Oklahoma City calls itself the modern frontier, summing up in two words its own particular brand of rugged chic. Of course, like many cosmopolitan cities, Oklahoma’s capital can offer you almost any style of family vacation. Outdoorsy, artsy, educational, sensational — pretty much whatever you want, you can find something to suit in OKC. Spend the day riding coasters at Six Flags and the evening watching professional ballerinas pirouette.
But if you’re looking for a unique only-in-OKC experience, check out this list. I included what we were able to squeeze into a weekend getaway, although if you have more time, stick around to the end where I added a few extra travel ideas along with a recommendation of where to stay.
1. Eat at Cattlemen’s
If you visit OKC and don’t eat at Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, were you even there? Located in the heart of Stockyards City, Cattlemen’s isn’t just a restaurant — it’s an Oklahoma City institution.
Dishing up hearty cuts of beef and comfort food since 1910, Cattlemen’s originally served as a place for hungry cowboys, ranchers, and haulers to get some filling grub after a cattle drive.
While it’s changed hands a few times since — including being won and lost in a smoky backroom dice game — the ambiance remains largely unchanged. Photos cover the walls commemorating famous guests, including movie stars and presidents. And you’ll still find plenty of authentic cowboys bellying up for a solid meal.
Delicious, perfectly cooked steaks come with a buttery roll, a baked potato, and a salad topped with their famous homemade dressing. If you’re feeling adventurous, I recommend ordering the lamb fries as an appetizer. They’re a classic. Round out the meal with a slice of their famous coconut cream pie.
2. Visit the Cowboy Museum
You don’t have to be into cowboys or even like museums to appreciate the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. There are giant sculptures and fine art paintings, weaponry and Western wear. You’ll learn about Native American culture and Old West traditions like rodeos and cowboy movies.
Our favorite gallery was Prosperity Juncture, where you can walk through a recreated cattle town with a bank, saloon, jail, church, stable, and more. Some play recordings of conversations between characters who might visit those places, making it all the more life-like.
Best for families: Located outside, Liichokoshkomo’ lets kids learn through play, including grinding corn, loading a pioneer wagon, and plotting constellations to guide your journey west.
3. Bike the Trails
When I checked Tripadvisor for things to do in Oklahoma City, Ride OKC was ranked No. 1 for outdoor activities, which tells you a few things. For one, you can surmise that they have quality bikes and good customer service, and they absolutely do. They’ll even bring the bikes to you.
But most importantly, you know you’ll have fun. You can rent a set of wheels like we did and cycle along the river. The trail is wide and flat, perfect for families. It takes about 20 minutes for a leisurely ride over to the Boathouse District and then up to the massive Centennial Land Run Monument, an installation of 45 bronze sculptures showing horses and wagons crossing the canal.
While not on a trail, a trip from Ride OKC to the Paseo Arts District takes less than 15 minutes, and it’s a straight shot on Walker Avenue, which has a dedicated bike lane. The arts district is fun for shopping, browsing the art galleries, and taking selfies with all the Crayola-colored walls as a backdrop.
You can also take one of Ride OKC’s guided bike tours. They’re themed for different interests ranging from breweries to ghost tours. If you want to see the best sites in the city, try the Art + Architecture tour where you’ll learn about OKC’s storied history, including the heroes and villains of the infamous Oklahoma Land Run.
Don’t miss: The amazing Scissortail Park is right by Ride OKC. They have loads of events here, and the “sprayground” is a must for kids in summer!
4. Savor Vietnamese Flavors
While it may not seem like it at first glance, Oklahoma City is quickly becoming known for its international cuisine — particularly Vietnamese food. At the top of my list is Cafe de l’Asie, a cute Asian-inspired bistro in downtown Oklahoma City with some French fusion flair.
Whether you’re craving a decadent banh mi or want lighter fare, such as Chef Vuong’s Salad with blueberries and strawberries, Cafe de l’Asie has you covered. I recommend starting off with the chicken cheesesteak egg rolls, which may just be the best eggroll I’ve ever had, and then sampling some of the steamed buns. The fried shrimp bun with lemon aioli and the pork belly bun were our favorites.
And you can’t go wrong with the beef bulgogi. It’s filling, not too spicy, and all-around satisfying. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, be sure to pick up one of the Thai teas as well. They taste as good as they look.
5. Immerse Yourself in Touchable Art
Mix Tape, an immersive art experience created by Factory Obscura, may be Oklahoma City’s most creative attraction. Located in downtown’s Automobile Alley, Mix Tape isn’t your typical look-but-don’t-touch art gallery. Here, visitors are encouraged to touch, look, listen, interact, create, and enjoy art on their own terms.
If you’re just passing by, you can play with the “Boombox” display outside. Styled as a giant cassette player, it has buttons you can push for music and other sounds. Inside, you’ll find 6,000 square feet of sensory art inspired by music. The space is crammed full of things to explore: tiny dioramas, tunnels to crawl through, a slide, a moody teenager’s bedroom, and a video call to someplace in New Mexico. It’s mind-boggling.
Family photo op: Head to the heart-shaped hallway, lined with stuffed animals, or the fuzzy-walled disco cave right when you enter.
6. Hit the (Dessert) Bar
You might not be hitting up OKC’s nightlife scene if this is a family vacation, but you can still hang at the coolest bar in town — Perets Dessert & Coffee Bar. The cozy setting, sophisticated decor, and Instagrammable desserts will be sure to please teens — and everyone else in your party.
A must-have is the affogato, an indulgent mix of Oklahoma-made ice cream and toppings paired with a shot of espresso. Flavor combos include vanilla with raspberry sauce and rose-sugared pistachios and blueberry compote with oat streusel crumble. They have great coffee along with lots of other desserts. Don’t overlook the from-scratch chocolate chip cookie. It’s amazing.
7. Do the Zoo
OKC has more than horses and cattle. Spanning over 130 acres, the Oklahoma City Zoo is home to over 1,900 animals from as far away as Asia and Africa. One of the highlights is the Great EscAPE, where you get up close and personal with orangutans and gorillas. Nearby, the Sanctuary Asia section houses the zoo’s herd of Asian elephants.
The Oklahoma Trails exhibits are a must too. Here you’ll see Oklahoma’s native wildlife, including black bears, alligators, and bison.
Especially for kids: Stop by the Children’s Zoo to pet goats, see monkeys and lorikeets, or play in the splash pad.
8. Stop and Smell the Garden
Just a block from Bricktown near Scissortail Park, Myriad Botanical Gardens is an oasis smack in the middle of downtown OKC. The gardens are best known for the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory, housing a two-level waterfall, terraces, a reflection pool, and a host of tropical plants. It’s hard to take a bad photo here.
There’s plenty to enjoy outside the conservatory too. Kids can ride Mo’s Carousel, parents can browse the shop, and everyone can admire the outdoor gardens. If you happen to visit over winter, they open up an ice skating rink. Check their calendar before you go — the gardens are a hotspot for festivals and events unique to Oklahoma City.
9. Tour the Capitol
The Oklahoma State Capitol building is a great place for families to visit. The Capitol Rotunda, best viewed from the second floor, is worth a visit on its own. On sunny days, the stained glass shines in blue, gold, and red. Surrounding the rotunda are hallways filled with colorful artwork that documents Oklahoma’s history.
Before leaving, be sure to stop by the Oklahoma State Capitol Museum inside the capitol building. The museum has animated projections that’ll keep even younger ones entertained as well as a collection of interesting artifacts. You’ll get a chance to look at a working draft of the Oklahoma Constitution, the quill used by Teddy Roosevelt to sign the Sooner State into statehood, and more. They also do guided tours.
Bonus: Both a self-guided visit and the tours are completely free, making this attraction budget-friendly for families.
Much More in OKC
If you’re looking for more classic OKC attractions, two others to add to your list are the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which remembers the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and the First Americans Museum, which celebrates the heritage of 39 indigenous tribes.
Taking a narrated water taxi ride down the canal in Bricktown is another quintessential experience. Bricktown is one of the coolest neighborhoods in OKC, and I highly recommend spending an evening here just walking (or cruising) around before or after dinner.
Book Your Stay in OKC
Bricktown is also a great place for families to stay. We loved the Hampton Inn & Suites in Bricktown. Its location is hard to beat, with a baseball stadium, banjo museum, loads of restaurants, and a sprawling entertainment complex called Brickopolis — gem mining, mini golf, laser tag, arcade, etc. — all just steps from our front door. The suites are especially convenient since you can put teens in a connecting room and everyone gets their own space. And the free breakfast was delicious. I could easily have stayed here for a week.
And you might want to. Because it seems like there’s always more to do in OKC, this cultured cattle town where exploring and new discoveries go with the territory.