I had a great time in Tulsa – thank you, Jack White, for putting it on my radar.
Here’s what I especially loved about it – and why you might want to check it out also.
The aesthetics and the vibe of the downtown area are super cool. I’m always fantasizing about gritty old buildings that can be converted into lofts. In Tulsa’s case, old buildings are most likely to be transformed into bars and restaurants.
The people are super friendly. Everyone was incredibly nice and helpful. I met even more people working in hospitality and the arts than I usually do. And as always, they are absolute fonts of knowledge on what to do (and what to skip) in their cities.
I have written about this before and will do it again now. If you are in a new city, find one spot that you love and sit at the counter. You’ll get the lay of the land very quickly and the best recommendations! And, btw, big shout out to the Hodges Bend staff, especially the bartender (Tyler?) for all the stellar restaurant recommendations.
What impressed me on this trip was how many young Tulsans are moving back to their hometown after living in bigger cities like Denver or New York. They’re excited to be back and from what I can tell are shaking things up, especially on the restaurant scene and the arts.
The culture. Tulsa has a strong art scene. The Philbrook Museum is world-class. But music is really at the heart of the city. I like music, but it’s not “my thing” so I can’t talk about it in depth other than to tell you that almost every conversation in Tulsa will start with what music you’ve seen. Not surprisingly, virtually every bar and restaurant features live music.
Tulsa also benefits from the civic-mindedness of its moneyed families, e.g., the Kaiser family just spent $500 million to create Gathering Place – a state of the art riverside park spanning 66 acres along the Arkansas River. It includes an enormous skateboarding park, playgrounds including ones specifically for autistic children, bike trails and a spectacular boathouse which features a “cabinet of wonder” art installation by world-renowned artist Mark Dion. It is magnificent. And, on top of that, the Gathering Place has an endowment to keep it FREE in perpetuity.
One thing that perplexed me was Tulsa’s size. To me, it felt like a really small city. It reminded me of Bentonville (pop: 44K). Imagine my surprise when I found that Tulsa city proper has a population of 400K and total Metro Tulsa is almost a million.
Scroll down for my seven top reasons to check out Tulsa. I highly recommend you tack on a few days and visit the city the next time you’re in that neck of the woods.
#1: IT’S GOT A GREAT RESTAURANT SCENE
Hodges Bend – is TOPS. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had been following them on Instagram for a few months and sidled up to the bar and got a fantastic smoky, spicy cocktail. The bartender (see pic below) provided every great tip I got on restaurants.
Duet – LOVED LOVED this place. It’s a restaurant upstairs – and a jazz bar (that I believe serves some food) downstairs. I met great people there. And a special “hi” to the two young women I met while sitting at the bar. Also, the first place I saw “robot fans.”
Mother Road Market – Tulsa’s first food hall. It is jam-packed, a huge hit. Arrive hungry!
Cherry Street Farmer’s Market – this is a small, but mighty, market. And they have everything from produce to kombucha and bone broth.
#2: TULSA’S GOT A GREAT ART SCENE
The Philbrook Museum and Gardens: This is a world-class museum. I especially loved how they installed their Kehinde Wiley. They also have a beautiful Georges Roualt. If you can manage it, try to arrive in time to do the docent-led tour of the Philbrook mansion itself to learn about its history and the family that lived there. And also make sure you check out their gardens – fabulous. And if you’re lucky you might see one of their three museum cats!
Hardesty Arts Center (also known as ahha Tulsa)
Very community and kids-oriented. However, their EXPERIENCE installation on the second floor (modeled after the Meow Wolf concept) is fantastic. Up until December and then will be replaced by a similar project (all very instagrammable).
Gilcrease Museum: Houses the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of art of the American West as well as Native American art. Their George Catlin paintings are magnificent. Sadly, the installations do not match the quality of the art.
The Professional Bull Riders were in town. I got great tickets. But you don’t have to go to the BOK Center to find cowboys in Tulsa – you may run into some on Main Street.
Also, check out Ryan Weaver. He was sitting behind me on the plane to Tulsa (from Charlotte) which is how I learned about the bull riding event. He was the musical entertainment. He has a very unusual and quite tragic life story – worth reading in the link.
#4: TULSA’s FANCY SIDE
The Tulsa Foundation for Architecture offers many different tours of the city. It’s a great way to learn more about the history of the city and see some of the spectacular art deco architecture.
#5: SOME WEIRD FUN & ADVENTURE
Amtgard: Discovered this while wandering through Woodward Park. They battle it out every Saturday at 1 PM. Amtgard is a battle gaming and live-action fantasy roleplaying and boffer combat game with chapters primarily based in the United States and Canada as well as Germany, Croatia, and South Korea.
This is a world-class park with activities for one and all – but it seems to be primarily built with kids in mind. It was over 100 degrees the day I visited, and I was too busy trying to stay hydrated to take many pics.
#6: COOL AND QUIRKY
#7: TULSA’S GRITTY SIDE
AND, FINALLY, THE ONE AND ONLY ANNOYING THING….e-scooters, everywhere!
If you can’t tell, I had an amazing time. Thank you, Tulsa!
Now on to Denver.