Last updated: 09:52 AM ET, Fri November 08 2019
Stormy skyline of the city of Tulsa just before a severe spring hail storm, mirrored by its reflection in the Arkansas River. (photo via Monilu / iStock / Getty Images Plus)


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tulsa city skyline around downtown (photo via digidreamgrafix / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Tulsa city skyline around downtown (Photo via digidreamgrafix / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a city with many sides. It is home to the world’s largest collection of art of the American West and the world’s largest bull sharks in captivity. It’s a place where beautiful Art Deco architecture crosses paths with America's Mother Road, Route 66.

For more than a taste of the Old West, the Gilcrease Museum is one of the country’s finest facilities for the preservation, study and appreciation of American art and history. Housing more than 10,000 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures by 400 artists from colonial times to the present, Gilcrease has the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of art of the American West.

The former home of oil baron Thomas Gilcrease, the museum is nestled in the hills overlooking the city. There are permanent exhibits of American art and sculptures including works by Remington, Russell, Catlin and Moran. The museum also has a collection of Native American art and artifacts, historic manuscripts, documents and maps. In addition to the interior, visitors can explore acres of themed gardens, walking paths and picnic areas. More than 160 acres of the museum’s complex has been left in its natural state.

For another taste of culture, consider the Philbrook Museum of Art, located in the former 1926-built home of oil baron and philanthropist Waite Phillips. Phillips donated the mansion and grounds as an art center for the City of Tulsa in 1938. The 72-room Renaissance-style villa, which sits among 23 acres of gardens, has retained its original Italianate integrity even after additions were made. Located in midtown, Philbrook exhibits more than 8,500 works of art and is listed as one of America’s top 65 art museums. The museum collection includes European art as well as Native American artifacts. Philbrook is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of only five facilities in the United States that includes a museum, home and gardens. The complex also has a restaurant with views of the formal gardens.

The Oklahoma Aquarium has more than 200 exhibits and more than 1 million gallons of water. The noteworthy shark exhibit includes a water-filled tunnel, so guests walk under the sharks as they swim above in the see-through tunnel.

The Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium, or TASM, is dedicated to preserving Tulsa’s aerospace history. The 19,000-square-foot museum offers historic aircraft and hands-on, child-friendly displays. The museum exhibits include the “Golden Age of Flight,” “World War II” and “Space Exploration.” The aircraft exhibit includes the F-14A Tomcat fighter jet and the Lear 24-D corporate jet. The interactive exhibit features the F-16 Wind Tunnel and the Space Shuttle Launch. The Electric Sky Theater/Planetarium offers presentations with new programs monthly.

The Tulsa Zoo & Living Museum offers experiences with animals and flora from the Sahara, the Arctic and Far East. In all, 1,500 animals from 436 species call the zoo home. Located on 78 acres within Tulsa’s Mohawk Park (the third-largest municipal park in the country), the zoo welcomes nearly 600,000 visitors each year.

Dubbed America’s “Black Wall Street”, the 35-block Greenwood District became a prosperous center for black commerce in the early 1900s. It was also a hotbed for jazz and blues, and the site where Count Basie first encountered big-band jazz. When the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 destroyed much of the district, the black community rebuilt from the ashes. Today, the Greenwood Historical District showcases its heritage through the Greenwood Cultural Center and the Mabel B. Little Heritage House.

The Blue Dome District, meanwhile, is a nightlife center. What once was a 1920s gas station attracting Route 66 travelers with its Art Deco blue dome is now the hub of Tulsa’s downtown nightlife scene. Laid-back pubs and watering holes abound and host local bands.