On a mission to explore six attractions in Oklahoma City and Norman in one day, I set out with the rest of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department team to enjoy everything from dinosaurs to the nation's fastest rental go-karts.
It was a hot July day and I was headed out to enjoy a day of cool indoor attractions in Oklahoma City and Norman with the rest of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department team. It was an ambitious itinerary to try to fit into one day, but we’re always up for a good challenge.
We began our day at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. Located in the heart of the downtown area, the memorial and museum are on the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial is beautiful and inspiring with its monumental Gates of Time, Field of Empty Chairs, Reflecting Pool and Survivor Tree. I was struck by the symbolism of the elements, including how the Gates of Time frame the moment of destruction at 9:02 a.m. One gate is marked 9:01 and represents the innocence of the city while the other is marked 9:03 and represents the moment we were changed forever by the horror and then the hope. The Field of Empty Chairs drives home the devastating loss of 168 innocent lives to the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. The grounds are open 24 hours a day, and seeing it so early in the morning with the rising sun glinting across the grounds and the dew still on the grass stirred our souls. Nighttime is also a great time to view the grounds as the Gates of Time and chairs are dramatically lit.
The indoor museum is emotionally moving and takes you on a journey of chaos, incredible sadness, unity and ultimate hope. You begin the museum experience by taking a seat in a room that recreates a hearing at the Water Resources Board across the street from the Murrah Federal Building on the fateful day. You listen to the only known recording of the explosion as unsuspecting citizens went about their business in the hearing. As the thunderous sound pierces through the calm, the lights flash off and you enter the chaos immediately following the bombing through actual news footage. News reporters struggle to come to terms with what has happened, helicopters hover noisily and the wounded stream out of the rubble. As you move through the experience you understand the enormity of what happened and feel the pain of those changed forever by the loss and the experience. But you also feel the strength of the Oklahoma spirit here, and the heroic kindness of people everywhere as countless individuals came together to help those affected by the bombing.
Next, we traveled south to the suburban college town of Norman for a visit to the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. The Sam Noble Museum is must-see, family-friendly adventure featuring dinosaur giants, Oklahoma wildlife exhibits and American Indian culture. It’s worth the price of admission just to see the look of wonder on a child’s face as they tug their parents towards the massive dinosaur skeletons and woolly mammoth sculpture at the end of the massive entry hall. In the Hall of Ancient Life, visitors are awe-struck by the world’s largest Apatosaurus skeleton, a T-Rex look-alike, gigantic pre-historic bugs, a Pentaceratops whose ten-and-a-half-foot skull holds the Guinness World Record as the largest, and mammals such as saber-tooth tigers and mammoths. You won’t want to miss the opportunity to hop in the glass ‘dinovators’ that take you up to the second floor where you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the Apatosaurus that was unearthed in the Oklahoma panhandle.
Other exhibits include realistic nature dioramas, such as a walk-through limestone cave, and archaeological presentations about Oklahoma’s native peoples. The museum also offers special exhibitions and family programs. There's a hands-on Discovery Room for kids, plus a fabulous museum store and cafe on-site.
After our 4-billion-year stroll through time, we took a short drive to Sooner Legends to enjoy lunch at what I consider to be one of the most hospitable and coolest restaurant/hotel combos in the free world. Located in the hometown of the University of Oklahoma, this restaurant/hotel embraces the rich tradition of OU sports that spans a century. Rooms in the hotel are each themed for a famous OU athlete or coach, featuring photos and memorabilia, and the restaurant décor follows the same theme with photos through the decades. You never know who you’ll run into at Sooner Legends as many former OU athletic celebrities visit when in town.
The Sooner Legends Restaurant features home-style Oklahoma meals prepared according to recipes passed down to the owners by their mother and grandmother. The brother-sister ownership team serves up onion rings that are among the best I’ve ever had and entrées that are generous, tasty and affordable. Steak lovers and barbecue aficionados will both find delights here as well as those who love just-like-Mom-used-to-make comfort foods. Save room for dessert, because they’re all winners. The massive four-layer Crimson and Cream Cake is as impressive as the Sooner athletic teams it takes its name from, and this red velvet cake is as much a treat for the taste buds as the eyes. In addition, the coconut cream pie is the best I've ever tasted.
After stuffing ourselves beyond the point of reason, we strolled through the halls of the attached Sooner Legends Inn & Suites to see murals of the Sooner legends of yesterday. Painted on the walls you’ll see Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer coaching undefeated teams, Little Joe Washington leaping over defenders with ease and Roy Williams flying over a wall of Texas offensive linemen to sack the quarterback. There are more than just football greats represented here - basketball, baseball and gymnastics legends are depicted as well. Also in the halls you’ll find nostalgic century-old photos of teams sporting uniforms made of wool and leather. If you need lodging, I recommend a stay in the swank Bob Stoops Suite, which immerses you in memorabilia and images of this legendary coach. But each and every individual room is thoughtfully appointed with upscale touches that create a memorable stay.
As most of us entered full food-induced comas, our designated drivers made the quick thirty minute trek back to Oklahoma City and landed in the cool and comfortable confines of Science Museum Oklahoma. This is a place we’ve made several visits to in order to stay informed on its ever-changing exhibits. Today we were here to take in what we were calling the “Blow It Up Show,” otherwise known as Science Live. We enjoyed a great show dedicated to an explosive and mind-blowing experience while demonstrating chemical and physical reactions. Throughout the show audience members were selected to go on stage and assist in creating explosions, booms and flaming flare-ups all in the name of science. Needless to say, no one in the audience was bored and most sat on the edge of their seats, riveted by the well-disguised lessons being delivered on stage. While you’re at Science Museum Oklahoma, don’t miss the opportunity to learn to ride a Segway and let the kids enjoy the hands-on interactive exhibits.
Our next stop was the Oklahoma Hall of Fame at the Gaylord-Pickens Museum where we beat the heat in a museum that is cool in every sense of the word. The museum tells the story of Oklahoma through its people via high-tech, interactive exhibits. You’ll find video-driven displays on Sooner State citizens who demonstrate the five characteristics of Oklahomans – perseverance, optimism, pioneer spirit, individualism and generosity. Oklahomans featured include familiar names such as singer and actress Reba McEntire, Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller, astronaut Shannon Lucid, humorist Will Rogers, indie rockers The Flaming Lips, skateboard great Mat Hoffman and jazz pioneer Charlie Christian.
Our final adventure for the day was at Pole Position Raceway in Oklahoma City. This 85,000 square foot, climate-controlled facility offers the fastest indoor rental karts in the nation. With karts that go up to 45 mph, a video game arcade, pool tables and an on-site café, you can’t help but have a good time here. They have a high-tech tracking system that monitors the results of the races and tracks your driving history if you are a repeat visitor. After we got signed up and selected helmets, the race was on! The course is challenging and the race is several laps long, so you have time to get a feel for the track and begin to push the envelope. Being able to turn corners at just the right moment and then hitting the straight-away at full throttle was the perfect way to end a day of enjoying indoor attractions in the Oklahoma City metro area.
Save money when you visit many of these attractions by visiting our Deals & Coupons page where you'll find valuable coupons for the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, Science Museum Oklahoma, Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum and Pole Position Raceway.
While in the Oklahoma City metro area, don't miss other top-notch attractions such as the Oklahoma City Zoo, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Bricktown Entertainment District, and Frontier City Amusement Park along with the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and Riverwind Casino in Norman.
At the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum, be sure to tell your own story. Do it alone or have the whole family enter the glassed-in booth where a touch screen and video prompter will help you tell your story. You can e-mail yourself the video for a memento of your visit.