Tulsa is the second-largest city in the state of Oklahoma and was once known as the Oil Capital of the World. The wealth amassed from the oil industry days resulted in the beautiful art deco buildings that line the streets of downtown Tulsa today.
However, there is much more to Tulsa than its historic buildings. The city is full of pristine parks, a vibrant music and art scene, and informative museums. There are also remnants of a storied and sometimes violent past and promises for a better future.
If you’re headed through “Tulsey Town” anytime soon, be sure to check out these best things to do in Tulsa for a fun-filled and frugal trip.
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One of the best free things to do in Tulsa is spend some time on a peaceful stroll through the campus of the University of Tulsa. While Tulsa is known for its Art Deco buildings (especially in the Deco District), the buildings at the university are mostly classic styles, with brick facades.
The grounds are well-kept, and in some areas, rival the gorgeous Tulsa River Parks. While walking around the campus, don’t miss the highlights like the Kendall Bell in Bayless Plaza and the lush green spaces outside McFarlin Library and Dietler Commons.
Fans of the legendary singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan, will want to check out the Bob Dylan Archive at the University of Tulsa. The archive has been around for years, but only for researchers, though it will open to the public in May 2022. The Bob Dylan Museum comprises 6,000 items, including hand-written song lyrics and never-released recordings.
For those considering a university in this part of the United States, the University of Tulsa ranks among the most esteemed schools in the Midwest. The university was founded about 125 years ago and boasts small class sizes — which helps make it one of the best places for your peaceful stroll.
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Though the state of Oklahoma is landlocked and about 500 miles from the nearest beach in Galveston, TX — it still boasts one of the best aquariums in the U.S. Located just outside Tulsa in the city of Jenks, Tulsa’s visitors will find the Oklahoma Aquarium well worth a visit.
This massive aquarium spans 72,000 square feet, and besides the Tulsa Zoo, it is one of the best places in Oklahoma to see animals. There are many great exhibits at the aquarium, but the biggest draw is the walk-through shark tank, where you can see sharks and other fish swimming right over your head.
The Oklahoma Aquarium Shark Adventure features the world’s largest exhibit of bull sharks in captivity. Besides these apex predators, you’ll also see more docile species, like nurse sharks. For a unique experience, plan to visit at 2 pm on Mondays and Wednesdays, when the staff will feed the sharks.
There are also massive tanks to see the giant pacific octopus, jellyfish, lionfish, and other unique sea creatures. The Polynesian Reef is another must-see. This 65,000-gallon saltwater aquarium is the second largest tank in the Oklahoma Aquarium and has colorful corals and tropical fish to admire.
At Sea Turtle Island, a 58,000-gallon tank, you’ll encounter the loggerhead sea turtle and other types of fish. It is a multi-level exhibit, so visitors can also go into the underwater observation area to come face-to-face with Sea Turtle Island’s inhabitants.
The Oklahoma Aquarium is located at 300 Aquarium Drive, Jenks, OK 74037. It is open daily from 10 am-6 pm and 10 am-9 pm on Tuesdays. Admission to the Oklahoma Aquarium is $18.95 for adults and $18.95 for children aged 3-12.
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The Tulsa Zoo includes more than 500 acres and features a variety of habitats for both animals and people. The zoo’s animal collection numbers over 3,000 individuals representing about 175 species, with around 25% of them being threatened or endangered. The zoo has been open since 1909, and it is estimated that almost 2 million visitors come every year to see what it has to offer!
If you plan to visit the great city of Tulsa, you should add this fantastic activity to your list because there is simply no other place like it. The zoo has something for everyone, so bring the whole family and enjoy a day of exploration and learning!
Some of the best things to see at the Tulsa Zoo include:
– The Safari Village, which features elephants, lions, tigers, and more
– The Australian exhibit with kangaroos, wallabies, and other marsupials
– The gorilla exhibit
– The reptile house, home to over 100 different species of reptiles from all over the world
– You can even feed a giraffe or ride a camel (depending on schedule and time of year)
There are also plenty of wonderful places to eat at the zoo, so make sure you come hungry! Be sure to stop in the Komodo Canteen for a funnel cake!! If you like saving money, the zoo allows you to bring your own sack lunch to enjoy.
The price of admission is reasonable at $14 for adults and $10 for children. They offer discounted prices for seniors, veterans, active-duty military, first responders, college students, foster families, and more.
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Utica Square is one of the best things to do in Tulsa and should be at the top of your list of things to see in the city. This shopping center and square sit in the heart of Tulsa and connect different places for shopping, eating out, and all sorts of attractions. There are regular events held at Utica Square, and during the summer, it’s a great place to sit outside and have lunch.
Utica Square is definitely a high-end place with expensive shops and upscale cafes and restaurants. It might not be the most budget-friendly place for shopping or eating out, but luckily you can walk around and window-shop without having to buy anything.
Utica Square dates back to 1952 and features beautiful historic architecture, and is well worth a visit just for the history. This part of Tulsa is lovely and great for an afternoon walk in the sun during summer. If you’re not so fortunate and are visiting Tulsa on a rainy day, it will be the perfect excuse to duck into one of the many shops and browse. Also, keep an eye out for events held at Utica Square, such as outdoor cinemas or markets, which might be put on occasionally.
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Another of the best things to do in Tulsa is to explore the Philbrook Museum of Art. This museum is full of history and art from all around the world. It opened in 1939 in a former oil tycoon’s villa. There are nine collections in the museum, and they feature artwork from all over the world.
In addition to the artwork on display, the Philbrook Museum of Art also offers classes and workshops for visitors. These classes cover everything from painting to pottery, and they are a great way to learn more about the art on display and try your hand at creating art yourself. Further, the museum also has rotating exhibits, so there’s always something interesting and new.
Another great reason to visit the Philbrook Museum of Art is the gardens. The gardens are full of beautiful flowers and sculptures, and they are the perfect place to relax and take a break from exploring the museum. In fact, Philbrook Gardens is one of the most romantic getaways in Oklahoma.
The Philbrook Museum of Art is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, and major holidays. Be sure to check the website for their opening hours because they change frequently. Admission to the museum is $12 for adults, and kids under 17 get in for free. The ticket includes access to the gardens as well.
So, if you’re looking for something fun and educational to do in Tulsa, be sure to check out the Philbrook Museum of Art. You won’t regret it!
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If you haven’t heard of the Greenwood neighborhood, also nicknamed Black Wall Street, then taking the Black Wall Street tour is the best way to learn more about its residents’ history (and future).
At an affordable $15, the walking tour will take you through the streets of Greenwood and transport you back to its roaring heights and the conditions that allowed the neighborhood to create an environment so nourishing and prosperous for its Black citizens. The tour will also cover the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921 and the burning of Greenwood, along with the profoundly conspiring tactics the city invoked to carry out the sanctioned attack on Greenwood and the cover-up after.
The Black Wall Street tour is one of the most captivating and eye-opening walking tours in the state, if not the country, and is an activity that everyone needs to do while in Tulsa. The tour is accessible for wheelchairs, strollers, and other mobility devices, and the activity level is suitable for children to keep up as well. The guide for the tour is a descendant of survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and his personal connection to Greenwood makes the experience that much more powerful.
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The Tulsa River Parks Trail system is an excellent place for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. With miles and miles worth of paved trails, visitors can bike or walk the flat terrain nested right along the Arkansas River. Visitors can even rent bikes and scooters to explore the area on their own time!
This premier riverfront park system has so much to see, including Tulsa’s prized city park, The Gathering Place. There are skateparks, playgrounds, and places to watch for birds and other wildlife near The Gathering Place.
The River Parks Trail also intersects Route 66 near 11th street, making Tulsa an excellent destination for road-trippers who want some historic flavor before heading out on their next adventure in America’s heartland. In addition, there is some Route 66 signage to view right near the trail.
Whether you live in Tulsa or are just stopping by, be sure to check out the River Parks Trail System. Hit the trails near Tulsa with your friends or family, and then stop at The Gathering Place to grab a coffee or ice cream and check out the koi fish ponds! Using the trail system and finding parking in the area is free. Be sure to check out the east and west side trails along the river!
Woody Guthrie was a singer-songwriter and one of the most significant American folk musicians. The themes of his work focused on American socialism and anti-fascism and included such classics as “This Land is Your Land.” His album Dust Bowl Ballads containing songs about the Dust Bowl period, was included in Mojo magazine’s list of 100 Records That Changed the World.
The museum features exhibits about Guthrie’s life and music. You’ll also have opportunities to listen to his music and learn about the legacy he left and the artists he inspired, including Bob Dylan.
Named for the beautiful, blue-domed building on Second Street and Elgin Avenue in downtown Tulsa, the Blue Dome District is a hub of dining, nightlife, art, and music. The Blue Dome building was built in 1924 and served as a Gulf Oil service station, but today is an information desk for the district.
If you happen to visit Tulsa in May, make sure you attend the Blue Dome Arts Festival, which features local music and street vendors.
While the museum initially opened in 1998 in a hangar, it is now housed within its own 18-acre facility. Exhibits include the science of space and flight, simulators, and artifacts related to flying. The museum added a planetarium in 2006, the first in the state of Oklahoma.
Spanning 170 acres, the Tulsa Botanic Garden was developed to promote the beauty and importance of nature. One of the biggest attractions of the garden is the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Floral Terrace, which features over 100,000 spring bulbs. You can also find roses and beautiful mature trees in the garden.
Tulsa summers are hot and muggy, so what better way to beat the heat than to splash around at a water park?
Safari Joe’s H2O Water Park offers fun in the sun with wave pools, lazy rivers, and water slides. You can also get your thrill on with the water roller coasters or water slide flumes.
Safari Joe’s is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 3 pm, and tickets range up to $22.
Tulsa’s oil history is on full display at The Golden Driller, the 76-foot statue of an oilman that can be found at the Expo Center. This 43,000-pound statue was built in Texas for a trade fair and later transferred to Tulsa, which once sat atop one of the largest oil reserves in the world.
Founded in 1966 as the Gershon & Rebecca Fenster Museum of Jewish Art, the Sherwin Miller Museum holds the most extensive collection of Jewish art in the southwestern U.S. and is the only Jewish museum in the region.
One of its permanent exhibits is the Herman & Kate Kaiser Holocaust Collection, which focuses on survivors who came to Oklahoma and those from Oklahoma who helped liberate the camps in Nazi Germany during WWII. In addition to its collections, the museum is also the headquarters of the Jewish Historical Society of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Jewish Archives.
Oneok Field is a baseball park in Tulsa and home to the Tulsa Drillers minor league baseball team. However, if you’re more of a soccer fan, you’re in luck because the stadium is also home to FC Tulsa.
In addition to sports, the stadium frequently hosts musical events, so check the schedule to see what events might be happening during your trip.
Founded by Thomas Gilcrease in 1949, the Gilcrease Museum holds the largest and most comprehensive collection of American West art, as well as art and artifacts from Central and South America.
The museum’s founder, Thomas Gilcrease, was an oilman and avid art collector who grew up part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. His tribal membership allowed him an allotment of 160 acres of land just south of Tulsa, which became part of Oklahoma’s first significant oil fields.
The gardens and park areas can be explored daily from 6 am to 11 pm for free, while museum admission is up to $8 but is free for University of Tulsa students, military members, children under 18, and K-12 Oklahoma teachers. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays and is open from 11 am to 4 pm most other days.
If you prefer a little Vegas in your Oklahoma, then the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino should be on your list of things to do in Tulsa. The hotel and casino offer a slew of entertainment options and nightlife, along with slots and table games.
If shopping is on your list of things to do on vacation, then you won’t want to miss one of the most unique shopping experiences in the country. The Boxyard is a shopping center constructed of shipping containers that spent 8-12 years carrying goods around the world.
The Boxyard is full of local small businesses and restaurants, so you can get the full Tulsa experience and find genuine souvenirs.
One of the most unique things to do in Tulsa, the Center of the Universe is an acoustic anomaly located in the middle of a pedestrian bridge. Comprised of a small concrete circle surrounded by a larger circle of bricks, the center echoes and amplifies sounds several times louder than what was made for those standing within it. It’s also said that those outside the circle can’t hear the amplified sounds, but what most have reported is a highly distorted sound instead.
The Center of the Universe is located at 1 S Boston Ave. in Tulsa.
The reasons for visiting the Boston Avenue Methodist Church aren’t necessarily religious but architectural. Completed in 1929, the building is regarded as one of the country’s best examples of ecclesiastical art deco architecture. Make sure you view the building from all sides to fully take in the complexity of the design.
Tulsa has a vibrant art and music scene, and one of the hubs of this scene is the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Home to the Tulsa Ballet, Opera, and Symphony Orchestra, the center contains six performance venues with four theaters, a studio, and an art gallery. You can see both local and national productions, so be sure to check online for performances happening during your stay.
For a city known for its architecture, the Cave House is definitely the quirkiest. Initially built in the 1920s as a restaurant, the place became a speakeasy at night. Guests would enter through a secret tunnel in the fireplace that led to a room under the hillside. While the tunnel has since been sealed, the house now operates somewhat as a museum, and tours are available. If you do tour the Cave House, be on the lookout for the mysterious key woman who is said to haunt the house.
Located at Tulsa’s Union Station, the Jazz Hall of Fame exhibits explore the lives and work of musicians like Wallace Willis and Charlie Christian. You can also hear live performances and participate in free jam sessions on certain days.
Dedicated in 2010, the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park memorializes the Tulsa Race Riot/Massacre that occurred in 1921. The park also tells the story of the African Americans who helped build Oklahoma.
One of the primary features of the park is Hope Plaza, which contains three bronze sculptures representing actual pictures from the 1921 riot. The statues stand for hostility, humiliation, and hope. The other main feature is the Tower of Reconciliation at the center of the park, which features a 26-foot-tall memorial tower depicting the history of the struggles of people of color in the area.
If you want to see another Tulsa campus, head to Oral Roberts University to see the iconic Prayer Tower.
The tower sits right in the middle of this Christian college campus as the centerpiece of the school. Even for non-religious folks, the tower’s architecture will mesmerize you. You can go up the tower to the observation deck from Monday to Saturday, and between the hours of 12 pm to 5 pm.
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.
Featured Image Credit: Pexels.