The second largest city in the state of Oklahoma, Tulsa once called itself the “Oil Capital of the World” after realizing it was situated atop of the world’s largest known oil reservoir. The title did not last long but the impact of the oil industry is still clear in the city where energy companies gather in their masses to drill, supply and sell on the black gold.
The money that amassed from the oil industry in the city is what paid for the production of the oddly beautiful art deco buildings that you will no doubt visit during your time here.
The city has a few major highlights and a lively history but there are also a few attractions that are best visited only after you have exhausted the “must-see” landmarks and have some time to kill.
Here is our list of the 25 Best Things to do in Tulsa:
1. Learn about some jazz legends
The Union Station in Tulsa is home to the Jazz Hall of Fame. Tulsa is well known for producing musicians especially throughout the 20th Century. Exhibits within the hall of fame are well documented and explore the lives and works of musicians such as Charlie Christian and Wallace Willis in great detail. On Sundays you can see and hear live performances in the Grand Concourse and on Tuesdays the venue plays host to free jam sessions.
2. Pay Homage to a folk legend
In fitting with the theme of legendary musicians, a visit to the Woody Guthrie Center is a must when in Tulsa. The museum contains detailed exhibits about his life and music and gives plenty of opportunity to listen to some of his finest work. The museum also delves into the legacy he left behind by looking at some of the artists he inspired including Bob Dylan.
3. Learn about the 1921 race riots
Back in 1921, an African American man and a white woman were in an elevator together when the women let out a scream. To this day nobody knows exactly why she screamed or what caused the event but the way that the altercation was handled and reported in the media led to three days of violent and intense race riots in the city that destroyed 35 blocks and left thousands homeless or worse. The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park tells the story of the race riots and the devastation they caused to the city and its people.
4. Learn about the Greenwood District
Located on Greenwood Avenue, the Greenwood Cultural Center explores the history of the Greenwood African American District. Like the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, the Cultural Center tells the story of the 1921 race riots but also focuses on the positives of the area when it was once a center of black commerce and dubbed the “Black Wall Street”. The district was once home to more than 300 black-owned businesses including theaters and restaurants. The mission of the center is to promote and preserve African American Culture.
5. Visit the original Philbrook
The Philbrook Museum of Art is a former oil magnate’s villa that has been converted into stylish and well thought out collection of artwork, mainly of Native American origin. The villa itself is attractive with beautiful greenery surrounding it. The Philbrook Museum of Art also has a second location in the Brady Arts District of the city. It is more of a contemporary art venue but is every bit as classy as the Philbrook Museum of Art. Docent-led tours of the collections take place daily and are totally free.
6. Learn about American Art
Just off of Highway 64 and northwest of Downtown Tulsa, the Gilcrease Museum specializes in the history of American art. It is regarded as one of the best facilities in the country for the preservation and study of American artwork. It has a comprehensive and unrivaled collection which can be explored via daily docent-led tours that begin at 2pm each day. Tours are free and can be joined or departed from at any point.
7. See a UFO
Its not actually a UFO but the bizarre looking Prayer Tower that is part of the Oral Roberts University. The Prayer Tower is an iconic building and is recognized throughout the world. It is 200 feet high and supposedly, its position at the very center of the campus signifies that god should be central to everything in life. Visitors can go up the tower to the observation deck from Monday to Saturday between the hours of noon and 5pm.
8. See an art deco icon
The Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Downtown Tulsa was completed in 1929. The building is widely regarded as one of the best examples of ecclesiastical art deco architecture. The church is best admired from the outside and from all angles to appreciate the complex design that makes up the structure. The church is used regularly for sermons, music and life events.
9. See another art deco icon
Whilst not as well known or regarded as the Boston Avenue Methodist Church, the Philcade Building on the corner of East Street and South Boston Avenue is another great example of art deco design. The building is currently used as offices but the exquisite and intricate design of its lobby are worth admiring. The architect responsible for the great work seen here is Leon B Senter.
10. Go downtown to Philbrook Downtown
As mentioned earlier, Philbrook Downtown is the new branch of the Philbrook Art Museum and is situated in (you guessed it) downtown Tulsa. Philbrook Downtown specialize in contemporary art and currently has exhibitions including the works of Cady Wells and the Identity and Inspiration exhibit which consists of a large collection of Native American art from the 20th Century including everything from jewelery to basketry.
11. Orbit the Tulsa Air and Space Museum
The Tulsa Air and Space Museum opened in 1998 in an old air hanger. The museum is now housed on its own facility which covers an area of 18 acres. The planetarium here opened in 2006 and was the first in the state of Oklahoma. More than two and a half million visitors have enjoyed the museum since it opened. Exhibits include the science behind flight and space, simulators and historic artifacts. Be sure to catch a planetarium show in the dome during your time here.
12. Catch a show or two
The ultimate venue for performing arts in Tulsa is without a doubt the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. The center encompasses six performance venues consisting of four theaters, a studio space and an art gallery. The Tulsa Performing Arts Center is home to prestigious groups such as the Tulsa Ballet, Tulsa Opera and Tulsa Symphony Orchestra. Tickets can be bought online and include local performances as well as national productions.
13. Stare at an overweight oil worker
The golden statue of an oil worker in Tulsa, known as the Golden Driller, weighs a whopping 43,500 pounds. The statue acknowledges the fact that Tulsa once sat atop the largest known oil reservoir in the world and dubbed itself the “Oil Capital of the World”. The statue was not actually built in Tulsa but was built by an oilfield supply company from Texas for a trade fair. The statue was later joined by two more but all three statues suffered neglect until Tulsa stepped in and gave the Golden Driller some much needed TLC as well as branding the word Tulsa on the driller’s belt buckle.
14. Go to the zoo
Tulsa Zoo covers an area of 75 acres and is owned by the City of Tulsa itself. The zoo is run as a not for profit organization and houses more than 1500 animals from more than 430 different species. Notable residents of the zoo include Asian Elephants, American Alligators and the White Rhinoceros. The zoo is split into different themed exhibits including Asia, Africa and The Rainforest each with their own habitats and collection of animals. The zoo is open year round with the exception of Christmas Day and the third Friday of June.
15. Appreciate Jewish art
Billed as the largest collection of Jewish art in the southwest of the United States, the Sherwin Miller Museum was founded back in 1966. Current exhibits in the museum include Jews Rock, a collection of photographs exploring the Jewish icons of rock music as well as the Jewish History and Culture Exhibition and Kaiser Holocaust Memorial. This year marks the museums 50th Anniversary and a special event will be held and will include brunch and a performance by the Jewish rock orchestra.
16. Dance the night away
Cain’s Ballroom is an iconic venue that dates back to 1924 when it was first founded. The ballroom has grown in size and stature from its early days when it began life as a garage, grew to a dance for a dime venue and is now one of the city’s best known dancing venues. The venue is also used for live concerts and attracts some big names from around the world as well as local acts.
17. Go under the sea
Just outside of Tulsa in Jenks is the Oklahoma Aquarium. The aquarium is located on the banks of the Arkansas River and is home to more than 200 marine animals, themed exhibits and even a museum of fishing tackle. The aquarium encompasses more than 72,000 square feet. The most notable exhibit is the Extreme Fishes section which explores fish with extraordinary abilities such as breathing air and other amazing adaptations which help fish survive the elements that challenge them.
18. Make a splash
The Big Splash Water Park is the city’s only water park. The park features rides and attractions for all ages and levels of daring. The Master Blaster is the states only water rollercoaster and is accompanied by three flumes, a lazy river ride, a wave pool and Little Splash children’s pools. Without a doubt the most hair raising attraction is the Silver Bullet, a 72 foot drop flume which only lasts for 7 terrifying seconds.
19. Explore urban wilderness
The Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area stretches 300 acres across the city of Tulsa. The area is heavily wooded and contains a labyrinth of twisting trails that beg to be explored. The area is not what most people expect from a natural area in Oklahoma and is made up of thick vegetation and steep hills; seen as perfect terrain for bikers and cross country runners. The area is open to the public from dusk until dawn.
20. Go shopping at Woodland Hills
Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa is a shopping mall made up of more than a million square feet of shops. There are more than 165 stores in the mall featuring all the major chains and brand names as well as 80 shops that can only be found in the mall and nowhere else in the city. Other distractions in the mall include glass elevators, a children’s play area and carousel and a decent food court with plenty of options.
21. Visit a landmark theater
The Brady Theater on Brady Street is known throughout the state and across the whole of the country. It was originally built in 1914 but has been redesigned twice since then in both 1930 and 1952. The theater was used as a detention center during the 1921 race riots. Nowadays, the venue is mainly used for concerts but sometimes hosts comedy and plays.
22. Drink at Tulsa’s best bar
Voted as the best bar to drink at in Tulsa, Leftys in the Greenwood District has 15 beers on tap as well as good food and cocktails. The interior walls are plastered with vinyl records from local favorites in a bizarre but effective mish mash. The bar shows all the important sports matches on its eight screens.
23. See the Cave House of Tulsa
The bizarre and unique Cave House of Tulsa has captured the interest of many people driving past over the years. If you are on of those people, you will be pleased to know that this odd construction can be toured. The house was built in the 1920s with the purpose of being a cave restaurant and was complete with stalactites and stalagmites.
24. Journey to the center of the universe
The Tulsa Center of the Universe is best described as an acoustic anomaly. To the untrained eye it simply looks like a worn circle about eight feet in diameter but when you stand inside the circle and make a sound the noise is echoed back many times louder. The circle is made even more odd by the fact that people standing outside of the circle cannot hear the noise at all. Well, that is what the legend dictates but in reality, from outside the circle the noise is just distorted.
25. Stroll around the University of Tulsa
The University of Tulsa is a nice place to take a relaxed stroll around and admire the well kept grounds and stone buildings. The university claims to have a big town status with a charming small town feel.