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Enjoy music-centric attractions, Route 66 and global food in Tulsa, Oklahoma

  • August 02, 2022

If you consider Tulsa, Oklahoma simply “flyover country,” you’re woefully misguided. Discover a town that’s unlike any other in terms of American history, music, pop culture, art deco architecture and Native American art – and did we mention barbecue, Latin, Asian and soul food?

Artists and athletes are loving this singular city that offers Western ruggedness, Southern hospitality and Midwestern friendliness.


The latest buzz in Tulsa is the recent opening of the Bob Dylan Center. The enigmatic icon sold his archives to the Tulsa-based George Kaiser Family Foundation (George Kaiser is a veritable patron saint of the city, contributing to the city’s enhancement via bike trails, The Gathering Place along the Arkansas River, the Woody Guthrie archives and other areas of Tulsa’s cultural ecosystem).

Exhibits at the Dylan Center focus on the musician’s boundless creative impulse. You’ll see Dylan’s process via handwritten pages of edits of beloved songs, complete with doodles in the margins. Scroll through interactive elements revealing an artist working hard on his craft with all that great music in the background. With more than 100,000 items in the archive, exhibits will be tweaked and refashioned just like Dylan’s songs were.

The debt that Dylan has paid to Woody Guthrie is well known, and the fact that the Woody Guthrie Center is right next door is a serendipitous tribute to the men’s relationship – plus it saves visitors an extra Uber ride or parking fee. Whereas Dylan’s museum explores restless creativity, the Guthrie venue focuses on the American icon’s vision of social justice through his music, diaries, artwork, personal papers and scrapbooks.

J.J. Cale and Leon Russell, among others, are credited with creating the “Tulsa sound,” and Russell’s historic Church Studio has been lovingly restored by Tulsan Teresa Knox. The Pearl District church was built in 1915 and converted into a recording studio in 1972 for Russell’s Shelter Records.

Now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, you can tour the facility which is again serving as a state-of-the-art analog and digital recording studio, as well as an archive of Russell artifacts. Visiting the studio, you may be able to feel the incredible history of the space where Bonnie Raitt, Wille Nelson, Eric Clapton, Dr. John and Tom Petty recorded. The Dropkick Murphys recently spent 16 days recording here in the warmth of analog.

You can overnight right across the street on Studio Row. Duets consists of two music-themed suites in a restored 1913 property that also houses a cocktail lounge and eatery.

When it’s time to hear artists perform live, Tulsa offers an embarrassment of musical riches. Cain’s Ballroom is a storied venue that hosts acts from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony to The Dead South. Built in 1924, Cain’s was known for popularizing the Western swing sound. Downtown, LowDown is a sweet subterranean club hosting jazz and comedy. See emerging and independent artists at The Vanguard, and Tulsa Theater (circa 1914) has impeccable acoustics and great sight lines.


It was 1901 when the first person yowled, “Oil!” in Tulsa and by 1920, there were 400 petroleum companies, banks and newspapers, investors and wildcatters – a veritable boom town. By 1930, it was dubbed, “The Oil Capital of the World.” Soon, oil moguls were commissioning office buildings to poke from the Tulsa skyline and architects embraced art deco. Explore the downtown Deco District, rich with Tulsa history, via a tour with Tulsa Foundation for Architecture.

You can stay in one of these paeans to art deco: the Tulsa Club built in 1927. Peek into the Grand Ballroom on the ninth floor and indulge in a sophisticated but unfussy meal in the hotel’s on-site restaurant, Chamber. The breakfast tacos are great way to begin a day of touring around Tulsa.

Tulsa was a place of significance for Black Americans, too, at the early edge of the 20th century. Make time to learn about Black Wall Street and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in the Greenwood District.

Take a guided tour of historic Greenwood, then head over to the free-admission Greenwood Rising museum, complete with holographic elements and projections that tell the story of the neighborhood. It’s a moving experience. Follow that up with soothing soul food at Wanda J’s Next Generation Restaurant, a tiny place with big flavors of catfish, fried chicken, greens and mac ‘n’ cheese.

Known as the Mother Road, Route 66 and its historic markers are being restored along this stretch of the “Main Street of America.” Take a snooze in the 1950s at the classic, clean Desert Hills Motel or Buck’s Cosmic Crash Pad, an Airbnb house that’s a living gallery – it’s right behind Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios souvenir shop on the site of a 1950’s Pemco gas station. Pick up some fun tchotchkes and the free Official Oklahoma Route 66 Passport if you want to explore more Mother Road magic.

The Meadow Gold District on Route 66 has some interesting stops like Josey Records, art galleries, Ike’s Chili (established in 1908), a deli and Decopolis Discovitorium with a mini Tulsa Art Deco Museum.

Just five minutes away, The Outsiders House Museum is nirvana for fans of the S.E. Hinton book or the 1983 film, “The Outsiders,” which was filmed primarily in Tulsa. Hip-hop artist Danny Boy O’ Connor (House of Pain) purchased the house and restored it as it looked in the film and put his Outsiders memorabilia collection on display. Hole up in the “Greaser Hideout” Airbnb directly across the street, complete with treasures from the film and book.


Get a sense of how oil execs lived when visiting the Philbrook Museum of Art, which is ensconced in what was the 72-room home of oil magnate Waite Phillips and his wife, Genevieve. Staff plant over 22,000 bulbs every year in the 25-acre gardens, lending a sense of Versailles or Tuscany to Tulsa.

Oklahoma is home to 39 Native American tribes, more than any other state, and Native American art is a cornerstone of the top-notch museum. It’s worth scheduling a tour to gain keener insight on exhibits like Stephen Standing Bear’s “The Battle of Little Bighorn” created between 1892-1900.

Gilcrease Museum was founded by Tulsa oilman and citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation, Thomas Gilcrease, and has been called “a kind of Smithsonian Institution of the American West.” In addition to housing the largest public holdings of American Western art and a quarter million Native American artifacts, there are 23 acres of themed gardens to wander, too.

Murals are seemingly everywhere in Tulsa but especially downtown and scattered about the Arts District, and the city boasts the world’s largest augmented reality mural, The Majestic. The colorful pops of spirit and glee reveal different aspects of T-Town.


Diners slurping colossal steamy bowls of pho is a daily sight at Pho Nhi, a Vietnamese noodle emporium in Nam Hai Oriental Market in the Tulsa Global District. Prices for noodle bowls, refreshing summer rolls and banh mi sandwiches on pillowy French bread are easy on travelers’ wallets.

For stuffed chicken wings, kapoon soup and other Hmong dishes, head to Yang’s. If you’re like the rest of the food-loving community crushing on birria tacos, locals say The Red Tacos, parked on the corner of 21st and Garnett, is la bomba. The Global District isn’t a walkable area (yet), but if you have wheels, a sense of adventure and an appetite, you can find everything from El Salvadoran pupusas to stores crammed with Mexican trinkets.

Tulsa is home to the largest Zomi community in the country, welcoming refugees from Myanmar’s Chin State for nearly 20 years, resulting in a wave of Asian restaurants and grocery stores. Kai Burmese Cuisine turns out authentic dishes like la phe tot (lime-laced tea leaf salad, considered a national dish), ei kyar kway (Burmese French bread) and tofu tot – the tofu is handmade from chickpeas. Trust us, these flavors are very different from anything that has passed your lips unless, of course, you’ve spent time in Myanmar.

This is Oklahoma – meat country – and there is no scarcity of flavorful barbecue in Tulsa. Lots of locals love BurnCo BBQ for its charcoal-fired meats and sides. Sauces and buns are made locally (even the grills are made in Oklahoma) and half the beer on tap is local. Word is they can run out of their lacquered baby back ribs, brisket and pulled pork by afternoon. Their Tulsa location is temporarily closed at the time of this writing, but you can still check them out in nearby Jenks.

Albert G’s BBQ makes everything from scratch and the downtown location is spacious and comfy. Enjoy ropy strands of pulled pork, slow-smoked and moist sliced or chopped brisket, ribs, bologna, hot links or smoked chicken. Locals swear by the smoked chicken wings and, when your eyes are bigger than your stomach, consider the wacky but tasty BBQ Parfait – eight layers of coleslaw, barbecue beans, sauce and pulled pork.

When it’s time to find an authentic Oklahoma onion burger, type Claud’s into your GPS. The family-owned spot has been grilling burgers and paper-thin sliced onions on the flattop for 68 years. Add American cheese, mustard and pickles and you have it: plain and simple and delectable. Walk one minute to Weber’s Drive-In and order another one to see which you prefer.

When you’re famished and can’t decide, head to Mother Road Market, a food hall cooking up barbecue, tacos, ramen, sushi, rice bowls, small-batch artisan ice cream (honeycomb lavender, anyone?), hot chicken, burgers, pizza (the city seems to love the giant NY style pies from Andolini’s) and bakery. All food concepts are local to Oklahoma and “Kitchen 66” features a different culinary entrepreneur every few days. It could be Spanish paella one day and deep-fried biscuits another.

Call it “T-Town,” “Oil Capital of the World,” “The 918,” or one of the best kept secrets in the U.S., and just call your friends to plan a trip to Tulsa.

10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network — providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world — in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.

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