Friday, April 30, 2010

An Insider's Guide to Visiting Tulsa: TDT Friday Advice Column


As someone who blogs about things to do in Tulsa, I field lots of questions about the city and all the stuff there is to do within its borders.

While I'm cool with answering these questions on Facebook, Twitter and by e-mail, I like to answer a couple of them per week with a weekend post here at TDT. I'm sure the folks who pose the questions aren't the only ones who would benefit from their answers.

Let's get this thing started.

Q. I have family/friends coming to Tulsa for the first time this weekend, but they'll only be here for a day or two. Where should I take them?

A. I have some ideas.

You knew that was coming, didn't you?

I'll take my cue from FourSquare, the hottest new web site/app/game in the social media world. If you don't know what FourSquare is, here's a briefing: A FourSquare user can use his or her smartphone to explore a city by encouraging him or her to check in electronically on a map at the new places they visit, picking up awards (called badges) and suggestions for what to try in the area along the way. I love it. In fact, I wish I had invented it because it works so well with what I try to do here at TDT: It's all about helping people find new ways to explore their city.

FourSquare users pick their top 12 favorite city locations as part of their public profile. I figure 12 spots isn't too many to visit in the space of a couple of days, even for the most slow-paced of travelers. So, here goes - the 12 Tulsa places I'd take a visitor to my city, in no particular order.

1. A Tulsa-area vineyard and/or winery. Forget Napa Valley - this is Green Country, baby.

Opening Day 2010 of Cherry Street Farmers Market

Think young vine wine, along with wine made from nuts and Oklahoma fruit like elderberries, peaches and chokeberries, all expertly and creatively blended and enjoyed in the company of some of the most hospitable, down-home folks you'll ever meet, sometimes in their own homes. Here are a few of my favorites: Stone Bluff Cellars, Whispering Vines Vineyard, Nuyaka Creek Winery and The Grape Ranch. Most tastings are free and bottles are rarely more than $30. The wineries often hold special events - check for details.

2. Brookside. There's nothing you can't do on Brookside - eat, drink, shop, play, take a yoga class or even get a new tattoo.

Caramel on Brookside

Probably Tulsa's most diverse entertainment district, Brookside packs a variety of locally owned shops and restaurants, along with national brands. Be sure to pick up a locally brewed root beer at Weber's Old Fashioned Hamburgers, where the owners' claim to fame is that they invented the hamburger. Hey, we'll take it.

3. River Parks, followed by lunch at Elwood's on the River. Who doesn't enjoy a nice run or bike ride when visiting another city? And who'd prefer to get that workout in the basement of a hotel when there's a world-class trail system along one of the mightiest rivers in the U.S. just a few minutes' drive, ride or walk away?

41st Street Plaza at River Parks

After, make some of those calories back with a beer and a quick bite at Elwood's on the River, the River district's reincarnated, beloved mainstay. And/or, swing the kids by the 41st Street Plaza, where there's a brand-new splash pad, playground and plenty of sno cones.

4. Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. There's so much to do at this place - eat, play, dance, hear live music, have a few drinks, stay the night - it's just incredible.

You could spend a full 24 hours at Hard Rock and still not have done everything. Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is also a departure point for a variety of Cherokee cultural tourism tours, which explore the culture and history one of the Tulsa area's largest Indian tribes.

5. Cherry Street Farmers' Market. It's huge, it's bustling, it's like a show on Food Network or the Travel Channel.

Opening Day 2010 of Cherry Street Farmers Market

Get live music, kids' activities, a glass or two of wine and literally tons of new foods to try, all with Tulsa's famous skyline as a backdrop and in one of Tulsa's most beloved and beautiful historic districts.

6. Oral Roberts University. I've tried explaining this one to folks who plan to visit Tulsa, and it's just hard. But when they see it, boom. I've heard it called everything from a compelling collection of modern architecture to a space city-shaped shrine to Jesus. Both are pretty much true, but a person has to see it to believe it. Tip: Don't miss the giant praying hands.


Yes, really - giant praying hands.

7. A concert at the BOK Center. Some of the biggest acts around come right through Tulsa, and they play at the new BOK Center.

In Its Shadow

While you're downtown, why not point out the contrast between the architecture of the BOK Center with the art deco architecture for which downtown Tulsa's buildings are famous? Tulsa is home to one of the largest concentrations of art deco architecture in the world. The BOK Center isn't an example of art deco architecture, but its follows the same ethos of the art deco architects - the aspiration to produce the most cutting edge, avant-garde and grand built environments for their times.

8. The Golden Driller. This friendly giant at the site of Tulsa's County Fairgrounds on 21st Street between Yale and Harvard is a sight for sure.

Golden Driller

A holdover from the Oil Expos of our oil boom days, this guy has turned all sorts of heads, including those who voted him into the Top Ten Quirkiest Destinations list in the U.S. back in 2006.

9. ONEOK Field. Traveling with the kids? Catch a Tulsa Drillers game at our brand-spanking-new ONEOK Field, the prettiest boutique ballpark around.

ONEOK Field, Opening Night


Not only is there a playground, two grassy lawns and two picnic areas in this stadium, but there's plenty of kid-friendly food and good, clean family fun in the form of America's favorite past time. Parents, grab a pint of Marshall beer, expertly brewed just up the street from ONEOK Field - don't forget to order it in the souvenir cup. The Hornsby Burger, named for the Drillers mascot, ain't bad, either.

10. Philbrook Museum. Got an art lover coming to town? There's no better place to whisk that person than to Philbrook Museum, truly one of the finest art museums in the U.S.

Philbrook Museum Gardens

There's something going on every day at Philbrook, whether it's for kids and families, the wine lover or the gardening aficionado. That it's housed in the former home of oilman Waite Phillips, who played an integral role in building Tulsa during its boom days, gives the museum an even greater sense of history and place.

11. Cain's Ballroom. Any music buff will flip over Cain's Ballroom - The Cain's as it's called by locals - and not just because it's the birthplace of Western Swing.

It's also the venue of choice for a huge variety of acts, from our own local bands to nationally touring artists. It doesn't get more Tulsa than Cain's Ballroom.

12. Downtown nightlife. There's nothing like getting down with one's bad self after a long day of sight-seeing, and downtown Tulsa's nightlife scene can surely handle that inclination. Get your kicks in the Brady District at spots like Caz's or Lola's, or head to the IDL trifecta that is Enso Bar, Electric Circus and IDL Ballroom.

Tulsa Bloggers Meetup

Then there's Arnie's Bar, Dirty's Tavern, Candy Bar, Crystal Pistol, The Marquee you might guess, I could go on. After, grab some late-night pizza at Joe Momma's (they're open until 3 a.m.), or some of the best breakfast in town at the Blue Dome Diner, right across from the famous Route 66 landmark for which downtown's hippest district was named.

So. What's your Tulsa Top 12?

Cain's photo from the Cain's page on Facebook.


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