A Staycation Celebration
The joys of seeing Oklahoma like a tourist
The avant-garde, art-filled 21c Museum Hotel
Over the last six months, you’ve planned every detail of your upcoming and much-needed getaway to some far-flung city.
Indulgent meals at award-winning restaurants. Wandering among timeless relics and priceless works of art. A morning stroll through a storybook park under a sunrise akin to a Monet, followed by a day of casual outdoor adventure. Since you’re away from the kids, you might even have a night on the town, pulsing with live music and excess, knowing full well that you can kick the next day’s hangover down the road another 24 hours with bottomless mimosas and yet another world-class meal, toasting that dream destination that you’re finally checking off your bucket list.
Suddenly – as you zip your suitcase, turn off the lights and call an Uber to the airport – your Tuesday meeting moves to Monday and Thursday’s site visit shifts to Friday. Before you know it, that 12-course tasting menu of seared this and locally sourced that yields to yet another depressing Postmates delivery, and rather than a morning saunter amid exotic flora and fauna, you’re stubbing your toe on office furniture, wondering whether you’ll ever get away.
But hold on; last-minute changes of plans aside, this scenario isn’t actually dire. While it might not include art at the Louvre or street food hot off the curbs of Bangkok, with a little bit of imagination, a staycation in Oklahoma City can be a terrific placeholder for that once-in-a-lifetime that just got kicked to 2021. OKC has evolved from the “place where we live” to a “place that people want to go.” New hotels and restorations of historic properties have generated stylish lodging opportunities, visionary chefs have brought about an explosive food scene and with a new contemporary museum on the horizon, the city’s museums continue to develop as tourism opportunities.
More and more, Oklahomans are walking out their doors and heading downtown to experience Oklahoma City as if they were tourists in their own metro. This sentiment is exactly why, when looking for a getaway, taking a weekend to look at our city through the lens of a visitor could be as restorative as a weekend at the beach.
“I think locals often overlook what’s in their own backyard. And sometimes we get stuck in a rut; going to our favorite restaurants and not trying something new,” says Tabbi Burwell of Visit OKC. “Our food scene is making headlines. Our attractions are bringing in renowned traveling exhibits, and developers are wanting to build in OKC.”
21c’s Melanie Briley echoes that sentiment. “The wonderful thing about making the decision to book a staycation in your hometown is that you get to explore your city with new eyes – as if it was for the first time,” says Briley. “I think we all take for granted that we live in a culturally and historically significant city and state. Rather than merely driving through downtown on the way to work without really taking time to notice the change around us, a staycation allows for an appreciation and sense of pride for new attractions, restaurants, exhibits, even completed construction.”
There is no time like the present to book a staycation, and Burwell assures us that, in terms of being a world-class destination, there’s no stopping Oklahoma City. “I can say – there’s so much new coming to OKC that it’s really hard to keep up with all of the offerings, and that’s a great feeling,” she says. “Oklahoma City is about to be an entirely new city. From the Convention Center to Scissortail Park to the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, and the connectivity the streetcar provides to get to many of our downtown major attractions, there’s a buzz and excitement already around.”
For ages, mention “Oklahoma” and “art” in the same sentence and, to most Oklahomans, little came to mind. Perhaps a smattering of western art and bronzes at the Cowboy Hall of Fame or a stroll through the Paseo District. Now though, as the Oklahoma Museum of Art continues to grow, 21c Museum Hotel thrives and Oklahoma Contemporary’s immense new facility goes up on Broadway, Oklahoma City’s art scene is changing the soul of the city. One could easily spend a weekend exploring the city’s museums and neighborhood art scenes.
Where to stay No brainer: 21c. Most have now been to 21c. We’ve eaten and drunk at Mary Eddy’s, pondered mind-bending art installations and probably spun in the chairs in the theater room. But who from OKC has stayed in one of 21c’s rooms to experience the hotel in its entirety? It’s difficult to imagine a Ford automotive plant being converted into a world-class hotel, but that’s exactly what happened at 21c. Natural light spills through enormous windows, filling the hotel’s varied and well-appointed rooms and suites. Each room’s industrial frame is brought to life with contemporary décor and original artwork, but don’t stay in the room too long … This is only the starting place.
What to do Many of us go to events or touring exhibits at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, but how often does anyone take their time enjoying the many pieces that are there permanently? On this staycation, take your time moving through the museum’s remarkable permanent collection, and when you’re done, stop and see what might be playing in the theater later in the evening. Grab a beautiful lunch at the Museum Café. Nature is an unparalleled artist, so consider a promenade through the Myriad Gardens, and don’t forget to swing over to Deep Deuce to take in the latest display of creativity from captivating gallery Artspace at Untitled. Next, move to the world of street art: Hop in an Uber and make your way to the Plaza District and check out Plaza Walls. Managed by the Oklahoma Mural Syndicate, Plaza Walls is a rotating project featuring murals by some of the city’s top artists, and the project has been so successful that it’s getting a dedicated gallery, opening March 8 during LIVE on the Plaza. Plan your staycation on the first Friday of the month and you can venture to First Fridays on Paseo. On First Fridays, artists all along Oklahoma’s first art district open their doors to the public. Spend an evening not just looking at art but visiting with the artists – and since you’re there, head over to Paseo Grill, where the salmon is among the best in Oklahoma. From there, if there isn’t a film of interest playing at the Museum of Art, check out a live performance, be it theater, ballet, music or otherwise, at the Civic Center before heading back to 21c for a nightcap at Mary Eddy’s Lounge and another pass through the hotel’s incredible art museum.
If you’re eager to dive deeply into your city’s historic narratives, you chose a good place to live. OKC not only has a colorful and varied story, but has done an amazing job of preserving that history – and one easily could spend a weekend learning about just how our city and state have come to be what they are.
Where to stay If history is the theme of your staycation weekend, then you must stay at the most historic hotel – and that is, without a doubt, the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in downtown. Besides being thoroughly stylish, the eight-story, 525-room hotel is the city’s oldest and is noted as one of the Historic Hotels of America.
What to do Since history is what you’re indulging, begin your day at historic Cattlemen’s Steakhouse in Stockyard City. While known for steak dinners, a chicken fried steak breakfast at Cattleman’s is the perfect way to pack calories for a busy day. Next, head to the Oklahoma History Center. This remarkably curated museum takes visitors into multiple aspects of the state’s history, covering topics from the oil industry to aviation; television icons to the Oklahoma City Thunder. “The Oklahoma History Center is a great place to begin the exploration of our state’s historic treasures,” says Director Bob Blackburn. “There, a visitor can see, hear and experience the big picture, from American Indians and land runs to popular culture and free enterprise. The key to appreciating the historic places of the state is understanding how it all fits together. The exhibits at the History Center provide the glue that binds the story into a narrative that makes sense.” You walk out of the History Center prouder to be an Oklahoman.
Cruise down 23rd Street for a fried chicken lunch at Florence’s Restaurant before visiting the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. And – unfortunately – you can’t begin to talk about Oklahoma’s history without mentioning the OKC bombing, and the community response, chronicled in the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Often, we pass this stunning edifice without thought, and those of us who live here can sometimes forget how April 19, 1995, affected our city. A walk through the museum and memorial grounds not only reminds visitors about that horrific day but is a testament to how far we’ve come as a city. For dinner, enjoy a steak at Broadway 10, the cornerstone of Automobile Alley, and end your night with a cocktail at the Skirvin’s Red Piano bar.
A culinary adventure across Oklahoma City is far from limited to one particular area of the metro, but if you had to designate one spot the premier food neighborhood, Midtown would certainly make a case for the title. In fact, with everything from Nonesuch to Kitchen at Commonplace, one’s staycation in Midtown could last a week without eating at the same place twice.
Where to stay At the center of the food mecca that is Midtown is the Ambassador Hotel. The historic art deco boutique hotel first went up in 1928, and 90 years later, it is still one of the city’s most impressive. Inside the hotel is elegant-but-welcoming French bistro Café Cuvee, and on the top floor is O Bar, whose rooftop patio boasts an incredible view of Midtown and beyond. Launch your staycation here as you take in the bird’s-eye view of the restaurants you’ll visit as you eat your way across OKC’s most exciting dining scene.
What to do Saunter out of your hotel and make your way down the street to Waffle Champion for a casual late breakfast or get some healthy fare and drink in the local atmosphere at Elemental Coffee, then meander to Bleu Garten. Although at Bleu Garten beer is king, this outdoor area hums with all kinds of casual games, from Giant Jenga to Cornhole, to pass time between meals. There is always a food truck in case you need a snack. For lunch, be internationally inspired. If Asian sounds good, grab noodles and savory broth at Tamashii Ramen House or incredible Korean barbeque bowls at Gogi Go. If it’s more a Latin American theme that’s calling to you, try 1492 New World Latin Cuisine, Café do Brasil or Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes. Next, try Fassler Hall for some (more) beer and bowling – and perhaps a sausage – before heading back to the Ambassador to polish up. Internationally acclaimed restaurants Nonesuch (make reservations well in advance), and Ludivine are just a short walk away. For some of the best Italian in Oklahoma City, hop on a scooter and proceed a little closer to Film Row for dinner at Patrono, where the sweet potato gnocchi and the carbonara slug it out for best pasta in the metro. Capitals Ice Cream is the stop for a custom dessert, and top it off with a nightcap on the rooftop at O Bar – looking out over the neighborhood whose food scene you just conquered.
It is hard to imagine how adventure might become a central theme to a (flat) urban area, but in the last decade, Oklahoma City has managed to do just that. From our Adventure District (Science Museum Oklahoma, the OKC Zoo, Softball Hall of Fame and Remington Park) to the Boathouse District and the Oklahoma River, one can now have a high-octane adventure without having to leave the 405.
Where to stay Bricktown is just a stone’s throw from the Boathouse District, and the understated yet sophisticated AC Hotel by Marriott, in the heart of Bricktown, is the ideal spot to launch your adventure staycation.
What to do Begin your day with a walk through the Oklahoma City Zoo. Sanctuary Asia, the zoo’s newest exhibition, features a variety of wildlife from all parts of Asia including a Komodo dragon, a cassowary (think colorful ostrich) and delightful red pandas, as well as a new rhino exhibition. Next, you’ll want to go back toward Deep Deuce for lunch at the new La Baguette, then take a trip through the Bricktown Canal on the Water Taxi. And speaking of water, visit Riversport – which opens for the season on the weekend of March 16 with a St. Patrick’s Day surprise – for an afternoon of rafting, kayaking or climbing on the ropes course, followed by a scenic spin on the huge Wheeler Ferris Wheel. Grab dinner in Deep Deuce at The Wedge Pizzeria, or, if you’re wanting something more substantial, try Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse. If you’re craving some night adventure, mix things up at Michael Murphy’s Dueling Piano Bar – because while it’s weird to go to a dueling piano bar in your hometown, you’re on staycation, so piano bars are now a must. And since drinking is an adventure of its own, be sure to stop at The Jones Assembly (on Film Row) or hit up Whiskey Chicks for some live music.
Oh, and if you’re a sports fan, take your pick: The OKC Dodgers return to a newly upgraded baseball diamond at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark April 4, the OKC Thunder are making a playoff positioning push inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, and a new season kicks off for OKC Energy FC soccer club on March 16. All three boast outstanding atmospheres.