Take me back to Tulsa — 11 places to see in Oklahoma's second largest city

·7 min read

TULSA — Families are getting ready for a new school year, football teams are preparing to kick off a new season, and summer is coming to an end.

For Oklahoma City area residents looking for a quick getaway, Tulsa is just 100 miles up Interstate 44 — or U.S. Highway 66 if you want to take an iconic scenic route — and boasts an array of attractions for arts, animal and outdoor lovers.

Whether you're planning one last summer getaway or looking ahead to fall break, here are 11 landmarks to look for in Oklahoma's second largest city:

1. Bob Dylan Center

The newest landmark in the Tulsa Arts District, the Bob Dylan Center earned international attention when it opened in May. The primary public venue for the expansive Bob Dylan Archive collection, it includes rare photographs, memorabilia, personal effects and other items spanning the Nobel Laureate's influential 60-year career.

The 29,000-square-foot attraction features 16 exhibits, a 55-seat screening room and a more than 5,000-square-foot archive, which is open by appointment only and intended for scholarly studies. The exhibitions range from a high-tech virtual jukebox curated by Elvis Costello to a reading alcove featuring books selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate and native Tulsan Joy Harjo, the center's first artist in residence. Information: https://bobdylancenter.com.

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Visitors enjoy the Adventure Playground during the opening of Gathering Place in Tulsa in September 2018.
Visitors enjoy the Adventure Playground during the opening of Gathering Place in Tulsa in September 2018.

2. The Gathering Place

Named Best New Attraction by USA Today in 2019, the free Gathering Place spans nearly 100 acres of Tulsa’s waterfront along the Arkansas River. It boasts a plethora of attractions, including the enchanting five-acre Chapman Adventure Playground, the four slopes of Slide Vale and the Four Seasons Garden with its towering rock formations.

Weather permitting, paddle boats, kayaks and canoes are available for free rental at a first-come, first-serve basis at the ONEOK Boathouse.

Open for summer, Charlie's Water Mountain is the perfect place to cool off, as it includes a spray area, tunnels, dams and streams, a water lab, mist area and water plaza.  Information: https://www.gatheringplace.org.

3. Greenwood District

A prominent destination for Black history and culture, the Greenwood District features many must-see landmarks, including Greenwood Cultural Center, John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, the Vernon AME Church and more.

Named one of USA Today's Best New Attractions of 2021, the Greenwood Rising Black Wall St. History Center, which just celebrated its first anniversary, uses immersive storytelling blending canny recreations with the latest audio-visual technology to share Oklahoma's Black history. Information: https://www.greenwoodrising.org.

4. The Outsider's House Museum

How much does Danny Boy O'Connor love the 1983 movie "The Outsiders?" In 2016, the co-founder of the hip-hop group House of Pain bought the modest white house that played the part of the Curtis Brothers' home when Francis Ford Coppola filmed the movie in Tulsa in 1982.

"This starts for me as a 13- or 14-year-old boy going into a movie called 'The Outsiders' in Woodland Hills, California. Never read the book prior to it, so I didn't know what to expect. Go in and see basically the way I felt inside and the life I was living in real life on the silver screen set in a different era. And I just related to that and I was hooked," O'Connor told The Oklahoman.

With a lot of help from the community he now calls home, O'Connor restored and transformed the one-story bungalow into The Outsiders House Museum, which houses costumes, posters, furniture and other memorabilia as well as numerous copies of Oklahoma writer S.E. Hinton's 1967 novel, which was the basis for the movie. Information: https://www.theoutsidershouse.com.

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5. Oklahoma Aquarium

In the Tulsa suburb of Jenks, the Oklahoma Aquarium is home to an array of aquatic life, from otters and beavers to a loggerhead sea turtle and electric eels. Visitors can feed the stingrays and red-eared sliders, interact with the horseshoe crabs, chocolate chip sea stars and pencil urchins and climb in the tunnels under the Extreme Amazon gallery.

Shark Adventures, a 380,000-gallon saltwater tank and tunnel that is home to what's billed as the world’s largest collection of bull sharks, remains the aquarium's mesmerizing highlight. Information: https://www.okaquarium.org.

n honor of the special exhibition "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, & Mexican Modernism," flowers native to Mexico blossom in the gardens at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa on July 30, 2022. The museum is showing "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, & Mexican Modernism" through Sept. 11. Photo by Brandy McDonnell, The Oklahoman
n honor of the special exhibition "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, & Mexican Modernism," flowers native to Mexico blossom in the gardens at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa on July 30, 2022. The museum is showing "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, & Mexican Modernism" through Sept. 11. Photo by Brandy McDonnell, The Oklahoman

6. Philbrook Museum of Art

Combining a historic home, world-class museum and 25 acres of gardens, the Philbrook Museum of Art boasts a collection with more than 16,000 objects and a focus on American, Native American and European art. The permanent collection includes works by Pablo Picasso, Kehinde Wiley, Marisol, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Auguste Rodin, Thomas Moran and many more.

Through Sept. 11, the Philbrook is hosting "Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism," a sprawling special exhibition that celebrates one of the art world's most famous power couples though paintings, drawings, prints, clothing and 100-plus photographs. Information: https://philbrook.org.

Gabriel McDonnell, son of Features Writer Brandy McDonnell, hikes in Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area in Tulsa on April 17, 2021.
Gabriel McDonnell, son of Features Writer Brandy McDonnell, hikes in Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area in Tulsa on April 17, 2021.

7. Turkey Mountain and Tulsa River Parks

A natural oasis in the middle of one of Oklahoma's biggest cities, Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness encompasses more than 300 acres of rugged terrain just a few miles from downtown Tulsa. As you ascend the winding dirt trails, the sight of lush woods contrasts with the faint sounds of nearby traffic.

Children's climbing boulders, three covered pavilions and two bronze sculptures, including the fitting “Rio Grande Turkeys," are located near the trailhead at W 67 Street and S Elwood Avenue.

Turkey Mountain is part of Tulsa's River Parks, which features 26 miles of asphalt-surfaced trails along the banks of the Arkansas River as well as seasonal draws likes fishing, rowing, kayaking, disc golfing and outdoor dining. Information: https://www.riverparks.org.

8. Tulsa Zoo

The Oklahoma City Zoo is bigger, but the 84-acre Tulsa Zoo is home to a charming colony of African penguins. Plus, the Tulsa Zoo features Australian kangaroos, South American jaguars, Malayan tigers and many more remarkable species. Information: https://tulsazoo.org.

9. Woody Guthrie Center

Since 2013, the Woody Guthrie Center has been paying homage to the legendary folk singer-songwriter, who was born in Oklahoma and would have turned 110 this summer.

From the carefully preserved original handwritten lyric sheet to his most beloved song, “This Land is Your Land," and Woody's Music Bar, where folks can hear the prolific songwriter crooning several of his tunes, to an immersive virtual reality Dust Bowl experience and recordings by Guthrie disciples, the center is keeping the famed 20th-century troubadour's legacy alive, right in his home state. Information: https://woodyguthriecenter.org.  

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10. The Church Studio

After spending five and a half years reviving it, Tulsa native Teresa Knox recently reopened The Church Studio, the historic church the late Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell turned into a recording studio and home office for Shelter Records in 1972.

"First and foremost, The Church is a recording studio. That was really important to me. But I thought at the same time, I have this collection that has been growing over the years — a Leon Russell collection, Shelter Records and Tulsa Sound artifacts and items. My goal was, 'How can I have a recording studio, but still be open to the public?'" Knox told The Oklahoman.

"Currently, we are opened up as a recording studio. ... And I'm calling it an analog museum: I know so many of the museums are very digital and interactive, but this is old school. We have stuff hung up and (are) sharing some of the things that I love — and Leon Russell fans enjoy looking at and sharing that with others."

Along with Russell, Tom Petty, JJ Cale, Jimmy Buffett, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder, Asleep at the Wheel, Michael Bolton, The GAP Band, Kansas and many more hung out or recorded in the studio. Information: https://thechurchstudio.com.

Green trees tower in Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa on May 26, 2021.
Green trees tower in Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa on May 26, 2021.

11. Oxley Nature Center

Nestled into a corner of Mohawk Park, Oxley Nature Center features more than 800 out-of-the-way, wooded acres, plus nine miles of trails and an interpretive center.

Although the Redbud Valley Nature Preserve is closed to the public until fall, hikers can hit the trails year-round seven days a week, venturing into the forests, fields and wetlands. The flood-plain forest of cottonwood, oak, sycamore, hackberry and pecan trees is home to numerous wildlife and wildflowers.

While many are wheelchair- and stroller-accessible, the trails in Oxley Nature Center are not set up for horses, bicycles or vehicles, which means hikers have them all to themselves. Information: https://www.oxleynaturecenter.org.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: 11 places to see in Tulsa, from Bob Dylan Center to Outsiders House