Oklahoma – where the winds do, indeed, come sweeping down the plains. But to the surprise of many people, Oklahoma is more than plains. The state boasts 11 distinct ecosystems offering just about everything except snow skiing and deep-sea fishing. The sun shines an estimated 234 days a year making outdoor activities a pleasure. Museums, galleries, shops and entertainment venues add variety to suit the weather. And, on a friendliness scale, you can’t beat Oklahoma.
The statement, “I’ve been through Oklahoma,” is one that makes Oklahomans cringe. With the interstate system, it’s possible to speed through the state and barely register the diversity of terrain. Oklahoma must be traveled carefully to be appreciated.
In the northeast, the rolling, wooded hills of the give the area the sobriquet, ‘Green Country’ with sparkling lakes like Grand and Tenkiller. Tulsa, caught between the tree-covered rolling hills and the grassy Osage Hills, offers big city attractions and entertainment. With major art museums and impressive architecture, Tulsa reflects the sophistication of Oklahoma’s early oil magnates. Check out Tulsa in 2 Days.
South of there, the land shifts into the pine forests of the Ouachita Mountains, very old mountains which have eroded over eons into gentle rises barely recognizable as a major range. This area is home to one of Oklahoma’s most popular state parks, Beavers Bend, featured in Oklahoma’s Choctaw Country itinerary. At the farthest southeastern tip of the state is Red Slough in a tiny microclimate which supports such southern species as alligators and roseate spoonbills.
Oklahoma’s panhandle extends into mesas and high plains with Black Mesa claiming the state’s highest elevation. Cholla and prickly pear ease the landscape into that of New Mexico. Black Mesa, invites hardy hikers to enjoy a panoramic view from the top while near the base, visitors can follow the tracks of ancient dinosaurs.
Among the most interesting geologic features of southern Oklahoma are the Arbuckle Mountains. Seen from the interstate, the many layers of the Arbuckles are displayed like a stack of geologic books. Outdoor opportunities abound with numerous lakes, recreation areas and the state’s most impressive waterfall, Turner Falls. The Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur is one of the best places of a number of places in Oklahoma to learn about the importance of Native American heritage in the state.
The Wichita Mountains (itinerary) in the southwest are a prime destination for wildlife watching, hiking and camping in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge where the buffalo actually do roam. Nearby Lawton is home to Ft. Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum. Quartz Mountain, the tail-end of the range, pops out of the plains miles to the southwest and is the location of Quartz Mountain Resort Arts and Conference Center and Quartz Mountain State Park.
In the heart of the state is Oklahoma City, the state capital; check out Oklahoma City in 2 Days. The city radiates energy and excitement. Over the past couple of decades, the city’s citizens have self-taxed to make improvements and the transformation has been drastic. From a roll-up-the-sidewalks downtown, the city now boasts Bricktown, a great entertainment area; a beautiful downtown park and conservatory, Myriad Gardens; the Oklahoma City Museum of Art with one of the nation’s largest collections of Chihuly glass and a cinema with Art Deco roots; and an NBA team, the Thunder.
Interesting outlying areas have been revived or re-purposed. The foodie scene is fascinating with almost every kind of food from Okie favorite chicken-fried steak and BBQ to haute and ethnic cuisine. Family activities range from a museum about bones, the Museum of Osteology, to western heritage, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the world-class Oklahoma City Zoo.
Whether it’s crossing the state on Route 66 or reliving history on the Chisholm Trail, Oklahoma is for travelers who are willing to get out and go. Start exploring with Oklahoma’s capitals — from Territory times to today (in Oklahoma City) — Oklahoma’s oil legacy, southeastern woods and waters and western vistas. One of the phrases Oklahomans hear most from visitors is “I never knew….” Come visit and discover what you didn’t know about this amazing state.
Going to Oklahoma is like going on a roller-coaster ride. You know there will be ups and downs. Basically, Oklahoma is a year-round destination but come prepared for anything. The longer your visit, the less chance your parade will get rained on. Oklahoma averages 234 days of sunshine and even the rainy spells rarely last more than a day or two.
Oklahoma actually has four seasons but in some years spring and fall barely make an appearance. Folks can go from shirtsleeves to long-handles in the same day. Temperature swings of 50 degrees in a day aren’t unheard of and one Oklahoma town once had a
one-hundred degree variation in one week.
For Tulsa and Oklahoma City plan on a minimum of two days; three is better. Things are spread out in Oklahoma, so how much time you spend depends on how much you want to see.
Oklahoma’s climate is described as continental. Summers are long and hot. While winter temperatures can get cold, the winters in Oklahoma
are shorter and less severe than states to the north. Snow is infrequent; the biggest problem is ice storms but fortunately, they don’t happen often and things usually thaw out quickly
May and June are usually the wettest months, July and August the hottest. The state has a great balance of indoor and outdoor activities and attractions so weather should not be a deterrent.
While March through June are prime tornado months, tornadoes can form any time of the year. Weather forecasters here are the best in the nation and locals depend on them for information. Terms you should know include a tornado watch, which means that conditions are right for a tornado to form, and a tornado warning. If you’re in a warning area, take immediate precautions. Never try to outrun a tornado. Get to a sturdy building and shelter in a room with no windows. If possible, get under a heavy table or desk. It’s not a bad idea to ask about storm shelter availability when making hotel reservations.
January (1st): New Year’s Day
January (third Monday): Martin Luther King Jr. Day
February (third Monday): Presidents Day
May (last Monday): Memorial Day
July (4th): Independence Day
September (first Monday): Labor Day
October (second Monday): Columbus Day (not the same as Native American Day, which is only celebrated officially in two states, on September 25th)
November (11th): Veterans Day
November (fourth Thursday): Thanksgiving Day
December (25th): Christmas
April 18 – 22 , 2017, 89er Celebration, Guthrie, Oklahoma.
April 25 – 30, 2017, Festival of the Arts, downtown Oklahoma City.
June 9 – 11, 2017, Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival, downtown Oklahoma City.
September 14 – 24, 2017, Oklahoma State Fair, State Fair Park, Oklahoma City.
September 28 – October 8, 2017, Tulsa State Fair, Expo Square, Tulsa.
October 19 – 22, 2017, Tulsa Oktoberfest, Tulsa.
November 10 – 12, 2107, Beavers Bend Folk Festival and Craft Show, Beavers Bend State Park.
December 31, 2017, Opening Night, downtown Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma is in the Central Time Zone with the exception of one town. Kenton, a tiny town in the very northwest corner of the panhandle, is on Mountain Time.
Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (on the second Sunday morning of March at 2 a.m.). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (on the first Sunday morning in November at 2 a.m.), clocks shift back one hour to standard time.
Oklahoma is a laid-back state and dress is casual, too. Jeans are acceptable almost anywhere but some of the more expensive restaurants suggest business casual. Come with layers keeping in mind that Oklahoma weather is as mercurial as a teen-agers moods.
Oklahoma is a real traveler’s treat when it comes to value for money spent. You’ll find good restaurants in all price ranges but even the fanciest meal will cost a fraction of what you would pay for the same dinner in larger cities. Accommodations, too, offer choices across the economic spectrum. Yes, you can pay hundreds of dollars for a luxurious suite in one of the top hotels or, for less than $100, you can book a cozy cabin with a fireplace in one of Oklahoma’s great state parks. You’ll get a break on gas prices, too. Oklahoma’s are usually among the lowest in the nation.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person
Airfare Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airlines site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the
aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their friend or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell them what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental
company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities and college towns in the U.S., Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transportation, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Open the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. You need to apply for membership and download the app in advance. Memberships cost about $7 a month; rentals are about $8 to 10 per hour; gas and insurance are included. Foreign drivers can apply and you don’t need to pay a monthly fee if you’re an occasional driver (from $25 per year for a membership).
Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
Sales Taxes, Lodging Taxes & Resort Fees
In Oklahoma, the combined total for state and local taxes on all retail goods and services varies from 4.5% to 11%, depending on where you are. In general, cities have higher taxes than rural areas do. Taxes are not usually included in display prices, unless otherwise stated.
Lodging tax also varies by location in Oklahoma, ranging from .25% to 5%. This tax applies whether you are staying at a private vacation rental, a bed-and-breakfast, or a full-fledged hotel. Taxes are not usually stated up front in the advertised room rate. Neither are the mandatory nightly “resort fees” being charged by an increasing number of hotels. Sometimes this fee covers internet access, parking, and a few incidentals, while at other times it’s merely a surcharge for amenities that should be free. Beware that third-party booking agents, especially online, often don’t include resort fees in their reservation charges, so you may be unhappily surprised by the final bill when you check out.
Oklahoma is automobile territory. The capital, Oklahoma City sits at the crossroads of three major interstate highways. I-35 bisects the state from north to south; I-40 cuts across east to west and I-44 runs diagonally from the northeast corner to the southwest.
The state’s most famous highway is Route 66, the Mother Road. Much of the original pavement is gone — much of it replaced by I-44 and I-40. The state, with 396 miles, still has more driveable miles of Route 66 than any of the other states on the route. Maps are available for those wishing to take a time-trip. Oklahoma gets many international visitors who fly into Chicago or Los Angeles, rent cars or motorcycles, and drive or ride the entire length of two-thousand-plus miles.
Oklahoma has four National Scenic Byways and four State Scenic Byways. All are worth exploring. But this is Oklahoma and you’re going to need a car!
Interstate highways come into Oklahoma from all sides. I-35 and I-40 are free but most of I-44 in Oklahoma is toll road. There are several other turnpikes in the state. Visitors with a Kansas K-TAG or Texas travelers with an NTTA TollTag can use them on Oklahoma’s toll roads.
Oklahoma has three airports with regularly scheduled passenger service. The largest, Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport, is served by Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Southwest and United. OKC can be reached non-stop from 19 U.S. cities. Tulsa International Airport carriers include Allegiant, American, Delta, Southwest and United with non-stops from 15 destinations. American Eagle provides daily flights between Dallas-Fort Worth and both the Stillwater Regional Airport and the Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport.
Oklahoma’s only train is the Heartland Flyer which runs between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth. The Amtrak line then goes south and connects San Antonio with lines running east and west.
The best way to get around Oklahoma is by car. This is the advice given travels by the Oklahoma Department of Tourism. Bus routes between cities are few and far between. Even within the state’s two largest cities, traveling by bus is a hassle. You waste a lot of time waiting.
Downtown Oklahoma City does have a free service which hits several major destinations like the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Myriad Botanical Gardens and Bricktown so visitors can leave their cars parked and take advantage of that service. Another downtown option is Spokies, a bike rental system.
The Tulsa Downtown Trolley offers free rides on Friday and Saturday nights from 5:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. The route includes stops near entertainment and eating venues in the Brady District, Deco District and Blue Dome.
Getting around the state by car is no problem. You might want to consider the state’s eight scenic routes in your planning. The Talimena Drive National Scenic Byway in eastern Oklahoma is a favorite foliage drive over low, rolling mountains in the Ouachita National Forest. It ends in Mena, Arkansas. The Oklahoma portion of Historic Route 66 National Scenic Byway goes from the northeast corner of the state through Tulsa and Oklahoma City then on west to the Texas state line. The Cherokee Hills National Scenic Byway showcases the foothills of the Ozarks and the area around the Cherokee capital, Tahlequah. In the southwest part of the state, the Wichita Mountains National Scenic Byway, takes you through the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, one of the best spots in the state for wildlife watching.
As for State Scenic Byways, the short Mountain Pass Scenic Byway in southeast Oklahoma runs parallel to the Talimena Drive. Another short drive, the Mountain Gate Scenic Byway, is also close to the Talimena and Mountain Pass routes. Both of these routes offer access to hiking and other outdoors activities.
The Osage Nation Heritage Trail Scenic Byway travels across the northeastern part of the state through the Osage Hills and towns with Native American roots and importance in the growth of Oklahoma’s oil industry. The Chickasaw National’s Rising Waters Ancient Mountains Scenic Byway gives visitors access areas of great cultural significance to the Chickasaw people and some of Oklahoma’s most spectacular scenery.
The old joke about a camel being a horse put together by a committee could be related to the way the state of Oklahoma was created. There was a lot of history before the political creation of the state — early Native American inhabitants and, later, even towns, schools and plantations created by Native peoples.
In general, Oklahomans tend to think of the post-Civil War period when pioneers from the eastern parts of the United States began moving in. When lands were open to settlement, all sorts of people rushed in – from people looking for cheap land and a new start to entrepreneurs ready to sell goods and services to the new arrivals. Much of the state was settled by these immigrants literally in a day. Lacking the generational and social connections of the east, people depended on their neighbors and made friends quickly. Oklahomans still do.
Oklahoma is a conservative state, definitely a Bible-belt state. Out-of-towners are sometimes startled when the second question they’re asked after, “Where are you from?” is “Where do you go to church?” Don’t be offended. The question is meant to establish social connection.
You’ll find Oklahomans friendly and helpful. If they are not, chances are, they weren’t born here!
The land has been inhabited for thousands of years from Folsom and Clovis cultures to hunters and gatherers. Native Americans followed the buffalo and, as climate changed, became farmers and traders. One of the most important sites in the Mississippian culture flourished at Spiro between approximately 900 and 1450 A.D. The first European explorers arrived with Coronado in 1541. He was followed by French explorers and then trappers and traders.
Things started getting official with the 1803 Louisiana Purchase which included all of Oklahoma except the panhandle. It wasn’t long before eastern Native American tribes were being shoved west with removals. The term Trail of Tears is widely used, but there was more than one trail and more than one exodus. By 1854 the main body of what is now Oklahoma was Indian Territory.
Even that area was eventually whittled down until Indian lands were limited to eastern and south central Oklahoma. The rest of the territory began to be opened to settlement by various means including land runs, allotment, lottery or sealed bid. In 1890 the panhandle was added to what was then called Oklahoma Territory and, finally, with statehood in 1907, Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were joined in what is Oklahoma’s present configuration.
Today Oklahoma has over three dozen recognized Indian tribes but don’t expect to see anyone in feathers unless you attend one of the native pow-wows. In spite of broken treaties and the dirty deals the Native Americans got from federal and local governments, a number of the nations are not only doing extremely well but bringing great benefits to the state and communities where they live.
Oklahoma is becoming more diverse. Oklahoma City has been recognized for its progressive spirit and energy. Oklahomans have contributed in all fields of medicine, science and space, art, music, you name it.
Oklahoma has a rich past. The future is bright. Now, go have some fun in the present.
The Oklahoma legislature actually adopted an official state meal in 1988. This ample repast consists of chicken-fried steak, barbecued pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, cornbread, grits, fried okra, corn, black-eyed peas, squash and strawberries topped off with pecan pie. The politicians who did this are probably all dead from obesity-related causes.
That said, Okies do cook these items well. Chicken-fried, tenderized steak with a crispy crust hanging over the edge of the plate and wearing a coverlet of white gravy can be found on almost every small-town cafe menu. Steak in general is an Oklahoma staple in local diners and high-end steakhouses.
Oklahoma doesn’t have a barbecue tradition like the Carolinas, Memphis or Kansas City. Instead you’ll find blends of all of these traditions. Everyone has an opinion about barbecue — beef or pork, sauced or unsauced — and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to find your own barbecue bliss.
With European immigration in the late 1800s Germans, Italians and Czechs have left lasting marks on Oklahoma. This is particularly evident in foods and festivals. Whether it’s a love of heritage or a love of beer, the state hosts several large German Octoberfest celebrations. Kolaches are king at festivals in Yukon and Prague, a salute to Czech settlers.
While you’ll find Italian food all over the state, Krebs, where many Italian miners and their families settled, is a mecca for foodies who flock to its three Italian restaurants and shop for Italian cheese and sausage at the local grocery.
With the growing Hispanic/Latino population, Mexican restaurants are as plentiful as McDonald’s. Tex-Mex is the most popular type but if you look hard, you’ll find a few places that serve authentic Mexican cuisine.
Oklahoma’s Asian District is home to a number of interesting restaurants — Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese. A grocery store here, Super Cao Nguyen, is definitely worth a trip.
The over-all level of Oklahoma cuisine is good with pockets of excellence. From hamburgers to haute cuisine, there are good choices for every eater. Fine food and wine are readily available in Oklahoma City and Tulsa at prices that make New Yorkers’ eyes pop. Look for real gustatory treats in even the smallest towns
Angie Debo: And Still the Waters Run – the story of the betrayal of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek and Seminole Nations
Dennis McAuliffe, Jr.: The Deaths of Sybil Bolton – prompted by questions about the circumstances of his Osage grandmother’s death, McAuliffe, a Washington Post editor, uncovers the story of murder and corruption against Osage Indians to access their oil interests in the 1920s
Stan Hoig: The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 – events leading up to and following the opening of the Unassigned Lands and the world’s greatest horserace
Michael Wallis: Way Down Yonder in the Indian Nation – short essays and sketches of the land, events and people of Oklahoma from a ballad to barbecue to the peregrinations of Pretty Boy Floyd
Joseph H. Carter: Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like – the life and writings of Oklahoma’s all-time favorite son, Will Rogers
David D. Joyce (editor): “An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before” – a variety of essays on topics not taught in the traditional Oklahoma history class including progressivism, women’s rights and a Native American view of the Land Run of ‘89
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie – Professor Emerita of Ethnic Studies at California State University – Hayward, Dunbar-Ortiz describes her early life in 1940s Oklahoma as the daughter of a sharecropper and a half-Native American mother
John Hope Franklin: Mirror to America – this autobiography of Franklin touches on his early years in Oklahoma and the effect on his family of the Tulsa Race Riots. He went on to be the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifelong commitment to civil rights.
Bob Burke: Uniquely Oklahoma – a fast and fun look at Oklahoma and Oklahomans
Edna Ferber: Cimarron – a novel set in Oklahoma taking place between the Land Runs and the Oil Booms
John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath – the story of a hard-scrabble family of Okies during the Dust Bowl Days. John Steinbeck won a Pulitzer Prize for the novel but was persona non grata in Oklahoma
Annie Proulx: That Old Ace in the Hole — a fun read that will give you an interesting picture of the land and character of Oklahoma’s panhandle
David Kent: Department 30 and others in the series – at least four books about a secretive government agency. Much of the setting is Oklahoma City.
William Bernhardt: Ben Kincaid Series – the first book, Primary Justice, introduces Tulsa lawyer Ben Kincaid whose stories are told in a number of subsequent novels.
Get ready for a big dose of country!
“Does the Wind Still Blow in Oklahoma – Reba McEntire
“Get Your Kicks on Route 66” – Nat King Cole
“I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore” – Carrie Underwood
“I Heard Oklahoma Calling Me” – David Allen Coe
“Idabel Blues” – Red Dirt Rangers
“If You’re Ever in Oklahoma” – J.J. Cale
“Okie from Muskogee” – Merle Haggard
“Oklahoma!” – movie soundtrack
“Oklahoma Blues” – Patti Page
“Oklahoma Hills” – Hank Thompson
“Oklahoma Morning” – Charley Pride