Competitors? Perhaps. Siblings? Certainly. Despite some residents' desire to create a kind of bitter rivalry, Oklahoma's two largest metropolitan areas are deeply connected, and they compliment each other well in a number of ways. Whether you live in Oklahoma City or are just visiting, looking for a little variety on your trip, Tulsa makes for an excellent excursion, one of the many fine day trip options from the metro.
Take the day or a weekend, snap a photo in front of the iconic Golden Driller and enjoy fantastic museums, attractions, restaurants and more. Below is your guide to a day trip from OKC to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Directions and Transportation
Though a rail connection tops the list of dreams for the future, Oklahoma City and Tulsa are but a fairly short car ride apart. The Turner Turnpike is the most efficient route. Just follow Interstate 44 east from Oklahoma City. If you don't have an Oklahoma PIKEPASS, be prepared with cash or change for tolls. You'll pay a little over $6.00 for a one-way trip, depending on where in Tulsa you exit.
Another option for travel from Oklahoma City to Tulsa is the famed, historic Route 66. A far more scenic drive, the route begins from east Edmond, just north of OKC. Follow Highway 77 east through the nearby town of Arcadia toward Tulsa. You'll pass through towns such as Chandler, Stroud, Bristow and Sapulpa along the way.
So with the slower speeds and stoplight stops, be aware that it will take a lot longer than the Turner Turnpike. While the former is about an hour and forty-five minutes, the scenic drive adds at least a half hour and likely more, depending on the speed of traffic on the two-lane highway.
Things To Do
Though I wholeheartedly recommend the Route 66 trip, perhaps make that a day trip for another time.
Instead, use the time you will save to enjoy the wonderful Tulsa attractions. Obviously, in any large city, there are plenty of things to do for people from all walks of life. Below is just a small sampling of what's available, a few highlight recommendations to enjoy that are somewhat different than what you find here in OKC:
- Museums - Oklahoma City, of course, has a vibrant museum environment, but Tulsa has a couple that offer a very different experience. In particular, check out Gilcrease Museum. Founded in 1949 by local oilman Thomas Gilcrease, the museum is known to some as the "Smithsonian Institution of the American West," as it features a huge collection of books, manuscripts, artifacts and art representing the American West, as well as many items of Native American history and culture. Permanent collections include the landscapes of Thomas Moran, Taos Society artist Bert Phillips and the anthropology collection works of Beaver Effigy Pipe.
Also, take time to visit the incredible Philbrook Museum. In 1926, Waite Phillips, a local Tulsa oilman, commissioned a villa to be built in the style of the Italian Renaissance. In 1938, he donated this 72-room masterpiece and all of its surrounding 23 acres to the city of Tulsa as an art center. Outside are beautiful landscaped grounds, gardens, creek and more. Inside, Philbrook boasts an eclectic array of art. African, Asian, and European exhibits include such treasures as the Samuel H. Kress Collection of Italian art, the Gussman donated a collection of African wood sculptures and the exquisite Chinese porcelain docai vase from the 18th century. This museum also houses many American works of art, a decorative art collection including stained glass and tapestries, contemporary art, Native American exhibits and antiquities from Greek, Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian periods.
- Baseball - Yes, Oklahoma City has the Dodgers, a higher affiliate of the Los Angeles franchise than the Tulsa Drillers. However, enjoy the unique experience of ONEOK Field. The downtown ballpark, which opened in 2010, is one of the best in Double-A, offering 23 suites, party platform, Margaritaville Deck, outfield lawn, splash zone and a beautiful view.
- Live Music - The city of Tulsa has a long history of live music. For example, consider Cain's Ballroom. What began as a mere garage in 1924 eventually became known by many across the country as "the Carnegie Hall of Western Swing" and is now one of the top performance venues in the United States. Nestled in Tulsa's downtown Brady Arts District, it features concerts by national acts in all genres as well as local artists. While there is mezzanine seating with a private bar for those 21 years of age and over, the main floor is standing room only, though individual events may bring in tables and seating as needed. In addition to live music, look for special events such as seminars, comedy acts, and author talks. While Oklahoma City's live music scene continues to improve, we just don't have anything here quite like Cain's Ballroom.
Similarly, there's the Brady Theater. Just a few blocks from Cain's, the historical building was built by Peter Mayo in 1914 as an auditorium and convention hall. It went through many remodels and updates to become the amazing venue it is today. Hosting many touring performances such as music concerts and children's shows, the Brady Theater was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1979.
- Aquarium - Though technically located in Jenks rather than Tulsa, just across the Arkansas River, the Oklahoma Aquarium is not to be missed, an attraction with simply no equal in the Oklahoma City metro area. Dr. P. R. Ramey and Doug Kemper saw their longtime dream of aquatic conservation and education finally realized in May of 2003 when the nonprofit facility opened its doors, offering visitors the opportunity to learn about marine creatures from around the world, everything from sharks and stingrays to those animals found in Oklahoma waters.
- Annual Events - A great way to capture the spirit of a city is to experience its unique festivals and events. Tulsa has many standout annual affairs, but two I would specifically mention are Tulsa Oktoberfest and Tulsa International Mayfest. The former was named by "USA Today" as one of the best of its kind in the nation. Held at River West Festival Park and going strong for over 35 years, it features live music, arts and crafts, games and, of course, lots and lots of beer and food. Tulsa International Mayfest has a similarly long history. It began in the early 1970's and has grown into one of the top arts festivals around. Held in May, the downtown event includes artists from across the country, a healthy schedule of live music, free activities for the kids and plenty of that oh-so-bad-for-you festival food.
Food and Drink
Speaking of food... Whether it's a nearby town or a faraway vacation destination, one of my favorite things to do is find that unique, standout local eatery. Why anyone would visit a place and eat somewhere they can eat at home baffles me. In Tulsa, there are local favorites worth trying in just about any category.
For fine dining, I'm a fan of Bodean, a seafood restaurant that has been impressing diners for decades. The Polo Grill in Utica Square is also wonderful, as is the authentic Italian at Villa Ravenna.
On the casual side, get excellent barbecue at Burn Co., but be prepared to stand in line. Fat Guy's Burger Bar has a few Tulsa area locations, and it's guaranteed to fill you up. Or check out the delicious pizza at Andolini's on Cherry Street. If you're looking for a fun Irish pub, you won't be disappointed with Kilkenny's, also on Cherry Street, and for seafood, the White River Fish Market has been around since 1932, serving tasty fresh fish daily. After your stomach is all nice and full, top it off with a dessert from Quennie's Cafe in Utica Square.
For the craft beer lovers, Oklahoma City has several fantastic breweries. While you're in Tulsa, though, visit some others likely familiar to you from area pubs and restaurants. For example, Prairie Artisan Ales has a downtown brewpub where visitors can sample all their favorites from Prairie and other local brewers. Also, take a tour of the facilities at Marshall Brewing Company. It's free, lasts about 30 minutes and includes samples.
If you're interested in making your Tulsa day trip a full weekend getaway, you have plenty of options in the way of accommodations, everything from bed and breakfasts to high-end hotels. Looking for the best of the best the city has to offer? Consider those that, like the Skirvin and Renaissance here in Oklahoma City, earned AAA Four Diamond ratings:
- Ambassador Hotel Tulsa - This luxury boutique hotel has only 55 rooms, and a quick internet search shows it is one of the most highly-reviewed across the board. So it might be tough to get in. But if you do, you will enjoy the best in amenities, top-notch service, Cadillac Escalade shuttle service, delicious food at the Chalkboard Restaurant and much more.
- Renaissance Tulsa Hotel & Convention Center - Though not the central downtown location offered by the Ambassador (Renaissance is located in east Tulsa, almost to Broken Arrow), you will find a spectacular, elegant experience at this Marriott property.