There are certainly plenty of attractions to visit, things to do and see, and entertainment to be found in Oklahoma’s capital city. However, taking a day—or even a weekend—to splash out from the Modern Frontier and explore the surrounding region can also prove educational, fun and fruitful. Here’s a handful of the best destinations to discover within easy driving distance of Oklahoma City.
Tulsa: A Contemporary Metropolis
Whether you’ve got a few hours or a few days to spare, head up the Turner Turnpike and try living on Tulsa time for a quick getaway. Native American history runs deep in Oklahoma’s second-largest city, which was settled in the early 1800s by the Muscogee Creek Nation (one of dozens of tribes that have resided throughout the state). These days, visitors come to enjoy an impressive collection of museums, a thriving arts scene, and outdoor recreation.
Immerse yourself in local lore at the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art, a solid starting point for any visit. The distinctive Blue Dome building anchors an entertainment sector full of restaurants, bars and nightlife, while the Tulsa Arts District showcases reimagined historic structures, galleries, and theaters. Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area—a multi-use recreational property featuring a network of River Parks trails—encourages guests to go outside and explore Tulsa’s green spaces any time of the year.
Getting there: Tulsa lies just over 100 miles northeast of Oklahoma City directly up I-44.
Travel tip: The gorgeous Italianate Renaissance-style Philbrook Museum of Art and verdant grounds are a must-see.
Cruise north out of Oklahoma City to the Kansas border, where you’ll find one of the most curious geographical features in the Midwest. The Great Salt Plains State Park is the remnant of what was once a vast prehistoric inland sea. This flat, barren stretch gives visitors a chance to explore the landscape through saltwater swimming and fishing opportunities in addition to camping, kayaking, canoeing, birdwatching, hiking, and biking.
Kids (and adults) love mining for the area’s signature selenite crystals just below the surface of the salt flats. Unique hourglass gypsum formations, you won’t find these anywhere else in the world.
Getting there: It’ll take you approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach the Great Salt Plains from OKC. Drive 95 miles north toward Wichita via I-35, then drive west on OK-11 for another 45 miles.
Travel tip: The crystal dig site is only open seasonally from April through October; plan accordingly if you plan to mine.
Norman: College-Town Energy and Atmosphere
The third-largest city in Oklahoma, Norman buzzes with the intellectual curiosity and youthful energy only college populations can create. Home to the University of Oklahoma, the town draws crowds for Sooner football and basketball games—but the campus itself, museums, a diverse dining scene, and an ongoing schedule of festivals and events entice guests all year long.
The biggest university-based facility of its kind in the country, the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is required viewing. Later, gape at Impressionist works by Monet, Van Gogh and Renoir at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, also located on OU's campus. For a fun night out, stick around after dark to watch Campus Corner come alive with live music and dancing.
Getting there: It’s only a 30-minute journey from downtown OKC to Norman; to get there, follow I-35 and US-77.
Travel tip: About 10 miles east of campus, the hike-worthy Lake Thunderbird is the largest urban park in Oklahoma.
Route 66: Americana at Its Best
Fuel up your car and get your kicks along this iconic stretch of the Mother Road. Running from Chicago to Los Angeles, Route 66 traverses Oklahoma starting in Joplin—just across the Missouri state line—to Erick. The friendly towns, architecture, neon signage and soaring murals, mom-and-pop diners, motels, and roadside attractions all add up to one incredible road trip. Plan to take your time and stop often to enjoy the sights and tastes along the way.
With Oklahoma City being in the center of the state, there are two route options to choose from. You can either head northeast to Joplin, taking in landmarks like the Rock Café in Stroud and the historic Coleman Theater in Miami. Meanwhile, the western leg leads to the Route 66 Museum in Clinton and the National Transportation and Route 66 Museum in Elk City.
If you're looking for roadside attractions, the Blue Whale, the Round Barn, Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios, the Golden Driller and Totem Pole Park all offer great backdrops for selfies to post on your social media outlets.
Getting there: From Oklahoma City, Route 66 runs about 210 miles northwest through Tulsa to the Missouri state line. To the west, it’s 150 miles to the Texas border.
Travel tip: Hit up POPS—a funky retro gas station just outside of OKC in Arcadia—for diner eats and 600 different kinds of soda.
Marching majestically across the southwestern corner of Oklahoma, the Wichita Mountains provide a natural habitat for roaming Texas Longhorn cattle and bison, prairie dogs, and a host of other native wildlife residents.
This region is also home to stunning natural scenery; on the drive up to the Mount Scott summit, you'll discover a number of vistas along with unspoiled views of the Lake Lawtonka reservoir from rock faces just begging to be climbed.
Getting there: About 90 miles from Oklahoma City, the quickest route is to drive 55 miles south on I-44 south, then west on OK-49.
Travel tip: Before or after your visit, feast on what have been called the best burgers in the state at the Meers Store and Restaurant.
Tishomingo: Chickasaw Nation Heritage and Culture
The historic heart of the Chickasaw Nation, Tishomingo—named for its chief who died on the Trail of Tears—embraces American Indian culture. Established as an early trading center, this character-rich small town served as the capital of the Chickasaw Nation from 1856 until 1907.
Echoes of Tishomingo’s past still ring loud and clear, and you can learn all about it with immersive visits to the Chickasaw Council House Museum and the Chickasaw National Capitol Building. Afterward, spend the rest of the day discovering the scenic Blue River—a renowned destination for trout fishing—or communing with Mother Nature at the Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge.
Getting there: The quickest route to Tishomingo from Oklahoma City is to take I-35 southeast to OK-7. It's about a two-hour drive one-way.
Travel tip: Fuel up for the ride home (and catch some live entertainment to boot) at Ole Red Tishomingo, a popular restaurant/music venue owned by Oklahoma native and country music artist Blake Shelton.
Bartlesville: Black Gold History
Nestled in northeast Oklahoma, Bartlesville houses the Phillips Petroleum Company, capitalizing on a local oil boom that began back in the early 1900s. Visitors can tour the 3,600-acre Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve—Frank Phillips’ former estate-turned-museum where bison and deer roam free—to admire the company founder’s extensive collections of Western and Native American Art and Colts firearms.
Another notable attraction and a National Historic Landmark, Price Tower in downtown Bartlesville is the only fully realized skyscraper designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Completed in 1956, the 19-story structure now encompasses an arts center, hotel accommodations, and a restaurant.
Getting there: To reach Bartlesville, take I-44 to Tulsa, then head north on U.S. 75. Expect the 150-mile drive to take just over two hours.
Travel tip: The OKM Music Festival settles into the Bartlesville Community Center each June to celebrate the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and other composers across all genres.
Hugo: Wild West Legacy
Named for French author Victor Hugo, this small southeastern Oklahoma town was formerly an early 1900s railroad hub and Wild West hotspot.
Back in the day, visitors traveling through could find raucous dance halls, saloons, and circuses. Read up on the city's history at the Frisco Depot Museum in the old Harvey House Restaurant property, then pay your respects to late rodeo and circus performers in the “Showmen’s Rest” section of the Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Getting there: Hugo is about a three-hour drive from Oklahoma City; take I-40 to the east, then merge south onto the Indian Nation Turnpike.
Travel Tip: Where circus elephants go to retire, Endangered Ark Foundation houses the second largest herd of Asian elephants in the country and educates guests about preservation efforts to save the species.
Chase the largest waterfall in Oklahoma. To the south of OKC, just shy of the Texas state line, you’ll find Turner Falls, a breathtaking 77-foot cascade tucked into the Arbuckle Mountains. Plan for a day of hiking, swimming, fishing, and exploring the natural beauty of the park.
If a day isn’t long enough, guests are welcome to bring an RV or book a cabin and spend the whole weekend in the area. Golf courses, a marina, nature center, wilderness park, and several caves round out the region’s opportunities for outdoor recreation and fresh-air fun.
Getting there: Take I-35 south toward Texas to find Turner Falls Park near Davis, about 75 miles away.
Travel tip: Keep the journey going by continuing on to Lake Murray, Oklahoma’s first state park, south of Turner Falls.