In the past decade, Oklahoma City's downtown has blossomed into a prime vacation destination with new hotels, lively restaurants, the Bricktown entertainment district with a river canal and boat rides, and several worthy attractions. One of downtown's oldest attractions is the lovely Myriad Botanical Gardens, at Reno and Robinson avenues (tel. 405/297-3995; www.myriadgardens.com), a 17-acre landscaped oasis centered on a sunken lake. Spanning the lake -- and the centerpiece of the gardens -- is Crystal Bridge, a seven-story, 224-foot-long cylindrical conservatory filled with exotic plants ranging from tropical to desert and set in a wonderland of cliffs, waterfalls, and ponds. Lizards, fish, and butterflies also call the Crystal Bridge home. Crystal Bridge is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm and Sunday noon to 6pm. Admission costs $6 adults; $5 seniors, children ages 13 to 18, and students; and $3 children ages 4 to 12.
Nearby is the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch Dr. (tel. 405/236-3100; www.okcmoa.com), which boasts one of the most stunning collections you'll see anywhere: 18 installations and ensembles created by Dale Chihuly, representing 3 decades of the glass master's whimsical and color-saturated works. It's worth visiting the museum for the Chihuly exhibition alone, though visitors will also want to take a spin through galleries featuring European and American art. A theater screens independent, foreign, and classic films Thursday through Sunday, while a rooftop outdoor lounge is open for cocktails Thursday evenings. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm (Thurs to 9pm) and Sunday noon to 5pm. Admission costs $9 adults; $7 children, students, and seniors.
A few blocks to the northeast is the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, 620 N. Harvey Ave. (tel. 405/235-3313; www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org), which honors the victims, survivors, and rescuers of the April 19, 1995, bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and took 168 lives. The museum recounts that fateful day and the days, weeks, and years that followed with eyewitness accounts, news footage, and exhibitions that document everything from rescue missions to how the explosion affected families and the city. The most moving room is filled with photographs of the 168 victims, who are also honored in an outside memorial by 168 empty chairs lined in rows; smaller chairs represent the 19 children who died in the blast. A fence on the west perimeter of the memorial gives visitors a place to leave tokens of remembrance. The museum is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm and Sunday 1 to 6pm (you must purchase tickets 1 hr. before closing), while the outdoor memorial is open free 24 hours a day. Admission is $10 adults, $8 seniors, and $6 children and students.
A 5-minute drive northeast of downtown is the state capitol, as well as the Oklahoma History Center, 2401 N. Laird Ave. (tel. 405/522-5248; www.oklahomahistorycenter.org), which explores Oklahoma's history through interactive and visual exhibits that include firsthand accounts, photographs, and artifacts. Memorable events, such as the 1889 Land Run, Wild West shows, and horrific droughts and resultant Dust Bowl of the 1930s are covered, while other displays chronicle the history and traditions of Oklahoma's African Americans and 39 American Indian tribes. Visitors can listen to American Indian languages, view a map depicting Oklahoma's former All-Black Towns (founded from the mid-19th c. to 1920 and numbering more than 50, more than any other region in the U.S.), watch movies filmed in or about Oklahoma, and learn about such Oklahoma greats as Mickey Mantle, Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, and musicians Woody Guthrie and Gene Autry. It's open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday noon to 5pm. Admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors, and $3 children.
Two miles west of downtown is Oklahoma City's most authentic signpost of its cowboy past: Stockyards City (tel. 405/235-7267; stockyardscity.org), founded in 1910, is listed on the National Historic Register and is centered on Agnew and Exchange streets. Popular for its restaurants and shops specializing in Western wear, custom-made boots, and saddles, it's next to the Oklahoma National Stockyards, which claims to be the largest live cattle market in the world. Cattle auctions, open to the public, are held all day Monday and Tuesday starting at 9am.
The rolling hills of northeast Oklahoma City, nicknamed the Adventure District and easily accessible via I-35 and I-44, are home to several of Oklahoma's top attractions, including the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. For families, nothing beats a trip to the Oklahoma City Zoo, east of Martin Luther King Boulevard on NE 52nd Street (tel. 405/424-3344; www.okczoo.com), which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004. Consistently ranked one of the nation's best zoos (it's accredited as a zoo and a botanical garden), it houses more than 1,500 animals, including more than 50 endangered or threatened species, in innovative habitats such as the Great EscApe with its lowland gorilla troops, orangutans, and chimpanzees; Cat Forest/Lion Overlook; and Oklahoma Trails featuring native animals. A kid's-dream playground, aquarium, and all the usual exotic animals -- including orphaned grizzly cubs from Alaska -- make this one of the city's hottest attractions. Tickets ($7 adults, $4 children 3-11 and seniors) go on sale daily at 9am until 6pm Memorial Day to Labor Day (grounds stay open until 8pm) and until 5pm the rest of the year (grounds close at dusk).
Next to the zoo is Omniplex, 2100 NE 52nd St. (tel. 405/602-OMNI [602-6664]; www.omniplex.org), a hangarlike building housing hands-on science exhibits that appeal to children ages 12 and younger, a space gallery, vintage aircraft, a toy train collection, the Red Earth Museum with its impressive collection of Native American cradleboards, a planetarium, and a dome-shaped theater. Although newer, more technically advanced museums make this one seem rather old-fashioned (plans call for a gradual overhaul), there's plenty to warrant a 2- or 3-hour visit here, especially in inclement weather. It's open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 9am to 6pm, and Sunday 11am to 6pm. Admission is $9.95 adults; $8.75 seniors and children 3 to 12. The planetarium and Omnidome theater cost extra.
Also for children, two popular seasonal attractions are Frontier City, located in northeast Oklahoma City just off I-35 at the NE 122nd Street exit (tel. 405/478-2140; www.frontiercity.com; $28 adults, $20 seniors and children), an Old West theme park with 50 thrill rides (its 250-ft. free-fall Eruption is Oklahoma's tallest ride), attractions, and action-packed shows set against a colorful backdrop of log cabins and Wild West storefronts; and White Water Bay, a waterpark with raft rides, a wave pool, slides, and more, located west of downtown just off I-40 (take the Meridian Ave. exit) at 3908 W. Reno (tel. 405/943-9687; www.whitewaterbay.com; $25 adults, $21 children).
Ride 'em Cowboy -- Oklahoma City's top attraction is the outstanding National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63rd St. (tel. 405/478-2250; www.nationalcowboymuseum.org), which celebrates the life of the cowboy and the Old West with historic artifacts and one of the country's finest collections of Western art. Works by Charles Russell, Frederick Remington, and contemporary artists who have won top prize in the museum's annual Prix de West invitational exhibition (held every June) are on display, along with a Western Performers Gallery that honors Gene Autry, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and others who contributed to the myths and legends of the West.
Other features include a lifelike rodeo arena with displays on bull riding, calf roping, and other activities; and a re-created cattle town complete with livery stable, saddle maker, saloon, and other buildings. More exhibits display Native American crafts, saddles, guns, boots, and hats, as well as explore related subjects such as the U.S. cavalry and trail drives. The museum is open daily 9am to 5pm; plan on spending at least 2 hours here. Admission costs $10 adults, $8.50 seniors and students, and $4.50 children ages 6 to 12.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.