30 Tulsa Traditions, Old and New
Family friendly ideas for your summer bucket list.
There is no shortage of things to do in Tulsa, and in honor of TulsaKids’ 30th birthday, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite activities – from long-established places to up-and-comers — that every Tulsan should try. We’d love to hear what you would add to the list!
Parks Past and Present
Owen Park, Tulsa’s oldest municipal park, was officially established in 1910. Today, it is home to both a playground and popular water playground, a lake (and what seems like hundreds of hungry waterfowl!), picnic areas, Tulsa’s oldest home, built in 1885, and of course, the Tulsa Children’s Museum, which opened the doors of its current location in 2013. With frequently changing, science-themed exhibits, there is always something new to learn and do at Tulsa Children’s Museum.
While many may doubt that Gathering Place will ever be open to the public—it will, and soon! Gathering Place covers nearly 100 acres along Riverside Drive and will be a world-class park, designed with care and innovation. Older children will enjoy scrambling up giant castle towers—and zipping back toward the ground on super-fast slides!—climbing into the belly of a larger-than-life-sized elephant, riding a zipline and much more. Younger children can ride down the tamer—but completely adorable—banana slide and develop their rock-climbing skills on rock “walls” developed just for toddlers. Follow @GatherTulsa on Facebook for the latest park updates (and the Tulsa Children’s Museum will find a permanent home there in phase II of the park’s construction).
Inaugurated in 1934 during the Great Depression, the Tulsa Municipal Rose Garden in Woodward Park has been a favorite destination for picture-takers, picnic-makers and those who just wanted to stop and smell thousands of roses. While the roses were unfortunately wiped out by mites about five years ago, the beloved Rose Garden is now home to a variety of pollinator-friendly plants and well worth a visit. If you go, stop by the nearby Linnaeus Teaching Gardens, where children can walk through rows of veggies, smell herbs with the help of garden volunteers, feed Koi and have impromptu storytimes inside the barn.
Fountain at Linnaeus Teaching Garden
A more recent addition to the Tulsa garden scene is Tulsa Botanic Garden, located about 15 minutes northwest of downtown Tulsa. Tulsa Botanic Garden’s first groundbreaking ceremony took place in 2007, and visitors can now explore the Children’s Discovery Garden (home to a tree house, musical instruments, animal sculptures, and of course, the friendly Spring Giant); the Tandy Floral Terraces, an art-deco-inspired delight; walk around the Lakeside Promenade and more. Tulsa Botanic Garden frequently hosts family friendly events, so check out their calendar at www.tulsabotanic.org to see what’s coming up next!
Spring tulips at Tulsa Botanic Garden
Art for Everyone
While the Philbrook Museum of Art and Gilcrease Museum have both been staples of Tulsa culture for decades, there has never been a better time to bring your family for a day of art appreciation. Both museums offer free family days (and daily free admission for kids), filled with creative activities that kids and parents may both enjoy (the Philbrook’s is the second Saturday of the month, and the Gilcrease’s is the third Sunday of each month) and they both have extensive grounds perfect for burning energy in. Furthermore, the Gilcrease Kids Site allows children to feel real animal pelts, paddle a canoe and more, and their newly designed Kravis Discovery Center allows visitors to interact with museum artifacts with the help of digital media.
Exploring the Kravis Discovery Center at Gilcrease Museum.
Both Philbrook and Gilcrease do a great job of staying true to their roots and true to the times. But if you want to experience the very latest of Tulsa’s art scene, visit the Tulsa Arts District on the First Friday of the month. From 6-9 p.m., all art galleries, including Philbrook Downtown, the Woody Guthrie Center and 108 Contemporary, offer free admission, and there is often something special happening at Guthrie Green.
Students taking a tour with Philbrook Director Scott Stulen
Egg Cream Dreams
For those looking to satisfy their sweet tooth this summer, what could be better than sitting down at the bar of an old-timey soda fountain? Sadly, the soda fountain at Steve’s Sundry Books & Magazines, which closed in 2013 after over 60 years of business, is merely a memory now. But you can take your family to the new Ida Red General Store in the Tulsa Arts District, which offers both classic soda fountain beverages (like the lime phosphate) and modern concoctions, like the unicorn hot chocolate creation from last winter.
Shop Till the Kids Say “Stop!”
Tulsa’s most iconic shopping area is, of course, Utica Square, which promises a high-end retail escape for parents who can get away, as well as multiple ways to keep the kids interested, from searching for sculptures to rolling on the green in front of Wild Fork to playing with trains inside Pottery Barn Kids. Plus, every Thursday from 7-9 p.m. throughout the summer, you can enjoy a free, open-air concert featuring some favorite local talent.
If you’re less into “upscale” and more into the industrial look, you may prefer to take the kids shopping at The Boxyard, a unique shopping center made up of 39 shipping containers, all of which are populated by fun, local shops such as Stem Cell Science Shop, Dwelling Spaces, The Steel Horse Children’s Boutique and Rose Rock Microcreamery.
Originally completed in 1965, Tulsa’s Central Library unveiled a thoroughly renovated space in late 2016, placing itself at a perfect intersection of Tulsa’s history and Tulsa’s future. Beyond checking out books, families can enjoy exciting programming, including storytimes, playing games and watching movies in the Tandy Garden, as well as learning new skills like 3D printing or coding in the MakerSpace and Digital Literacy Lab. Sign up for the Summer Reading Program at any of the Tulsa City-County Library’s locations if you need some motivation to read this summer and would like a chance to win some fun prizes.
The latest place for literature lovers to get their fix is Magic City Books, which opened in the Tulsa Arts District in fall 2017. Owned by the nonprofit Tulsa Literary Coalition and the current home of Booksmart Tulsa, Magic City hosts frequent free book signings and author talks and has a knowledgeable, passionate staff who can help you find you or your child’s next read from their thoughtfully curated collection of books. Learn more at www.magiccitybooks.com.
Cruising the Restless Ribbon
Ask any Tulsan who grew up here in the ‘60s how they spent their free time as a teen, and chances are, they’ll mention cruising up and down “The Restless Ribbon”—today better known as Brookside. Brookside is still a favorite “district” destination for many Tulsans and is quite walkable, so you don’t have to waste gas as you cruise by foot from Shades of Brown to Urban Outfitters to Torchy’s Tacos to The Haley Boutique to…yes, there are a ton of fun shops and eateries in Brookside!
While not in Tulsa, one of the area’s most up-and-coming districts is The Rose District in Broken Arrow, which is home to a Saturday morning Farmer’s Market in the summer, long-time Tulsa favorites like Andolini’s and In the Raw as well as Rose District staples like Nouveau Chocolates, Spoke House Bicycles, McHuston Booksellers & Irish Bistro and much more. There are frequent special events happening in The Rose District, so visit rosedistrict.com to make sure you don’t miss out on the fun!
Head Outta Town
When it comes to budget-friendly, stress-free vacations, nothing beats the day trip. See something out of the ordinary without the hassle of making reservations and breaking out the credit card at the motel check-in desk. A long-time favorite road trip destination for Tulsans is Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve, located southwest of Bartlesville, about an hour north of downtown Tulsa. Visitors driving up to the Museum, which displays an impressive collection of artwork and artifacts from the American West, should keep a lookout for roaming bison, elk, longhorn cattle and any of the other 30 species that make their home on the grounds. If you’re wondering when to visit, Woolaroc’s annual Kidsfest is June 23-24, and they will also host an outdoor symphony concert with other activities as part of the OKM Festival (formerly OK Mozart Festival) on June 15. Learn more at www.woolaroc.org.
If you haven’t heard about the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, which opened in October 2016 and is transforming the town into a popular tourist destination, you have either not been paying attention or maybe just don’t eat an overload of cheesy, buttery-baked goodness. Either way, make the hour-long drive if you love delicious baked goods, fresh country cooking and quality coffee. Plus, you can shop for a variety of home goods and clothing items between meals!
Speaking of Baked Goods…
Craving a cookie? Ann’s Bakery on North Harvard Ave. has been serving fresh treats for four generations! Sadly, as of January 2018, you can no longer just pop in for a snack, but you can still pre-order all of their offerings, including cakes, pies, quick breads, brownies, lemon bars and more. So pick up the phone if you want a taste of history!
One of the trendiest ways to satisfy your sweet tooth is at Antoinette Baking Co.’s weekly Pie Night on Friday and Saturday from 5-10 p.m. Each event features a different selection that may include traditional favorites like apple or coconut cream or pies you’ve only dreamed of, like Irish Car Bomb or Versailles Pie (Earl Grey + lemon). They often have vegan and gluten-free options as well.
Exploring the World Right Here at Home
The Tulsa Zoo, which has existed in one form or another since 1927, is a no-brainer when it comes to making a list of Tulsa traditions. Not only can you visit some of the same exotic animals you enjoyed seeing as a child, you can also explore exciting new spaces such as the Lost Kingdom Exhibit, which opened last summer and is designed to make visitors feel as though they have taken a trip to ancient Asia while getting an up-close look at Malayan tigers and other animals.
Compared to the Tulsa Zoo, the Oklahoma Aquarium is a relative newcomer to Tulsa, having opened its doors in 2003. But with its impressive (if a bit spooky) bull shark tunnel, not to mention hundreds of other aquatic creatures both beautiful and bizarre, it has quickly become one of Tulsa’s premier family friendly attractions. Sea Turtle Island gave visitors a(nother) reason to re-visit the aquarium when it opened last year, and this summer, visitors can look forward to the re-opening of the Polynesian Coral Reef, which will be home to some of the aquarium’s most colorful occupants.
You know you’ll probably beat the heat by taking at least one trip to the movies this summer—that’s what the summer blockbusters are counting on, at least. But if you’re going to spend the money anyway, why not spend it at one of Tulsa’s historic theaters? Give your family a glimpse of 1950s Tulsa at Admiral Twin Drive-in, which plays double features on two different screens every weekend evening throughout the season for just $7 (ages 12 and up) or $3 (ages 3 through 11). Just make sure you have a portable radio or a strong car battery!
Circle Cinema is another great option if you want to see the silver screen in true-to-Tulsa style. While Circle Cinema is always showing current, if lesser-known, films, you can also catch their 2nd Saturday Silents with live organ accompaniment as well as cult classics, anime and more. While you’re there, explore Kendall Whittier Main Street, grabbing dinner at Calaveras Mexican Grill, a pastry at Pancho Anaya Mexican Bakery or a latte at Fair Fellow Coffee.
The More You Bowl
Chances are, if your kids are currently school-age, you may not have taken them bowling at Rose Bowl, which ended its career as a bowling alley in 2005. This eye-catching pink-domed building off of Route 66 nevertheless shares a memorable place in Tulsa’s history. Today, the Rose Bowl houses One Hope Ministries and is also available to rent as a venue for birthday parties, basketball tournaments and more.
While the Rose Bowl, with its memorable architecture, is worth driving by, if you want a real retro-style bowling date with the kids, try Dust Bowl Lanes & Lounge in downtown Tulsa. Dust Bowl not only offers a more intimate bowling experience than you’ll find at larger venues, it also boasts an interesting menu that could be categorized as “upscale bar food,” with everything from Totchos (tater tot nachos) to beet hummus to burgers and the Dust Bowl Dog (with candied bacon and jalapeno relish) and fancy milkshakes. Reserve a lane at www.dustbowllounge.com.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Of course, no list of city activities would be complete without mentioning a beloved local sports team—and if you’re looking for a classic, all-American summer activity, it doesn’t get any better than baseball! The Tulsa Drillers have been playing ball in Tulsa since the 1970s and at the ONEOK Field in downtown Tulsa since 2010. ONEOK Field has a play area for kids and there are special promotions at nearly every game, from “Kids Eat Free” on Souvenir Sundays to Buck Nights featuring $1 hot dogs, Pepsi products and beer to Friday night fireworks. Go to www.tulsadrillers.com for a game and promotions schedule.