Oklahoma City is the capital of Oklahoma and the largest city in the state—but to us it’s just OKC, the coolest, most under-the-radar metropolitan destination in the country. The affordable city which is just three hours from the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex, boasts a stable economy, a growing downtown district, riverfront fun, a professional sports team and some of the friendliest locals you’ll ever meet. Back in 1889, when the Oklahoma Territory was just opening up to settlers, many of the folks waiting at the state border decided they actually couldn’t wait, so they went on in sooner than they were supposed to, therefore blessing the state with its Sooner State nickname.
New York Has The Big Apple, Oklahoma Has The Big Friendly
The Big Apple, The Big Easy...The Big Friendly? Yep, that last one is Oklahoma City’s nickname. In 2007, it was trademarked by Lee Allan Smith as a celebration of the area’s signature kindness. In 2019, Big 7 Travel backed the nickname up by naming Oklahoma City the 8th friendliest city in America. Only one other Oklahoma location—Tulsa—made the list at number 27. We’re sure OKC locals would make fun of Tulsa for its inferior spot if they weren’t so darn nice.
Downtown is on the Rise
After the oil bust in the 1980’s, Downtown Oklahoma City experienced a bit of a slump. These days it’s back on top thanks to an urban resurgence that includes more than 45 shops and restaurants plus unique attractions like the Myriad Botanical Gardens, a 15-acre oasis that includes the Crystal Bridge Conservatory, an enclosed tropical forest that features waterfalls, a sky bridge and over 750 varieties of plants. Visiting Crystal Bridge Conservatory on a chilly day in OKC is like taking a mini tropical vacation. Speaking of tropical vacations, be sure to check out Bricktown Beach, a free, man-made urban beach complete with umbrellas and a boardwalk that pops up in the Bricktown neighborhood in Downtown Oklahoma City every summer.
A River Runs Through It
Living in a landlocked state doesn’t mean you can’t get out on the water. Oklahoma City is home to a seven-mile stretch of the North Canadian River which is typically referred to as the Oklahoma River. Here, you’ll find kayaking, whitewater rafting, fishing, motorized boats and beautiful views.
Oklahoma City is for (Art) Lovers
The Paseo is one of the coolest neighborhoods in Oklahoma City, if not one of the coolest neighborhoods in the entire state of Oklahoma. The beautiful, pedestrian-friendly district is a hub for art lovers. Head to The Paseo and check out dozens of galleries housed in charming buildings with Spanish revival architecture. Catch a play produced by Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, browse the Prairie Arts Collective, enjoy Japanese street food at Gun Izakaya or order a drink from the 11-page long cocktail list at The Other Room and sip on the back patio.
Cheer on the Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City has the honor of being home to the only major professional sports team in the state: The Oklahoma City Thunder. NBA fans can cheer on their team at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. For fans of lesser-known (but still great) sports, Oklahoma City is also the headquarters of the Oklahoma Amateur Softball Association.
Two Words: Banjos and Cowboys
Nothing evokes southern charm quite like the sound of someone picking a banjo on a porch. If you can’t get enough of that twangy music, head to The American Banjo Museum in Oklahoma City. This 21,000 square-foot space is dedicated to honoring the history of its namesake instrument. Browse exhibits that take you from the plantation era to the jazz age through today. After you’ve gotten your fix of bluegrass, tour The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum where you can learn about the history of the American rodeo, see antique firearms, learn Native American ancestry and wander through a replica of an old cattle town.
The Flaming Lips Are From OKC
Do you realize....that The Flaming Lips are from Oklahoma City? The rock band, which formed in 1983, played their first show right in Oklahoma City at the Blue Note after being turned away by more prominent venues in town. These days, the Blue Note is an iconic local venue, and frontman Wayne Coyne is well-known around town, thanks to his colorful, trippy four-house compound in Oklahoma City which features a 10-foot tall freestanding bathroom that looks like a birdcage. In 2010, Coyne was actually caught on Google street view taking a bath in his backyard. We don’t know about you, but we’ll stick to seeing him at the Blue Note.