“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.
“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.
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….
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!
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:
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:
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:
- Gorged on fluffy #AllHotNButtered biscuits for breakfast at HunnyBunny Biscuit Company.
- Eaten a delightful meal at the bar at Cheever’s Cafe near the refrigerated flower cabinet that now holds wine (Cheever’s used to be a florist.)
- Had excellent Mexican food at Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes in a light-filled, airy space across the street from the bocce ball courts that you see at the top of this post.
- Not a new place, but McClintock Saloon & Chop House in OKC’s historic Stockyards City serves up an affordable steak for lunch that will check the box for “eat beef in a stockyard,” without costing much.
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.
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.
Here are some of mine when I’m in town:
- The beautiful Banjo Museum in Bricktown (later, maybe after dinner, take a nighttime ride with the Bricktown Water Taxi.) Another niche favorite is the American Pigeon Museum and Library.
- Crystal Bridge tropical and desert plantings conservatory at Myriad Botanical Gardens.
- OKC’s Museum of Art … or at least go in to see the giant Chihuly glass sculpture in the lobby.
- In the Plaza District, The Mule for grilled cheese and craft beer, and/or Pie Junkie for incredible pie.
- The Wedge in Deep Deuce for pizza.
- Make a run a little to the north of OKC to POPS on old Route 66 near Edmond, for their dazzling soda collection and soda bottle sculpture in front.
- The sobering yet beautiful Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, especially at night.
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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