Andrew and I spent an unexpectedly fun weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month when we traveled for our friends' wedding. We were honored not only to assist with the day's events but to be part of such an intimate backyard celebration.
However, we'd never been to Tulsa before.
I'll admit it wasn't on my must-see list. As usual, though, curiosity got the best of me, and we decided to spend our free time exploring the local haunts.
Traveling to Tulsa may not be at the top of your bucket list, either. But if you happen to be heading through on a Route 66 summer road trip (see: road trip snacks), there's more to see here than you'd expect.
I try to have this attitude with any new place I visit. Despite pretenses, I remind myself the greatest joy is in the act of adventure, after all.
Unfortunately, we often rely on other peoples' assessments or take what we see as face value instead of digging around for ourselves.
Every location has its own type of magic if we give it a chance. The only difference is the magic in some cities and sights is easier to identify than in others. That's where you come in!
Here's how to spend a perfect, or at least "OK" (yep, you knew it was coming) fun weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Before we get into the details, this is just a reminder that my posts contain affiliate links to products. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links at no cost to you.
Day 1 in Tulsa
At the time, Tulsa was 2 hours ahead of Phoenix. Needless to say, we slept in!
We weren't needed at the rehearsal dinner for several hours so we decided to explore downtown Tulsa and get ourselves a hearty meal in the meantime.
Center of the Universe
First, we were both shockingly pleased at how clean the downtown area was, even in the less aesthetic streetways.
I stopped to admire every wall mural and didn't once feel unsafe or unwanted.
Supposedly, us Phoenicians brought the clear weather with us to Tulsa to help them welcome in spring. The skies were clear and the cherry and apple trees were in bloom - it was a great day to be out and about!
About a block away from the street parking we found, we ran into the Center of the Universe.
This unassuming spot was so coined because when you stand on the circle in the middle of the plaza and talk, all outside noise is muted and you sound like you're in a bubble, hearing yourself speak! Quite the phenomenon.
For lunch, just a few blocks from the Center of the Universe is The Tavern.
Surprisingly, there was plenty of room available on a Friday afternoon during lunch hour. But I got the impression this place, and the whole of downtown, is hopping at dinner time.
In fact, when we headed out on Sunday it was evident that the handful of places open were jam-packed.
Anyway, we couldn't recommend The Tavern more!
Overall, a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I dock half a point because the chicken sandwich was just a bit too heavy on the greasy breadedness. Otherwise, the food, ambiance, staff, and decor were top notch.
They have a seasonal menu as well as founded-favorites. Everything was cooked just right. From the grilled, herb-seasoned asparagus to our six-cheese, spicy mac to Andrew's heaping chicken-fried steak plate, we were in foodie heaven.
Plus, you all know I'm a sucker for this eclectic design style!
I'm pretty sure if you Google "must see attractions in Tulsa" Hurts Donuts is among the top 5. And for good reason!
Picking out a half dozen donuts at Hurts is an experience, not just a sugar fix. Between the fun names and out-of-the-box flavors, and the fact they are open 24 hours, it's no wonder they are a Tulsa staple.
They even have an Emergency Donut truck!
We picked out a blueberry crumb, Oreo overload, apple pie, churro, fruity pebbles, and animal circus donut. All were solid choices, but surprisingly the apple pie was probably our favorite.
No, they don't have gluten free donuts. That's why, at least for Andrew and I, they hurt. But they were worth it!
We stayed near Catoosa to be close to the wedding, so we adjusted our route into Tulsa for Day 2's adventures accordingly.
Again, we started the day later than we planned and only had a few hours to kill before we needed to be available for wedding duties.
Still, with everything so close and easily accessible, we had no trouble getting around and checking off some must-see items.
Blue Whale of Catoosa
Is it so cheesy it's cringy? One hundred percent.
Do you have to say you saw it during your fun weekend in Tulsa? You better believe it!
We never really did find out why there is a giant paper-maiche looking blue whale parked in a pond on the side of the Route 66 highway. But it's there and you can't miss it if you pass by in the daylight.
Entrance is completely free, so we made a pitstop and let our inner children explore the innards of the Blue Whale in Catoosa!
As much as I love breakfast, I often don't break my fast until late morning or early afternoon.
Caffeine is always my first line of business, though.
We visited the Laurannae bakery and coffee shop in Broken Arrow, about 20 minutes or so from Tulsa.
The small town was bustling with visitors to the nearby farmers market but we found free parking in a lot a block away.
Although the line snaked and stretched inside the cafe, it moved rather quickly and gave me plenty of time to probe the constant customer in front of me about what I should order.
I got an iced blueberry matcha for Andrew which was only mildly sweet and refreshing.
For myself, I splurged on a earl gray and lavender scone and a cinnamon latte with a fancy name that I cannot recall. The scone, though not gluten free, was tasty, it was a bit too thick and crumbly for me.
While Laurannae acts as a bakery and coffee shop by day, they also offer catering, baking workshops, and outdoor rental and event spaces for group events. In fact, there was a very on-trend bachelorette party happening out back the morning we stopped in.
Optional: The Outsiders House and Museum
Since this was Saturday, the wedding day, we had to make some narrowing decisions for our sightseeing schedule.
Some friends from our group did The Outsiders House tour the day before, so we weren't going to make them do it again just for us.
If you're familiar with the book or film, just the view of the pale yellow house will give you nostalgia. There are artifacts from the original set and someone to guide you through the home to give a unique perspective.
Our friends really loved it for what it was! However, if you aren't really a book lover or haven't seen The Outsiders, you might not get as much enjoyment out of this experience.
Unless, maybe, you are a huge young Tom Cruise fan. That might trump in this case.
Philbrook Museum of Art
If I'm being candid, I really am not a huge art museum fan. Not because I don't enjoy or appreciate art, mind you.
I just really don't like the idea of wandering indoors and having to be quiet for long periods of time.
That being said, I loved the Philbrook Museum of Art. Located on the outskirts of Tulsa and in a beautiful neighborhood, this museum is multi-level and covers every art era.
The current special showcase featured contributions from local schoolchildren at every age level. All were self-titled. Some truly made us think. Others made us laugh out loud.
The best part in this exhibit was the entire room dedicated for visitors to add their own art. The floors and walls were all fair game!
I actually had such a great time at this art museum and did not want to leave without exploring every tastefully designed room.
If you like the views inside, believe me when I say pictures don't do the outdoor terrace justice!
Even with the trees still barren from winter and some flower beds not quite fully bloomed, the Philbrook gardens and fountains were beyond impressive. And it was such a gorgeous spring day, too!
I kept thinking of Mr. Darcy's estate in Keira Knightley's Pride and Prejudice. Honestly, I could have just set up a picnic anywhere on the lawn and called it a day.
Speaking of, there is a small restaurant on site with both indoor and outdoor seating but we did not have time to dine.
There is, of course, a cute gift shop with all manner of fun and quirky mementos for sale.
We started this day at a nearby church service with local friends. We decidedly took this day slow and didn't try to fit too much in.
As much as we wanted to get to know Tulsa a little better, our bodies were still exhausted from the wedding the previous evening and our brains were unfortunately already preparing for the plane ride and work week ahead.
However, we were once again impressed by the food options Tulsa had to offer. Again, options are limited on Sundays. But what was open was totally sufficient.
East Village Bohemian Pizzeria
I have never wanted to try so many pizzas at once. Boho Pizza's menu options were so salivating I almost ordered 3 different kinds just to try them!
Gluten free is not just guilt free for Andrew and I. It doesn't matter that we each ate our own personal 10 inch pizza. If it is gluten free then we don't suffer bellyaches on the plane, and in the end that's all that ever matters.
We ordered the Bohemian BBQ and Pesto Chicken, to which I added Kalamata olives. They just make every dish better, trust me.
Optional: The Gathering Place
Unfortunately, we were unable to experience this highly-recommended spot. As with most things in Tulsa on Sundays, most restaurants in The Gathering Place were either not opened at all or closed early.
We also had to be at the airport around 6 PM (that is, until our flight got delayed the minute after we'd turned in our rental car keys).
All our local friends claim the elaborate jungle gyms, interactive activities, and natural landscape within the Gathering Place is truly one-of-a-kind.
Apparently it is worth checking out at least once with or without kids!
Instead, we wandered around downtown Tulsa some more to admire the incredible wall art, get a new batch of donuts at Hurts, and hang out at another local coffee shop.
Well-hidden in a speakeasy style underground warehouse, Notion is about as Gen Z hip as you can get.
I happen to love the industrial bare-minimum look blended with abstract art.
I can't say I loved their Spring Fling drink as much as I hoped to. Apparently the Butterfly Matcha was fantastic, though. Everyone else loved their regular espresso as well.
If you come with a large crowd, expect the walls to echo. I vividly remember squinting to hear my friends better (why do we do that?).
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars for the way Notion instantly made us feel like cool kids.
Our time in Tulsa was dedicated first and foremost to coordinating our friends' wedding. Sightseeing was definitely secondary.
However, these other locations were all marked on my Google Maps just in case we had extra time to explore the area.
With the way the other stops went, I have a feeling these sites are totally worthwhile, too:
- Tulsa Botanic Gardens - located about 8 miles north of downtown Tulsa, this garden center recommends buying tickets in advance ($8 online, $10 in person). The gardens are open Tues-Sun. Pets are not allowed.
- Natural Falls State Park - Headed east an hour just shy of the Arkansas border lies this lush park and plunging waterfall. I do wish we'd had time to see it; you all know my love for waterfalls!
- Bluestem Falls - Oklahoma may be flat, but there's just enough elevation for some pretty falls. If you're headed to the next stop, might as well drive a bit further to take a nature walk and make it a day trip.
- Pioneer Woman - Visit the creation of the kitchen brand and Food Network star at The Mercantile in Pawhuska, OK, about an hour from Tulsa. You'll want reservations to eat and do a tour unless you have time to kill waiting in line.
You may be among the multitudes second-guessing your summer road trip plans, thanks to skyrocketing gas prices.
If that's the case, I recommend checking out quick trips through an airline like Allegiant instead.
For my fellow Arizonans, you can find direct flights from Mesa to Tulsa on specific days of the week. One ways can be as low as $45!
On top of that, overnight parking is only $11 per day at the Mesa airport if you can't find a ride. Depending how long you're gone, your parking tab might be the same cost as your one-way Uber driver.
For hands-free adventures in Tulsa, invest in a fanny pack or travel bag. Cotopaxi has Memorial Day sales right now that are pretty unbeatable considering their value.
To make the most of your adventures, make a collage of all your favorite Tulsa travel memories with an instant camera. There's just something more special about Polaroid pictures!
Last but not least, wherever you travel this summer, go with an open mind and an empathetic heart. We all need grace to get through our day-to-day grinds, don't we?