Planning a family vacation to the Sooner State and wondering the best places to visit in Oklahoma? This fascinating state filled with complex indigenous history and cowboy culture is teeming with unique destinations and fun things to do.
Much like North Dakota, Missouri or New Mexico, Oklahoma is vastly overlooked as a tourism destination. But if you take the time to explore this beautiful state, you’ll find stunning landscapes, colorful street art, lively urban districts, and a uniqueness that is hard to rival.
This Oklahoma travel guide includes the 10 best places to visit in Oklahoma for first-time visitors to the state – ranked by a long-time resident.
About the State of Oklahoma
Oklahoma is an unexpected gem as a vacation destination.
Located in the central region of the United States, Oklahoma has a rich and storied history. Before European settlers arrived, the land was home to diverse Native American tribes, including the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole nations.
The infamous Trail of Tears forced many tribes to relocate to the region, leaving an indelible mark on the state’s history.
In the late 19th century, Oklahoma became known as “Indian Territory,” serving as a melting pot for various tribal cultures. However, the lure of free land and natural resources led to the Land Run of 1889, when settlers rushed in to claim the unassigned lands, triggering rapid development and the formation of towns and cities.
In 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state of the Union. Throughout the 20th century, Oklahoma experienced significant events such as the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and the devastating Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
Despite these challenges, the state has shown resilience and continues to evolve, embracing its Native American heritage, celebrating its cowboy culture, and becoming a vibrant center for the arts, music, and world-class cuisine.
Oklahoma at a Glance
- Capital: Oklahoma City
- Population: 3.987 Million
- Nickname: Sooner State
- Number of State Parks: 38
Our Oklahoma Experience
We have lived in Oklahoma for more than a decade and explored every inch of this state. From weekend getaways to day trips and outings in our own hometown of Oklahoma City, it is safe to say we know this state well.
As we tell everyone who asks the question, “how do you like Oklahoma?”, the Sooner State will surprise you. It offers everything from up-scale metropolitan dining, to quirky craft breweries, quaint small towns, and world-class museums.
Your experience in Oklahoma will be what you make of it. But, keep an open mind.
Put aside your preconceived notions of “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plains”, and prepare to meet friendly locals, see some beautiful sunsets, and experience rich history in a very underrated state.
10 Best Places to Visit in Oklahoma (RANKED By an Oklahoma Native)
While we love Oklahoma and have a hard time ranking our favorite places to visit in the state, we know when it comes to planning a trip and narrowing down your destinations, honesty matters.
So, here are the best places to visit in Oklahoma, from a local’s perspective.
1. Oklahoma City
The capital city of Oklahoma is a fantastic vacation destination for families, foodies, couples, or even solo travelers.
With a metropolitan population of 1.44 million people, Oklahoma City is a thriving urban area with cultural diversity, some of the best street art in the United States, award-winning restaurants, and lots of great museums and fun experiences.
History enthusiasts can delve into the somber past at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which commemorates the Oklahoma City bombing. Or learn about Cowboy culture at the Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
Families visiting OKC with kids can enjoy a day of fun at the Science Museum Oklahoma or the Oklahoma City Zoo, home to a wide variety of animals.
Sports fans can catch a game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, where the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder play or at the Bricktown Ballpark, home to the city’s Triple A baseball team.
Additionally, art lovers can explore the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, which houses an impressive collection of American and European art.
And outdoor enthusiasts can take a stroll along the picturesque Oklahoma River or enjoy the beautiful gardens at the Myriad Botanical Gardens.
With its welcoming atmosphere, diverse attractions, and friendly locals, Oklahoma City promises an unforgettable vacation experience for all.
Tulsa is a vibrant city offering a plethora of family-friendly activities and tourist attractions.
The Oklahoma Aquarium, which is one of the top attractions in the state, showcases fascinating marine life and features a shark tunnel that will leave both children and adults in awe.
The city in the northeast corner of the state is also home to one of the United States’ best parks, the Gathering Place, a sprawling riverside park with playgrounds, gardens, and water features.
Families will also be mesmerized with a quick trip to the Center of the Universe, perhaps one of the strangest places to visit in Oklahoma. This fascinating acoustic anomaly in the heart of Tulsa draws visitors with its mysterious and captivating allure.
Located in the middle of a seemingly ordinary brick circle, the Center of the Universe creates a peculiar auditory phenomenon. When standing in the center of the circle and speaking aloud, the sound echoes back with an eerie, amplified effect that can only be heard within the confines of the circle.
The exact science behind this phenomenon remains a mystery, adding to the mystique of the Center of the Universe.
3. Medicine Park and the Wichita Mountains
Medicine Park is an historic cobblestone resort town nestled along the banks of Medicine Creek. With its quaint shops, art galleries, and unique architecture, this tiny town packs a lot of charm.
The town’s soothing ambiance is complemented by its natural surroundings, as it serves as the gateway to the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge.
This enchanting area showcases the rugged beauty of the Wichita Mountains and offers a wealth of outdoor activities for visitors. The refuge encompasses over 59,000 acres of picturesque landscapes, including granite peaks, pristine lakes, and rolling prairies.
The refuge is also home to a diverse array of wildlife, including bison, elk, deer, prairie dogs, and numerous bird species. Outdoor activities such as hiking, boating, and wildlife photography are popular pursuits.
Whether you seek a serene retreat or an adventure in the great outdoors the Wichita Mountains offer some of the most breathtaking views in Oklahoma.
4. Broken Bow
Broken Bow is one of the most naturally beautiful places to visit in Oklahoma. With an abundance of outdoor adventures, it is an ideal destination for a weekend getaway.
Nestled in the picturesque foothills of the Ouachita Mountains in the southeastern portion of the state, the area offers lush forests, crystal-clear lakes, and scenic trails.
Visitors can explore Beavers Bend State Park, where they can hike through dense trees, paddle along the pristine Mountain Fork River, or enjoy fishing in the tranquil waters.
Adventure seekers can satisfy their adrenaline cravings by zip-lining through the treetops or partaking in thrilling water sports on Broken Bow Lake.
For those seeking relaxation, the area is home to luxurious cabins and unique escapes in the woods that provide a serene retreat, allowing visitors to unwind and bask in the serenity of nature.
With so many outdoor recreation opportunities coupled with the serene ambiance, Broken Bow makes for a wonderful family vacation.
5. Turner Falls
Located in Davis, Turner Falls is the largest waterfall in Oklahoma.
Situated in the picturesque Arbuckle Mountains just off I-35 between Oklahoma City and Dallas, Texas, Turner Falls is a mesmerizing sight with cascading water that pours over rugged cliffs into a sparkling swimming hole below.
On a hot summer day, families can cool off and enjoy a refreshing dip in the clear waters, surrounded by lush greenery and towering rock formations.
Turner Falls Park also offers various recreational activities. Within the park, families can also hike the trails, take in the scenic sites from multiple viewpoints, and even explore natural caves.
There are also picnic areas and camping sites available if you want to spend the night under the starry sky.
Once the state capital of Oklahoma, Guthrie showcases its rich history through its well-preserved Victorian-era red brick buildings and western architecture.
The town’s historic district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, invites visitors to stroll along its brick-paved streets lined with beautifully restored storefronts, antique shops, art galleries, and museums.
The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, boasting intricate design and stunning stained glass, is a standout architectural gem.
During the annual Guthrie’s 89er Celebration, the town comes alive with festivities, parades, and reenactments, celebrating the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889.
It’s one of the most delightful small towns in the United States, and a must-visit if exploring Oklahoma or passing through on an historic Route 66 road trip.
7. Natural Falls
Natural Falls State Park is located in northeastern Oklahoma, near the Missouri state border. Considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the state, Natural Falls cascades gracefully down a sheer rock face, plunging 77 feet into a serene pool below.
The surrounding lush greenery and towering trees create a tranquil atmosphere.
With its picturesque setting and mesmerizing cascades, Natural Falls offers a serene escape from the bustling urban areas, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the soothing sounds of rushing water and the awe-inspiring sight of nature’s grandeur.
Whether you’re seeking a peaceful hike along the scenic trails, a picnic by the falls, or a refreshing swim in the pool beneath, Natural Falls promises an unforgettable experience for families in Oklahoma.
8. Great Salt Plains State Park
Located northwest of the town of Enid, Great Salt Plains State Park is filled with exciting recreational pursuits, including digging for selenite crystals, hiking, fishing, and camping.
This 8,690-acre park is renowned for its vast salt flats, formed by an ancient saltwater ocean that once covered the area. The most remarkable feature of the park is the “salt crystal dig,” where visitors can search for hourglass-shaped selenite crystals.
This rare opportunity allows both children and adults to dig in the salt plains and uncover these stunning crystalline treasures.
9. Selman Bat Cave
A visit to the Selman Bat Cave, situated in northwestern Oklahoma near Woodward, is one of the more rare places to visit in Oklahoma.
This natural cave enthralls visitors with its impressive bat population that flies out each night during the summer and early fall months around sunset.
This unique limestone cave serves as a summer roosting site for close to a million Mexican free-tailed bats, making it a unique destination for bat enthusiasts and nature lovers.
Each evening from May to September, the skies above the Selman Bat Cave come alive as the bats emerge in a mesmerizing spectacle.
Witnessing the mass exodus of bats as they spiral into the twilight sky is a truly awe-inspiring experience.
Visitors can observe this phenomenon from a designated viewing area, marveling at the seamless coordination and grace of these remarkable creatures. But doing so requires winning a lottery system, as the number of visitors to the cave is limited.
10. Robbers Cave
Another cave worth visiting in Oklahoma, Robber’s Cave offers a remarkable blend of natural beauty, adventure, and historical significance. Nestled within the scenic San Bois Mountains in eastern Oklahoma, this enchanting state park is a lot of fun for outdoorsy families.
You can hike along the rugged trails, explore picturesque landscapes and discover hidden caves along the way.
Beyond its natural allure, Robber’s Cave State Park holds a captivating history, once serving as a hideout for notorious outlaws such as Jesse James and Belle Starr – hence the name “Robber’s Cave”.
This historical significance adds a sense of intrigue and excitement for both children and adults.
The park also boasts numerous camping spots, allowing families to immerse themselves in the serene wilderness overnight. With its combination of breathtaking scenery, exciting adventures, and intriguing past, Robber’s Cave is one of the best places to visit in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma Best Places to Visit FAQs
If you’re planning a trip to the Sooner State and want to see some of the best places to visit in Oklahoma, here are some of the most frequently asked questions you might have.
What is the prettiest part of Oklahoma?
Oklahoma boasts various scenic areas throughout its different regions. As locals to the state, here are some of our favorite places to visit in Oklahoma for natural beauty.
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Located in southwestern Oklahoma, this refuge encompasses scenic mountains, prairies, and diverse wildlife. It offers breathtaking vistas, including the iconic Mount Scott, which provides panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Turner Falls Park: Situated in the Arbuckle Mountains of southern Oklahoma, Turner Falls is the state’s largest waterfall.
Ouachita Mountains: Located in southeastern Oklahoma, the area near Broken Bow and Beavers Bend State Park is particularly scenic in the autumn season when the foliage turns vibrant shades of red, orange, and gold.
What is Oklahoma famous for?
Oklahoma is best known for a few things. Most notably, the state has a rich and complex Native American history and is home to numerous Native American tribes.
The state also inspired John Steinbeck’s novel “The Grapes of Wrath”, written about the Dust Bowl during the 1930s, which was a period of severe dust storms and agricultural devastation.
Finally, Oklahoma City is perhaps best known as the site of a tragic act of domestic terrorism in 1995 when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed. The Oklahoma City National Memorial stands at the site to honor the victims and serves as a reminder of the resilience of the community.
What is the most visited place in Oklahoma?
The Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is the most visited attraction in Oklahoma.
The memorial and museum commemorate the tragic events of the Oklahoma City bombing that took place on April 19, 1995. The site serves as a place of remembrance for the 168 lives lost in the bombing and provides education about the impact of violence.
The memorial features the Reflecting Pool, Field of Empty Chairs, Survivor Tree, and the Gates of Time.
It attracts visitors from around the world who come to pay their respects and learn about this significant event in American history.
What are the most popular cities in Oklahoma to visit?
Oklahoma is home to several fun cities to visit. First and foremost, the capital and largest city of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City has a vibrant atmosphere with a mix of urban attractions and Western charm.
It boasts popular landmarks like the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, the Bricktown entertainment district, and the Myriad Botanical Gardens.
The second largest city, Tulsa, is a cultural hub with a number of unique attractions to visit, such as the Philbrook Museum of Art and the Gathering Place – named one of the best city parks in the United States.
Finally, for those interested in the lively college-town vibes, both Norman and Stillwater are popular and fun cities in Oklahoma to experience college life at its finest.
Norman, is home to the University of Oklahoma and the National Weather Center, for those who are also fascinated with the severe weather in this part of the country and want to learn about how it’s forecasted.
Is Oklahoma worth visiting?
Oklahoma is absolutely worth visiting. Often overlooked and home to one of the most underrated cities in the United States, Oklahoma offers a diverse range of both attractions and cultural experiences.
Whether you want to explore stunning landscapes such as the Wichita Mountains or immerse yourself in the thriving arts and culture scene in Oklahoma City, this landlocked state will surprise and delight.
Additionally, the state has a rich Native American heritage, with various tribes contributing to its history and culture, making it an intriguing destination for those interested in indigenous traditions.
Final thoughts on the best vacation spots in Oklahoma
Whether you want to immerse yourself in nature, hike, and enjoy the many Oklahoma wildflowers that bloom each spring, or soak in the art scene, nightlife, and dine at nationally renowned restaurants in the urban areas, the state on the central plains offers a unique and memorable experience for those who take their time to explore the Sooner State.
Have a question or comment about the best places to visit in Oklahoma or any popular Oklahoma attractions? We’d love to hear from you and help you navigate our home state! Leave your thoughts or questions in the comments below.