Less than two hours from Oklahoma City sits an oasis for families brimming with kid-friendly attractions. Tulsa is a beautiful city with a complex history and an exciting future, as current Mayor G.T. Bynum and others work to turn Tulsa into a “world-class city.” It’s the ideal spot for a weekend getaway for Oklahoma City families, as long as you can narrow down the massive list of attractions down to two days of fun.
1. The Gathering Place
One of Tulsa’s newest attractions is Gathering Place, a nearly-100-acre park adjacent to the Arkansas River.
Of all the Gathering Place elements, one of the most enticing is the five-acre Chapman Adventure Playground, which has elements designed to entertain children of all ages. For example, in “Fairyland Forest,” younger children can climb through a giant wooden snake, speed down a banana-shaped slide or enjoy imaginative play in different fairytale-inspired playhouses. In “Volcanoville,” toddlers can take a turn on a mini climbing wall. Elsewhere, older children can explore giant towers using rope ladders, staircases and crawl spaces to ascend to the top; they also can play pirate in a life-sized ship, slide down a wooden elephant’s trunk, take a turn riding the zip-line and more.
Gathering Place is also home to bike and skate parks, two restaurants with fresh food available in various price ranges, sports courts, picnic areas and a boathouse where park guests can rent paddleboats, kayaks and canoes. Go to gatheringplace.org for more information about various park elements and to gatheringplace.org/events for a list of upcoming concerts and other activities, all of which are free to the public.
2. Philbrook Museum
Philbrook Museum is a perfect example of Tulsa’s past and present working together to produce a bright future for the city. When Scott Stulen took over as Philbrook’s director in late 2016, he began focusing on how to make Philbrook a vital part of the Tulsa community. Under Stulen’s leadership, Philbrook has acquired a wall-sized Kehinde Wiley painting, revamped its restaurant (which now offers weekly burger nights); updated its programing to include extended hours every Friday; curated exciting exhibits like Museum: Confidential, which featured previously unseen pieces of the museum’s extensive collection and hosted a naturalization ceremony.
Of course, Philbrook has been an important part of Tulsa ever since Waite Phillips donated the mansion to the city in 1938. The formal gardens are inviting both to children who need a place to run and to those who want to just sit and enjoy natural beauty.
For those skeptical about bringing their children to a museum, Philbrook is as family-friendly as they come, offering free admission to children 17 and under. Furthermore, they have conversation cards available near the entrance of their collection that offer parents prompts for how to discuss art with their children in an engaging way. If your visit falls on the second Saturday of the month, all family members receive free admission and the opportunity to engage in creative activities. Learn more about current and upcoming events and exhibits at www.philbrook.org.
3. John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park
According to its website, The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, completed in December 2009, “memorializes the Tulsa Race Riot, called the worst civic disturbance in American history. The Park also tells the story of African Americans’ role in building Oklahoma and thus begins the long-delayed rendering of the full account of Oklahoma’s history.”
While the Tulsa Race Riot (or Massacre) is not a proud part of Tulsa’s history, it is an important element in understanding the city. A visit to The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park can help foster conversations between parents and children about kindness, reconciliation, diversity and how to learn and grow from traumatic events. Under Mayor Bynum’s leadership, the city has established Resilient Tulsa, a group of 2,000 individuals working to bring justice and equity to Tulsa to underserved and vulnerable people. This is largely in response to ongoing disparities precipitated by the events of 1921.
The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park offers docent-led tours on Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1-3 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sign up at www.jhfcenter.org.
Following a visit to The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, Tulsa tourists may want to explore the surrounding Tulsa Arts District, a vibrant area of the city that houses restaurants, art galleries, Guthrie Green (a small park that frequently offers free events) and nonprofit bookstore Magic City Books.
4. Tulsa Arts District
Some favorite Tulsa Arts District establishments include Ida Red General Store and Soda Fountain, where one can purchase Oklahoma-themed merchandise, old-fashioned candy and soda-fountain beverages; Antoinette Baking Co., whose Pie Nights every Friday and Saturday are a fun and delicious tradition; and the Woody Guthrie Center, where one can learn more about this Tulsa legend and experience the Dust Bowl in a virtual reality setting. Find a complete list of Tulsa Arts District businesses at www.thetulsaartsdistrict.org
5. Discovery Lab
Discovery Lab, formerly known as the Tulsa Children’s Museum, is located in Owen Park, Tulsa’s oldest city park. North of Discovery Lab, you can visit a small cabin built in 1885—the oldest home in Tulsa.
Discovery Lab offers visitors with young children an affordable indoor escape. Through Spring 2019, Discovery Lab’s featured exhibit is Backyard Bugs: An Oklahoma Insect Adventure, which teaches viewers about Oklahoma’s insect life through observation of real insects as well as larger-than-life animatronic bugs, including a nine-foot praying mantis.
Discovery Lab also has a toddler area, rotating exhibits and regularly scheduled events like Science Demonstrations. Plus, no visit to Discovery Lab is complete without a trip down its 30-foot slide made entirely out of packing tape! Learn more at www.discoverylab.org.
6. Oklahoma Aquarium
Finally, if a city offers the chance to walk through a 500,000-gallon tank filled with bull sharks, you don’t want to miss that opportunity! The Oklahoma Aquarium, located in Jenks, a suburb just south of Tulsa, offers this experience in addition to other fascinating exhibits, such as the new Polynesian Reef, home to some of the Aquarium’s most colorful aquatic life.
Another newer Aquarium space is Sea Turtle Island, whose residents include two 300-pound loggerhead sea turtles, a giant puffer fish, hammerhead sharks and more. Guests will enjoy getting a sea-level view in a “submarine”-style viewing station.
Learn more about the Oklahoma Aquarium at www.okaquarium.org.