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This enjoyable little zoo isn't the biggest, most exotic or most glamorous you've ever been to, but, superlatives aside (and unless you're used to heavy hitters like San Diego), it's worth a visit if you've got kids in tow. There are more than 2,800 animals on exhibit, spread out over 84 acres in Mohawk Park. All the biggies are represented: lions, tigers and bears (oh, my), as well as giraffes, monkeys and elephants. The Living Museum complex adds a new dimension to the zoo-going experience with some of the plants, minerals and geographical features of North America. It’s located just northeast of Downtown.
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No surprise that a city of Tulsa's size has a worthwhile art museum or two, but what is unexpected is the stunning setting of one of the city's best. Villa Philbrook was built as an Italian Renaissance residence back in 1927 by Tulsa oilman and entrepreneur Waite Phillips. In 1938, he donated the 72-room mansion to the City of Tulsa, and what a gift it was. The following year—this was still during the Great Depression, mind you—the city opened the home to the public as the Philbrook Art Museum. This is a true Tulsa treasure. The original home houses the museum's permanent collections, including baroque paintings from the Italian Renaissance, depictions of the Old West from American artists, and Native American pottery. One of the museum's most popular works is from its European collection: "The Shepherdess" by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Be sure to allow enough time to wander the 23 acres of formal gardens, featuring utterly lovely hedges, flowers, ponds and a serene tempietto that dates to the original landscaping.
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When there's a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written about your state (with an exclamation point in the title, no less) you're going to want to milk it for all it's worth. So it's no surprise that “Oklahoma!” has run all summer long every summer since 1977 at the Discoveryland amphitheater. While the production may not be Broadway caliber (and you definitely won't catch Hugh Jackman reprising his role as Curly), this production has just as much heart as more professional productions, and the outdoor amphitheater seems as fitting a setting as if you'd pulled up a bale of hay from behind the barn. This is a fun homage to the early days of the Sooner State, with kicky little musical numbers you'll be humming the whole car ride home. It’s just west of Downtown.
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Every city has its share of little rectangular parks where one might lay a picnic or toss a ball. But with the Arkansas River running right through the middle of town, Tulsa saw a prime opportunity to maximize outdoor fun, installing over 20 miles of hike-and-bike trails dotted with playgrounds and public art stretching from 11th to 101st streets. Along the way, you'll find an old wooden railroad bridge turned pedestrian bridge that's ideal for strolling (at E. 29th Street), a skate park for more active pursuits, and an 18-hole disc golf (aka "Frisbee golf") course. In the summertime, the park hosts concerts and other events at the River West Festival Park, as well as at the Reynolds Amphitheater with its unique floating stage. If you want to get out and get a little bit of fresh air, we can hardly think of a better place.
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Tulsa's oil-fueled boom days were in the 1920s, and, luckily for Tulsa, its heyday coincided with the art deco style of architecture. The result? A bevy of gorgeous downtown buildings that are a preservationist's dream come true. You can occasionally find a formal tour offered through different historical organizations, but your best bet is to do a self-guided tour with the help of the Tulsa Preservation Commission's website. Don't have time to explore them all? The number one stop is downtown's Boston Avenue Methodist Church at 1301 S. Boston Ave., built in 1929.
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Although based on the private collection of one Thomas Gilcrease, an oilman and avid collector with the cash to back up his habit, Gilcrease Museum is more than just a random collection of paintings and sculptures. The museum is dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of American art, but its real specialty is the art of the American West, reflecting Oklahoma's past with depictions of cowboys, Native Americans and life on the open range. In addition to paintings and sculptures, Gilcrease also houses a truly impressive collection of Native American artifacts, such as colorful woven blankets and massive feather headdresses. Downstairs, drawer after drawer of artifacts let you play archaeologist as you pull open each one to reveal pottery, tools, totems and toys. While you're there, don't miss the themed gardens that dot the grounds; since the museum is out on the northwest edge of town, they've got plenty of space to make them special. It’s just northwest of Downtown.
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