The 405 Checklist
Local coolness to see, do and enjoy in the coming year
When compiling a bucket list for the 405 area, we did it with one very important caveat. The term gained prominence after the 2007 film of the same name, in which Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman went on a quest to do things they had always wanted to do before a terminal disease overtook them. The caveat: we are not saying 2016 is your last year, so think of this as a list of things to do this year, not before you die.
Now that Oklahoma City is getting so much national attention, including status as one of National Geographic’s must-see locations for 2015, some of us have to shake off the old idea that there just is not much to do here. Clearly, people not from our city have assessed our offerings and found them worth a trip.
With that as inspiration, it makes sense to think about a 405 bucket list as places or activities that are part of the quintessential Oklahoma experience. This is not just a matter of where you would take a visitor from out of state; it’s also a list of places and activities that are woven into our cultural narrative as Okies, and so meant to be enjoyed and appreciated by us, too.
One of the major misconceptions around here for years was that we only had food and sports as activities, and while they did dominate for a long time, there were always extra options. With our amazing growth and development over the past decade, the choices have increased – and while we want to talk about the new, we also want to highlight the tried and true, and the less traveled.
Go Play Outside
Some of our state’s most beautiful locations are outside the 405 – Black Mesa, Quartz Mountain and Beaver’s Bend come immediately to mind – but there are plenty of options inside the area too.
Just south of Lake Overholser is the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge, a spot that is popular with paddleboard enthusiasts but largely unknown to much of the general public. Recommended for kayaking, canoeing and paddling, Stinchcomb connects to Lake Overholser and the North Canadian River, making it possible to see parts of Oklahoma City, Bethany and Yukon in one continuous trip.
Kerry Myers teaches paddleboard yoga at Stinchcomb twice a week during summer – apparently just staying on the board is not quite yoga but should be – and she said she loves the proximity to the city, both for convenience and safety. In addition to the sports on the waterways, Stinchcomb is great for biking, birdwatching (especially waterfowl) biking and foraging.
Myers forages in all seasons, even winter. “I go out there for oyster mushrooms and soapberries in winter, and persimmons start to ripen in late fall or early winter,” she says.
You won't find wild berries there, but a new source for fun on the water is coming to the still-in-progress Boathouse District. Scheduled to open in May 2016, the Riversport Rapids will add an exciting whitewater experience to an area of the city that combines some of the best things about our home: natural beauty, architectural treasures, collaborative community offerings between corporations, organizations, universities and citizens and the ongoing development of our city, thanks to MAPS dollars.
Before Riversport Rapids opens, you can still get out to the district to enjoy stand up paddleboarding, kayaking, dragon boating and rowing. Play areas are available for kids with age-appropriate entertainment options. And while you are there, you also have to take advantage of the zip line.
You’re scared of heights? The SandRidge Sky Zip is only about 80 feet above the water. That’s probably less than all the Thunder players standing on each other’s shoulders. However, this is a bucket list, and doing it is the important part. So close your eyes if you must, but if you leave them open, you can check out the Oklahoma River as you make the 700-foot trip over (way over) the river, traversing it safely while tucked into your harness.
Get Some Culture
Miki Kawamura may be the greatest “thing” in Oklahoma right now. The principal dancer for the Oklahoma City Ballet is mesmerizing. We love our sports around here, clearly, and while it’s amazing to have two of the greatest athletes in the world – Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – in our city, there is a reason sportswriters use dance metaphors to describe athletic achievement.
Shane Jewell, executive director of OKC Ballet, says of Kawamura, “The artistry she brings to the company magnifies the talent of the company exponentially. More importantly, Miki is unique in that ballet is a nomadic craft by design. Dancers come and go, but Miki has made Oklahoma City her own, and she gives everything because she cares so deeply for this community.”
The commitment to her craft, the grace, the perfect hand position, the mind-bending body control and the beautiful, blinding smile that allows the naïve to believe that what she is doing is so simple that she does it effortlessly … all mark her as a superior artist and athlete. The ballet season runs from fall through early spring (the season in progress has installments pending in February and April), so catch a show, at least one. If non-narrative storytelling is not your thing, go to “The Nutcracker.” There are multiple performances every December, and the new sets Devon helped make possible in 2014 cause this old, familiar story to burst with new life.
For the more bookish or studious, the city and surrounding areas have amazing museums. A teacher once said that all kids are artists, but at some point, we put the crayons down, or the pen or the brush or the guitar. A few labor on and make an art of a task, but most of us choose to become consumers of the arts. Museums can help you rekindle that love you had of art – and, yes, science – as a child.
The Oklahoma City Museum of Art has regular traveling installations that feature masterpieces old and new. The Chihuly collection has a permanent home on the third floor, and if you have never seen it, you will be amazed what glass can do for your sense of wonder and appreciation for life’s whimsical side.
Want to keep your kid interested in science or find your inner nerd? Science Museum Oklahoma is interactive and fun. Really fun. Half the problem with science in our culture is that we lose sight of how fun it actually is, and not just blowing stuff up or setting things on fire. For the dinosaur lovers – everyone, right? – the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History on the campus of the University of Oklahoma has dinosaurs … well, bones anyway. The Hall of Ancient Life is only one of the permanent exhibits, though, and the museum is truly one of the most educational and fascinating places in the state.
Art is more than a passion or hobby for some people; it is actually how they make a living. As part of the list, why not add “buy local art?” Organizations such as the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition (OVAC) and Individual Artists of Oklahoma (IAO) host events several times a year where you can meet local artists and buy their work.
We recommend 12 x 12 from OVAC, as it features art made to that specific size (12 inches by 12 inches), meaning it will fit anywhere in your home or office. Also recommended: Red Dot, IAO’s annual fundraiser. If you don’t want to wait for events, drive over to The Paseo the first Friday evening of each month. You can meet artists working late in their galleries, and you can actually buy things that look amazing on your walls. Your aunt will never know you threw away the “Wives, Submit to your Husbands” cross stitch she made for your wedding gift.
Lights, Camera, Road Trip
Because no one needs yet another Griswold reference, and because all reviews of Chickasha’s Festival of Lights are variations of, “It’s really beautiful,” we’re just going to recommend you go see what 3.5 million lights look like – when they’re on, obviously. That means you will need to wait until November, but the drive south along Interstate 44 will be worth it. The display is in Shannon Springs Park, and you can stay warm in your car as you drive through. If you don’t like lights, they also have donkeys (for the live nativity), and everyone loves donkeys.
The deadCENTER Film Festival started in 2001, and what began as a couple of friends showing flicks by local filmmakers has morphed into a genuinely international film festival. Held in June every year, the event brings together artists and technicians from all over the world to screen films, offer classes and panels and meet with fans. Movie junkies already know about deadCENTER, but if you like film at all, this is a must-do.
To make attendance simpler, deadCENTER screens films in multiple locations and at multiple times. Single event tickets are easy to come by if you just want to test the waters, but all-access passes are also available. Nearly every category is represented, including shorts, and where else are you going to see shorts? YouTube does not count.
The 405 is also home to one of the best bluegrass festivals in the world. Our weird neighbor to the north, Guthrie, hosts the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival every October. Don’t worry about that terminology, by the way; they’re proud of it. They have street parties called “Keep Guthrie Weird.”
International is not hyperbole. The 2015 festival featured artists from Japan, Sweden, Italy and Canada. (To be fair, Canada is basically Northern America, but they count.) Byron Berline, one of the greatest musicians and storytellers in bluegrass music, makes his home in Guthrie, and it’s possible he helps to draw names such as Suzy Bogguss, Kathy Mattea and John Fullbright. The 2016 festival will be the 20th anniversary.
Do It Yourself
Every once in a while you do something out of the ordinary, something way off the well-trod path of your habits, and you realize you will definitely keep doing this new thing. Bucket lists should include activities that force you to create something, to make a mark, to contribute something, to do something that does not necessarily benefit you. The options here range from the artistic to the philanthropic.
Virtually hidden away just north of NW 10th and Western is Blue Sage Studios, a venue/gallery/studio that's home to glassblowers. The exciting news is that you can learn how to make glass ornaments of your very own because Blue Sage offers classes through the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. How many kids did not want to combine liquid glass and fire?
If booze is more your thing, why not brew your own beer in 2016? Or make your own wine? The Brew Shop on N Penn has been helping people make beer and wine since 1995. While that’s not as long as Trappist monks in Belgium, it is an excellent track record for a local business. It doesn’t even matter what your preferred style is; there’s a kit for it, even if you believe hops is a gift of the gods rather than the bitter pill it actually resembles in flavor.
Clayton Bahr has been working with local businesses and charities for many years every Thanksgiving. His annual Turkey Tango combines the efforts of chefs and restaurants around the city to provide a chef-made meal for the homeless every Thanksgiving. Surprisingly, his advice is that you not volunteer on Thanksgiving.
“There are more volunteers on Thanksgiving than people who need to be fed,” Bahr says. “Volunteer other times of the year when resources are scarce; everyone gives during the holidays.”
Using that solid advice as a guide, pick a reputable charity and give your time for a worthwhile cause. Popular choices around the metro include the Regional Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, OKC Beautiful, Bella Foundation, Other Options and many, many more. Honestly, a simple Google search will yield more opportunities than you can imagine, and it doesn’t matter what breaks your heart; there is a way to help unbreak the world.
Some Call It Religion
Without belaboring a point: sports. Some of you are rolling your eyes, but we offer hope, not just the same old recipe. If you love football or basketball, you absolutely should see a Thunder game, or go to an OU or OSU football game. Tens of thousands of people packed into one location to cheer for “their team” creates amazing energy and camaraderie – just ignore the hooligans.
However, if you can’t imagine being a spectator at the country’s most popular professional sports (college or otherwise – that’s a sports joke for the insiders), options abound, beginning with roller derby. Sometimes the difficulty of enjoying sports is knowing the rules, and if you think only newbies get confused about them, just tune into sports radio when they open the phones for your neighbors to talk.
Roller derby is amazing for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a rare opportunity for women to be commended for being violent and aggressive. Second, and this is crucial, the rules are pretty basic, beginning with this: The job of the jammer is simply to lap as many opposing skaters as possible without suffering too much physical mayhem. There are a few teams from which to choose in the metro area, and their seasons are typically in spring and summer.
While we are on the subject of female athletes, Oklahoma City gets to play host to one of the best collegiate contests in any sport. The NCAA Women’s College World Series is at Hall of Fame Stadium every June. If you consider baseball too slow and boring, collegiate softball takes the good parts and does them better. Whether or not you have a daughter who plays, this is one event that will make you exceptionally proud of our city, and you’ll also be amazed at the level of athleticism.
To be fair to baseball, it is a grand old game, and we are lucky to have the Dodgers in town. The Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark is one of the best home stadiums in the minor leagues, and fans are regularly treated to good baseball. However, you may have noticed that a new sport is slowly taking over in our city, state and country. The Oklahoma City Energy Football Club has exceeded everyone’s expectations for professional soccer in the state. You need not join The Grid to enjoy a game, but you will enjoy OKC’s rowdiest fans if you sit close.
Real Religion, Sort Of
Before getting to the serious business of spiritual or peaceful retreat locations, we should mention an Oklahoma City institution that almost deserves its own category. Sunday Gospel Brunch at The Boom is strictly adults only, and if you are easily offended, this is definitely not for you. However, if the idea of drag queens Kitty Bob Aimes and Norma Jean Goldstein doing a lowbrow mash-up of old-time AM radio preachers, Sunday School puppets and televangelist kitsch sounds amazing, just know that it is. The hosts do two shows every Sunday, and if you volunteer when asked, well, that is on you.
Retreats are good for the soul, or if you don’t like soul talk, they are good for recharging, inspiration or simple rest. St. Francis of the Woods near Coyle is an ecumenical retreat center for individuals or groups. Not only is it located in the middle of beautiful countryside, there is a gorgeous chapel and well-stocked library for those needing contemplation, meditation or learning. Take a weekend and disconnect from the electronic hum that follows us all.
► Any list like this will be the product of curating, which is to say, some things will inevitably be left out due to space or bias, and some will be overlooked. For example, things that easily could have made the list include ghost hunting, the Masonic Temple in Guthrie, Pops, Martin Nature Park, the Philharmonic, Red Earth and more things than we could possibly list. Perhaps the best approach is to take the list and just add to it. We really have become a remarkable city in a remarkable state, and that people are finally noticing is testimony to the kindness, curiosity, creativity and Okie-ness of our wonderful neighbors, be they native or not. Have a marvelous, adventurous 2016.