Last summer we took a little trip to the mecca know as, “The Pioneer Woman’s Lodge” and somewhere between the south Oklahoma border, playing in the famous Oklahoma waterfalls at Chickasaw National Reserve, marveling at the powerful windmills dotting the prairies and Arbuckle Mountain Ranges and the beauty of it all, I fell in love with visiting Oklahoma. That’s why this spring break when we were looking for things to do, we decided to take a trip back to Oklahoma.
You might have read my earlier post about the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Lawton, Oklahoma. That was the very first stop in our spring break trip and we loved every second of it (except the point where midway into an intensive hike I thought I might just die but I didn’t).
After a fun day exploring Charon’s Garden, Prairie Dog Town and Mount Scott in the refuge, we headed east to Downtown Oklahoma City, which would be our home for the next two days until it was time to drive back to Texas.
We only had one full day there but we also had part of the following day so it was important for us to maximize our stay.
Getting the most out of visiting Oklahoma City
When I was researching “things to do in Oklahoma City” there were so many amazing things that popped up. They have amazing museums, a beautiful zoo and parks, several trendy districts that would be fun to explore and so much more. But once again, we didn’t have a ton of time and I didn’t want to spend that time driving spot to spot.
That’s why for our first visit to Oklahoma City, we decided to concentrate on the downtown area.
We booked a hotel room at the downtown Embassy Suites, which is gorgeous, but we used that hotel because there is a separate bedroom and a main room with a sleeper sofa so we could easily fit a family of 5 into one hotel room. That hotel also afforded us two other perks. One was food since it had a complimentary breakfast and also an afternoon reception with complimentary snacks and cocktails. The other perk that we really took advantage of is that they have a complimentary shuttle to the downtown area.
Instead of driving and trying to find parking in a strange area, we simple mapped out a route that we could easily walk and had the shuttle drop us off at the starting point. At the end of the day the shuttle picked us up at the last attraction and took us back to the hotel in time to dive into a giant bowl of complimentary gummy bears for the kids and a cheese platter for adults.
TIP: If you want to explore Downtown Oklahoma City, find a hotel with a shuttle and save the headache of parking and navigating the downtown streets (which are currently under extensive road construction).
Things to do in downtown Oklahoma City:
1 – Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
If you do nothing else in Oklahoma City, visit the memorial. Honestly walking into it I was kinda disappointed because it looked like any museum in drab gray tones with old office equipment on display. Then we walked into a room where a door slid closed behind us and a monotone tape of a hearing started to play. A few seconds later there was a loud explosion on the tape and another door slid open to show the aftermath of the bombing. It was then that you realize that it was an actual tape playing from that day and you are entering into an exhibit that brings the depth of it to life for you.
The Memorial walks you through the bombing, the aftermath, the suspect and trial and the stories of those that were lost and those that survived. Along the way there’s interactive screens that help you learn more and experience it deeper.
Finally in the end, when you are mad about what happened and hurt for the people who’s lives were forever changed, there’s a beautiful section that brings it all together in hope and forgiveness.
Once you’re done inside then you walk the grounds outside which are an amazing tribute to the people that were lost.
Without a doubt, it’s a must stop place at the start of your trip so that you understand the vibe of connection and love that you feel when you’re in the city.
Warning: If you have young children, you need to prepare them for the blast and sound of the explosion in the recording. We were not aware that would happen and my mother-in-law graciously took our extremely shook up 8 year old out of the Memorial while we finished going through it.
2 -Myriad Botanical Gardens and The Crystal Bridge
After we left the Memorial, we hopped on a city bus that took us down to Myriad Botanical Gardens. The trip only cost .50 cents per person however we really only went about 3-4 blocks and could have easily walked it. If you want to ride it or see the route, check out route 50 – Downtown Discovery.
Since we were traveling at the beginning of March after a very cold winter, the outside area of the botanical garden or the children’s garden wasn’t in bloom and it was too cold to spend too long outside.
However the Myriad Botanical Gardens has what appears to be a round spaceship that actual holds one of my new favorite places on earth. (Oh Oklahoma, I love you…)
We walked into The Crystal Bridge and were immediately transported into a tropical paradise. Inside the Crystal Bridge are waterfalls with streams bubbling over rocks, more variety of orchids than you will know what to do with, palm trees, the biggest succulent collection you’ll ever see and even a small area with a few animals and insects.
Once you think you’ve seen it all, you go up the stairs to a tree top walkway that takes you back across the bridge.
It’s beautiful and something that all of us, regardless of age, truly enjoyed. The kids loved standing under the waterfall and smelling all the different plants. It’s a place that you just need to see.
3 – Bricktown
Bricktown is a shopping and entertainment district that winds itself along a canal. After spending the morning at the Memorial and Botanical Gardens, we were hungry so we walked over to Bricktown to find some lunch.
There were a lot of great choices of restaurants (we chose Fuzzy’s Tacos because you can take the girl out of Texas but you can’t take away the tacos) and some fun quirky shops to explore.
After we ate and did some exploring, we strolled down the canal and fed some of the ducks. It was a great spot simply to sit and rest after a really busy morning.
Bricktown is supposed to be a great area to hang out at night however we were with kids and honestly are pretty boring people so we explored during the day and still had a lot of fun.
4 – Land Run Monument
After we ate and rested, we followed the canal all the way down to the Land Run Monument. (First stopping in at Bass Pro Shops to use the restaurant and freak out our exchange student with the huge store full of taxidermy animals.)
In all my research of things to do in Downtown Oklahoma, the Land Run Monument always popped up as one of the top things to do. I like art but I wasn’t really thrilled about seeing a bunch of statues. Let me tell you – I was wrong.
First of all, these statues are huge and extremely detailed. They are amazing. One of the statues is of a covered wagon where a table with extremely detailed turned legs is in the process of falling out as they race along the prairie. The monument goes all the way across the canal and you can feel the movement of rush that they settlers were in to claim their land. You can freely walk around them or even under them (because they are that tall) and explore all you want.
It’s a great interactive way to learn more about the history of Oklahoma that’s free and easy to experience.
Tip: If you need something for your kids to do to get out energy without over stimulating them, this is a great stop.
At that point we were tired so we shuttled back to the hotel for the night. However because we can’t sit still for very long, after a rest at the hotel we did take our own car to the capitol building.
5 – Oklahoma State Capitol Building
We chose to visit the capitol because it was so close to our hotel that it almost seemed wrong not to go check it out. We went at the end of the day, about an hour before it closed, and had fun freely exploring the building on a self guided tour.
If you check in with the visitors center in the Capitol, they will give you a booklet that has more information and point out some of the key features such as the dome. Did you know there’s actually an art gallery in the Capitol?
The dome in the OKC Capitol is a must see. It is vibrant and colorful, just like the history of Oklahoma.
We even sat in during a legislative session for a few minutes and later my daughter asked me if we could go sit in during a session at the Texas State Capitol. It’s amazing what kids pick up on and want to know more about when you simply introduce it to them.
Visiting the Oklahoma Capitol was a great way to explore architecture and wind down a very fun day.
The next morning we got up, ate the hotel’s complimentary breakfast and packed up the car before heading out to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
6 – Oklahoma City Museum of Art
It was my life’s goal to see the work of Dale Chihuly in person and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art has one of the largest collections in the world. I was in heaven. His glass blowing is spectacular and the colors inspire everyone to be more creative.
His collection alone is a great reason to go to the OKCMOA however there was one thing that I did not expect. The OKCMOA loves kids and you can tell that even though they have a giant exhibit full of glass – they want kids to feel welcome there and help them fall in love with art.
There’s canvas bags on every floor, marked by ages, that have creative activities inside of them. So if you want to sit and study a painting, your child can quietly sit by you drawing or doing another activity from the bag. It’s wonderful.
Also there’s spots in the museum where you can sit and look at art books and they even have children’s art books and activities for them in those areas as well.
Tip: There is a paid parking garage across from the OKCMOA where we parked because this was sadly our last stop before heading home. However on the very short walk to the parking garage, we found a double decker bus that had been converted to a coffee shop! If you happen to see this downtown, stop and grab a coffee and then head up to the top to check out the view and enjoy your treat.
That was our trip to downtown Oklahoma City. I can’t image a better way to get out and explore with your family than spending a day or two in downtown Oklahoma City.
Next time we’d like to check out the Olympic Rowing Training facilities and do a few more things outside of the downtown area but we are already planning to go back and explore some more.
Have you explored Oklahoma? Where are some of your favorite spots? Consider adding Oklahoma City to your summer travel.