Cool, Cool Summer: Ideas for Fun in the OKC Sun
Photos by Simon Hurst
Photo by Simon Hurst
Ideas for Fun in the Sun (and Indoors) Around the Metro and Beyond
It could happen within a week, or it might take a couple of months, but at some point during summer vacation, most parents will come to a place where they cry out the words …“Will school NEVER start?!”
Long, lazy days at home with nothing in particular to do are a welcome break from the formal routine of school. Experts have even found that long spates of unstructured free time are key in developing children’s creativity and problem-solving abilities, and the opportunity for that is usually in short supply during the (often over-scheduled) school year.
It is possible to get too much of a good thing, however. No matter how beneficial the chance to relax is for kids, and despite every parent’s best intentions about encouraging creativity when the “B” word (bored) comes out, we all know that at some point, you just need to get out of the house.
Whether it’s for a change of scenery, the opportunity to make some special memories, or to keep you from tearing your hair out, here’s a list of kid-friendly adventures around the metro and surrounding areas, with a few day trip ideas thrown in for good measure.
► Myriad Botanical Gardens
301 W. Reno, Oklahoma City, 405.445.7080 oklahomacitybotanicalgardens.com
In addition to the gardens and Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory, the Myriad Botanical Gardens offer a wealth of activities for a variety of ages, both moderately priced and free. Starting June 16, the younger set will have the chance for a different activity each day of the week, in the form of Weekly Walk Ups on the Children’s Garden Porch (no official charge, but a donation of at least $2 is suggested) and the whole family can enjoy the Sonic Summer Movie Series in July, on the Great Event Lawn. There’s even a dog park for the family pet, and the Thunder Fountain water feature is free to the public. Rules for both can be found on the Myriad Botanical Gardens’ website, along with a monthly calendar to keep you apprised of upcoming events.
► Riversport Adventures the Boathouse District
725 S. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City 405.552.4040, boathousedistrict.org
The Boathouse District isn’t just for boating – if you have kids who aren’t into kayaking or paddleboarding but have a need for adventure anyway, there’s plenty of use for their adrenaline on the SandRidge SkyTrail adventure course, the zip line or the three rock walls. If you have older children interested in the many camps or classes available, and need to entertain younger siblings, there’s a Youth Zone with downsized versions of the SkyTrail and zipline, as well as a Cloud Bounce and bungee jump. June 2015 also marks the opening of the Lake Overholser adventures; bike rentals, kayaking and paddleboard lessons and rentals, as well as a double zip line, giant swing and pedal boats. Call the Welcome Center before your visit to make sure all activities are operational (several have wind limitations) and to get counseling about your choices for passes. Hourly, single adventure options are available, as are day and season passes for individuals and families.
► Wake Zone
3501 N.E. 10th Oklahoma City, 405.702.4040 cablewakezone.com
If your family is in the market for a new thrill, Wake Zone may be your new happy place this summer. Instead of being pulled behind a boat, wakeboarders (or kneeboarders, waterskiers or wakeskaters) are conveyed through Oklahoma’s only wake park by a system of overhead cables. Situated two miles east of downtown, the ramps dotting the water park may look daunting, but rest assured — the knowledgeable staff will have you and your kids (or … just your kids) on the water in no time. Absolute beginners are welcomed, and although the suggested age for learning is seven years old, private lessons for younger adventure seekers are available. Visit the website for pricing and the all-important waiver. (Parents/guardians must sign in person for those under 18.) In addition to lessons and a variety of passes (hour, day, month and annual), Wake Zone offers a tremendous birthday experience, and summer camp options that in some cases cost “LESS THAN DAY CARE!!” (Wake Zone’s emphasis, not mine.)
► Braum’s Processing Plant and Bakery Tour
Braum’s Family Farm, Tuttle, 405.478.1656
If you have Braum’s devotees in your family (and who doesn’t?), a trip to the Braum’s plant and bakery in Tuttle is a must at some point, and what better time to take advantage of that complimentary ice cream bar than in the summer?
Departing at 9 and 11 a.m., Monday through Friday, the guided, free tour takes you through the Willy Wonka-like workings of this Oklahoma treasure. Kids of all ages can see how their favorite cookie or flavor of ice cream is made, and parents can find new reasons to love Oklahoma’s first family of dairy after watching the video presentation about the farm’s practices. Just be sure to call ahead — the tours are popular and only conducted by reservation.
► Elevation Trampoline Park
14402 N. Lincoln Blvd, Edmond, 1431 N. Moore Ave, Moore, 405.463.3335, elevationtp.com
The quest to wear out energetic kiddos is taken to new heights (literally) at Elevation. A trampoline park with something for everyone, Elevation houses 5,000 square feet of open jumping surface (floors and walls), as well as two sports courts (for extreme versions of dodgeball, volleyball and basketball), a foam pit where timid jumpers can try out tricks, and a Kids’ Court specifically for children ages two to six.
Pro Tip: Complete the waiver (required for all jumpers, as is a signature of a guardian for those under 18) online before leaving home. While the Elevation staff is supremely helpful, and the electronic devices stationed throughout the line for on-site registration a good idea, it takes the keenest of minds and nerves of steel to remember birth dates and other information in the high-octane atmosphere.
► Big Splash Water Park
4707 E. 21st, Tulsa, 918.749.7385, bigsplashwaterpark.net
If you need a way to cool off after a trip to the Oklahoma Aquarium (okaquarium.org) in nearby Jenks, consider making a day (or even a weekend) of it in Tulsa, and visiting the Big Splash Water Park. Home to Oklahoma’s only water roller coaster, the Big Splash Water Park also houses three slides that extend four stories, as well as the 72-foot-tall Silver Bullet. There are wave pools (the larger one has four different types of waves) and the Lazy River for the more relaxed fun seekers, and the Activity Pool and Little Splash areas ensure that there are enough attractions for family members of every size. Comfortable cabanas placed throughout the park won’t fool you into thinking you’re in the Bahamas, but they will help you manage your sun exposure, and avoid that atomic burn so often associated with a day at a water park.
►Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive, Oklahoma City, 405.236.3100, okcmoa.com
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art is a haven for culturally conscious children’s activities during any season, but school vacations present the chance for young art lovers to extend their learning by attending day camps. Extensions of the wonderful classes offered by the museum year round, the day camps offer opportunities to get a little more in-depth with subjects like sculpture or video production, and topics are often tied to current exhibits. Professional teaching artists lead the classes, which are aimed at kids aged 4 to 16, and a presentation of students’ work complete with reception finishes up the week. The museum is closed on Mondays, so the “week” of day camp is only four days long. Requirements and specifics can be found online (okcmoa.com/learn/classes-camps/youth-classes-workshops/camps/), and enrolling as early as possible is suggested – popular camps fill up quick.
Free for All No-Cost Options for Summer Fun
If The Many Activity Choices Have You Overwhelmed, And If The Prospective Cost Has You Considering A Second Mortgage, Remember That There Are Always Some Free Options For Fun In And Around The Metro Area.
The Metropolitan Library System has an array of choices for toddlers to teens. In addition to the summer reading program (kids earn rewards for reading and logging their efforts), there are story times for preschool and elementary children (as well as a popular program where children can read to dogs), and events for teens that include everything from book clubs to movie nights. Visit metrolibrary.org to find a library hosting a program that tickles your child’s fancy.
The first Monday of every month is admission-free at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History (snomnh.ou.edu/), and there’s never a charge for entry at the Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art in Norman (ou.edu/fjjma.html).
On temperate days, some of the city’s lovely parks can provide picnic opportunities. The 121 acre Hafer Park in Edmond is a perennial favorite (visit edmondok.com for info), as is Martin Nature Park, at 5000 W. Memorial in Oklahoma City (okc.gov/parks/martin_park/).
The Route 66 Park (9901 N.W. 23rd, Oklahoma City), boasts the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department’s largest playground, as well as an observation tower that allows you to scan the park’s ponds and Lake Overholser. When the temperature heats up, knowledge of where to find a good splash park can give everyone a chance to cool down without forking over a fortune at the pool.
Not sure where to find a free splash pad near you? Visit okc.gov/parks/pools/spraygrounds.html to download a map of pools and splash pads around the metro. Grab it out of your glove compartment and amaze your friends when the going gets tough, and the tough get hot and cranky.
Downtown Oklahoma City spokiesokc.com
For a fun spin on a day downtown, rent bikes through one of the seven Spokies kiosks and traipse through the streets to your hearts’ content. (Or, rather, traipse in 30 minute intervals, checking your Spokie back in and out again; while a day pass is good for 24 hours, you must check the bike into a kiosk every half hour to avoid extra charges). If you have a great time and want to repeat the experience, you can always purchase a monthly or yearly membership. (Yearly memberships can only be purchased online). While a seven-year-old with good bicycle skills could easily handle one of the single-speed cruisers (seats are adjustable), a good height guideline for comfort is five feet tall, according to the Spokies’ official website. (The site also has a list of frequently asked questions, if you want to familiarize yourself with the process beforehand.) Two important things to bring; a helmet and your credit card. No cash or debit cards are accepted, and head protection is totally on you. However, it’s well worth the extra effort; experiencing downtown on two wheels is a surefire memory maker.
► Oklahoma Children’s Theatre
2501 N. Blackwelder, Oklahoma City 405.606.7003 , oklahomachildrenstheatre.org
Located on the campus of Oklahoma City University, the Oklahoma Children’s Theatre is both a theatre for young audiences and a center for classes, camps and workshops for budding actors. The theatre’s season is divided between productions aimed at children aged 1st through 5th grade, and 5th grade and older; there’s also usually at least one co-production with OCU. You can see an overview of the upcoming season and order tickets through the website for the June production of “James and the Giant Peach,” or July’s offering, “Into the Woods, Jr.,” and you can also find information about classes, summer camps and even volunteer opportunities for theatre-minded teens.
For The Harried Parent Looking For One-Stop-Shopping In The Recreation Department This Summer, Two Choices Loom Large On Opposite Sides Of The Metro; HeyDay And Main Event.
Both offer multiple activities for a wide age range of children that can also hold appeal for adults, and they each feature menus that will please a variety of palates. (If you’re a parent, teriyaki meatballs and a glass of merlot certainly won’t hurt the fun quotient). Each has unique aspects which might sway your initial choice but both are well worth considering.
Main Event, located at 1441 W. Memorial Road in north Oklahoma City, is part of a Dallas-based regional chain of super-sized entertainment centers. In addition to bowling, the Oklahoma City branch offers laser tag, a ropes course, an arcade and billiards tables and grown up menu items (both food and drink) in addition to kid standards like pizza and chicken nuggets. We’ve all been scarred by experiences with pizza at arcades – I won’t mention names, although a certain rodent with a “cheesy” appellation comes to mind – but Main Event is endeavoring to reinvent that association, with offerings like Italian Pesto pizza, and a veggie alternative with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts.
If your passion is pool, then you’ll appreciate the multiple billiards tables at Main Event. If the gaming part of your visit is important, then the sizable arcade will enhance your experience. The company’s website (mainevent.com) has explanations of the features and specials (you can sign up for their newsletter to receive additional alerts about discounts and promotions), and a menu.
While the activities and upscale food choices are similar to those offered at Main Event, the atmosphere at HeyDay, on 3201 Market Place in Norman, is decidedly different. Instead of making the impression of a kids’ place that has been made tolerable for adults, HeyDay comes across as an adult venue that is also comfortable for children.
No warehouse-like open floor plans here; the sleek furnishings and sectioned activity zones reduce noise, allowing for a more relaxed mood than you would think possible in a family fun center. (HeyDay does term themselves a “Family Fun Center,” for the record, but it’s worth noting that their facility is used as often for adult group gatherings and corporate meetings as it is family outings). An upstairs area is reserved for patrons 21 years of age and older, and features additional bowling lanes and a bar/lounge.
The arcade is not as large as Main Event’s, but the laser tag experience is unrivaled. The co-owners’ hearts are solidly in laser tag, and they’ve made sure that the facility is top notch. HeyDay is locally owned and operated, and committed to excellent customer and community relations, which is a definite plus – and sometimes, unfortunately, a dramatic difference when it comes to attractions like this.
Be sure to visit the website (heydayfun.com) or call ahead (405.310.3500) to reserve your spot. Activities are scheduled by time slots, and while walk-ins are welcome, there could be a wait time.