The city of Tulsa, Oklahoma is tucked away in the northeastern corner of the state amid plentiful greenery and lakes. While this city is largely known as a former oil town boasting nationally acclaimed barbecue and brilliant Art Deco architecture dating to the early 1900s, there’s an abundance of lesser-known wonders to explore. These hidden gems range from a stand-up paddleboarding subculture to an ancient forest, as well as underground tunnels and live music. After settling into your Tulsa vacation rental, venture out to check out these hidden gems.
1. Brady Arts District
While the Brady Theater is one of the most popular attractions in Tulsa, the rest of the art district is usually ignored, which is a shame because this area is an eclectic mix of the historic and the trendy. Located just north of the downtown area south of I-244, the area boasts great public transportation, historic buildings, and plenty of eateries from the Mexicali Border Cafe to The Tavern. Guthrie Green is also located in the arts district with regular events from Sunday concerts to fitness on the green. After sweating it out, walk across the street to the Woody Guthrie Center which combines local history with exhibits about Guthrie himself. The Living Arts of Tulsa and the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa are both a few blocks away as well.
2. Underground Tunnels
Tulsa is the home of 100-year-old underground tunnels that connect many of the downtown buildings to each other. While many of the locals are aware of the tunnels, tourists are not; literally making this a hidden gem. Luckily, a few organizations such as Tours of Tulsa and Tulsa Foundation for Architecture do walking tours of the tunnels. The tour is about one hour long and covers other points of interest and historical sites as well, giving you a great rundown of the local history.
3. Stand Up Paddleboarding
Stand up paddleboarding is a thing in Tulsa, and the locals get into it with stand up paddle yoga, fitness classes, and tours. With three major lakes around Tulsa and two within, there are plenty of places to take a paddleboard and explore. SUP Oklahoma rents equipment so you can have some alone time with nature or offers lessons and tours if you’re unfamiliar with paddleboarding or want a nature guide. In fact, you can get a vacation rental out of the city boundaries by Lake Oologah and spend the majority of your time connecting with Mother Earth while still being close enough to the city for some great dining.
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4. Philbrook Museum Gardens
While the Philbrook Museum is a popular attraction with its location in a villa and a great collection of art, it’s the gardens that is the true hidden gem. If you have limited time or energy, sidestep the house and go right to the gardens which cover 25 acres with walking paths, flora, sculptures, and outdoor art. In fact, the people over at Philbrook encourage visitors to bring a lunch from home (or get something at the in-house restaurant) and enjoy a picnic on the green. Visitors are also encouraged to lay on the grass, roll down hills, run around, paint, and even try to catch fireflies at dusk. While there, check out the stained-glass cabin and pet one of the three garden cats. There are regular events at Philbrook including movies on the lawn (or inside during inclement weather) every fourth Friday of the month year-round.
5. Ron’s Hamburgers & Chili
Ron’s Hamburgers & Chili is a local chain of restaurants with several locations throughout Tulsa that’s been serving American fare since 1975. However, this isn’t just any fast food joint; it uses high quality oil for frying and made-from scratch dishes. Try Ron’s Special, a burger toped with ham, bacon, pepper jack cheese, and fried onions or the chili sausage cheeseburger which combines chili, sausage, and beef.
6. Keystone Ancient Forest
The Keystone Ancient Forest is located in west Tulsa along the Keystone Lake. This old-growth forest boasts trees that are half a millennium old from cedars to post oak trees. The 1,360-acre preserve offers several hiking trails with varying lengths of degrees of difficulty. The Childers Trail is a loop that’s 0.6 miles long, perfect for young kids. The Wilson Trail, considered very difficult, boasts native wildlife. There are trail guides available, although self-guided hiking is also an option. The forest is only open from morning to the early afternoon, so start out early.
7. Tulsa Flea Market
The Tulsa Flea Market, a family operated event for nearly 50 years, covers 50,000 square feet indoors (with air conditioning for those hot summer months). They’re typically open on Saturdays, although dates do vary. The flea market is located at the Tulsa Fair Grounds in the eastern side of the city. It’s great place to find hidden treasures or fun souvenirs of your trip. Afterward, hop over to the Vintage Sewing machine Museum.
8. Admiral Twin Drive-In
Drive-in movie theaters are a thing of the past, but there are a few still in operation such as Tulsa’s Admiral Twin Drive-In Theater located in east Tulsa. You can introduce your kids to your own childhood and enjoy a movie together on 9-story screen. There’s even a concession stand and full kitchen offering anything from popcorn, drinks, and nachos to hamburgers, chicken strips, and fries. All you need is an FM radio to receive sound.
9. The Colony
If you want to listen to some life music, head to the Colony. This joint offers live entertainment every night with acts that swing from Western to rock and everything in between. The Colony books shows well in advance, so peruse the schedule on its website for music that speaks to you. It’s located in southeast Tulsa right next to Golden Chef of Tulsa, so you can catch dinner first.
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