Tulsa is an architecture buff’s dream come true. Fueled by the oil boom of the 1920s, the city boasts one of the largest collections of Art Deco architecture in the nation. As home to 39 distinct, federally-recognized Native American tribes, Tulsa is filled with culture. Located along Route 66, the city is a haven for Southern hospitality and good eats. Here’s what you should do if you find yourself here.
Tulsa Botanic Garden
Tulsa Botanic Garden is a 170-acre garden with over 8,000 trees, shrubs and perennials. Aside from having one of the largest spring bulb displays in the state—over 100,000 bulbs—the garden also has multiple areas for exploration for children and adults alike.
A pathway leads to the garden’s four terraces—Perennial, Lawn, Rose and Mediterranean—which is laden with the Art Deco-style Tulsa is famous for. There’s a garden over 3-acres that showcases over 350 plant varieties, as well as a Children’s Discovery Garden, which is a 2-acre sensory-filled walk. Visitors are encouraged to touch and smell the plants to learn more about them.
In addition to the hiking trails, a not-to-be-missed giant garden statue has a hidden rainbow element to it when the sun shines through. The botanic garden is a work in progress with a 25-year plan for developing 60-acres of gardens surrounding the lake.
Did you know Tulsa has the third-largest compilation of Art Deco buildings in the nation, sitting behind only New York City and Miami? As the former oil capital of the world, Tulsa’s massive oil boom in the 1900s led to a number of decadent Art Deco, Mid-century Modern, Gothic Revival, Beaux-Arts and modern buildings that fill the city with beauty.
Exploring the architecture and history by foot is simple. Tours stop by several old churches from the early 1900s, underground tunnels, the Mid-Century Modern Vault and even The BOK Tower by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the original twin towers at the World Trade Center. Locals like to joke that the famed architect took his designs for the World Trade Center buildings and cut them in half for Tulsa. The cost to join the tour is only $10 per person, with kids under 12 free, and the proceeds benefit the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture.
Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of art and historical artifacts related to the American West. After becoming rich from the oil industry, Thomas Gilcrease spent much of his life collecting more than 10,000 pieces of art, 250,000 Native American artifacts and 100,000 rare documents.
The museum’s permanent collection includes an art and anthropology section, along with the largest concentration of art from Native American artists. There are approximately 400 years of Native American art showcased within over 13,000 pieces of artwork. Another highly treasured document in the Gilcrease’s possession is the hand-written copy of the Declaration of Independence.
The Gathering Place is a 100-acre public park made possible by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and 80 other private contributors that donated more than $465 million to fund its construction. The concept behind the park is to bring the whole community together by offering a place for all that is free of admission. A number of different playgrounds, trails, boat rentals, gardens and restaurants can be found here.
Additionally, there are 26 miles of asphalt trails for joggers. The park’s wilderness area features 300-acres of dirt trails that can be used for hiking, mountain biking or even horseback riding. It also serves as a venue for many outdoor concerts and events for the community.
Mabel B. Little House
The Mabel B. Little Heritage House is now a museum located in the historic Greenwood district, once known as the “Black Wall Street of America.” It’s the only home built in the original Greenwood residential district of the 1920s that still stands after the area was completely destroyed in the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. The home was then saved in the 1970s from so-called urban renewal demolitions and is now a place where people can come together and learn about Tulsa’s past while looking forward to the future.
The Mabel B. Little Heritage House Museum and the Greenwood Cultural Center honors Tulsa’s African-American community and the victims of the race riot. It’s a place not to be missed for those who truly want a real look at Tulsa.