11 Things to Do in Tulsa While You’re Alive

Us ’80s-Tulsans grew up with a huge, decade-long sigh of satisfaction. We didn’t have mountains, oceans or particularly good taffy, but we knew what we did have:

a) We weren’t Oklahoma City. Meaning, we did have some hills, green grass, trees and (due to all the left-over oil money kicking around) art-house films. OKC may have the Flaming Lips, but we had the Hanson Brothers.
b) We had a pro soccer team — NASL’s glorious Roughnecks — that won the national championship the year they went bankrupt.
c) We got MTV before anyone else (as test-market city). Even New York City, guy. We know MTV way before Thriller came out. So there.

These days, OKC has improved, soccer’s gone and MTV sucks. But there are still some great things to do:

Go to Oral Roberts’ Jetsons-meets-Jesus, futuristic-in-a-clearly-retro-way campus. Pose in front of the praying hands statue below the array of international flags. Walk straight to the Prayer Tower (shown above) and take the elevator to the top. You don’t have to pray. You don’t have to talk about el Bible. No one will bother you. And you can have nice views of the very unusual campus set up by a man who once locked himself in there to raise millions to save his life.
Go see the greatest shirtless statue you’ve never heard of, the Golden Driller. No, he’s not gold — more of a dry-river-bed brown — but he stands with his derrick for photo opps. And you can sit on his foot if you like.

Go play the silly frisbee (aka ‘disc’) golf course on the river walk. The Arkansas River winds through Tulsa — and as of late actually has some water in it. River-side parks stretch 26 miles. The golf course has been there for 25 years. And it’s really not a horrible thing to do.

Go to the Gilcrease Museum and look at cowboy art. Don’t like cowboy art? Yes you do. You just haven’t seen much. Exaggerated or not, it’s our most authentic images of Plains Indians, mean US military attacks and guys roping steers. A window to an 1800s America long lost. And it’s a lot more fun than it should be — and easier to decipher than those rained-on works by the Impressionists over at Philbrook Museum.

Go see the Admiral Drive In. You know from the scene in The Outsiders where Ponyboy (C Thomas Howell) tries to pick up Cherry (Diane Lane), in a time when greasers and socs were united by knife fights and watching sunsets. Author SE Hinton is Tulsan, and sometimes lazy.

Go visit the Greenwood Cultural Center in North Tulsa. It was the one-time location of America’s ‘Black Wall Street’ and the stage of the tragic Tulsa Race Riot in 1921. When I first visited a decade ago I sat and chatted with a survivor in her nineties.

Go to a show, if one’s on, at Cain’s Ballroom. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys used to control the stage in the glory days centuries past, and it’s become the vintage stage to see shows on in this corner of Oklahoma. The Sex Pistols’ ironic tour of the south blazed through the stage, and Johnny Rotten apparently hid in the office out of fear.

Go to India Palace. Eat the buffet — far better than your average Indian buffet — then walk straight back into the kitchen, purposefully, without asking, and thank the chef personally. My family has done this for years. You will be rewarded with a sizzling ‘fire/oil show’ on the frying pans. And if you bring a tot back in, that tot will be held by the cooks.

Go up the ‘Tulsa hill.’ Driving from 61st St & Memorial, head west towards Sheridan, a mile away. The road rises — a tennis center to the left, apartments to the right. About three-quarters the way to Sheridan you peak atop an unnamed hill — ‘Tulsa Hill’ might work — and can see the whole city scape. When a visiting cousin from (flat) Burleson, Texas, saw it a few years ago, she shot out: ‘Wow. That’s something. Burleson just looks like a fat guy sat on it.’

Go play Lafortune’s three-par course at night. Screw Southern Hills country club, where Tiger Woods comes occasionally and then mocks the city (‘boring’). Lafortune’s little 18-hole job is the best thing to do in summer. Just don’t do what me, Mark and Jay did — walk on the course for free (or follow Jay’s lead by shooting balls intentionally towards traffic on Yale Ave).

Go eat breakfast at Brookside by Day. It’s in Brookside, a faintly hip area with biker bars and vintage clothing. Breakfast is as good as it gets.

–> When you leave, and you’ll probably want to after a day or so, try to take Route 66 west to Oklahoma City. It’s one of the longest stretches of the Mother Road not to be claimed by the interstate system. It saves you the $3.50 toll, you can try buffalo burgers and great cobbler at the Rock Cafe in Stroud, stop in antique stores in Chandler, and see a big round red barn in Arcadia.

About Robert Reid

Robert Reid is a travel writer (Lonely Planet, New York Times, ESPN), travel expert (Today Show, CNN's Headline News), travel videographer (76-Second Travel Show) and travel artist (don't ask).
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8 Responses to 11 Things to Do in Tulsa While You’re Alive

  1. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic! Our family will hit Rt.66 next summer. Been looking for some recommendations for Tulsa.

  2. Just had breakfast TODAY at BBD! (and yes, the one on Brookside). I had the Eggs Benedict, Tom had the Breakfast Snappy (chicken fried porkchop with gravy, 2 eggs, toast) and we ordered an extra side of the home fries. Yum. Love the list and can proudly say I’ve covered it. You forgot one really cool thing to do though — the ArtDeco 101 guided walking tour of downtown’s architecture. Best to do in months other than July or August. It’s nice to see there are others that subscribe to “know thy hometown”.

  3. I saw the Sex Pistols play Cain’s. Outside in the snow a group of young Christians from a local bible college held a huge banner that read “God gave his only begotten so life wouldn’t be rotten.” That night on Tulsa TV news they played footage of the Sex Pistols performing jover the sounds of a barbershop quartet.

  4. Chris says:

    A friend who knows that I grew up in Tulsa just shared this with me. It rings so true, especially the part about Tulsans looking down their noses at the folks from Oklahoma City. Too great!

  5. Robert Reid says:

    Amazing you saw the Sex Pistols show Greg. Would be curious to hear how it really went — empty, enthusiastic, lame show, cursing out Tulsans? These are the sorts of things where stories build up the reality over time…

  6. Robert, you asked how the show “really went.” The crowd was large and enthusiastic for a snowy winter night, but everyone was bummed that no alcohol was served there. I think they expected soccer hoodlums (!). Many in the crowd were really stoked to see the pistols. I remember one guy had “Pretty Vacant” written on his forehead in eyebrow pencil. The crowd was thick around the stage. I remember Sid Vicious had “Gimme Drugs” scratched into his scrawy chest and both his arms were bandaged. A female camera operator from a local TV news operation was a little too aggressive pushing her way closer to the stage and the audience was very rude and physical with her. It’s really a great memory. I drove back to Kansas late that night and was up to feed the cattle the next morning..still wearing the eyeliner and safety pins from the night before.

  7. Robert Reid says:

    Great stuff Greg. I was across Tulsa watching the ‘Love Boat’ that night.

  8. Al says:

    There are a lot of things to do here in Tulsa especially if you are willing to go out of town just a little. IMHO there is a lot of little hidden secrets in the outskirts.

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