Oklahoma City is a place that exudes charm, character, sorrow and a spirit that inspires visitors to live their lives more meaningfully. I spent three fascinating days in this city meeting with other journalists and tourism representatives …and like others who came before me and those who will follow… my soul was changed forever.
Arriving at the easy breezy Will Rogers Airport, I picked up my luggage in record time and headed off to the Renaissance Hotel located in the core of downtown (about 20 minutes from the airport) connected to Cox Convention Center and just steps from many popular destinations. My room was spacious and comfortable and I especially appreciated being able to walk or take the complimentary limo to the Bricktown area and downtown activities.
After a short rest I met up with the rest of the group and headed toward the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Not much of a cowgirl myself, I was expecting stuffed horses and lots of gun displays. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This museum is America’s leading institution of Western history, art and culture and for good reason. Founded in 1955, the museum in Oklahoma City collects preserves and exhibits an internationally renowned high end collection of Western art inspiring interest in the fascinating legacy of the American West. I can easily understand why more than 10 million visitors from around the world have toured this unique museum to gain a better understanding of the West. Make sure you have at least 4 hours to explore this place and its 12 + themed galleries. I think you’ll get more out of a guided tour than an on your own walkabout. You’ll be engaged and delighted by the rooms and rooms of beautiful paintings, bronzes, cowboy and Native American displays. Kudos go to the museum staff for making this such a delightful place to spend time in. This is a great place for singles, couples and families. And hey, the gift shop gets huge thumbs up for its upscale creative and unique offerings. The museum also offers meeting and event space. Our dinner and entertainment was some of the best I’ve experienced in large group gatherings. The dinner reflected the yummy comfort food culinary scene and the three-person band Horseshoe Road was a high energy ride of bluegrass, gospel, western swing and country. Hire them for your entertainment needs if you’re planning a meeting anywhere in Oklahoma City.
The following two days I spent at the convention center meeting with 32 tourism bureaus from around the country under the direction of the Travel Media Showcase people. However we did take a break to get better acquainted with the Oklahoma area. Some journalists’ went to see the stockyards, other historical sites, and still others including my group went on a downtown walking tour which included 5 very distinct stops:
1. Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum – I doubt anyone can walk away from this museum untouched. Built to remember those who were killed, and those who survived the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 9, 1995 this slick, heart wrenching, interactive memorial teaches the lessons learned and the hope that rose from the domestic terrorist act that killed 168 people. I did pretty good until I reached the room where those who were lost are brought to life through touching individual memorials. The children’s memorials were especially poignant and brought a flood of tears from me honoring the innocence and promise of each child. The tour ends with The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial. A place of quiet reflection this Memorial honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were changed forever on April 19. It encompasses the area where the Murrah Building once stood, as well as the surrounding area devastated during the attack. The Field of Empty Chairs features 168 chairs to represent the lives taken on April 19. They stand in nine rows to represent each floor of the building, and each chair bears the name of someone killed on that floor. Nineteen smaller chairs stand for the children.
2. Four blocks away is the Oklahoma City Museum of Art offering three floors dedicated to exhibiting fine works of art. Located in downtown Oklahoma City’s Arts District, the Museum offers a range of exhibitions and is home to a spectacular collection of Chihuly glass. The Museum offers a broad selection of programs and events for people of all ages, including lectures, family events, Museum School classes and camps, film screenings, and more. The Museum attracts over 125,000 visitors each year with its permanent collection, cycle of temporary exhibitions, inventive education opportunities, international film program, Museum Store, and Museum Cafe. The museum staff is friendly, knowledgeable and ready to mentor or coach you through each exhibition.
3. The Myriad Botanical Gardens & Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory is a lovely 17-acre oasis just a few blocks from the art museum. The nationally recognized garden featuring an architectural treasure, the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory – an amazing 224-foot long circular jungle graced with towering palm trees, exotic plantings, crashing waterfalls and abundant animal life is a must see. It was an “ahhhhh” moment for me. Our guide gave us an interactive tour that included tasting several of the plants as he wove the story of the garden and how it came to be.
4. Having made almost a complete circle the American Banjo Museum was just a couple of blocks from our hotel. I think you’ll enjoy the $5 million, world-class 21,000 square foot facility honoring the history, energetic spirit and unlimited future of the banjo. The museum contains more than 300 instruments, the largest collection on public display in the world. Examples include replicas of primitive banjos developed by African slaves in the Old South, Minstrel Age instruments from 19th century, post WWII instruments used in bluegrass, folk and world music, and museum’s core collection of ornately decorated banjos made in America during the Jazz Age of the 1920’s and 30s.
5. Our last sightseeing outing took us to Bricktown. This is a historic district within walking distance of many hotels. It reflects the new spirit of this trending city showcasing a compelling variety of unique restaurants, retailers and entertainment venues. There’s a mixture of established businesses and frisky newcomers to the Oklahoma culinary scene. Big community bucks have been put into this revitalization project. Bricktown was once an abandoned old warehouse district. It received a much needed facelift in 1993 when Oklahoma City took on a massive public facility enhancement project –and more importantly continues to improve and expand each year under a master plan. A vital part of the city, Bricktown is a sought after destination for locals and tourists. There is a breathtaking canal that lends itself to the picturesque look and feel of the district and the signature red brick architecture updated with modern day renovations. Lots to see and do here and the area is safe to walk around in night or day. You’ll want to spend several afternoons and/or evenings here. My advice is to start with the canal ride. It will help you get acquainted with what the area has to offer. Of note is:
a. Nonna’s Purple Bar – Unique lighting chases soft colors across the front of the bar and splashes down from mouth-blown glass fixtures engaging your senses over signature cocktails, great beers, and (yea!) extensive wine selections.
b. Abuelo’s Mexican Food- Casual dining showcasing a fajita menu to die for.
c. Tapwerks - Large selection of ales, lagers and ciders. Live music every Friday and Saturday night.
d. Pinkitzel is a one-of-a-kind, Oklahoma owned, wildly extravagant 5000 sq. ft. cupcake cafe, unlike anything you’ve ever seen or shopped at before. These are works of art my friend. Try the Chocolate Salted Caramel or Chocolate Malt cupcakes, although any of the 14+ flavors looked magnificent.
Walking back from Bricktown to my hotel I couldn’t help but reflect on what defines Oklahoma City. The answer is simple and on point to what I experienced in my three days there. It’s a city on the move. It’s a fabulous place to live, the quality of life is outstanding, and Oklahoma continues to define itself in new and wonderful ways every day of the year.
Additional information, area videos, and travel planning tips can be found through the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Story and photos by Linda Kissam – exception, Bricktown Canal shot, credit Oklahoma City CVB. OKC city skyline: stock photo.