Many of us live for the weekends, and that’s especially true in summer. The pace of life wants to slow down whether we like it or not, and we’re struck with an overwhelming desire to play hooky from the hustle of the daily grind. Here are 12 welcome retreats designed to recharge your batteries and allow you to savor summer in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma may not be as rife with opportunities to hobnob with the rich and famous and live the high life as, say, Hollywood or Manhattan, but Oklahoma City is quickly becoming a world-class city with all the fixins’ for a celebrity weekend. This is a perfect weekend away from reality with your BFFs, and who knows? You may even cross paths with an NBA player or an energy tycoon.
This weekend is all about living it up, so you’ll want to check into well-appointed digs at the Colcord Hotel – one of their luxurious suites or corner rooms if you can get it. Dress to the nines and head to OKC’s hottest new shopping area – Classen Curve – for lunch and retail therapy. Nosh on upscale casual fare with international flare at Café 501 or raw delights at Matthew Kenney. You’ll be fortified to shop the designer fashions at Balliets, On A Whim, Liberté, Black Optical and Steven Giles. If you don’t shop ‘til you drop, swing by the trendy Paseo Arts District to peruse the eclectic art galleries and maybe grab refreshment at Picasso Café.
After a disco nap, you’ll dress for an evening on the town and hop in your limo – yes, you have a limo. Start off with a martini at Red Piano Lounge in the Skirvin Hotel or the Purple Bar at Nonna’s before dinner at a downtown hotspot such as the new Flint or Red PrimeSteak. Next, you’re off for an evening of bar-hopping and maybe a little dancing in Bricktown or at one of many spots along Western Avenue.
After some much needed sleep, you’ll start the day with brunch at West or Café do Brasil. Finish off your weekend fit for a celebrity – sans wardrobe malfunction – with shopping in the local boutiques along Western or The Outlet Shoppes and maybe a little something sweet from La Baguette before heading home.
The picturesque town of Guthrie sprang from the plains with the 1889 Land Run. Overnight, the town had more than 10,000 citizens and soon came modern brick buildings, running water, electricity, public transit and even underground parking for horses and carriages. It enjoyed a short stint as the state’s first capital before a contentious election in 1910 gave that honor to OKC. This led to the decline of Guthrie as a major economic and political player, but ironically preserved the historic Victorian architecture that makes the town a tourist attraction today – downtown is a National Historic Landmark and the largest urban historic district in the country, covering 400 blocks.
To get the most from Guthrie, arrive on Friday and check into one of the town’s many Victorian-style bed and breakfasts or inns – you’ll need to book well in advance. Get the lay of the land with a trolley tour or rent a bike and explore on your own. Enjoy dinner at Gages Steakhouse on the lower level of the Sand Plum Building, and get a glimpse of the network of underground walkways that once connected much of downtown. If your timing is right, you can catch a performance at the historic Pollard Theatre – their production of La Cage aux Folles runs throughout the month of June.
Rise early on Saturday and grab breakfast at one of Guthrie’s down-home diners. There’s a ton to do on a Saturday in Guthrie, ranging from the farmer’s market and local festivals and parades to antique shopping and events at the Lazy E Arena. Plan on lunch at the Victorian Tea Room, and don’t you dare leave without dessert. Spend the afternoon exploring the Oklahoma Territorial Museum and the charming Frontier Drugstore Museum before making the short drive to east Edmond for dinner at the Steak & Catfish Barn, of Man vs. Food fame. Try to catch the famous Byron Berline Band at the Double Stop Music Hall or live music at a downtown tavern. Start your Sunday with a soak in nearly ubiquitous claw foot tubs found at most B&Bs and enjoy breakfast in house before exploring any parts of town you may have missed. Grab some barbecue or a burger and onion rings at Stables Café on your way out of town.
Gaming in Oklahoma has come a long way from the days of the bingo hall. Today, we can have a Vegas-style casino experience without booking airfare, and with major casinos located throughout the state, it’s easy to plan a weekend enjoying the best Oklahoma gaming has to offer.
Tulsa boasts three major casinos, all within in a few minutes’ drive from one another, so it’s easy to hit them all in a weekend. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Claremore boasts 125,000 square feet of gaming, 350 luxurious hotel rooms and suites and five nightclubs and entertainment venues. Other amenities include Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, McGill’s on 19 and the Cherokee Hill Golf Club. Hard Rock also presents big name entertainment at The Joint. This summer, catch Cheap Trick, Dennis Miller, Duran Duran and Tony Bennett, among others. River Spirit Casino, located on the banks of the Arkansas River, offers a full range of gaming options from electronic games to a poker room and other table games. Dining options include Elements Steakhouse and Grill, the state’s largest casino buffet, a 24-hour café and the Scorecard Sports Bar. And you’ll be thoroughly entertained with regional acts in the Mystic River Lounge and headliners in the event center. Just north of downtown, Osage Casino Tulsa offers more than 1,000 electronic games, poker room and table games and an expansive buffet. Big-name entertainment at the Event Center this summer includes Travis Tritt and Crystal Gayle. Just up the turnpike in Quapaw is one of the state’s most beautiful casinos, the elegant Downstream Casino Resort. The vast gaming room includes the latest electronics, table games and a stylish poker room. Other amenities include an 11-story hotel, golf, and a full range of dining options. Regional bands perform at Legends Sports Bar and big name acts, including summer concerts by Chicago, Ronnie Dunn and Boston, can be seen at The Venue.
Near OKC, there’s FireLake Grand Casino in Shawnee. This casino is a haven for card players with poker, blackjack, spinette, craps and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em. Keno is also a favorite. Satisfy your appetite at Embers Steakhouse, the buffet or sports bar and quench your thirst at one of the swanky lounges. FireLake Grand also offers regional acts and regular performances by nationally known acts. Riverwind Casino in Norman offers 219,000 square feet of gaming space including 30 table games, 24/7 poker room and off-track betting. A 100-room contemporary hotel houses guests in comfort and dining options include a buffet, sports bar and food court. National and regional acts perform at the Showplace Theater and intimate performances by local bands occur at the River Lounge.
The luxurious, AAA Four Diamond Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant features a 300,000 square foot gaming floor with more than 4,500 electronic games, a private poker lounge, off-track betting and even bingo. The Choctaw Grand Tower offers 300 elegant rooms and suites with a fitness center, spa, indoor/outdoor pool and a tropical pools with a lazy river and waterfalls. Nine dining options, ranging from buffet to Mexican grill to fine dining offer something for everyone and a host of bars and lounges keep the party going. Five venues host everything from local bands to national acts such as Clint Black on June 7. Nearby, in Thackerville, is the state’s largest casino – and the fifth largest in the nation – WinStar World Casino, named for the recreation of world cities from Paris to Beijing that grace its façade and carry through to eight themed gaming plazas. This massive casino features a 500,000 square foot gaming floor and 19,000 square foot poker room. Amenities include the a 12-story luxury hotel, modeled after an Italian Villa, spa, 27-hole golf course and 10 dining options, including a Mongolian grill and Spanish-inspired pizzeria. The Global Event Center has twice been recognized as casino of the year by the Academy of Country Music, and it’s no wonder; highlights of the summer schedule include Sting, Reba, Kelly Clarkson, Vince Gill, Rod Stewart and Stevie Nicks.
Quartz Mountain Resort is an ideal base for a range of activities from extreme outdoor sports to a leisurely game of golf. Nestled in the rugged Wichita Mountains on sparkling Lake Altus, the resort offers Western lodge-style guestrooms with a host of amenities, as well as rustic cabins located in the center of the Quartz Mountain Nature Park. In addition to boating, fishing and water sports on the lake, the area boasts a swimming pool, 18-hole golf course with a driving range, an art gallery, a nature center, a fun park with waterslides, go-carts, bumper cars, Ferris wheel and petting zoo, miniature golf and paddleboats and canoes.
Five short hiking trails are located adjacent to the resort, and more advanced hiking opportunities exist throughout the region. The Wichitas also offer the state’s best rock climbing, with rewarding climbs for all skill levels. The nearby Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is a must-see stop for nature lovers. The vast preserve protects a delicate ecosystem of native prairie and animal species, including bison, elk, deer and longhorn cattle. Various guided walks and even a star viewing are held throughout the year.
With the second highest Native American population and the largest number of tribal headquarters in the country, Oklahoma offers many ways to explore American Indian culture and history. In fact, there are far too many to mention here, and you’ll have to focus your efforts on specific tribes and regions to fit everything into a weekend itinerary.
Tahlequah is the capitol of the Cherokee Nation and the best place to learn about the largest tribal nation in the U.S. Begin your tour at the Cherokee Heritage Center, a large complex with notable attractions such as the Trail of Tears exhibit, which tells the story of the forced removal of the Cherokee from their historic homeland to Indian Territory; Ancient Village, a recreation of a pre-contact Cherokee village with historical re-enactors demonstrating tribal crafts and customs; and Adams Corner, which recreates an Oklahoma Cherokee village of the 1890s. Other attractions in and around Tahlequah include the Cherokee National Capitol and Sequoyah’s Cabin.
Alternately, you could travel to southeast Oklahoma to discover the history and culture of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes. Important sites to these tribes include the Chickasaw Council House Museum in Tishomingo and Choctaw Nation Museum in Tuskahoma.
Another fun way to learn about Native American culture is through festivals and powwows held throughout the year. Two nationally-known events are the Red Earth Festival, held in Oklahoma City in June, and the Standing Bear Powwow, held near Ponca City in September.
The spirit of Oklahoma lives strong in hundreds of small towns dotting the map. Pack up the car and plan a weekend visiting those places where the hustle of daily life doesn’t seem so oppressive; where people still sit on the front porch and everyone waves when you walk by. Time your adventure to coincide with a local celebration and party it up with the locals. You’re sure to be welcome.
5 Old Fashioned Festivals
Glenpool Black Gold Days: June 14-16, celebrates the discovery of the Glenn Pool oil field with children’s games, a parade, carnival, live music, festival foods and fireworks.
Pawnee July 4th Games: Pawnee puts its spin on Independence Day with games on the courthouse lawn, including a turtle race, egg tosses, water balloon volleyball, tricycle race and more, leading up to the parade and fireworks.
Pauls Valley Fireworks Extravaganza and July 4th Celebration: Pauls Valley celebrates the Fourth with games, live music, a talent show and fireworks, but the highlight of the day may be the Watermelon Seed Spittin’ World Championship.
Porter Peach Festival: July 19-21, celebrates the town’s most famous crop with the Peach Pageant, Peach Parade, free peaches and ice cream and a host of activities including a pet show, frog-jumping contest and a 5k run.
Rush Springs Watermelon Festival: August 11, celebrates the local watermelon crop with a carnival, live entertainment, car show and tons of watermelon – the festival attracts upward of 20,000, and more than 50,000 pounds of melon are served.
Oklahoma’s unique history – a young, frontier state with influxes of great wealth – has created a treasure trove of architectural wonders, including early pioneer homesteads, Victorian main streets, oil baron mansions, Art Deco masterpieces, monumental churches, Mid-century Modern buildings and notable contemporary designs.
Every major Oklahoma town from the early days of statehood and the Oil Boom is blessed with serious public and private architecture. Notable examples are found in Ponca City, Muskogee, Enid and Guthrie, to name a few, but the greatest concentrations of significant architecture are located in Tulsa, Bartlesville and Oklahoma City.
Take a walk or get behind the wheel to make the most of your adventure. The Tulsa Historical Society offers docent-guided walking tours of downtown Tulsa the last Friday of every month. Reservations are required. The society’s website also offers self-guided walking and driving tours, broken down by area and types of architecture. It also offers a driving tour of nearby Bartlesville. While you’re in B-ville, visit the Price Tower Arts Center, located in Frank Lloyd Wright’s only skyscraper. You can even stay the night in one of the rooms refurbished by noted architect, Zaha Hadid.
GPSmyCity.com offers iPhone app-based, GPS-guided tours of cities around the world, including Tulsa and OKC. The Oklahoma City package includes two downtown tours and a historic building tour.
10 Notable Oklahoma Buildings
Bank of Oklahoma Tower, Tulsa
BOK Center, Tulsa
Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, Tulsa
Devon Tower, OKC
Gold Dome, OKC
Price Tower, Bartlesville
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Education Building, Bartlesville
Stage Center, OKC
Temple of the Scottish Rite of
Oklahoma is home to some of the most diverse terrain in the country. No more is the stark difference evident than in the panhandle of the state, where, rising from the earth, one can spot the point of highest elevation in the state – Black Mesa – from miles away. The hike up Black Mesa, a formation that was long ago an active volcano, is moderately challenging and clocks in around eight miles, round-trip. Upon conquering Black Mesa’s summit, take time to admire the view, which includes glimpses into two neighboring states: Colorado and New Mexico. Hiking to the state’s high point and back will take a half-day, so that leaves plenty of time to explore other points of interest inside Black Mesa Nature Preserve. Outside of the park, several interesting attractions await, including Cimarron Heritage Center Museum. The building, originally a 1949 Bruce Goff-designed home, houses tributes to the panhandle’s heritage, including a homestead dugout, a restored Santa Fe Depot and blacksmith shop, wagons, buggies and more. Natural wonders abound as well; fossils and artifacts from Cimarron County’s rich Native American history are on display at the museum, as is the main attraction: the skull and partial skeleton of an Apatosaurus, a cousin to Tyrannosaurus rex. Black Mesa State Park offers amenities suited to those who wish a rustic camping experience – campsites do offer electric hook-ups and grills – but for those who desire plusher amenities, several bed-and-breakfasts dot the areas outside of Black Mesa State Park.
Oklahoma’s long growing season and fertile soils make it an ideal place to grow many types of wine grapes, and local vineyards have sprouted up around the state. The greatest concentration of these is in the central part of the state, where you can make a weekend of tasting local wines at charming vineyards while exploring the Oklahoma countryside. The following are some of the more popular wineries and vineyards in the region. You can find more at www.oklahomawines.org. Most wineries offer free tastings on weekends and some serve lunch and offer special events. Always call ahead to confirm that the facility is open to visitors.
Central Oklahoma Wineries
Tidal School Vineyards, Drumright
Redstone Vineyards and Winery, Luther
Tres Suenos Vineyards and Winery, Luther
StableRidge Vineyards and Winery, Stroud
Territory Cellars, Stroud
Clauren Ridge Vineyards and Winery, Edmond
Farfalla Winery, Yukon
We are all familiar with Oklahoma’s agrarian roots. But how about spending a weekend getting in touch with them? Our state offers great options for spending some time with the land.
In addition to being a working ranch, Howard Ranch offers Cowboy & Cowgirl School for those who wish to learn skills that are necessary “for the true American Cowboy.” With 13,000 acres, more than 600 head of cattle and 40 horses, this would certainly be the place to cut your teeth. Activities include roping, tagging and moving cattle, as well as doctoring, sorting and branding them. And of course, what cowboy (or cowgirl) experience would be complete without a few horsemanship lessons? Explore the ranch on horseback with or without a guide, and gather at the campfire at day’s end for a Dutch oven dinner and stunning Oklahoma sunset.
Pick-your-own farms also abound in Oklahoma. Sample some fresh Oklahoma blackberries picked from Owasso Tree and Berry Farm, or try out the peachy offerings at Deep Fork Peach Orchard or Livesay Orchards, home of the famed Porter peaches
Other Working Dude Ranches
Meadowlake Ranch in Sand Springs offers horseback-riding, fishing, canoeing, shooting and even knife-throwing. www.meadowlakeranch.com
Rebel Hill Guest Ranch in Antlers is a third-generation working horse ranch offering rustic amenities along with hiking, swimming and bird-watching in addition to other typical dude ranch activities. www.rebelhillguestranch.com
Tatanka Ranch, located in Stroud, offers modern entertainment, such as an arcade room, DVD rentals and other fun activities in addition to the outdoor activities like horseback riding, fishing and hiking.
With such diverse geology in Oklahoma, camping in different parts of the state offers an array of experiences.
Beaver’s Bend & Hochatown State Park: Located in the far southeast corner of Oklahoma in the Ouachita Mountains and along the shores of Broken Bow Lake and Mountain Fork River, the lush landscape provides a rich backdrop for a rustic getaway. The park offers lodging, but plan on pitching a tent and cooking by campfire to truly absorb the beauty offered by the area. Hiking, fishing and canoeing are year round activities.
Great Salt Plains Lake: Camping along the shores of the Great Salt Plains Lake in northwest Oklahoma provides unique opportunities for experiences not found with other campgrounds in the state. Visitors can tour the Great Salt Plains and dig for crystals in the basin. The area is also a top spot in Oklahoma for birding; visitors have reported spotting more than 100 species in a single day. Of course, hiking, fishing and canoeing are also available.
Illinois River: Several resorts offer camping along the Illinois River, a favorite among families and Spring Breakers for its scenic beauty and great canoeing. “Floating” along the river is the best-known pastime of this eastern Oklahoma gem, and the resorts along the river specialize in making each floating experience memorable.
It’s very easy to choose a different restaurant to eat at each day for a year in Oklahoma and not get tired of the delicious fare. From top-flight dining to holes-in-the-wall with tasty offerings, filling a weekend with food is a no-brainer.
If fine dining is your thing, then you certainly know that Tulsa’s Polo Grill and Oklahoma City’s Coach House are two restaurants in Oklahoma with reputations for finery. From steaks and chops to sumptuous desserts, both restaurants offer unique dining experiences. If you prefer something less formal, head to Meers, home of perhaps the most famous burger in the state. The Meersburger is a seven-inch behemoth of Texas longhorn beef topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, purple onions, dill pickles and mustard. There’s also the original Van’s Pig Stand in Shawnee, serving tender barbecue that epitomizes the food genre in Oklahoma. Though the restaurant now boasts four locations, it’s the Shawnee location that holds the history of Van’s, the oldest barbecue restaurant in the state. For a bit of an adventure, fly your private plane into the runway next to McGehee Catfish Restaurant. This restaurant, located in Marietta, near the Oklahoma-Texas border, raises its own catfish to serve customers, and has done so for 40 years.
Summer Food Festivals
Indian Taco Championship: Held in Pawhuska, this national competition is sponsored by the Osage Nation. Cooks from around the country gather to celebrate the staple in Native American culture and offer their renditions of the classic.
Blue Bell Taste of Summer: Enjoy live music, an ice-cream eating contests and tours of the ice creamery in Broken Arrow. Brain freeze not included.
World’s Largest Calf-Fry Festival & Cook-off: The event, hosted by the Vinita Chamber of Commerce, celebrates this favorite pastime of ranchers. Sample the tasty “fries” and help determine the winner.