The Grandparents’ Guide to Tulsa
I’m a grandparent to an active, outgoing grandson named Callister.* Being a grandparent is such an important role in our lives, one that is enriching and beneficial to all the generations! When I found out we were going to be grandparents, we enrolled in a grandparents’ class at Saint Francis, which brought us up-to-date on changes in baby care.** Another important step we took before our grandchild was born was getting our vaccinations updated and a car seat safely installed!
**Editor’s Note: Saint Francis now mails Grandparenting Resources to your home. Learn more at saintfrancis.com/event/grandparenting-resources
I was fortunate to be able to provide part-time childcare for the first fifteen months of my first grandchild’s life, and we not only bonded during that time, we explored Tulsa and all its wonderful fun and educational experiences! I’m lucky to live close to him and have the ongoing opportunity to take him on weekly adventures.
In addition to our experiences, I’ve consulted with grandparents of older grandchildren. Although this guide is not an exhaustive list, it contains the highlights and “must dos” as Callister and I see it. Although some places and activities may qualify for several categories, I’ve done my best to divide them into the following: Nature, Fun Outings, Parks, Arts, Route 66 and Books.
Tulsa is lucky to have this jewel of a mountain perched on the Arkansas River, begging to be hiked. Located north of 71st between Riverside and Elwood, Turkey Mountain has plenty of parking at the base and also restrooms and a water fountain. From there you have a choice of trails ranging in degrees of difficulty, but whichever trail you choose, you’re sure to see flora, fauna, rocks and critters along the way providing “real life” science lessons!
Dogs are also welcome but must be on a leash. Always take along drinking water, insect repellant, and a cell phone. Older kids might enjoy the bike trails that start at Turkey Mountain and go along the west side of the river.
There are so many nature activities at Oxley Nature Center! They have butterfly walks, bird walks, full moon walks and more. Plus wide, flat, stroller-friendly trails (although they can get muddy!).
I have great memories of my parents waking us up early to drive to Keystone for breakfast picnics and to look for eagles. Although I haven’t personally seen one on the river, apparently there are eagles’ nests and sightings along Riverside Drive, around 71st street. The Audubon Society website would be a good place to start. Although I haven’t done this activity yet with my grandson, I know it will be a future memory-making adventure!
The Oklahoma Aquarium is officially in Jenks, but since it’s right over the bridge from Tulsa and such a popular destination, it needs to be included. This is one of my favorite places to go with my grandson because it’s not weather dependent.
If you’re retired like I am, aim to take your young grandkids during the week when the rest of the world is at school or working. We buy a yearly membership, which turns out to be much more cost-effective and makes me feel better about going for short visits. They have added a playground for nice weather days, but when we visited recently, there was no shade and the play equipment was hot to the touch, so it might be a better activity for Fall or Spring.
The Tulsa Zoo is a fantastic day excursion for grandkids of all ages. Because we go frequently, we buy an annual pass. This is one of the excursions for which I usually wait until my husband can accompany us because it’s a big place and I wear out before our grandson does. There are places to buy food and drinks scattered throughout the park and even on days that aren’t perfect weather-wise, the buildings contain enough to entertain kids and adults for a few hours.
Discovery Lab is a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn about science through fun activities! Located in its new facility at Gathering Place, it’s a perfect place for a grandparent-grandchild outing or a birthday party. There is a toddler area with activities for those visiting with younger children.
Check their calendar for activities and special events.
Bowling is a fun activity for grandparents and grandchildren to enjoy together. It’s a good opportunity to interact while engaging in an activity. The Dust Bowl in downtown Tulsa is a retro-hip place, and besides bowling, they have a great menu. Or, you can impress your grandkids by taking them to any of the great downtown restaurants within walking distance of the Dust Bowl.
On the other end of Tulsa, Main Event has bowling plus a multitude of activities including laser tag, arcade games, gravity ropes, billiards, and mini-golf. One of my friends takes her out-of-town pre-teen and young teen grandkids to Main Event every time they come to visit.
No discussion of fun in Tulsa can exclude Gathering Place, voted the number one new attraction in America (of 2018) and one of National Geographic’s twelve most mind-bending playgrounds in the world! We’ve taken our grandson so many times we’ve lost count, yet each time we visit, we see something new.
There is a lot of walking involved, so be prepared with comfortable shoes. Even though my grandson is now two and maybe a bit old for the stroller, I take it to carry bags, a change of clothes in case he gets in the water features (of course he’s going to get in the water features!), and a place to put drinks. There are several places to buy reasonably priced food so I don’t bother to pack a lunch.
Did I mention there is no admission charge?! And if the park itself wasn’t a big enough draw, there is extensive programming for kids including classes, story times and concerts. To get a great parking place, I recommend getting there early if at all possible. Along with most of the city, we are big fans of Gathering Place!
Although this is seasonal, Oklahoma’s largest splash pad recently opened at Chandler Park. But in addition to the splash pad, Chandler has a lot more to offer, with 92 acres of wooded area overlooking Tulsa and Sand Springs. There is a playground, rock climbing, two disc golf courses, trails, and picnic shelters.
LaFortune Park has 270 acres in midtown Tulsa with play equipment for the younger crowd, golf, tennis and a 5k walking trail for the more active, older grandchildren. In the summer, they have free First Friday concerts in the park. There is plenty of shade and also restrooms, water fountains, and picnic tables. Callister and I have spent many happy hours playing and walking at LaFortune.
I’m not sure this qualifies as a park, but it’s a green space in the middle of the Arts District that offers frequent free events for families. There is always something going on at Guthrie Green, including yoga, concerts, food trucks, and story times.
River Parks is an amazing place for grandparents to take their grandchildren to walk, ride bikes, play in one of the parks, or take a picnic and enjoy nature.
The east-side River Park trails go from 11th street to 101st street and connect to other area trails. There are also trails on the west side of the river that go from 11th street to the Turkey Mountain area at 71st. Along the east side, there are several parks, one at 17th, 41st, 71st and one at 96th.
If you grew up in the Tulsa Public School system in the ’60s like I did, you probably remember loading up on the school buses and going to Philbrook on a rare field trip. The former home of the Phillips family, this glorious mansion and grounds turned art museum was gifted to Tulsa by the Phillips family in the 1930s.
In addition to their permanent collection, Philbrook has many family friendly and kid-focused events. I haven’t braved Philbook yet with my grandson, but many of my friends with older grandkids love going there, especially on “Second Saturdays” when admission is free.
If you’re looking for a fun and educational activity to do with your grandkids, this will be a big hit! First Friday Art Crawl is free and, as the name implies, held on the first Friday of every month from 6-9 p.m. in the Tulsa Arts District.
Originally started to showcase the art of local artists, it has expanded to include mini galleries, many museums offering free admission, and often, live performances. Many of the shops stay open late on First Fridays, and there are plenty of opportunities to eat at good restaurants!
This is an outing for all ages! Callister and I were fortunate to attend a stroller tour, and I was pleasantly surprised to see his interest and enjoyment. After the guided stroller tour, we went up to the artist studio on the third floor, where he played with giant Lego blocks and I took a rest on the couch. While ahha no longer has their stroller tours listed on their calendar of events, they do offer plenty of ongoing activities and special events. Learn more here.
In addition, ahha also offer classes, workshops, and labs. It’s definitely worth checking out, especially if your grandchild is a budding artist.
I’ll admit, I took this idea from a friend with older grandkids. Every year she picks a theme for the week her grandkids visit, and this year was Route 66. Although she took her grandkids further along the route, I’ll limit this discussion to Route 66 sites in Tulsa, including several of which Callister and I have visited.
This is a great way to incorporate some history education disguised as fun. Most of Route 66 goes along 11th street, but let’s begin with breakfast at Ollie’s, a train-themed mom-and-pop-style restaurant in west Tulsa. Callister was thrilled with the train display! On the same street is the Route 66 village, an open-air transportation museum.
From there, head east to the Cyrus Avery Route 66 Memorial Bridge and he Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza, which has a bronze sculpture 20 feet tall by 40 feet showing the Avery family in a 1926 Ford encountering an oil-cart. This is a great photo opportunity!
Continuing east, you’ll see the Meadow Gold vintage sign that was saved, restored and is currently sitting on 11th between Peoria and Lewis. Not much further east is the new Buck Atom statue and Route 66 memorabilia gift shop. You can’t resist stopping here and having a picture taken!
By this time, the grandkids are probably hungry again, but even if they aren’t, Mother Road Market at the corner of 11th Street and Lewis is worthy of a stop! Similar to an indoor food court (but with delicious, local food!), it also has some shops and an outdoor patio with a Route 66 mini-golf course. If you have room for any more food after you leave Mother Road, stop at Sweets and Cream as you head east on Route 66.
Unfortunately , many of the iconic motels along Route 66 in Tulsa have fallen into disrepair (and in some cases, disrepute) and one of the only neat neon motel signs left is at the Desert Inn. If you’re willing to travel outside the boundaries of Tulsa, there are lots of fun Route 66 sights, but this will probably keep you busy and well fed for a day of Route 66 fun with grandkids!
Because I’m a major book lover and seem to have been successful in passing this passion on to my grandson, I can’t pass up the opportunity to be an advocate for reading to your grandkids. Read, read, read, and then read some more, beginning the day they are born.
It’s never too early to begin instilling a love of reading. Kids who are read to begin kindergarten having hear a million more words than kids who aren’t exposed to books. Besides giving them an educational boost, it’s a lovely way to bond with your grandchild.
We are fortunate to have a fantastic public library system in Tulsa. I never get over the amazement that they will allow me to check out books absolutely free! I have been taking Callister to Schusterman-Benson for weekly story times every week since he was three months old, and it’s become an ingrained part of his life, an activity we look forward to every week.
There are story times all over the city. Check out the schedules and find one that fits your needs. Besides story times, there are programs for all ages, including bilingual programming. Click here to find TulsaKids’ monthly Story Times roundup!
We also have some great independently owned bookstores in the city. One kids of all ages will enjoy is Eleanor’s Bookshop at The Shops at Mother Road Market. Their entire selection is geared toward the younger set, with an impressive variety of picture books through YA titles.
Older kids might enjoy a trip downtown to visit another independently owned bookstore, Magic City Books. Magic City is one of my favorite spots to visit! In addition to a good selection of books, they also have a coffee shop, book clubs, story times, and they bring in fantastic authors to speak. Our community benefits in many ways if we support our locally owned bookstores!
Tulsa has so much to offer grandparents and their grandchildren, but no matter what you choose to do with your grandkids, the most important element is time together. Twenty years from now they may not remember exactly what they did or where they went with you, but they will remember you listened, hugged them, gave them your undivided attention, you loved them! The grandparent-grandchild relationship is like no other; treasure it and enjoy Tulsa together!
About Diane Morrow-Kondos: Diane Morrow-Kondos is a long-time TulsaKids contributor and has blogged about life as a grandparent in Tulsa since the birth of her grandson, Callister, in June 2017. Read her latest Grand Life blog posts here.
Other Places Worth Visiting
- Tulsa Botanic Garden, 3900 Tulsa Botanic Dr.
- Tulsa Air & Space Museum and Planetarium, 3624 N. 74th E. Ave.
*2020 update – and his sister Sylvia!