What might be Oklahoma City’s best-known attraction is also a reminder of one of its darkest days: the Oklahoma National Memorial & Museum. The site honors the 168 people who died and hundreds more who were injured when the Alfred P. Murrah Building was bombed in 1995.
Once you’ve paid your respects, take a deep breath and spend some time exploring all the other things this friendly city has to offer, from a museum devoted to cowboy culture to Vietnamese food and a famous steakhouse.
The big news in Oklahoma City this spring is a $45 million whitewater rafting facility called Riversports Rapids, due to open in the city’s Boathouse District in May. The manmade course will accommodate 2,000 people rafting and kayaking each day.
Also opening in March: The Criterion, a 4,000-seat concert venue on the east end of Bricktown.
This summer, a 21c Museum Hotel is scheduled to open in a 100-year-old historic building downtown that once served as an assembly plant for Model T cars. The hotel will have 135 rooms and a contemporary art museum.
Spend a few quiet moments contemplating the 168 empty chairs – including 19 small chairs that symbolize the children who perished – that are the primary feature of the Oklahoma National Memorial & Museum.
Then take a short walk to the nearby Myriad Botanical Gardens. The outdoor grounds are free to stroll, with landscaped paths that offer a quiet, green respite from the busy downtown. Admission to the onsite Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory, which has a wet zone and a dry zone, is $8.
The gardens’ flowers and grasses provide a lovely setting for a spectacular view of the city’s tallest building, the sleek Devon Energy Center.
Allow yourself a few hours to explore the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. There’s a lot more here than you might expect – not just the history of cowboys, but a context for visitors to contemplate what the American West means to them. There are exhibits on Native Americans, how cowboys lived from the time the West was settled to now, and the impact of cowboy culture on pop and mainstream culture – movies, TV and more. Everything from rodeos to boots and hats is explored with the passion of an anthropologist.
Outside you’ll find a striking sculpture of four cowboys on horseback, waving whips and guns in the air. Also on the grounds are burial sites for horses that were famed on the rodeo circuit, like Poker Chip, eulogized on a grave marker as having the “speed, strength, balance and coordination of a superb athlete.”
New temporary exhibitions open this season at the museum include one on bolo ties and another called “The Cowboy Returns: Photographs by Bank and John Langmore,” which offers photos by a father and son about the daily, gritty lives of cowboys over two generations.
In June, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art will host “Matisse in His Time: Masterworks of Modernism from the Centre Pompidou, Paris,” the only venue for that show outside Europe.
An early evening stroll in Bricktown on the paths lining the Bricktown Canal is a lot of fun, with the area’s historic brick warehouses – now converted to restaurants, shops and clubs – as a backdrop. You can also take a tour by water taxi. Restaurants along the waterfront are mostly chains, but you’ll find more interesting places to eat elsewhere around the city.
The Red Earth Festival attracts thousands of Native American artists and dancers each year. This year’s event is scheduled for June 10-12 at the Cox Convention Center and includes a parade through downtown and a dance competition.
Take a walk on the Oklahoma City SkyDance Bridge, a pedestrian bridge on Harvey Avenue spanning Interstate 40 near Robinson Avenue south of downtown. It’s illuminated nightly and features a soaring four-pronged sculpture, 197 feet tall, designed to evoke the state bird, a scissor-tailed flycatcher.
The Paseo Arts District offers art galleries, a few boutiques and gift shops. A First Friday gallery walk is held each month. Nearby, check out Cheever’s Cafe, 2409 N. Hudson St. (try the shaved brussels sprout and kale salad, with roasted pecan ice cream ball for dessert).
Terrific pho noodle soup is on the menu at the Vietnamese restaurant Pho Lien Hoa, 901 NW 23rd St.
And of course, do not miss Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, 1309 S. Agnew, where you’ll get one of the best steak dinners you’ve ever had. A horse-and-buggy offers a free ride from the parking lot to the restaurant, steps away.