Day 1 in Oklahoma City: Man buns, 3, cowboy hats, 0.
It wasn’t for lack of trying — my husband and I had moseyed for miles, from the state’s first craft brewery in Bricktown to the independent boutiques of Midtown to the flashy street art of the Plaza District.
Long a bastion of the Old West, OKC is also a cultural heartland, a place to savor some of the nation’s best Vietnamese food in the Asian District or listen to live music in the Deep Deuce District, a 1920s-era jazz hot spot. (Flaming Lips fans will want to stop by the Womb, a psychedelic-looking art gallery where frontman Wayne Coyne is often at work.) Signs of growth — and young people — abound in the city’s many walkable neighborhoods, or districts; a streetcar linking some of them will arrive in 2018, followed in 2019 by Scissortail Park, a 70-acre recreational green space named for the state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher. A 200-foot-tall sculpture, also inspired by the species and illuminated nightly by LEDs, already sits atop downtown’s Skydance Bridge.
Even with all this change, Oklahoma’s capital sticks to its guns as a cow town. In Stockyards City, site of the world’s biggest live cattle market and home to the famed Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, I spotted plenty of cowboy hats — and a sign reminding me to eat beef because the West, after all, wasn’t won on salad.
Visitors flock to 1Myriad Botanical Gardens 1Myriad Botanical Gardens Google Map: 301 W. Reno Ave. Website: oklahomacitybotanicalgardens.com 405-445-7080 for its lush tropical conservatory, and rightly so. But don’t skip the outdoor Prairie Garden, where shoulder-high stands of local grasses topped with blooms and aflutter with butterflies offer up a little taste of those famous Oklahoma plains.
Tucked away in concrete office land, the 2Red Earth museum and art center 2Red Earth museum and art center Google Map: 6 Santa Fe Plaza Website: www.redearth.org 405-427-5228 feels like a refreshing oasis of culture. (Just look for the painted bison out front.) Work by Native American artists from Oklahoma and beyond make up the 1,000-piece collection of crafts, totem poles and sculptures, among other offerings. I was most captivated by abstract paintings that remixed native themes; the geometric mosaics by Benjamin Harjo Jr. earned him the nickname the “Picasso of Native American art.”
From a 19-ton statue of Buffalo Bill to America’s largest set of triptych paintings — 46-foot-wide landscapes — the 3National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum 3National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Google Map: 1700 NE 63rd St. Website: nationalcowboymuseum.org 405-478-2550 is, as you would expect, larger than life. Movie buffs will love the Western Performers gallery, with its John Wayne and “Gunsmoke” memorabilia. (Tired dogs? Take a load off inside a little theater playing clips from classic Westerns.) My favorite artifact was an 1800s-era split riding skirt that allowed trailblazing cowgirls to switch between sidesaddle and astride.
4The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum 4The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum Google Map: 620 N. Harvey Ave. Website: oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org 405-235-3313 , which honors the 168 people killed in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, takes command of your senses and never lets go. The tour begins with chilling audio of the blast, progressing through masterfully curated exhibits of the devastation, recovery, quest for justice and remembrance. At the Outdoor Memorial, the actual site of the bombing, I stood in the sprawling shade of the Survivor Tree, an American elm, the leaves of which were blown off during the disaster.
Thanks to 5Anchor Down Draft & Dog 5Anchor Down Draft and Dog Google Map: 30 NE Second St. Website: anchordownokc.com 405-605-8070 , I can now say I’ve eaten a gourmet corn dog while sitting in a recycled shipping container. Part of OKSea, a first-of-its-kind multiuse development in the Deep Deuce District, Anchor Down caters to all with beef, vegan, vegetarian and chicken corn dogs. I indulged in the latter (fried deliciously in onion batter), with some strawberry hush pups for dessert. Meg, with the butterfly tattoo, invited us back to the popular late-night spot for craft cocktails like the Okie mule — Prairie Wolf vodka, hibiscus tonic, ginger beer and lime.
Conversations with strangers come easily in OKC, and that’s how an employee on her afternoon off sent us to 6Empire Slice House 6Empire Slice House Google Map: 1734 NW 16th St. Website: empireslicehouse.com 405-557-1760 (motto: live free, pie hard) with specific instructions: Grapefruit shandy, garlic knots and a slice of Doug E. Fresh (white pie with roasted tomatoes). Much of the bustling New York style pizzeria’s menu is named for hip-hop stars, such as the Notorious P.I.G. — a whole pound of pork — and the Ghostface Killah ghost-chili marinara. Verdict: Awesomesauce.
7Bricktown Brewery 7Bricktown Brewery Google Map: 1 N. Oklahoma Ave. Website: www.bricktownbrewery.com 405-232-2739 opened in 1992 when downtown OKC, according to its website, was “little more than tumbleweeds and cattle.” These days, the state’s first craft brewery is sandwiched between dozens of bars and restaurants, but the granddaddy of the neighborhood still holds its own. Its crisp King Kolsch was the perfect antidote to a 100-degree July day. It also claims to go against the hipster grain (excuse the pun) as the only brewery in North America with two beardless brewers.
A hub for auto dealerships in the 1920s, Automobile Alley today is more bar than car. 8Broadway 10 Bar & Chophouse 8Broadway 10 Bar and Chophouse Google Map: 1101 N. Broadway Ave. Website: www.broadway10okc.com 405-212-3949 , located in the Buick Building’s light-filled former showroom, serves up wood-fired meats and creative sushi. After your meal, go out back to see a restored 1935 Buick Series 66c convertible, which you could’ve bought in this very spot nearly a century ago.
Dani welcomed us to Midtown’s 9Commonplace Books 9Commonplace Books Google Map: 1325 N. Walker Ave. Website: www.commonplacebooksokc.com 405-534-4540 with a glass of red (“It’s Friday!”) and dove right into the store philosophy: Books are organized by and curated for your interests. Civic-minded readers may be drawn to the activist section; ditto for intellectual, achiever, insider and so on. If you’d rather just browse fiction, have no fear — there’s a section for that. I settled in a comfy chair with a mystery novel while Boz, the fluffy white shop dog, lie at my feet.
Eight years ago, Justin and Audrey Falk began making graphic tees in a barn with an old printing press. Today, 10Shop Good 10Shop Good Google Map: 3 NW Ninth St. Website: www.shopgoodokc.com 405-702-0517 has its own space on the first floor of a cozy, wood-shingled house in Automobile Alley, where it sells hand-printed tees as well as jewelry and gifts. Many of its creative designs celebrate Oklahoma — “steady reppin’ since 1907” — as well as camping and exploring. Best of all, the Falks donate 5 percent of T-shirt sales to local charities.
11Langston’s Western Wear 11Langston's Western Wear Google Map: 2224 Exchange Ave. Website: www.langstons.com 405-235-9536 , a Stockyards City institution, has outfitted ranchers and farmers for more than a century. We joined what looked like legit cowboys (finally!) waiting at the flagship store 15 minutes before opening on a Sunday. As country music wafted, employees in cowboy hats fanned out through well-stocked aisles of boots, hats and blue jeans, eager to help any greenhorns. My husband scored a plaid shirt and leather belt for under $50.
Shopping already lifts your mood, but a stroll through 12Painted Door 12Painted Door Google Map: 124 E. Sheridan Ave. Website: www.painteddoor.com 405-235-4410 is bound to make you laugh. The 26-year-old boutique combines the cheeky and practical with items such as a flying pig night light, therapy dough (basically Play-Doh for adults) and snarky dish towels (“Yoga class? I thought you said ‘Pour a glass.’ ”) I scored two gifts for family — salt and pepper shakers in the shape of a burger and fries, and an “Alice in Wonderland” coloring book. The store will wrap your purchase free — and you don’t even need to ask for the bow.
Though you can catch glimpses of the downtown skyline from the 13Rusty Gables Guest Lodge & Gallery 13Rusty Gables Guest Lodge and Gallery Google Map: 3800 NE 50th St. Website: www.rustygables.com 405-424-1015 , its 30-acre ranch feels a world apart. Innkeepers Sam Nicolosi and Don Paul make you feel at home in their large, high-ceilinged bed-and-breakfast, bedecked in Western decor. Enjoy a hearty country breakfast in the great room, which doubles as an art gallery and hall of fame for the ranch’s esteemed equines — some of which you can pet in the pastures outside. Be warned: Pepi, a handsome chestnut mare, likes to give kisses.
Built in 1910, the 12-story 14Colcord Hotel 14Colcord Hotel Google Map: 15 N. Robinson Ave. Website: www.colcordhotel.com 405-601-4300 was Oklahoma’s first skyscraper, and walking among the lobby’s swirly black-and-white marble instantly envelops you in the elegance of the early 20th century. The hotel’s original touches include ornamental plaster ceilings and nickel-and-bronze letterboxes. I could also get used to the carafe of free coffee delivered to your door in the morning.
We’d missed the monthly block party, but the 15Plaza District 15Plaza District Google Map: NW 16th St.and N. Blackwelder Ave. Website: www.plazadistrict.org still had a festive vibe, its sidewalks and funky shops crammed with locals out on the town. We wandered the back alleys of Plaza Walls, a rotating exhibit of bold, vibrant murals curated by a local street-art collective. Particularly Instagram worthy? A whimsical “Simpsons” mural with a three-eyed Mr. Burns.
Once packed with warehouses, the buzzing 16Bricktown District 16Bricktown District Google Map: W. Sheridan Ave. and N. Mickey Mantle Dr. Website: www.bricktownokc.com is probably OKC’s most well-known neighborhood. A water taxi cruises along the mile-long Bricktown Canal, lined with restaurants, bars and the Oklahoma City Dodgers’ baseball stadium. The new Brickopolis complex appeals to families with arcade games and miniature golf.
Dell’Amore is a writer based in the District and an editor for National Geographic’s website.