What is Oklahoma Known For? | Tornadoes and 15 Other Fascinating Things

Oklahoma is one of the underrated states in the USA. The state is a beautiful tapestry woven with the threads of indigenous culture, major historical events, and wide open prairielands. Oklahoma truly is a gem worth exploring. Known for much more than its sweeping plains and bright orange sunsets, Oklahoma’s unique identity stems from both its history and its modern contributions. 

So, what is Oklahoma known for really? In this guide, we unveil the top 16 claims to fame for the Sooner State. 

What is Oklahoma known for? The Sooner State’s 16 top claims to fame

Whether you are planning a trip to some of the best places to visit in Oklahoma or just interested in learning more about the state, we’re introducing you to 16 things Oklahoma is known for. 

As long-time residents of the Sooner State, we’ve come to love and loath many of the aspects that put Oklahoma on the map. From our intense weather that can devastate entire towns to our beautiful indigenous culture, here are the top claims to fame for Oklahoma.

Native American culture

a statue of a native american woman in oklahoma
Oklahoma’s Indigenous American heritage is evident throughout the state. | Photo by 15299 from Pixabay

Oklahoma has a rich Native American heritage stemming from the historical relocation and resettlement of various tribes to the region during the 19th century. 

Once known as the “Indian Territory,” Oklahoma became a new home for forcibly displaced Native American nations, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole, as part of the Trail of Tears and other egregious indigenous population removal efforts. 

This convergence of tribal cultures in Oklahoma has significantly contributed to the state’s distinctive indigenous identity. Today, Oklahoma boasts the second-largest Native American population in the United States, behind Alaska. Its cultural landscape is marked by vibrant tribal communities, events, and traditions. 

You can learn about the state’s indigenous tribes at the acclaimed Museum of the First Americans, one of the best things to do when visiting Oklahoma City.  

LOOKING FOR OTHER STATES WITH DEEPLY ROOTED INDIGENOUS CULTURE? CHECK OUT OUR POST ON NEW MEXICO

Oklahoma City bombing

sunset over the Oklahoma City National Memorial
Sunset over the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

Oklahoma City holds a profound place in more recent United States history, as well. One of the most tragic and devastating acts of domestic terrorism occurred in the Oklahoma capital city on April 19, 1995. 

On that fateful day, a truck bomb exploded outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, resulting in the loss of 168 lives, including 19 children. Hundreds more were injured in the blast, and the lives of residents throughout the city were changed forever. 

The bombing, orchestrated by Timothy McVeigh, was fueled by anti-government sentiments and extremist ideologies.

Today, the Oklahoma City National Memorial, now located at the site of the former federal building, serves as a poignant tribute to the victims and a powerful reminder of the resilience and strength displayed by the community in the face of tragedy. 

Route 66

cosmic curios along Route 66
Cosmic Curios Is One Of The Quirkiest Places To Visit along Route 66 in Oklahoma. | Photo by Mick Haut from Unsplash

On a much lighter note, one of the most famous and most historic highways runs right through Oklahoma. Often referred to as the “Main Street of America”, the iconic Route 66 traverses through cities like Tulsa and Oklahoma.

Established in 1926, Route 66 became a symbol of westward migration and the cross-country road trip. 

There are several places throughout the state where you see Route 66’s spirit live on. From the Pops Soda Shop in Arcadia to Buck Atom’s Cosmic Curios in Tulsa, you’ll find several quirky roadside attractions that pay tribute to the nostalgia of the historic highway.

ENJOY QUIRKY ROADSIDE STOPS? CHECK OUT THE ENCHANTED HIGHWAY IN NORTH DAKOTA.

Oklahoma Land Run

a statue depicting people on horses and in covered wagons during the Oklahoma Land Run, if your wondering what is Oklahoma known for, the land run is one of the most significant historical events in state history.
This statue in Bricktown OKC depicts the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889.

This one is for the history lovers! One of the most famous things Oklahoma is known for is the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889.

This historical event marked a pivotal moment in state history as pioneers eagerly raced to claim unassigned lands in the newly opened territory. Triggered by the U.S. government’s decision to open up vast stretches of land for settlement, the land run attracted thousands of settlers who anxiously waited at the border for the signal to rush in and stake their claim. 

The Oklahoma Land Run, which has been depicted in movies like “Far and Away” starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, cinematically portray the dramatic and often tumultuous quest for a new life on the frontier.

Eight years after the land run, Oklahoma officially became a state.

You can visit the state’s first capital, Guthrie, Oklahoma, which is located about 15 minutes north of Oklahoma City. One of the best small towns in the United States, Guthrie maintains much of its original early 20th century charm and preserved architecture.

Tornadoes

A neighborhood in the city of Moore, Oklahoma destroyed by an EF5 tornado in 2013.
A neighborhood in the city of Moore, Oklahoma destroyed by an EF5 tornado in 2013.

If there is one thing Oklahoma is famous for it is the state’s wild weather! 

Widely recognized for its frequent and intense thunderstorms known for producing tornadoes, Oklahoma has earned its reputation for being the heart of “Tornado Alley.” 

Each spring, the warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with cool, dry air from the Rocky Mountains over Oklahoma’s flat terrain, creating a volatile atmospheric environment conducive to the formation of severe storms. 

Oklahoma’s association with tornadoes and severe weather can be best experienced by touring the National Weather Service in Norman. While Norman is a suburb of Oklahoma City, touring the NWS is one of the best things to do on a trip to Oklahoma City

While spring in Oklahoma is best known for its crazy weather, the season is one of our personal favorites, thanks to the beautiful Oklahoma wildflowers that bloom in the spring. 

Country music

A Mural On The Side Of The Building At The Woody Guthrie Center In Tulsa
A Mural On The Side Of The Building At The Woody Guthrie Center In Tulsa. | Photo by Katie Mourn from Unsplash

If you’re wondering “what is Oklahoma known for in pop culture?” Look no further than the country music charts. You’re sure to find a famous Oklahoman on the list. 

The state has produced more famous country musicians than probably any state other than Tennessee, including some of the most famous names in the industry, including Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, and Carrie Underwood. 

Country music is deeply rooted in Oklahoma’s heritage, which dates all the way back to Woody Guthrie, whose folk-inspired songs laid the foundation for the genre in the 1940s. Learning about Guthrie’s legacy at the Woody Guthrie Center is one of the best things to do in Tulsa.

Additionally, Merle Haggard, another one of the most influential figures in country music history, had family roots in Oklahoma and even wrote a song, “Okie from Muskogee” as a nod to the state.  

With a deep connection to the heartland and a tradition of producing influential artists, Oklahoma has rightfully earned its place in the musical genre.

Unique shape

Oklahoma has one of the most recognizable shapes of any state other than Texas. While people don’t buy Oklahoma-shaped jewelry like they do Texas-shaped jewelry as Texas souvenirs, the state’s distinctive shape is still very identifiable and loved by its residents. 

The state’s panhandle boundaries were shaped by a series of negotiations, treaties, and compromises between the U.S. government and Texas when it entered the Union during the 19th century. 

The unique outline resembles a frying pan with a handle, which has earned Oklahoma the nickname “The Panhandle State.” 

Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre

a statue of a black man in the 1920s with his hands up in the air, a memorial to the tulsa race riot
This statue in Tulsa is part of a memorial to those who were killed or forever changed in the Tulsa Race Riots. | Photo by Mike Goad from Pixabay

An Oklahoma landmark in Tulsa that has become more well-known in recent years, Black Wall Street, which is officially known as the Greenwood District, was once a thriving African American community that flourished in the early 20th century. 

Established in the segregated era of Jim Crow, Greenwood was a district of economic success and resilience within the Black community. 

The business district was home to numerous booming Black-owned enterprises, including banks, restaurants, theaters, and shops, earning the name “Black Wall Street.” 

The prosperity of this community was tragically disrupted in 1921 during the Tulsa Race Massacre. Also known as the Tulsa Race Riot, this violent event was sparked by a false accusation against a Black man and member of the community named Dick Rowland. In response, a white mob attacked Greenwood. They looted, burned homes and businesses, and killed countless people. This tragedy decimated the once-prosperous district. 

For many years, the massacre was downplayed and omitted from historical records, but efforts to acknowledge and address this painful history have gained momentum in recent years, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and learning from such atrocities.

College football

a crowded football game at the University of Oklahoma
College football is Oklahoma’s favorite pass time!

College football is practically a professional sport in Oklahoma. Perhaps it is because the state doesn’t have an actual professional football team, but residents in Oklahoma are passionate about their universities’ football programs. 

The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, in particular, both have dedicated fan bases. For years, the two universities played in the same conference, which resulted in a fierce annual, in-state rivalry known as Bedlam. 

While that rivalry has now phased out with the University of Oklahoma moving to the Southeast Conference, the excitement that surrounds football in Oklahoma remains.    

Buckle of the Bible Belt

praying hands statue at Oral Roberts University
A statue of praying hands at Oral Roberts University is a symbol of the university’s Christian beliefs. | Photo by Jametlen Reskp from Unsplash

Oklahoma has a reputation for being a very conservative state, largely due to its strong adherence to Christian beliefs and values.

The state is one of several states known as the Bible Belt. States commonly associated with the Bible Belt include those in the South, such as Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee, as well as parts of the Midwest and Central Plains, including Kentucky and Oklahoma. 

While there are numerous states that are considered part of this region, Tulsa, Oklahoma is sometimes referred to as the “Buckle of the Bible Belt” because it is home to Oral Roberts University, a private evangelical university. 

While demographics in Oklahoma are slowly shifting, the state’s religious conservatism still plays a crucial role in shaping public opinion on issues ranging from education to social policies. 

Casinos

In contrast to its conservative religious values, Oklahoma is known for its casinos and stance on legal gambling. Cross the border into Oklahoma from just about any state, and you’ll find a casino beckoning travelers to stop and test their luck. 

In fact, the state is actually home to the largest casino in the world – Winstar World Casino – near the Oklahoma-Texas state line.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 paved the way for Native American tribes in the state to establish and operate casinos, which has resulted in the widespread development of gaming establishments.   

Oil and gas

The Iconic Golden Driller Statue is one of the things Oklahoma is famous for
The Iconic Golden Driller Statue Is One Of The Most Famous Landmarks In Oklahoma and is a nod to the state’s oil and gas heritage. | Photo by Jametlene Reskp from Unsplash

Gas and oil production is the number one industry in Oklahoma. The state’s significance to the energy sector has to do with the vast oil and natural gas reserves in Oklahoma and the major energy companies headquartered in Oklahoma, like Devon and Chesapeake. 

As a tribute to its role in energy production, you’ll find the 75-foot tall Golden Driller statue in Tulsa. Once known as the “Oil Capital of the World”, Tulsa celebrated its heritage by constructing the colossal figure of an oil worker wearing a hard hat and holding a giant oil derrick bit in 1966 in front of the Tulsa Expo Center. 

The statue remains the 6th tallest statue in the United States. 

Tiger King

This Oklahoma claim-to-fame is mildly embarrassing for residents of the state… and we say that as residents of the state. 

Tiger King was a true-crime documentary series that took us all into the bizarre and chaotic world of exotic animal enthusiasts, focusing primarily on the flamboyant owner of the Wynnewood, Oklahoma Exotic Animal Park – Joe Exotic.

Released on Netflix in 2020, the captivating series had the world enthralled in the crazy and eccentric lives of big cat owners and the surreal storyline that seemed so insane you questioned its truth. 

While the Exotic Animal Park has since closed due to the questionable ethics of big cat breeding and ownership, the legend of Joe Exotic remains one of the things Oklahoma has become known for. 

Fried pies 

fried pies on a white table
Fried pies are a popular bakery item in Oklahoma. | Photo by Marcos Garzo from Pixabay

While many people may think Oklahoma is known for foods like chicken fried steak, we would argue the state’s most famous food is the fried pie. 

The tradition of making fried pies can be traced back to the early 20th century when pioneer women prepared these hand-held pastries as a convenient and portable way to enjoy sweet or savory fillings. The pies are often filled with fruits like apples, peaches, or berries.

Today, roadside bakeries and cafes throughout Oklahoma continue this culinary tradition, offering locals and visitors alike the opportunity to savor the comforting taste of a well-made fried pie. 

Being a foodie destination

a fancy restaurant in Oklahoma City
La Brasa, one of our favorite Peruvian restaurants in Oklahoma City.

While Oklahoma is known for fried pies, this isn’t the state’s only culinary draw. 

The state’s capital, Oklahoma City, has emerged as a burgeoning foodie destination in recent years. Home to some of the highest rated new restaurants in the country, visitors come from near and far to savor the gastronomic landscape of the city. 

The dining scene reflects a delightful fusion of traditional Southern flavors, Native American influences, Asian influences, and innovative culinary concepts. You’ll find a spectrum of international cuisine, from Vietnamese and Lao restaurants to German food in Oklahoma City, and even some awesome craft breweries. 

Additionally, you’ll find award-winning barbecue joints serving up succulent smoked meats and trendy eateries redefining comfort food with a modern twist.

The Paseo Arts District and Midtown have become hubs for creative and eclectic dining experiences. While OKC’s Bricktown and Automobile Alley are becoming known for their culinary scene along with their street art scene and festive offerings

Wide-open spaces

undeveloped land in western oklahoma
Oklahoma is known for its wide open, undeveloped land.

While there are a lot of things Oklahoma is known for, one of the things the state is most famous for is nothing

The state might be home to some seriously underrated US cities, but the majority of Oklahoma is just wide-open space! 

The state’s sprawling prairies, expansive plains, and spacious fields, contribute to a sense of boundless horizons and beautiful sunsets. 

This is particularly pronounced in the western region of Oklahoma, where the terrain is predominantly flat and uninterrupted. 

Although you’ll find plenty of open spaces throughout the state from the eastern region to the southern area around the Wichita Mountains and Medicine Park, head to western Oklahoma if you want to feel completely isolated from modern society. 

A Quick List of Things Oklahoma is Famous For

Famous Oklahomans: Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Blake Shelton, Kristin Chenoweth, Garth Brooks, James Garner, Vince Gill, Dr. Phil, Chuck Norris, Brad Pitt, Mickey Mantle

Famous Movies/TV Shows Filmed in Oklahoma: Twister, Killers of the Flower Moon, Oklahoma!, Far and Away, Stillwater, Where the Heart Is, Elizabethtown, 8 Seconds, August: Osage County

Conclusion: What is Oklahoma known for?

There you have it. The top things Oklahoma is famous for. From its contributions to the music industry to its headline-making weather events, and the countless famous people born or raised in the state, Oklahoma is one of the most underrated states in America. 

With its warm and friendly people, dynamic cities, and wide-open spaces, Oklahoma is a unique and fascinating state that is well worth exploring.

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Did this post answer your question, “what is Oklahoma known for?” Do you have any other questions about the Sooner state? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts on the comments below.

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