1. We completely revitalized our downtown into the busiest entertainment district in the state.
Many of us who grew up in Oklahoma City don’t remember ever going downtown during our precious formative years, and that’s because we didn’t. Downtown was a grungy, deserted warehouse district and the area was all but ignored until the 90s.
But in 1993, Oklahoma voters approved a one-of-a-kind increase in sales tax to overhaul OKC’s downtown area. The tax was called MAPS and originally ran through 1999, raising over $300 million. Seemingly overnight, downtown became Bricktown and businesses flooded into the historic brick warehouses that inspired the area’s name.
Now Bricktown is primarily home to a range of bars and restaurants that even the most picky groups of friends can agree on: from the patio complete with fire-pit at Deep Deuce Grill to our local version of a pub, Bricktown Brewery.
Cutting through Bricktown is a mile-long canal that offers guided Water Taxi tours if you’re interested in history and bad jokes. If you’re not, eating at one of the many waterside restaurants makes for some great people watching. The Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark is home to the newly renamed Oklahoma Dodgers baseball team in the summer, and hosts some epic snow tubing during the winter.
2. We’ve got the NBA’s biggest superstars.
KD and Westbrook. Enough said. But also Serge, Collison, and sometimes Adams, especially when he’s high-fiving Collison. You absolutely will not find more passionate fans anywhere in the US. Our crazy, intense love for our biggest major sports team is rivaled only by the rest of the world’s love of soccer.
With OKC since arriving from Seattle in 2008, many attribute the city’s recent revival exclusively to the overwhelming popularity of the Thunder. Whether or not that’s true, our boys have certainly pumped a lot of money into the local economy purely through merchandise sales. Walk for longer than 30 seconds anywhere in OKC and you’ll encounter at least one piece of Thunder merchandise. Sorry, not sorry Seattle. What kind of name is Supersonics, anyway?
3. We have one of the most popular Native American festivals in the US.
The word Oklahoma literally means ‘red people’ in Choctaw and was negotiated as the name to Indian Territory by a Choctaw chief back in the 19th century. The state still has dozens of federally recognized tribes and much of its land is subject to tribal law. Despite this, your average Oklahoma City resident doesn’t encounter Native American culture too terribly often, with one exception.
For 3 days a year, even those of us without a drop of Native American blood can appreciate the unique aspects of tribal life in downtown OKC. Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival is an award-winning event showcasing Native American art, dance, clothing, and heritage. It’s kicked off by a huge parade that even includes tribal princesses.
4. Our river is an Olympic and Paralympic Training Site.
In 2004, at the height of the revamp of OKC’s downtown, the river that cuts OKC in two was renamed the Oklahoma River within the city’s borders. With that rename came the beginning of a huge change for the riverbanks. Not only is the area a training site for Olympic and Paralympic level athletes in canoeing, kayaking, and rowing, the Boathouse District is now an adrenaline-junkie attraction on the North side of the river — a mere 5 minutes from Bricktown.
It includes several boathouses designed by an award-winning architect, a 700-foot zipline across the river, kayaking, paddle boarding, dragonboating, and best of all: The Sandridge Sky Trail.
The Sky Trail is a six story adventure course where the only safety is a harness that leaves you scarily free to tackle obstacles like balance beams suspended in the air. When (if) you reach the top without giving up, there’s a choice of either descending by stairs, 80-foot free fall, or America’s tallest slide. This choice can divide friends and families alike, with some viewing the free fall as the ultimate accomplishment. However, all of us can agree that anyone who takes the stairs down should be ashamed of themselves.
5. We embrace our cowboy roots.
The Cowboy Hall of Fame is the most well-known museum in all of OKC. Everyone has been here at least once, whether it’s as a child or for a champagne gala as an adult. It was technically renamed sometime in the last few years, but I doubt even the employees call it by the new name either. The most famous piece in this Western culture museum is entitled “The End of the Trail” — a famous sculpture depicting a Native American man and his horse that is shown on every OKC postcard or tourism advertisement we’ve ever seen.
Beyond that, it is always surprising just how much else there is to see. There are also exhibits on American rodeo, Victorian firearms, Native American artifacts, and amazing artwork depicting the American West. There’s even a replica of a turn-of-the-century town inside the museum where you can see businesses and homes exactly as they would have been in a cowtown like OKC, which is much more fun as an adult than it should be.
6. We know steak.
In OKC, everyone has a favorite steak joint. Everyone. There are plenty to choose from, some better than others, but a few are standouts in their ability to reach that perfect medium rare. Cattleman’s Steakhouse in the Stockyards is by far the most well-known steak joint in the city. It’s barely changed over the years, dark and covered in photos of famous cowboys throughout the years. Not everyone’s a fan, but every local has joked at least once about ordering their notorious lamb fries.
An up and coming destination for some of the best steaks in the city is Broadway 10 Bar & Chophouse, located on the trendy Automobile Alley downtown. The area used to be the location of most of the city’s car dealerships but now includes some of the best restaurants, bars, and shops. Broadway 10 is in the old Buick building just off the highway on 10th street, which we all know is the unspoken marker of downtown limits. For those on a “working” lunch, the bar literally takes center stage in the restaurant and serves up one of the best margaritas this side of Cinco de Mayo.
7. There’s an actual lake inside our city limits.
Smack dab in the middle of one of the most populated residential areas of OKC lays Lake Hefner. Although all of Oklahoma’s lakes are man-made, this just means that they’re specifically designed to maximize the fun. Lake Hefner’s shores feature several restaurants specializing in seafood, like Redrock Canyon Grill — that’s where we go to view that Oklahoma sunset we all love so much.
Hefner also has miles of hiking and biking trails, a golf course, fishing, playgrounds, and boating. At the head of Hefner’s East Wharf is a 40-foot working lighthouse, a beacon for sailboats returning to the marina as well as nervous cowboys about to propose to their cowgirls.
8. We rock climb on old grain silos.
OKC might be about as flat as a pancake, but adventurous types are nothing if not resourceful. Enter Rocktown Climbing Gym, just outside of Bricktown. Located in an old repurposed grain silo (which are truly massive structures in case you aren’t from around here). Everyone from experts to beginners get their adrenaline pumping for the day by climbing up to 100 feet above the plains on any of the inside or outside routes.
To add to the unique experience, a local artist painted a large-scale mural on the outside of the silo depicting several state symbols like the scissortail flycatcher and the buffalo, which can be seen from any of the major highways in the area.
9. The Paseo is by far the country’s most unique arts district.
The Paseo was originally the first major district outside of downtown back in the early 20th century. Now a popular district for arts and music, the two-block area maintained its colorful and detailed Spanish architecture that you can’t find anywhere else in the city. No matter how many times you’ve been to the Paseo, you always feel like you’re on a movie set in the Southwest: brightly colored stucco, balconies, and painted tile roofs.
Plus there’s Paseo’s First Friday Art Walk. It’s a time where all the art-minded residents of OKC can get together in one place and peruse new exhibits, enjoy live music, and grab a drink at one of the Paseo’s several restaurant/bar combos. There’s Sauced, a New-York style pizza place with a famous patio and plenty of seating. But if you’re in the mood for a more upscale atmosphere, the artsy and eclectic Picasso Cafe is a hipster staple. They even have a monthly vegetarian dinner for those crazy enough to live in OKC and not eat steak.
Any visit to the Paseo is incomplete without braving a trip into Craig’s Curious Emporium, the most unique gift shop in OKC. Stepping foot in there is like stepping into another world. Dark, narrow aisles hold trinkets you’d never expect to find anywhere in the Midwest. Where else can you find a handmade steampunk necklace hidden amidst a life-size suit of armor and the best sandalwood incense in the state?
10. We’ve got a whole lot of Route 66 here.
Oklahoma has the longest stretch of Route 66 of any US state, and although the highway has been broken up by businesses and highways, there are still dozens of neon signs and vintage attractions in OKC. One of the most refreshing of these is the Blue Note Lounge on 23rd and Robinson. Located just west of the State Capitol, which is also a Route 66 notable mention, Blue Note first opened in the 50s to serve Route 66 road trippers who needed a break from their children. Okay, not really. But since then, it has been one of the best bars in the city for strong drinks, great live music, and pool. It’s a little intimidating at first glance, but once your eyes adjust to the smoky darkness and rough customers, you’ll be relieved to find yourself there.
11. Our Asian District kicks ass.
OKC has one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the country and Vietnamese is even the third most spoken language in our state. But the area around 23rd and Classen in the city has grown to include businesses, stores, groceries, and services run by several other Asian American groups including Chinese and Thai populations.
Now known as the Asian District, with fancy red street signs to match, this is where we get our dim sum on at Grand House and marvel at just how many animal parts are, in fact, edible while strolling through the meat section of Cao Nguyen Supermarket.
The most notable landmark in the area is the giant Braum’s Milk Bottle that marks the entrance of the district, a weird OKC Route 66 landmark that provides a laughable Americana contrast to the international nature of the area.
12. We’ve got the tropics in the middle of skyscrapers.
In the middle of the Myriad Gardens, which is a beautiful 15-acre area containing a playground, fountains, a dog park, waterfalls, and more, is the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory. It may not be the prettiest structure on the outside, despite what its name suggests, but the inside always leaves you gaping at the 1,000 types of plants from six continents on display. Just make sure a butterfly doesn’t fly in. Half of the plants are kept in a wet zone with constant water, while the other half are in a dry zone that is given a drought period. There’s a huge waterfall, ponds, and different rock formations that highlight the best of each zone. The best part is definitely the bridge spanning high above the entire exhibit that gives the coolest views of the entire building.
13. The Memorial Marathon is one of the most supportive races in the country.
Oklahoma City was rocked to its core on April 19, 1995 when 168 citizens were killed and countless more injured in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, one of the worst acts of domestic terrorism in our country’s history. Most people who live in OKC have their own story to tell about that day, whether it’s memories of the sound of the explosion or a friend of a friend who survived the blast. In true Oklahoma spirit, a beautiful and moving permanent memorial was built on the site a few years later.
In 2001, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon began as a way to raise money for the memorial. Voted as one of the “must-run” marathons in the world, the event offers options beyond the traditional 26.2 miles, including a relay and 5k race. The marathon route winds through the most beautiful neighborhoods and areas of OKC, including Heritage Hills, Edgemere Park, and Nichols Hills. For being so flat, OKC has a lot of neighborhoods named after hills.
One of the best parts about the race is the sheer number of supporters along the route. It’s a big deal to all of us, and we cheer on every single runner. It truly is “A Race to Remember”.
14. We really do have ALL the space.
Oklahoma is in the top 10 of the largest US cities by area, beaten only by a few cites you’ve never heard of in Alaska and Montana. However, its population is only a bit over half a million. This means that we have a lot of the perks of city living without the hassle of overcrowding. We rarely have to wait in line at our restaurants or bars , rush-hour traffic clears within an hour, and we can still buy a home within city limits where neighbors can’t even be seen from the front yard. There’s just space for days!
15. We have TONS of trendy areas to choose from when we go out.
If Bricktown, Automobile Alley, and the Paseo don’t suit the evening, there’s still Midtown, Western Avenue, and the famous Plaza District.
The Plaza is a relatively small area of bars, restaurants,and local stores, including a funky hair salon and a resale shop. You used to need a security detail to travel down 16th Street, but now it s just recommended that you wear plaid and have a mustache.
DNA Galleries is a local store and art gallery that’s crazy affordable. Almost all of their products are made in Oklahoma and they highlight new and emerging artists around the state.
The best part about DNA is that it’s right next to Pie Junkie, the world’s best pie place. No one particularly remembers when Pie Junkie got so popular, but now it’s an OKC staple. If your favorite pie isn’t the Drunken Turtle, which is fudge pie, pecans, and salted bourbon caramel, you might get a side eye from the OKC locals.
16. We can have dinner at the top of the tallest building in the state.
The fact that our city’s attitude has always been more onwards than upwards also explains why we don’t have much of a skyline in traditional terms. Although OKC residents love our city from the ground or above, googling OKC didn’t really lead to any print worthy photos of a beautiful downtown horizon. That (mostly) changed in recent years, and the one skyscraper we do have has become an icon for our city.
The Devon Tower was built by Devon Energy in 2011 and stands at 50 stories, which is by far the tallest thing Oklahoma has ever seen. Aside from hosting several holiday activities during the winter, the top floor of the building is occupied by Vast, a restaurant and bar with 360 views of OKC. Nothing makes us more proud of our city than viewing it from 850 feet above with a Prairie Mule or three, in hand.