Brimming with history and culture, Oklahoma City’s many museums celebrate the Modern Frontier by bringing the past solidly into the present. From the city’s strong Native American and Western heritage to world-class art, quirky niche collections and local perspectives, OKC maintains a diverse collection of museums that educate, honor and entertain. Here are the 10 of the best to visit during your trip to the Oklahoma capital:
Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum
The landscape and fabric of Oklahoma City changed forever on April 19, 1995 when a massive explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building took the lives of 168 people, the most defining moment in the city’s recent history. The Field of Empty Chairs memorial that now stands on the site of the bombing just south of a reflecting pool and the corresponding museum strives to educate guests on the impacts of domestic terrorism through somber exhibits juxtaposed with inspiring stories of hope and survival. An admission fee is required to enter the museum, but visitors are welcome to explore the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial features free of charge, year-round.
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Known for its dazzling collection of glass works by renowned artist Dale Chihuly, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art—OKCMOA to the locals—is right at home in the city’s burgeoning Arts District. The museum first took shape back in the 1940s, settling into its current digs at the Donald W. Reynolds Visual Arts Center in 2002. The permanent collections have pieces sourced from across the globe, highlighting European, Asian, American, and postwar abstract expressionist art. In addition to the boast-worthy Chihuly glassworks, guests can enjoy Brett Weston photography and definitive works by Washington Color artist Paul Reed. Other on-site amenities include the Samuel Roberts Noble Theater, a rooftop terrace, a cafe, and a gift shop.
National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum
Get along to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and savor a taste of the Old West through intriguing gallery exhibits and hands-on activities. Since 1955, the museum has collected, preserved, and displayed art, artifacts, and cultural items that exemplify OKC’s Native American and Western heritage like classic and contemporary paintings; sculpture; firearms; and a vast array of American Rodeo photographs, memorabilia, and trophies.
Oklahoma Railway Museum
Spend a morning or afternoon appreciating America’s locomotive history with a visit to this train-themed destination. Exhibits include passenger cars, freight cars, and a steam engine. There are fully functional trains providing seasonal 40-minute rides on the first and third Saturday of each month. The museum is open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; admission is free, but there is a charge if you want to ride the rails.
Science Museum Oklahoma
This STEM-based attraction captures young imaginations with 8 acres of space filled with interactive exhibits and activities. The museum has certainly grown to keep pace with the times since its founding in 1958, and is proud to offer a comprehensive educational science experience to foster a better understanding of the world, and the universe, we live in. CurioCity provides a 20,000 square-foot play space for kids to explore, the Tinkering Garage keeps little techies and budding engineers busy, and the newly improved Kirkpatrick Planetarium hosts live shows and full-dome movie screenings.
21C Museum Hotel
You don’t need to be a guest of the hotel to come in and check out the contemporary exhibits at 21C—the full-fledged art museum portion of the premises is open to the public and free to visit 24/7. A 16-foot “Woozy Blossom” installation by Matthew Geller wafts continuous fog onto Main Street outside letting you know you’ve arrived while rotating exhibits and site-specific art set the stage for overnight stays steeped in unique flavor. For an even deeper dive, docent-led tours are offered Wednesdays and Fridays at 5 p.m. Keep an eye out for the brand’s signature purple penguins as they migrate throughout the property.
45th Infantry Division Museum
The largest state-managed military museum in the country, this patriotic attraction traces the Oklahoma lineage of our country’s servicemen and women from 1541 all the way through Desert Storm. Exhibits within the WPA-built Lincoln Park Armory facility detail one of the first National Guard units called up for World War II. The unit served in France and Berlin, helped liberate Dachau, and later, served in the Korean War. Notable collections cover American Military Weapons; World War II cartoons; and upwards of 60 military vehicles, heavy artillery, tanks and aircraft. The museum is free to visit, but donations are welcomed to support its operation.
Museum of Osteology
Make no bones about it, this intriguing facility dedicated to the study of skeletal systems is definitely worth a look, and the only museum of its kind you’ll find. From prehistoric dinosaurs to modern humans, mice to whales and all manner of vertebrates in between, the Museum of Osteology maintains more than 800 specimens from around the world for curious visitors to marvel at.
Oklahoma History Center
Get a crash course in Sooner State history at this Smithsonian-caliber museum aptly located across from the Oklahoma State Capitol. The building facade makes a grand first impression and once inside, visitors get an immersive look at the state’s proud history through displays that touch on geography, industry, art, Native American culture, and military artifacts stationed across five galleries and a research center. The Red River Journey and Meinders Foundation Heritage Gardens outdoor experience allow visitors the chance to observe a sampling of the indigenous Oklahoma landscape accented by statues, flags, and art installations.
American Banjo Museum
If you’re a picker, a grinner, a strummer, or just an avid listener, the American Banjo Museum fetes this humble instrument through hands-on displays, collections, and, of course, music. The 21,000-square-foot facility holds more than 400 items all told, from printed music, photos, and memorabilia to audio and video recordings and actual instruments, making it the largest public collection of banjos on display in the world. The American Banjo Museum’s Hall of Fame has recognized the true masters of the instrument with an annual induction ceremony every year since 1998.