Life in OKC

Things To Do In Oklahoma City

Oklahoma Thunder Chalk Art

Oklahoma Thunder Chalk Art by Artist Bobby Marsee | Photo by Jennifer James

I have lived in Oklahoma City since I was 17-years-old. We’re really just a big town on a big prairie. Still, it can be difficult to find the local color and culture if you’re not from around here.

Because I’ve lived here so long, I know the best things to see and do and especially, the best places to eat! Whether you are a newcomer ready to put down roots or just visiting for a couple of days, this guide is for you! I’ve included only the things I love. Two great resources for comprehensive listings of almost all major events and/or restaurants in town are Travel OK and Yelp OKC.

I’m A Nomader

I hope you enjoy your time in Oklahoma City. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at jenx1967[at]gmail[dot]com. By the way, thanks to my travel blogger buddy, Misadventures With Andi, I’m a “local hero” on Nomaders. Click here to view my profile and special proposal to help YOU find the real color and culture of OKC.

The Paseo Arts District

The Paseo Arts District is home to my favorite two-block stretch in all of Oklahoma City. It’s the 3000 block of Paseo Drive, which is home to a colorful collection – greens, blues, yellows, pinks and purples — of stucco buildings with clay tile roofs. The Spanish Revival architecture has been maintained since it was created as a shopping destination nearly 100 years ago. Click here to read all about the history of the Paseo.

First Fridays

The first Friday evening of every month the Paseo Arts Association hosts First Friday, a gallery art walk. Start at JRB Art at the Elms Gallery. The exhibits are always really fantastic and the complimentary hors d’oeuvres are awesome. They’re usually catered by the wonderful Iguana Mexican Grill.

Paseo Arts Festival

If you are lucky enough to visit Oklahoma City over Memorial Day Weekend, check out the Paseo Arts Festival. There are bigger arts festivals in town, but this one is my personal favorite. Most years the children’s tent is really great, so look for that if you have kids. There’s always interesting artists to see, great food trailers, sweet music, face painting and balloon animals for the kids and more.

If you’re super lucky, your visit to Oklahoma City will coincide with the Magic Lantern Festival sponsored by StarSwanDance. It takes place around Halloween every year. This is possibly my all-time favorite event in Oklahoma City. It is an absolutely MUST-SEE/DO adventure if you have young children. (Even my teenager loves it.)

Magic Lantern Festival

Girl Dressed Up Like Fairy Butterfly

Paseo Arts Magic Fairy Ball

Just imagine a huge parade of young children dressed up like fairies and butterflies dancing down the beautiful Paseo Drive at sunset. You’ll have an opportunity to make gorgeous flower wreaths for your hair and after the sunsets, children can dance in a roped off area full of twinkling lights. It was absolutely magical watching my youngest daughter dance like a fairy last year. Click here for details on the Paseo website. Click here for more about StarSwanDance.

Restaurants and Shopping

The Paseo Arts District is like a working artists colony. Most of the little stucco buildings are the studios of working artists. They’re usually open in the late morning/afternoon and you can visit them and shop for original art.

There is a fabulous shop called The Curious Emporium. It’s full of great jewelry, incense and other really terrific stuff. There are also a few restaurants in the area including Picasso’s Cafe, Paseo Grill and Sauced. I’ve tried all three and I like them. Paseo Grill is higher end, but has a terrific ambiance. Sauced has a wonderful patio and the pizza is good. Picasso’s also has a small patio, a large bar and I love their arugula-beet salad. My favorite restaurant is actually right on the edge of the Paseo in the Jefferson Park neighborhood. It’s called Cheever’s Cafe at 2409 N. Hudson. I love their chicken salad and fruit plate. My husband loves their chicken fried steak with jalapeno gravy.

What Else

If you’re in town over Christmas, be sure to visit Paseo Drive to see the annual Christmas Tree on the median. Artists with the Plaza District Association come up with something special every year.

Snow on a street at night with lamp light

Snowfall on Paseo Drive, OKC

 

The Plaza District

Oklahoma City’s Plaza District is located on Northwest 16th Street. Before you visit, you should know that as recent as about a decade ago you would not want to be in this area of town alone at night. While it is still in close proximity to a lot of urban blight, the restoration of the area in recent years has inspired a darling of urban renewal.

Out-of-towners as well as newcomers will appreciate the area more if they know the history of the once-bustling business district. It includes significant struggles, but thanks to public and private investments, has been saved from urban decay.

Second Fridays

The second Friday of every month, the Plaza District Association hosts Live On The Plaza. Every month features a great new theme. If you’re in town at the end of September, you might want to attend the Plaza District Festival. This is a small, one-day festival. What I love about it is that it really seems to welcome the residents from the surrounding neighborhoods.

Businesses

There are a bunch of businesses in the Plaza District including some fun shops. Bad Granny’s Bazaar and Dig It are fun places if you like hunting through thrift stores. If you like musical theatre, be sure to check out Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. For a complete list of businesses in the district click here.

Plaza District Restaurants

There are several places to eat in the Plaza District. People swear by the grilled cheese sandwiches at The Mule and the pizza at EMPIRE Slice House. I’ve never tried them, but people don’t like about this stuff. =)  I really like Saints, which is an Irish Pub. I’ve also tried Pie Junkie, which is nice if you’re there and want something sweet.

What Else

The Plaza District is an eclectic district with a gritty street flair. Be sure to check out the graffiti-style murals. “I LOVE YOU” is located on the west wall of EMPIRE SLICE HOUSE. Another mural is located on the west side of Saints Pub and an OKC Thunder hashtag mural is located on the east side of the section of buildings housing SLICE.

I Love You Graffiti

I Love You Graffiti

Western Avenue

Western Avenue is a street in Oklahoma City, but it’s also a shopping and dining district that stretches from about NW 36th Street to Wilshire Avenue. Wilshire is located about a mile north of NW 63rd Street.

A lot of the information about the shops and restaurants on Western Avenue are highlighted on the Western Avenue Association website. The main thing you need to know about getting around this district is that you really can’t do it on foot. The city is addressing walkability issues in the area. The district will be undergoing major streetscaping soon, but for now, you’ll need your car to hit everything from one end to the other.

Here are some of my favorite places on Western Avenue.

Earl’s BBQ (Earl’s Rib Palace)

For great barbecue, try Earl’s Rib Palace. This is a great place for a family. The cost is reasonable and they have a great kid’s menu. Our family of five often finishes things off with two orders of cobbler with ice cream. Earl’s is also located in Bricktown, but avoid that chaos if you can. (I also like Iron Starr BBQ, which is located on Hudson and NW 36th Street. (It’s off Western Avenue.)

42nd Street Candy Company

I’ve been going to this candy shop for years and I really like it! They have your usual high-end stuff, but there’s also a small room full of things like candy necklaces — stuff kids like.

First Thursday

The first Thursday of every month the Western Avenue Association hosts First Thursday. This is a great event. There are quite a few events in Oklahoma City that are identified by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Thursday or Friday. First Thursday on Western Avenue is my favorite. In my opinion, it’s the most unique of all the 1st-2nd-3rd-4th day events, and the most fun for kids. Click here for details.

The Metro Wine Bar

The Metro Wine Bar, a restaurant that is located just north of NW 63rd Street on Western Avenue, is probably my favorite restaurant in Oklahoma City. I love the curry chicken salad. I would not take kids to The Metro. It’s not as pricey or fancy as The Coach House, but it’s just not a place you take kids.

What Else

If you’re in Oklahoma City at Christmas time, don’t miss the holiday Christmas lights at Chesapeake Energy, located on Western Avenue. Also, I love the neon at Will Rogers Theater and the beet salad at adjacent Will’s.

Lake Hefner

Lake Hefner Sunset

People — especially locals — frequently complain that there is nothing to do in Oklahoma City. After living here 30 years, sometimes, I get bored, but one thing I never tire of is our glorious sunsets. They are best viewed at Lake Hefner. There is a great trail around the lake if you like to run, bike or walk. There are also several restaurants. Red Rock Canyon Grill is my favorite.

Basically, what I’m saying is that sometimes, the best thing to do in Oklahoma City doesn’t involve doing, but seeing. This applies to our four dramatic seasons. They will spoil you unless you’re someone who likes it to be 70 degrees every day of the year.

Heritage Hills in Autumn

If you’re in Oklahoma City in the fall, don’t miss Heritage Hills for showy autumn colors. I live in this neighborhood and every year tour buses pass through so people can see all the trees in red, gold and orange. It’s wonderful!

Orange Autumn Leaves

Orange Autumn Leaves

Historic Neighborhoods

Speaking of Heritage Hills, there are wonderful historic neighborhoods in Oklahoma City. You can see these for free! There are also home tours every year for several of the neighborhoods including Heritage Hills (October), Mesta Park (December) and Linwood (October) and Gatewood (October).

I also love Edgemere Park Neighborhood. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, it was intentionally built around a large park with a small tributary. This is a wonderful place to have a family picnic. When the tribuary is full (or not) my kids love to try and skip stones with small rocks or literally SKIP over the big rocks in the stream. Another great place for a family picnic (without a playground) is Harn Park. Perle Mesta Park has a playground and sand volleyball pits.

 Martin Nature Park

Martin Nature Park is another wonderful, affordable (free or practically free) place to visit in Oklahoma City. Click here for all the details. What I love about it is the day hike adventure of it all. When we go we enjoy all the animals, especially the butterflies and lady bugs that land on you. There are marshes and ponds and a great playground.

Martin Nature Park

Martin Nature Park

Oklahoma State Capitol

There is a lot of wonderful artwork to see in the Oklahoma State Capitol. It’s usually open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is no admission (cost) to see the artwork. My favorite pieces include the portrait of Woody Guthrie, Jim Thorpe, Will Rogers and Sequoyah on the 4th Floor. Also, the Gilbert White World War I painting, Pro Patria, on the 4th Floor. The Wilson Hurley paintings featuring the four corners of Oklahoma are located on the 2nd floor. The Kate Barnard statute is on the first floor in the East Gallery.

Oklahoma State Capitol at Sunset

Oklahoma State Capitol at Sunset

BONUS: 8 More Oklahoma City Spots I Would Take My Friends

1.  The Blue Door

You’ll enjoy great folk music, and sometimes, Oklahoma’s signature red dirt music at The Blue Door.

2.  Film Row

Film Row is one of Oklahoma City’s newly renovated historic districts. The Paramount is special!

3.  Thunder Fountain

The Children’s Fountain (FREE!) Don’t miss this treasure if you have kids. The GROW park is nearby as well as Myriad Gardens.

Thunder Fountain

Thunder Fountain

Grow Myriad Gardens Oklahoma City

Grow Myriad Gardens Oklahoma City

4.  Route 66 Park

Route 66 Park: (FREE!) is a great park where kids can fish and play. It’s also near Lake Overholser. If you’re heading this way, a great Mexican Restaurant to try is about seven miles up the road in Yukon. It’s called Green Chile Kitchen.

Route 66 Park

Route 66 Park

5.  45th Infantry Museum

45th Infantry Museum (FREE!) This museum is a 15-acre park filled loud things that went BOOM! Planes, tanks, artillery, etc. There are picnic tables on the grounds and interesting stuff to see. Prepare for from Hitler to Ho Chin Minh.

6.  Contemporary Oklahoma

Contemporary Oklahoma hosts art classes and camps, but it also has an exhibit space and often hosts really fabulous exhibits like this one by Laurie Frick. Admission is FREE and they’re open on Saturdays.

7.  Super Cao Ngyuen Asian District Market

Not everyone is from a cosmopolitan city. For my friends with limited exposure to other cultures, I like to take them to see Super Cao Ngyuen, a huge Asian supermarket. The fish on ice and all the exotic vegetables and fruits are sites to behold! Below is a video of me from 2010 that features the store. Fast forward to around 31 seconds. (You might find some more favorite spots in this old video!)

Jen’s Top 10 Spots via the Malibu from Jennifer James on Vimeo.

8.  Little Mexico

First of all, they don’t really call it Little Mexico. That’s what I call it. It’s SW 25th to SW 44th Street between Western and Robinson Avenues. In this area of Oklahoma City you’ll find Mexican food trucks setting up shop in grocery store and gas station parking lots. This usually occurs on the weekends.

The area is home to a lot of small, family-owned Mexican restaurants. My favorite is Tacos San Pedro. It’s clean with great tables and chairs. You order at the counter. I love the giant beef burritos and I don’t even eat meat. It’s a little cramped and crowded, but the food is excellent. If you’re looking for something other than Tex-Mex, this is the place. It’s located on SW 44th Street about 1/4 mile west of Western Avenue.

This area of Oklahoma City is also home to the Capitol Hill District. There’s a great restaurant called Grill on the Hill. Every Friday, Oklahoma City politicos pour into this restaurant for lunch. It’s like an unspoken tradition. The owners are super nice. I really like Grill on the Hill!

A couple more fun places to see in “Little Mexico” is a cowboy boot shop called El Rancho Western Wear. They have tons of colorful cowboy and cowgirl boots including boots for kids and toddlers. It’s at 833 SW 29th Street.

Stations of the Cross Mural

Stations of the Cross Mural

There’s a Hispanic bakery on the corner of SW 25th and Walker. A nearby battery shop is covered in beautiful murals including one featuring the Stations of the Cross. Speaking of Stations of the Cross, there’s a beautiful depiction of them in the Grotto directly across from Mount St. Mary High School. Park on the street and walk around the circular driveway to find it. Adjacent to this is the beautiful Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Pinatas For Sale in OKC

Pinatas For Sale in OKC

If you have kids, you may want to drive them by the Mi Fiesta Flower Shop. They have a huge collection of pinatas. It’s a colorful site to see and you can pick up a pinata for about $20. Click here to see some fun pictures.

Click here to read about my adventures in Oklahoma City’s Little Mexico

ANOTHER BONUS: Quick Side Trips

Arcadia, Oklahoma

Drive out to see the round, red barn. While you’re there, visit POPS on Route 66.

Mulhall, Oklahoma

From Oklahoma City head to Mulhall, Oklahoma. You’ll pass over the Cimarron River and through the Lawrie Stretch. Dips and thrills for a spell! Be sure to watch for the vintage glass insulators. Eat fried chicken and pie at Lucille’s.

CLICK:  Posts labeled “Travel-OKC”

You might also enjoy the Photography section. See Oklahoma themes including the Oklahoma Color Project.

 

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Things To Do in Oklahoma City
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The best things to see and do in Oklahoma City including parks, music venues, shopping, restaurants, activities for kids and other stuff only locals know about.

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