Revitalized Oklahoma City is a surprising, exciting destination.
It has been 20 years since the country gasped in horror at photos of the bombed Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and mourned the passing of 168 innocent victims. On April 19, Oklahomans will pause again to remember “those who were killed, those who survived, and those changed forever.”
In the heart of downtown at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, massive Gates of Time standing at either end of a black granite reflecting pool display the time before and after the blast. One hundred sixty-eight bronze and glass chairs representing those who died in the bombing stand south of the pool. Nearby is the museum. This is not an easy place to visit. Many of the exhibits are heart-wrenching–a case with a child’s shoe, news footage of parents desperately seeking their children, eyeglasses, and broken coffee cups. But the museum is also full of stories of daring rescues, dedicated workers, and a community that rallied together, setting what has become known as “The Oklahoma Standard.”
The 20th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony will be held on Memorial grounds from 8:55 a.m. to 10:55 a.m. on Sunday, April 19, 2015. At 9:02, the time the bomb exploded, 168 seconds of silence will be observed followed by a program designed to foster hope and healing.
Before and After
In 1993, Oklahoma City residents voted to tax themselves to fund projects to revitalize the city. The success was so striking that voters extended the program twice. The result is a city so cool it is listed in National Geographic Traveler’s list of 20 of the world’s “go now” destinations for 2015.
Thanks to the tax and private investment, downtown OKC has an arena that’s best known as the home of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder. A renovated Civic Center hosts symphony and ballet presentations and Broadway shows.
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art boasts one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Dale Chihuly glass. A current exhibit, “Intent to Deceive,” focuses on art forgeries and displays clever copies beside some of the masterpieces they represent (through May 10). From June 20 through Sept. 27, an exhibit on the House of Fabergé will showcase more than 230 items from Imperial Easter eggs to ornaments. Other features of the museum include a cinema; the excellent Museum Café (with a special “dinner and a movie” deal); and the Roof Terrace, a popular spot on Thursday nights for cocktails and live music, beginning in mid-April. The terrace provides a great place to view the skyline of the city.
Though construction began in the 1970s, over the years, Myriad Botanical Gardens has morphed into a major gathering place. It features a 224-foot-long, multi-level, tubular botanic conservatory, a water stage, outdoor gardens, and the Park House for dining. In March, the Ice House–offering burgers and shakes–will reopen for the season.
All of these attractions are easily accessible from two of Oklahoma City’s finest hotels, the historical Skirvin and newer Renaissance hotels. Both are AAA Four Diamond properties.
Eat and play downtown
Bricktown, once an area of abandoned warehouses, is now a prime entertainment venue with restaurants, hotels, movies, and music. Canal boats take visitors on a fun ride through the area. Food options range from homegrown Sonic fast food to upscale Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse, and you’ll find everything in between.
The Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, a vintage-style venue with up-to-date amenities, is home to the minor league Oklahoma City Dodgers, an affiliate of the Los Angeles team. For a great view of the field, the Hampton Inn & Suites (AAA Three Diamonds) has a number of rooms overlooking the diamond.
Along Broadway, just north of downtown, is Automobile Alley, once home to 52 auto dealers. Now the strip houses chic boutiques like Plenty Mercantile (with so many things you didn’t know you needed), Rawhide Ranch Co. (Santa Fe style), and Urbane (upscale gifts and home décor).
Whether you’re craving a great burger (S&B), pizza (Hideaway), steak (oh-so-upscale Red Prime Steakhouse), or bread pudding topped with apple pie moonshine sauce (Hillbilly Po’ Boys and Oysters), you’ll find it–and so many more options–here.
Just west of Automobile Alley is Midtown, another foodie heaven. You can eat around the world in a few blocks with Café do Brasil, 1492 (New World Latin cuisine), and Stella (Italian). Brand-new Fassler Hall is a German-style bier haus, with a bowling alley downstairs. What a combo: kegs and keglers.
On the last Friday of the month starting in spring and continuing through fall, the outdoor H&8th Night Market is a fun street festival featuring gourmet food trucks. It’s located on Hudson Avenue between Northwest Sixth and Northwest 10th streets. Also in the neighborhood is Bleu Garten, a permanent food truck park. Parking is at a premium in the area; stay at the convenient boutique Ambassador Hotel (AAA Three Diamonds) and allow the valet to park your car.
More TO EXPLore
Oklahoma City has its own Western vibe in Stockyards City. See live cattle auctions on Mondays and Tuesdays and shop the area for authentic cowboy clothes.
Cattlemen’s Restaurant has been a fixture here since 1910. Get a great steak and enjoy the story of how the restaurant once changed hands with the roll of the dice. Don’t miss a Saturday night show at the Rodeo Opry–good entertainment at a great price.
A visit to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is a must for fans of all things Western. Located on the city’s north side, it gives a grand picture of the art and culture of the West.
In the Boathouse District, cutting-edge buildings house first-rate training facilities for Olympic and Paralympic competitors and plenty of opportunities for activities for all. Rental bikes and boats are available here, as is a wild experience called the Sandridge Sky Trail. A climbing adventure with six levels of difficulty, the facility offers thrill-seekers wearing safety harnesses the exciting chance to jump from the top of the 80-foot structure or zip-line 700 feet across the Oklahoma River.
Oklahoma City’s attractions make it a great destination. Its citizens and their spirit make it a great city. Visit and see for yourself.
Elaine Warner is a contributor from Edmond, Okla.
March/April 2015 Issue
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