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Best Things To Do in Oklahoma City

AOL PICK from our Editors

The best things to do in Oklahoma City come in a surprising range—everything from exploring history to hanging out at the zoo or learning something new at a museum. You can organize your days thematically (cowboy day, for example) or geographically; either way, the city is easy to navigate and getting from one place to another isn’t a problem. Be sure to set aside time for the Oklahoma City National Memorial, though—even if you don’t walk through the museum, the memorial itself is not to be missed.

Oklahoma City Art Museum

Neighborhood: Downtown

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art reopened in 2002 after a $40 million renovation, which included the acquisition of the largest Dale Chihuly glass collection in America. In addition, the OKCMOA is home to some distinctive American and European art, including paintings by Georgia O’Keefe and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, sculpture by Alexander Calder, and photographs by Alfred Stieglitz. While the OKCMOA isn’t the Met or MOMA, it’s an interesting, eclectic collection of contemporary and historical pieces, and the Chihulys alone are worth the price of admission. The OKCMOA also screens independent and foreign-language films each week (Thursday through Sunday), if that’s your thing. And when you’re done browsing the art, you can pop into the cafe and have a cappuccino or a cocktail.

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POPS

Neighborhood: Arcadia

No trip to Oklahoma City is complete without a visit to POPS, on Old Route 66 in Arcadia. Although it’s off the beaten path and requires a bit of a drive, it’s well worth the effort. POPS is equal parts soda fountain and local icon. How will you know when you’re there? Well, the 66-foot-tall soda bottle out front pretty much gives it away. Pull off the road and have a soda. POPS has nearly 600 options, all ice cold. Try one of their 60 root beers, or 40 cream sodas. And be sure to check out the striking displays of bottles mounted in the windows. Plan your trip so that you’re arriving—or leaving—at dusk, and watch the giant soda bottle light up against the night sky. Be sure to take your camera.

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Science Museum Oklahoma

Neighborhood: Adventure District

You’ll learn a lot at Science Museum Oklahoma, but you’ll be having so much fun you won’t even notice. Take the kids to play in the Gadget Trees, a three-story indoor tree house featuring the world’s longest spiral slide. Stare at the stars in the planetarium, or catch a movie in the theater, surrounded by a 70-foot diameter dome screen. Don’t miss the hands-on exhibits, like the Tinkering Garage and Destination Space, where you and your kids can jump in and do the dirty work yourself. And before you leave, take some time to watch the model trains run. Before you visit, check the website to see what special events are happening at the museum, too.

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Oklahoma City Zoo

Neighborhood: Adventure District

The Oklahoma City Zoo offers something for everyone. It’s a perfect outing for families, of course; the newly remodeled Children’s Zoo offers ample opportunity to pet pigs and other animals, and the Jungle Gym playground, which was designed with input from local children, is worth the admission all by itself. Out-of-town visitors should be sure to walk through the Oklahoma Trails exhibit, which gathers indigenous plants and animals from across Oklahoma, and re-creates some famous local landmarks. When you get tired of walking, hop on the zoo’s tram, which will take you out to see the bison and the giraffes. And don’t miss the Great EscAPE exhibit, where you can see gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees up close and personal.

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Myriad Botanical Gardens

Neighborhood: Downtown

The Myriad Gardens were once a showpiece of downtown Oklahoma City, and hopefully after their year-long renovation they will be again. Located within walking distance of the heart of downtown, the Botanical Gardens feature two different climate areas, a Tropical Rain Forest Zone and a Dry Tropical Zone, with over 1,000 plant species. Visitors walk through the Crystal Bridge, a large glass hothouse structure, to view the plants and water features. There is also an elaborate butterfly garden which will delight young children (and adults, too, honestly). The Myriad Gardens is undergoing a much-needed renovation and will reopen in 2011.

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AT&T Bricktown Ballpark

Neighborhood: Bricktown

The Bricktown Ballpark is the home of the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. The park itself is well worth seeing. The brick construction gives it a retro feel, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. A wide offering of food and drink, constant between-inning entertainment and an outfield playground make this a perfect family outing. Oh, and there’s the baseball, too, which is really fun to watch—the stadium is fairly small (seats just over 13,000), which means that the game is right there in front of you. Play ball!

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Water Taxi of Oklahoma

Neighborhood: Bricktown

“Water taxi” is probably the last thing that comes to mind when you think of Oklahoma, but don’t scoff at this one. The Water Taxi is the best way to see Oklahoma City’s historic Bricktown neighborhood, which is bisected by a series of canals. Each Water Taxi ambassador, or driver, offers a guided tour with a wealth of fun historical trivia about the historic neighborhood and its recent renovation. A round trip on the Water Taxi lasts about 40 minutes, with taxis departing from the canal landing approximately every 15 minutes, and the taxis run year-round. Tickets come in the form of a wrist band that can be used all day—so you can ride the Water Taxi as many times as you like during your day in Bricktown. The Water Taxi tends to be a big hit with the little kids, so keep this in mind if you’re visiting as a family.

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Chesapeake Boathouse

Neighborhood: Downtown

The Chesapeake Boathouse is a stunning feat of architecture on the banks of the Oklahoma River. Designed to look like a rowing shell, the translucent building appears to float on the river at dusk. The Boathouse offers community members an opportunity to row on the river. For a modest annual fee, residents can form teams and have access to the Boathouse’s state-of-the art equipment, including the $40,000 boats. If you’re visiting, check the schedule for races—in addition to various local amateur events, the 2010 American Collegiate Rowing Association Championships were held at the Chesapeake Boathouse. Even if there’s nothing scheduled, though, it’s worth the trip to see the river and the building.

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Oklahoma History Center

Neighborhood: Capital

Do you know what a “Sooner” is? Or where the first capital of Oklahoma was? You can find the answers to these questions and more at the Oklahoma History Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The 215,000-square-foot History Center houses a self-guided tour of Oklahoma’s history, past and present. In addition, an outdoor exhibit illustrates the terrain of the Red River Valley, highlighting important historical locations. Visitors can also see machinery associated with Oklahoma’s oil industry including, among other things, a portable oil derrick. If your entire knowledge of Oklahoma history comes from Steinbeck novels and Tom Cruise films, this is a worthwhile stop on your trip.

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Oklahoma City National Memorial

Neighborhood: Downtown

Built on the site of the bombed Murrah Federal Building, the Oklahoma City National Memorial is truly the heart of Oklahoma City. The 1995 bombing shocked the nation, but the local community rallied to recover and to reclaim the spot. Opened in 2000, the 3.3-acre site encompasses the actual memorial and the museum, as well as a children’s garden and reflecting pool. The focal point of the memorial is the Field of Empty Chairs: 168 glass and concrete chairs, each representing one victim of the blast, arranged in nine rows, marking the nine floors of the building. Each chair bears the name of a victim, and the chairs for the 19 children killed are smaller than the rest. The museum allows visitors to take a self-guided tour of the events of April 19, 1995, and includes audio tape of the bombing. Fair warning, though: While the memorial itself is appropriate for kids, the museum can be a bit much for the younger set.

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National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum

Neighborhood: Adventure District

It is impossible to come to Oklahoma and not think about cowboys. While you’re here, spend a day at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum learning something about the men and women who won the West. Browse the museum’s outstanding Art of the American West collection, which includes Gerald Balcier’s 18-foot-tall marble “Canyon Princess” statue, tour the American Rodeo Gallery and take the kids through the interactive Children’s Cowboy Corral. This is no small collection of spurs and boots; the William S. and Ann Atherton Art of the American West Gallery contains over 2,000 pieces, all reflecting life on the frontier. If at all possible, take a peek inside the Special Events Center, where five 18' x 46' triptychs by artist Wilson Hurley are on permanent display. The paintings—all of Western landscapes—transform what would otherwise be a standard ballroom into something truly unique.

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