A century ago, oil money boomed this frontier town into a modern city full of tall buildings. Today, Tulsa bubbles with a bit of a hipster vibe in areas like the Brady Arts District, where you might overhear local entrepreneurs trading social media tips over artisanal cocktails in neighborhood bars. And while Tulsa’s renowned Philbrook Museum of Art is modeled on an Italian Renaissance villa, the Philbrook’s downtown satellite is a modern gallery with a focus on contemporary and modern art.
Tulsa has lots of free attractions, too, and while many of them are rooted in earlier eras, they have a nostalgic appeal that’s fun for anyone playing tourist today. Here are five free things to see here:
▪ Route 66: Remnants of the funky motels and old-school neon signs that made the Mother Road famous can still be found along Route 66 in Tulsa. The road follows 11th Street with a few twists and turns and a stretch on 12th Street; Route 66 signs dot the way. Some sections are run-down, while others appear to be reviving. At one end of town, there’s the Warehouse Market, an art deco gem, and on the other side of town, the Desert Hills Motel,with its classic retro look.
▪ Boston Avenue United Methodist Church: Completed in 1929, the church is an art deco masterpiece. From its soaring columns and tower to the stained-glass windows, the structure celebrates the motifs, geometric shapes and colors of art deco style, which coincided in popularity with Tulsa’s oil boom. A stylized depiction of praying hands recurs throughout the building.
▪ River parks: Nearly 30 miles of trails around Tulsa are used by joggers, cyclists and weekend sightseers. Equally popular is riding or climbing Turkey Mountain on the city’s south side. The mountain trail features prime views of the city’s skyline at several points. Adding to the mix is A Gathering Place for Tulsa, a project that will eventually transform nearly 100 acres of city waterfront into a park.
▪ Brady Arts District: You’ll have to pay to go inside the Woody Guthrie Center to learn about the native Oklahoma singer’s life and legacy, but it’s also fun to simply walk around the area where the museum is located, called the Brady Arts District. The neighborhood includes a park, Guthrie Green, and a mural of Guthrie on the museum’s exterior, perfect for selfies. The Philbrook Museum’s satellite site is here, too, though it also charges admission. The streets of the Brady Arts District are lined with bars, cafes and restaurants, giving it an energetic, trendy vibe.
▪ Cain’s Ballroom Walk Of Fame: Also part of the Brady Arts District is the legendary Cain’s Ballroom. The building, which dates to 1924, hosted a well-known radio broadcast beginning in the 1930s with Western swing star Bob Wills, and since then has featured everyone from Hank Williams to the Sex Pistols. Even without a ticket for a show, you can soak up a bit of Cain’s legends and luster by standing beneath its red neon sign and perusing the walk of fame, where red stars on the sidewalk honor performers from country, folk and rock, including Merle Haggard, Arlo Guthrie and J.J. Cale.
Associated Press Writer Justin Juozapavicius in Tulsa contributed to this story.