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How To Spend A Day In Tulsa, Oklahoma

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

As I begin writing this blog post, my inner musical nerd can’t stop singing the Wicked song “One Short Day.” During the number, Elphaba and Glinda are trying to do and see as many things as they can in the Emerald City. Everything is new and exciting, and that’s exactly how I feel when I’m only visiting a place for a day. It’s almost like you experience a rush of adrenaline for 24 hours because you know you’re leaving at the end of it.

I’ve traveled to many cities for just a day. Some of these trips were for work, and others were a Saturday getaway because they were within driving distance from where I lived. Day trips are a lot of fun, in my opinion, but they’re also short, so you must plan in advance to get as much out of it as you’re hoping for.

My day in Tulsa was mostly planned beforehand. Since I was meeting up with a friend and had never been there before, it wasn’t hard to create an itinerary. I wanted to go to the best places there and enjoy some of its hidden gems if possible. So, follow along with my day, and I’ll share some ideas for your first-time Tulsa experience.

What to start with? Breakfast, of course. There are many options in Tulsa, from brunch places to coffee shops to diners. Because of my goal to see Route 66 places (and write about them later), I chose a diner called Tally’s Good Food Cafe. It has the vintage look of a diner, the quick food of a diner and the nice staff of a diner. What was surprising were the cinnamon rolls — they were the size of a regular plate! I could only eat some of it after my breakfast and packed up the rest.

After you’re fat and happy, spend the morning at The Gathering Place. If you have young kids, they’ll love the playground equipment at the park. It’s unique and imaginative. They can enjoy different types of swings, climb towers, bridges and even structures that are in the form of animals. In the warm weather, you can also take them to the boathouse and check out a kayak, paddleboat or canoe on the Arkansas River.

If you don’t have children, feel free to do all of those activities I just mentioned, but you might be more interested in first stopping by the lodge to grab some coffee and sitting down to chat with a friend inside where there’s a nice view (and a fireplace in the fall/winter) or outside on a chair by the river. Or, walk the trails that run through The Gathering Place, which also connect to the River Parks Trail system, to burn off your breakfast.

Next, beat the crowds and visit the Philbrook Museum of Art in the late morning/early afternoon. This breathtaking, historic masterpiece is a definite gem, being that it’s a building with European Renaissance architecture and located in Oklahoma of all places. The grounds and their design are exquisite. Take a stroll around the 25 acres, find a bench where you can sit and take in your peaceful surroundings or chat with friends and sip some wine with a direct overview of the estate.

It’s also a great place for pictures! Just keep in mind that if you’re by yourself, you can’t bring a tripod in unless you have your photography business license. (I learned this the hard way and had to ask random people to take photos of me outside.)

Yes, the building and its gardens are a big draw for the Philbrook Museum, but also keep in mind that it is a museum of art. Inside, you’ll find a variety of exhibits. My favorite was photography reminiscent of the film director Wes Anderson’s work. (If you're aware of the company and Instagram account Accidentally Wes Anderson, then you understand exactly what I’m talking about.)

Depending on how long you like to look at art or want to spend in the gardens, I would say the Philbrook Museum, on average, probably takes about 1.5-2 hours to walk through, including the outdoor part. If you want to stay for lunch, feel free. There’s a restaurant inside called Kitchen 27.

I would have eaten there; however, my friend had a list for me of some eateries downtown to check out, so I found myself at Chimera, a cafe, where I had a power bowl with rice, beans, kale and other greens, salsa and avocado cilantro cream. It was exactly what I needed after a huge breakfast and having future food stops in mind.

After lunch, my original plan was to go to the Gilcrease Museum, which has the world’s largest collection of art and artifacts from the American West. Other than the Philbrook Museum, it is one of the most popular places in Tulsa. Unfortunately, the museum is in the middle of redoing its entire building, so it was closed.

Instead, I checked out the Woody Guthrie Center downtown. It’s a little pricey ($12), in my opinion, if you’re not a big fan or it isn’t a fascinating topic to you, simply because it’s a small museum. But it was interesting to learn about the American folk singer-songwriter’s story and how many musicians have found inspiration through him.

That said, there are more things to do in the city if the Gilcrease Museum isn't open and the Woody Guthrie Center doesn't peak your interest. When deciding your afternoon plans, you can also consider the zoo, the aquarium, ahha Tulsa (an art center), an air and space museum and planetarium, etc.

At this point, it was the late afternoon, and I was ready for a pick-me-up (aka food), so I stopped at an authentic French bakery called Le Louvre French Cafe. It was so cute inside, a great place to join a friend. It's even better for the gram, as it’s decorated inside to make it feel like you could be in France staring at the Louvre in the distance. They also have a lot of French baked goods to choose from. How do I know that they were really French? While I’m not 100% sure, I did meet the owner, who was VERY French.

Side note: If you don’t want to stop at this cafe during the day, think about adding it to your morning schedule.

From here, my goal was to drive around and visit all the odd statues and landmarks in the city, something for which Tulsa seems to be known for. For example, there’s a 75-ft tall statue of an oil worker called the Golden Driller, the world’s largest praying hands structure and a (corny?) Center of the Universe circle landmark. Due to the time change and darkness falling very early, I only had time to see the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church — considered to be “one of the finest examples of ecclesiastical Art Deco architecture in the U.S.” — and Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios on 66, a Route 66 stop with a space cowboy statue.

Once it gets dark and you're hungry and tired ... don't let the fun stop! Finish your day downtown again where it's hopping! Find a budget or classy restaurant, or pick a bar (from many) if that's something your group would find enjoyable. Since I was alone at this point, I ended my time in Tulsa with Andolini's pizza, something I knew I could also eat easily on the 2-hour drive home.


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