The city of Tulsa exudes an atmosphere charged with anticipation. From its early days through its peak as an oil-boom town and up to the present, Tulsa has always been a city striving to move forward. This momentum enabled the town to grow beyond dependency on oil money to become a thriving crossroads for business ventures, all while maintaining a laid-back Southern charm. Visitors to the city will find a mixture of grand new developments and reminders of the past, all bearing the common threads of high hopes and great expectations.
Tulsa's downtown is set near the river, so rather than being the geographical center of town, it is located in the north central section. This area serves as the focal point of many downtown events, such as
The west central portion of Tulsa, known as midtown, begins just south of the downtown area. This part of the city is home to some of Tulsa's oldest and most popular business establishments and neighborhoods. There are some mansions in the area, especially near the Arkansas River, where old-money families lived and, in some cases, still live. This upscale history survives today at
Several of Tulsa's most popular neighborhoods are found in midtown. Brookside, Cherry Street and
The main highlights of north Tulsa are the Tulsa International Airport and the massive
This part of town is where Tulsa's new growth is. The
Much of Tulsa's major industry can be found here, such as the huge electric plant along the river's west bank, and other manufacturing companies around the railroad tracks and old Route 66. The hills in the northwest corner of this district hold the
Tulsa is a study in harmony. This area of Oklahoma is known as "Green Country," and Tulsa is its Emerald City. Sunshine abounds throughout the year, so parks and outdoor recreation are a given, but Tulsans often indulge in more cosmopolitan pursuits. More so than in its sister city, Oklahoma City, Tulsa celebrates history and the work of master artists in several museums recognized the world over for their fine collections and exhibits. Residents here do share a passion with their OKC counterparts—one that seems to have been bred into every Oklahoman—the love of rough-and-tumble sports. Whether you are seeking an evening of classical entertainment, a sporting excursion or a romp in nature, let Tulsa be your playground.
In Tulsa, the arts have a character all their own. While the city is as modern as they come, these cultural institutions have a history, a place in Tulsa history all their own. Brady Theater is a perfect example. This distinctive theater is nearing its centennial and occupies a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, yet the show continues to go on here in the form of concerts, plays and local events. Another theater that has survived through the generations is Theatre Tulsa, a renown playhouse that produces works at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. The Tulsa Ballet also calls the Performing Arts Center home. The graceful art in motion of classic dance is sure to delight, whether at a performance of holiday standard "The Nutcracker," or at one of the troupe's season events. The ballet's classical music counterpart is the Tulsa Philharmonic Society. Director Kenneth Jean takes listeners on a symphonic journey through timeless masterpieces and more popular modern works.For a more accessible type of art, look to an Oklahoma Sinfonia concert. This orchestra has long been a community favorite for their brand of fun, contemporary musical stylings.
When it comes to museums, Tulsa is top-notch. Travelers come from across the state, and some even from across the country, to visit the city's premier collections. The two most well-known institutions are the Gilcrease Museum and the Philbrook Museum of Art. Gilcrease is a favorite of all ages, with its extensive gallery of American and, more specifically, Western art. In addition, the museum houses a collection of historical documents and Native American artifacts. The beauty isn't restricted to the museum's interior, either. Gilcrease also encourages visitors to enjoy the grounds' lush gardens, which stretch over nearly 500 acres.
The Philbrook has a similarly stellar reputation. Located in the posh mansion of an early Oklahoman oilman, this museum has an extensive assemblage of art by European masters. After touring the galleries, bask in the elegant atmosphere while you dine in the on-site restaurant. For a more specialized look at the world of fine art, take a trip to the Fenster Museum of Jewish Art, which focuses on the creative works of this people's history. History is also on display at the Tulsa Air and Space Center, a must-see for aviation buffs. With such names as Wiley Post and Will Rogers, Oklahoma often led the way early in aviation history. Visitors can get up close and personal with vintage models of those great flying machines. Travelers looking to learn more about Tulsa's rich history should head to the Elsing Museum and Sunbelt Railroad Museum, which explore the geologic and transportation evolution of the city. In this city, the appreciation of culture isn't limited to art and artifacts—Mac's Antique Car Museum, the Ida Dennie Willis Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys and the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame are just a few examples of Tulsa's looser side. Finally, the museum held most dear in the hearts of Oklahomans can be found just outside of Tulsa, in the town of Claremore. The Will Rogers Memorial and Museum is a comprehensive tribute to the state's favorite son, who was a Renaissance man of the frontier.
Tulsans follow that old adage, "Work hard and play harder." The city is teeming with sites whose aim is to charm the child's heart in all of us. The nucleus of recreation in Tulsa can be found at Expo Square in midtown. In addition to serving as the site for Oklahoma's annual State Fair, the cluster of attractions here includes Bell's Amusement Park and Big Splash Water Park. Bell's is the place to go to feel like a kid again. Before you realize it, you will have spent the entire afternoon riding the roller coasters and water rides, and maybe even indulging in a sugary sweet or two. You'll be amazed when you visit the famed Tulsa Zoo. Upon entering the gates, guests find themselves in a tropical paradise.
The landscape of Tulsa is dotted with parks and preserves, which make perfect destinations for the intrepid urban explorer. Two of the favorite activity grounds in the city are La Fortune Park and Mohawk Park. Aside from a wide expanse of green grass and facilities for sporting events, each offers a 36-hole golf course. If you prefer your setting to be more serene, consider Woodward Park, a 40-acre wooded grove sprinkled with native flora and fauna.
The word "Oklahoma" means "land of the Red People" in the language of the Choctaw Indian, one of the five tribes that called this state home. This Native American influence carries over in the history of Oklahoma's second-largest city, Tulsa. The city had a humble beginning in 1836, when a group of Creek Indians, another of those five tribes, found the end of their Trail of Tears. As they sought shelter under an expansive oak tree near the Arkansas River, the Creeks decided to make this piece of Indian Territory their own, lighting a ceremonial fire and naming the land "Tallahassee" or "Tulsi." As the name has survived the many passing generations, so has the Council Oak Tree, a lasting symbol of the city's Native American history and its embrace of multiculturalism.
As the forced relocation of America's native people continued, the small settlement that would become Tulsa welcomed in more tribes, including Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws and Seminole Indians. For many years the area's only settlers were Native Americans, who worked to rebuild their communities and cultures.
The 1840s saw a few white settlers brave the rugged frontier environment and establish homes and businesses in the Tulsa area. Unfortunately, this promising growth was stifled by the escalation of tensions between abolitionists and slave owners. When the Civil War erupted two decades later, the violence between Kansas and Missouri residents spread into Oklahoma Territory. With notorious outlaws like the brutal William Quantrill roaming so close to their homeland, many of Tulsa's settlers fled in fear.
After the war, Tulsa underwent a rebuilding process much like its neighbors to the south. The first sign of true city hood came with a Federal Post Office, which opened in 1879. With this establishment came the need for an official city name, Tulsa. It kept the original spirit of the founding Creek Indians at the Council Oak Tree. Affectionately referred to as Tulsey Town, the developing community of a few hundred people soon began to serve as a trading post, attracting ranchers and farmers from adjacent areas. Tulsa, due to its location, was also a popular stop for cowboys who drove huge herds of cattle from Texas to Missouri. The influx of goods and money in turn drew the attention of railroad companies.
Around 1882, a man who would come to be recognized as Tulsa's founder came to town, H.C. Hall. This same year, the city underwent a large construction project, in which a barbershop, general store, hotel, railroad depot and residences were erected. The cluster of buildings marked the foundation of downtown Tulsa. This steady growth in both agricultural and industrial commerce lured more settlers to the town, resulting in the population more than quadrupling in the years from 1882 to 1898. And then on January 18, 1898, more than 60 years after the Oak Tree meeting, Tulsa was officially incorporated as a city into Oklahoma Territory.
The new century brought an entirely new way of life. In 1901, crude oil was struck in Red Fork, across the Arkansas River from Tulsa. With the Sue Bland Number 1, as the well was named, the city went from being a modest cow town to being a potential goldmine for wildcatters. Exploratory drilling operations sprung up across northeast Oklahoma Territory, and hopes of striking it rich were soon rewarded. Four years later the largest oil strike the world had seen at the time was made in Glenpool, a little community south of Tulsa. Ida E. Glenn Number 1 and her rich underground treasure changed Tulsa forever.
The oil boom brought a construction boom with it, the money rolling in from oil sales going to fuel numerous urban projects like housing tracts, hotels and utility systems to accommodate the crush of people expected to relocate to the city. And true to predictions, the city's population exploded. What was once a quiet town of 7,000 people grew to hold more than 70,000 in less than 15 years. T-town was now known as the booming "Oil Capital of the World"!
Oklahoma became a state on November 16, 1907. State colors of green and white were chosen, and its official motto was "Labor Conquers All Things." But if one was to consider Tulsa, a more appropriate motto might have been "Oil Conquers All Things," with the colors being black and gold. Many individuals became wealthy beyond imaging thanks to Tulsa's most profitable natural resource, and these blossoming benefactors poured funds into city beautification. It was during this heady time that downtown Tulsa was transformed from an idiosyncratic neighborhood into the Art Deco paradise it remains to this day. As natives are proud to point out, only New York City and Miami have more Art Deco buildings. Higher education also made its appearance in Tulsa in 1907. Henry Kendall College relocated here from nearby Muskogee and is now the grand institution known as the University of Tulsa. But not all additions to the city were positive ones. Gamblers and outlaws frequented the new hot spot of the South, bringing a wild element to the environment. This passionate, no-holds-barred approach to life has been tempered somewhat through the years, but can still be seen in Tulsans' love of sport and outdoor adventure.
Tulsa was indeed open to all people, and many who were not allowed opportunities elsewhere found a home here. The African-Americans community flourished, and became so successful in creating businesses along Tulsa's Greenwood Avenue that the district was dubbed the "Black Wall Street" in the 1920s. The expansion of business in the city during this decade included the establishment of two of Tulsa's landmark heath care facilities, St. John's Hospital in 1925 and Hillcrest Hospital in 1927.
Oil was good to the town and its residents, but even though the boom lasted for several decades, prosperity began to falter. The 1930s saw the Great Depression sweep across the country. This time was doubly detrimental for Oklahoma when coupled with the fierce Dust Bowl disaster. Tulsa's situation was more fortunate than the state's other cities, but the area did experience devastating droughts and record-breaking summer heat waves that demoralized struggling residents.
When Tulsans returned from fighting in World War II, they realized there would have to be a fundamental shift in the city. Oil was increasingly being struck by offshore drillers and Tulsa was no longer the epicenter of production. Capitalizing on the state's history in aviation, an industry whose potential was brought to the forefront of American consciousness by such pioneering natives as Wiley Post, Tulsa reinvented itself as a home for aviation companies. American Airlines was the first to move its operations to Tulsa and numerous other transportation-related corporations followed. At present, the city is home to several hundred aviation and aerospace businesses.
In the past few decades, Tulsa has again positioned itself at the forefront of an industry with incredible potential: telecommunications. Considered the most high-tech of Oklahoma's cities, Tulsa prides itself on being something of a Silicon Valley. Now a major city in its own right, Tulsa holds nearly half a million residents in the rolling green hills that border the Arkansas River.
While a new breed of business is booming in T-town, the skyscraper skyline still consists mainly of those historic buildings with Art Deco facades. Regardless of what amazing innovations and economic prosperities come Tulsa's way, it is difficult to imagine anything with an ability to overshadow the old-style boomtown presence forever captured in so much of the city. The crown jewel of Green Country continues to embrace its legacy as a town of opportunity for all. History is a powerful force here, and it gives the town a rich character—and not just monetarily, either.
The culinary atmosphere in Tulsa reflects a desire for sophistication, but Tulsan taste also embraces the city's history as a booming frontier oil town. Chefs strive to give their hearty dishes a decadent touch—just the kind of flair that a moneyed baron would appreciate. Each of Tulsa's many neighborhoods has its own distinct character, each holding a wealth of dining choices designed to suit even the most discerning palate. When you come to visit Tulsa, be sure to bring a hardy, healthy appetite—your taste buds will thank you!
Downtown eateries have a special character to them, with many sharing one trait in particular: music. Cattleman's Steakhouse in the Embassy Suites Hotel treats its guest to smooth jazz stylings, but that isn't all it is famous for. The menu of choice beef cuts includes a 24-ounce prime rib, which is a feast all in itself. If you crave fine Italian, then check out Pomodori's. Seafood is also on display in central Tulsa, with only the best fresh specimens on the menu at Bodean Seafood Restaurant.
The midtown area is Tulsa's other dining hot spot. Country cooking can be found here as well, but a more contemporary attitude permeates the environment. Japanese cuisine, already wildly popular in other areas of the country, is now making an appearance in Tulsa. This is best evidenced at a local Japanese restaurant, in the raw. The atmosphere is refined and understated at this sushi bar, which is as trendy as its lowercased name. T2 Global Cuisine takes a similarly bold approach in both taste and decor. Fusion is the word here, with dishes made even more entertaining by their whimsical names. Jazmo'z Bourbon Street Cafe takes diners on a different type of journey, transporting them to the Big Easy with its wild Cajun cooking. Authentic Italian is well represented in midtown, where you can select from the upscale Biga or Tucci's.
Midtown doesn't lack well-established classics, either. The Polo Grill is another one of the city's more exclusive eateries. In addition to the gourmet fare served, this restaurant organizes special events throughout the year for its patrons, typically highbrow gatherings for wine tasting and the like. Jamil's Steakhouse provides diners with everything you would expect from a steakhouse, like great cuts of hickory-grilled beef, chicken and lobster tails, but enhanced by a Lebanese flavor. Finally, the Wild Fork blends time-honored dishes with a funky interior design, providing a place for a fun lunch or a business dinner with an edge.
The south side of T-town is packed with dining possibilities. While having the greatest concentration of eateries, it is not the most diverse area. The district is dominated by steak houses, but does have some ethnic enclaves. Silver Flame Steakhouse and Seafood distinguishes itself by offering Middle Eastern side dishes with its fine entrees. This, along with live music to accompany evening meals, makes the establishment popular for a business dinner or a more formal occasion. Fountains Restaurant is similarly sophisticated, with refined dining and signature items like Roast Duck a l'Orange and Bananas Foster making this place a Tulsa tradition for more than a quarter-century.
If you crave down-home goodness without a large price tag, look no further than Ron's Hamburgers and Chili. The city favorite dishes out huge portions for a fair price in a comfortable, family-friendly atmosphere. Oklahoma culture has a distinct Southwestern flavor, and with that influence comes an abundance of Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants. Such spicy fare can be found at Monterey's Tex Mex Cafe, Arizona Mexican Restaurant or Pepper's Grill, and the city's Casa Laredo even makes its delicious Mexican dishes from scratch. Asian aficionados can choose from Emperor's Super Buffet and Royal Dragon. For more specialized types of world cuisine, diners have several options, including European delicacies at Paddy's Irish Restaurant & Pub and savory Indian food at India Gate.
East and West Tulsa
The east and west ends of Tulsa are not as heavily populated with restaurants, but the eateries in these areas are noteworthy. East Tulsa's contribution to the city's dining culture is Molly's Landing. This Route 66 mainstay combines an old-fashioned frontier setting and exterior with modern dishes of choice beef, wild game and seafood. The trend of hearty Oklahoma food continues in the west district at Ollie's Station Restaurant. As can be gathered from its name, the restaurant employs a train station theme, drawing from the city's history as a railroad town. Red meat is the standard, but the menu is sprinkled with some southern seafood dishes as well. West Tulsa also has the Avalon Steakhouse, an upscale establishment that complements its dishes with an ample wine selection.
Outside the Tulsa Metro
The area just outside the city holds yet more celebrated establishments. The newest addition to the dining scene is Bad Brad's Barbecue Joint. This Owasso diner is fast becoming popular for its vast all-barbecue menu and relaxed atmosphere. On I-75, in the Tulsa suburb of Ramona, is the Inn at Jarrett Farm. If you are unable to stay in one of this bed-and-breakfast's posh suites while visiting Tulsa, you can still enjoy a meal at the Jarrett House Restaurant. Diners are treated to a full-course gourmet experience. Reservations are required. Fancy fare like this doesn't come cheap, but every penny spent here is well worth it.