What’s New in Oklahoma City?

Oklahoma City bocce ball court in a former empty lot Midtown OKC (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Oklahoma City bocce ball court in a former empty lot in the Midtown OKC district. Game rules are included in the mural. (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

“Since you last visited us, we’ve moved a freeway” is one of my favorite comments from my OKC friend Seth.

He said that to me way back in 2013, when I wrote about the city’s exceptional urban planning and how OKC’s faith in apparent “bridges to nowhere” was in reality a sweeping vision of what a city’s downtown could be with a lot of imagination, determination, and voters agreeing to a sales tax to fund it through their MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) plan.

If you don’t know OKC at all, I recommend Sam Anderson’s fun, fast-paced book Boom Town, which I snagged at OKC’s Commonplace Books. It is….

“The fantastical saga of Oklahoma City, it chaotic founding, its apocalyptic weather, its purloined basketball team [the OKC Thunder,] and the dream of becoming a world-class metropolis.”

On a recent visit, my business partner Leslie and I took in some of the newer sights:

They Built It and People Came – Wheeler District

You can see houses and neighborhoods going up, and there’s a regular Tuesday night bike race and festival – visitors will want to head to Wheeler Park.

It’s a new gathering place near downtown that has a skyline view, the original Santa Monica, California Ferris wheel purchased by a local developer on eBay for US$132,400, and an irresistible Instagram-ready set of letters.

Sheila and Leslie from Tourism Currents in OKC Wheeler Park Oklahoma City

Of course it was windy – it is Oklahoma! Sheila Scarborough and Leslie McLellan At Wheeler Park in Oklahoma City.

A covered area features live music concerts, and there is yoga on the lawn.

Kudos to the park developers who thought through how to make a place welcoming, including plenty of places to literally hang out and relax….

Hammocks in Wheeler Park near the Ferris Wheel in Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Rope hammocks on a curve in Wheeler Park near the Ferris wheel in Oklahoma City. Get yourself in there carefully after a rain shower.  (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Still to come in the Wheeler District: a school and an urban farm.

New Additions to the Boathouse District

The Boathouse District itself is not new – its facilities are a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for rowing and kayaking, and Riversport Adventures include whitewater rafting, the Sky Trail rope-based confidence course, kayaking, SUP (Stand Up Paddle Boarding) and more – but they are always adding new features.

I had a chance to check out the Sky Trail when it first opened – what a view!

Sheila on Sky Trail challenge in Oklahoma City Boathouse District (photo courtesy OKC CVB)

Checking out the then-new Sky Trail challenge in 2013 in Oklahoma City’s Boathouse District (photo courtesy OKC CVB)

There are now free outdoor fitness courts for circuit training, and the SandRidge Sky Zip zipline across the Oklahoma River.

If you’ve never been to the Boathouse District, stop by at night.

We dodged a thunderstorm to catch a shot of the futuristic, built-like-a-boat-bow boathouse buildings that are lit with neon:

Leslie McLellan with Tourism Currents at Oklahoma City's Boathouse District at night (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Leslie McLellan with Tourism Currents at Oklahoma City’s Boathouse District at night (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Get Around on the New Streetcar

I did not have a chance to personally take a ride on Oklahoma City’s new streetcar lines, which drove me crazy because they kept gliding sleekly past as I ran around downtown on a short sightseeing visit.

The city has done an excellent job of designating districts and neighborhoods with clear signage and distinct personalities, but you used to need a car to easily hop from one to the other (although nothing is very far apart in OKC and traffic is reasonable.)

Now many districts are stitched together in a coherent way:

New in Oklahoma City street car route map courtesy okcstreetcar website

Oklahoma City street car route map (courtesy okcstreetcar website – click the image to go to the source)

When Kansas City, Missouri opened their streetcar line, businesses along the route did very well as visitors planned hop-on-hop-off trips, and could poke around behind corners and explore more easily. I expect the same thing to happen in OKC.

Here is a city government video about the streetcar project – it shows how it ties into the MAPS plan, and there is a neat explanation of laying the tracks for it, too. They wiggle!

Places to Eat, Shop, and Stay

Every time I go to OKC, there is a new place to eat, plus there are all the Old School places that I haven’t tried yet.

Most recently, I’ve:

Roasted chicken enchiladas at Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes in Midtown Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Roasted chicken enchiladas, Mexican street corn, and ancho-agave Brussels sprouts plus roasted sweet potatoes at Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes in Midtown Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

I never have time to do much shopping – good thing for my budget – but there are a cluster of shops in Midtown OKC to investigate, including The Black Scintilla boutique and Chirps & Cheers stationery store/office supplies.

My favorite shop in the Plaza District, Collected Thread, is now occupied by DNA Galleries, still selling interesting handcrafted items that you won’t find everywhere.

Historic hotels like the Colcord and the Skirvin get a thumbs up from me, but now there is also the 21c Museum Hotel, and I drove past the Ambassador in Midtown which I hear has a killer rooftop bar and is not far from one of my places to live like a local at breakfast, Waffle Champion.

Don’t Miss the Old Favorites

With all of the new things to see and do, it’s hard to work in the old favorites, but I try to hit a few of them when I can.

Beautiful craftsmanship at the Banjo Museum in Bricktown Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Beautiful craftsmanship at the Banjo Museum in Bricktown, Oklahoma City (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Here are some of mine when I’m in town:

Field of Empty Chairs and reflecting pool at night at Oklahoma City National Memorial (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Field of Empty Chairs and reflecting pool at night at Oklahoma City National Memorial (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

A final note: way back in 2010, I was all excited about the new American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, which was then under construction and supposedly going to open “in a few years.” Unfortunately it ran into the Great Recession and funding issues. I was SO excited to learn recently that building is back on track, and now they plan to open in spring 2021. This place is going to be spectacular, and will fill somewhat of a void in a city that is smack dab in the middle of a state that used to be called “Indian Territory.”

To stay up to date with the many changes in Oklahoma City, keep an eye on this post about what’s new in OKC.

Did I miss anything? Let me know down in the comments.

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