collected during Shawnee’s settlement. A children’s play area includes trains, games and imaginative role-play spaces.

Next up, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Cultural Heritage Center is a recently renovated museum that exists to preserve the Potawatomi culture and educate the community on their traditions and history. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation is the ninth largest tribe in the United States, and this cultural center features incredible interactive exhibits focused on their early ways of life, the conflict and forced removal from the Great Lakes and their adaptations to life in Kansas and Indian Territory. The galleries include artifacts, tribal rolls and even a wigwam, or domed dwelling commonly built by First Nations people.

Mabee Gerrer, Shawnee OklahomaThe Mabee-Gerrer Museum of Art will be your final stop for this city’s historical tour. Located on the Oklahoma Baptist University campus, this is one of the oldest museums in Oklahoma. It was founded in 1919 in honor of Benedictine monk Father Gregory Gerrer, an acclaimed artist who collected a variety of items during his travels across Europe, Africa and South America. The art and artifacts on display span 8,000 years, including unique pieces like the South American shrunken heads, a full suit of armor and two Egyptian mummies!

 

Opt outdoors 

Chase away those winter blues with some time outdoors at KidSpace Park, a $3.5-million project completed in June 2023 that has become one of Oklahoma’s top five premier parks. During our visit, we were immediately awestruck by the fun, space-themed design, as well as the abundance of shaded seating across the property’s 7 acres.

KidSpace Park, Shawnee OklahomaThe central hub of the park includes a giant outdoor checkerboard surrounded by comfy, red lounge chairs. There are designated play areas for both younger (ages 2 to 5) and older (ages 5 to 12) children, offering age-appropriate playground equipment all surrounded by cushioned flooring and soft turf for additional safety.

A unique attraction within the park is the ninja obstacle course, which includes a timer so kids can race the clock with each attempt. Next to the obstacle course, my boys had fun racing each other on the 40-yard dash track, each with their own lane and time clock.

The park property is encircled by a paved walking trail, just under a half mile, for anyone wanting to log some steps while keeping an eye on their kids. Our family appreciated how pet friendly the park was so we could bring our leashed dogs along. Within the bounds of the park, families can enjoy easy access to a basketball court, two pickleball courts and an extensive skate park, which offers a wide range of ramps and features, all with different degrees of difficulty to accommodate all abilities. Open spaces abound for picnicking and outdoor games, like ping pong, cornhole, horseshoes and checkers.

Located nearby on the OBU campus, check out the 18-hole OBU Disc Golf Course. Open to the public, the course is well-maintained, easy to navigate and offers a good mix of easy and technical shots to keep play interesting.

 

Dining & crafting

After all that learning and play, your family is bound to need to refuel! One of our family’s favorite New American restaurants is Theopolis, an upscale neighborhood destination nestled in downtown Shawnee. The menu rotates seasonally to offer a fresh take on scratch-made favorites, like seafood tostadas, artisan flatbreads, burgers and street tacos. A full bar serves craft cocktails and local brews. Plus, you can catch live music on the dog-friendly patio.

The Owl Shoppe is another locally-owned restaurant in the heart of Shawnee with friendly staff and beautifully plated meals. The menu includes wraps, salads, quesadillas and wellness bowls, making it hard to decide what to order. Every dish is made fresh offering a good balance of healthy vegetables and sides.

Perk up with a cup of tea or coffee at Comma, a welcoming coffee shop in historic downtown that prides itself on creating a peaceful space that feels like home and facilitates connection with others. Lounge indoors or out on their pet-friendly patio while you enjoy a delicious baked treat and seasonal latte.

Kids and adults alike enjoy expressing their creativity at Coffee N’ Crafts, a unique coffeehouse with all the supplies you need to paint a masterpiece. Beyond coffee, tea and baked goods, you can also order a “walk-in craft,” like a canvas or wooden cutout, to make your very own work of art. The facility offers several seating areas and workspaces to relax or paint using the community supply of brushes and paints.

History, novelty and outdoor fun abound in Shawnee. We hope your family enjoys the adventures as much as we did! 

 

Notable nearby stops

If you have time or end up spending the weekend in Shawnee, our family highly recommends a visit to Nomad’s Animal Encounters in Seminole, just under 30 minutes away. This experience is unlike any zoo because guests are brought into the enclosures to pet, feed and interact with each of the animals. They have a diverse list of animals to see, including both farm animals and exotic creatures, but our favorites were the native species, like the skunk, foxes, grey wolf, opossum, coyotes, bobcats and deer. We were truly captivated by these friendly inhabitants and inspired by the knowledgeable staff, who care deeply for these rescued animals.

Seminole is also home to the Jasmine Moran Children’s Museum, where various interactive exhibits help children foster imaginative play, curiosity and collaboration. Kids can dig for dinosaur bones, explore a climbing maze, enjoy an outdoor train ride or pretend to be a teacher in a classroom. The museum also offers rotating weekly programs to experience new books, puppet shows or STEM activities.

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