Just as Oklahoma defies simple geographic categorization—often labeled as Midwest, South, or Southwest—its capital city evades easy definition. Its atypical story began in 1889 when settlers from many backgrounds established it in a day through a federally sanctioned land grab. Today, OKC is a destination replete with rich cultural attractions, interesting neighborhoods, and adventurous dining.
What to do
Many Native American tribes displaced by westward movement of the American frontier found themselves in Indian Territory, which consisted of most of Oklahoma. The state is home to 39 federally recognized sovereign nations, and Oklahoma's newest attraction, the First Americans Museum, honors their traditions and cultures. The museum's high-tech displays, interactive components, and fine art guide visitors through 500 years of Native American history. One gallery showcases objects from a 140-piece collection that the Smithsonian Institution acquired in the early 1900s.
Across town, galleries at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum cover all things Western—from art and sculpture to barbed wire and rodeo. Wander the streets of an Old West town inside, and step outside to explore native dwellings, including a Puebloan cliff construction and a Kiowa tipi. An exhibit on display through May 8 celebrates the bicentennial of the Santa Fe Trail.
The city recalls a grim chapter—the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building—at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. On the grounds, the Field of Empty Chairs memorializes the 168 people killed, while the twin Gates of Time represent the innocence before the attack and the moment when healing began. Museum exhibits examine the impact of violence and terrorism, and share lessons learned from the tragedy.
For outdoor activities, Riversport on the Oklahoma River offers heart-stopping activities, including an indoor snow skiing experience and BMX courses. During warm weather, a six-level ropes course, a zip line across the river, whitewater rafting, surfing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding round out the adventures.
Find more fun in Bricktown, an engaging entertainment area with shops, restaurants, a narrated canal cruise, and the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark where the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers play.
Where to shop
For gifts, home decor, and more, Plenty Mercantile in the hip Automobile Alley neighborhood and Painted Door in Bricktown carry items from high-end to quirky. Both stores carry Oklahoma-themed items, as does the gift shop in the Tourism Information Center in the State Capitol, which offers weekday tours.
Where to eat
Find fascinating history and tender steaks at Cattlemen's Steakhouse near downtown OKC. In the Asian District, the vermicelli bowls at Lido Restaurant and dim sum at Grand House are good choices. Vegetarians love Picasso Café in the Paseo Arts District. For a splurge with a spectacular view, make a reservation at Vast in the Devon Tower downtown.
Where to stay
The city's grande dame hotel, the 111-year-old Skirvin Hilton, is updated but punctuated with original decorative elements. Rates start at $149. Striking decor fills 36 rooms split between a historic home and a modern guesthouse at the boutique Bradford House, where guests gather on a large porch. Rates start at $119. Trip though time at the Classen Inn, a 1963 motel that celebrates its groovy Googie architecture. Rates start at $109.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.