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IntroductionOnce known as the Oil Capital of the World, Tulsa has the strikes of the early 1900s to thank for much of what stands there today. The boom period that followed brought paved roads, railroad links and ornate Art Deco towers, and things just kept growing from there.
Oil baron Waite Phillips obviously had something other than “less is more” in mind when he built the opulent 72-room Villa Philbrook in the late 1920s. But only 11 years after this Italian Renaissance-style mansion was completed, he donated it to the city, and it has been the Philbrook Museum of Art ever since. In 1949 Tulsa oilman Thomas Gilcrease opened the Gilcrease Museum, a more modest building on the outside, perhaps, but with an equally impressive collection on the inside. You can find one of the most extensive collections of art of the American West here, including 18 of Frederic Remington’s 22 bronze sculptures.
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In DepthAs Oklahoma's second largest city, Tulsa is the product of an unlikely mixture of oil and water; the development of these two liquid resources spurred the city's rapid economic growth and made Tulsa into the vibrant, bustling community it is today.
Tulsa's beginnings date to 1836 when a band of displaced Creek Indians from Alabama built a council fire under a sturdy oak tree (near S. Cheyenne Avenue and W. 18th Street), ending a long, harsh journey over the “Trail of Tears.” The name Tulsa is derived from the Creek word “Tullahassee” or “Tallahassee,” meaning “old town.”
While early settlers were attracted to the lush banks of the Arkansas River, the area remained largely undeveloped until a trading post opened in 1846, signaling the beginning of organized commerce in the area. Tulsa became the official name of the town with the creation of the first post office in 1879.
The arrival of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway provided further impetus for growth. Farmers, ranchers and traders were attracted to the area's increasingly stable system of transportation. One of the first organized groups, a union Sunday school, held class in a tent belonging to a railroad carpenter. By the time Tulsa was incorporated on Jan. 8, 1898, cattle shipping had become the principal industry.
On June 25, 1901, the pace of the town's development quickened. Drillers operating a rig known as Sue Bland #1 struck black gold, creating the state's first commercially important oil well. Eager prospectors swarmed the area, repeating the frenzy of land rushes a few years prior. A second major strike tapped into large reserves at the Ida Glenn farm in 1905. Oil prices began to climb after pipelines were established to the Gulf of Mexico.
As oil fortunes were literally being made overnight, enterprising Tulsans began an aggressive campaign to attract oilmen to establish themselves in the community. The result was a building boom that also created hotels, office buildings, paved roads, bridges and more railroad links.
Train trips organized by civic leaders to promote Tulsa were common at the turn of the 20th century, and humorist Will Rogers was known to accompany these early business boosters. Their vision helped to elevate Tulsa from a dusty cow town in Native American territory to a dynamic urban center with a vigorous economy.
While at one time everyone in Tulsa seemed to be involved in some way with the oil business, the city now has a more diversified economy. Although hundreds of area firms are still associated with the petroleum business, current industries include aviation, computer technology, financial services, health care, manufacturing and mining.
Tulsans place a heavy importance on culture—from museums to performing arts organizations to public art around the city. One of the most beautiful aspects of the destination is its architecture. You may be surprised to learn that Tulsa has one of the largest collections of Art Deco buildings in the country; there are several dozen examples of the style. The design was all the rage in the 1920s and ‘30s, which is when much of Tulsa's construction occurred. A walking tour through Tulsa's historical business district will take you past more than 30 Art Deco sites. The Brady Arts District is where you'll find museums, studios and monthly art walks.
Development of water resources has enabled Tulsa to boast the largest number of man-made lakes in the nation. Barge traffic between the Tulsa Port of Catoosa and New Orleans qualifies Tulsa as a major inland harbor. This 445-mile navigation system links Oklahoma with domestic ports in the surrounding five-state area through a complex system of dams, lakes, reservoirs and locks.
The area earns its nickname “Green Country” from an abundance of parks and gardens that enhance the city's urban appearance. Many acres of parkland have been preserved despite Tulsa's numerous industries. River Parks, the scene of several festivals, includes a lake with a floating stage as well as a lengthy trail system on the east and west banks of the Arkansas River. Woodward Park offers a peaceful escape from the city with a rose garden, rock gardens, a Shakespeare monument, a conservatory and more than 15,000 azaleas.
Tulsa is an ideal destination for fans of equestrian events. Tulsa's Expo Square, which includes several venues, hosts many horse shows and competitions throughout the year, showcasing a variety of breeds and events.
By CarSeveral major highways lead to and from Tulsa. One of the most important is I-44, which approaches the city from the northeast as the Will Rogers Turnpike and from the southwest as the Turner Turnpike. Although I-44 bypasses the downtown area, the city's center is accessible from I-44 by way of numerous interchanges. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Expressway (I-244/US 412) is a major access route from I-44 to the heart of Tulsa.
US 75 leads into downtown Tulsa from both the north and the south; the southern segment is known as the Okmulgee Expressway, which becomes the Indian Nation Turnpike farther south.
US 64/412 approaches the city from the west as the Cimarron Turnpike, but becomes the Keystone Expressway before entering the city limits. The Muskogee Turnpike is a major access highway from the southeast. Converging with SR 51, it enters Tulsa as the Broken Arrow Expressway.
East of the city, the Mingo Valley Expressway (US 169) approaches from the north; it is connected to downtown via I-244. Historic Route 66, which at one time carried traffic from Chicago to Southern California, passes through downtown as 11th Street.
Street SystemThe east-west dividing line is Main Street, while Admiral Boulevard is the city's north-south bisector. Numbered streets run east and west beginning 1 block south of Admiral, unless otherwise designated. A right turn on red is permitted after a complete stop, unless otherwise posted.
ParkingAmple parking is available downtown. There are many commercial garages and lots, and most hotels provide free parking for guests. Rates in the commercial garages range $2-$5 for the first hour or $4-$10 per day.
About the City
Sales TaxThe Tulsa area has a sales tax of 8.52 percent, a lodging tax of 13.52 percent and a rental car tax of 14.51 percent.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(918) 596-9222
Fire (non-emergency)(918) 596-9444
Time and Temperature(918) 743-3311
HospitalsHillcrest Medical Center, (918) 579-1000; OSU Medical Center, (918) 599-1000; Saint Francis Hospital, (918) 494-2200; St. John Medical Center, (918) 744-2345; Hillcrest Hospital South, (918) 294-4000.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersTulsa World, the city's daily newspaper, is distributed in the morning.
RadioTulsa radio station KRMG (740 AM) is a news station; KWGS (89.5 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.
Visitor InformationVisit Tulsa 1 W. 3rd St., Suite 100 TULSA, OK 74103. Phone:(918)585-1201 or (800)558-3311Maps and visitor information are available Mon.-Fri. 8-5.
Air TravelWith service to most major cities in the United States, Tulsa International Airport (TUL) is 8 miles northeast of downtown and is easily accessible by way of I-244 or US 169. Airport on-site parking costs range from $6 to $16 per day. Taxi fare to downtown Tulsa is approximately $20-$30 one way. Many area hotels provide free shuttle service to and from the airport.
Rental CarsHertz, 7727 E. Young Pl., offers discounts to AAA members; phone (918) 838-1015 or (800) 654-3080.
BusesGreyhound Lines Inc. and Jefferson Lines are the major bus lines serving the city. Both operate out of the terminal at 317 S. Detroit Ave.; phone (918) 584-4428 for schedule information.
TaxisThe major cab company is Yellow Checker Cab, (918) 582-6161. Taxis are metered and charge $1.50-$2 plus $1.90 for each mile. There is a $1 charge for each additional passenger.
Public TransportationTulsa Transit operates buses throughout the metropolitan area and includes stops at attractions and shopping centers. The main terminal is at 319 S. Denver Ave. at W. 3rd St.; phone (918) 582-2100 for schedules and information.
EssentialsThe Gilcrease Museum (1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Rd.) is a must-see for any aficionado of Western and Native American art. Virtually every item in the museum's vast collection relates to the discovery, expansion and settlement of North America. The Western-themed works by masters like Albert Bierstadt, George Catlin and John Singer Sargent are noteworthy.
The Philbrook Museum of Art (2727 S. Rockford Rd.), Tulsa's other outstanding art museum, occupies an expansive Italian Renaissance villa built for city oilman Waite Phillips. Today it's a repository for the museum's collections, which range from Italian Renaissance paintings and European sculpture to African, Asian and Native American art. The gardens feature a variety of native Oklahoma plants.
“My ancestors didn't come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.” That's one of many memorable lines attributed to William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers, the vaudevillian, humorist, movie star and social commentator who was one of the world's best-known celebrities during the 1920s and '30s. The Will Rogers Memorial Museum (1720 W. Will Rogers Blvd.) in nearby Claremore pays tribute to the legacy and accomplishments of an Oklahoma native son.
Guns, guns and more guns—but also saddles, spurs, German beer steins and Native American artifacts—are on display at the J.M. Davis Arms & Historical Museum (330 N. J.M. Davis Blvd.) in Claremore. The extensive collection of firearms includes Davis' first weapon, a muzzle-loading shotgun given to him by his father. But Davis also collected everything from political buttons to music boxes, and they're all on display.
Stop and smell the roses at the Tulsa Garden Center (2435 S. Peoria Ave.) in Woodward Park. The lovingly tended rose garden, created by the WPA in the 1930s, encompasses five terraces. Ivy-covered stone walls, fountains and magnolia trees accent the many varieties of hybrid tea roses, which are at peak bloom from mid-May through June and again in October.
Australian stonefish and Giant Pacific octopi in Oklahoma? You can find them at the Oklahoma Aquarium (300 Aquarium Dr.) in Jenks. The aquarium also spotlights the diversified marine life—alligator snapping turtles, gars, sunfish and more—inhabiting the Sooner State's lakes, rivers and streams.
Grab your pith helmet before trekking to the Tulsa Zoo (6421 E. 36th St. N.). One of the most impressive exhibits is The Rainforest, an enclosure where free-flying bats and birds flit about and visitors can see jungle dwellers like dwarf caimans, black howler monkeys, sloths and jewel-colored poison dart frogs.
Named for a Route 66 gas station's fanciful blue dome, the Blue Dome District along E. 2nd Street is the center of downtown Tulsa's nightlife scene. Partiers congregate at laid-back nightspots like Woody's Corner Bar (325 E. 2nd St.), the unofficial after-game gathering place of the Tulsa Oilers ice hockey team. Other hotspots? The arcade games at Max Retropub, German beer and live music at Fassler Hall, and the rooftop bar at El Guapo's Cantina (332 E. 1st St.).
Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, “Oklahoma!” is one of the most beloved of all Broadway musicals and a perennial choice for school and community theatrical productions.
More than a quarter of a million people gather to ring in Tulsa International Mayfest , one of Oklahoma's biggest festivals held downtown (400 S. Main St.). This celebration of live music and the visual arts offers everything from powwow dances and drum circles to body artists and a youth art gallery.
A carnival midway, prize-winning livestock, corn dogs and funnel cakes—there's no finer family entertainment in town than the Tulsa State Fair , which takes place at Expo Square (4145 E. 21st St.) in late September and early October.
ShoppingFrom small, exclusive boutiques to large, bargain-packed malls, Tulsa's shopping centers provide visitors with a wide range of choices. With more than one million square feet of retail floor space, Woodland Hills Mall , E. 71st Street and S. Memorial Drive, is said to be the largest in the state. The mall comprises more than 160 stores including Dillard's, JCPenney, Macy's and Sears.
Utica Square , 21st Street S. and Utica Avenue, caters to upscale tastes and also serves as the backdrop for live performances in summer. Centered about a rustic, restored barn at 51st Street S. and Sheridan Avenue, The Farm offers a variety of boutiques in a setting that is reminiscent of a village square.
Among the retailers at Tulsa Promenade , E. 41st Street and S. Yale Avenue, are Dillard's and JCPenney.
Performing ArtsEarly Tulsa settlers included cultured people who brought their appreciation of music with them, thus sowing the seeds for future growth of the arts.
The Tulsa Opera presents a season of internationally renowned productions. The Performing Arts Center (PAC), E. 2nd Street and Cincinnati Avenue in downtown Tulsa, was built with a combination of public and private funds. It serves as the hub of the arts entertainment community in the city. For ticket information phone (918) 596-7111. In addition, Tulsa Ballet performs in Chapman Music Hall at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center; for ticket information phone (918) 749-6006.
The Tulsa Spotlighters present “The Drunkard,” a 19th-century melodrama that has been in regular production since 1953. The play, which encourages audience participation, is followed by “The Olio,” an old-fashioned variety show. The landmark Spotlight Theatre, 1381 Riverside Dr., serves as the play’s venue; phone (918) 587-5030.
The Jazz Depot at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, 5 S. Boston Ave., features jazz, gospel and blues concerts on Sunday afternoons. On Tuesday evenings the public is invited to drop in to hear local jazz musicians during “Depot Jams.” The Hall of Fame also hosts live jazz music on Friday mornings. For schedules and ticket information phone (918) 928-5299.
Walking ToursTulsa's historical business district mirrors the wealth of the oil industry through its opulent Art Deco architecture. Some of the finest examples of zigzag skyscrapers, the streamline style of the 1930s and the classical style popular during the Great Depression are displayed.
Visitors may choose to explore the area on foot; between 2nd and 6th streets and Cincinnati and Cheyenne avenues there are approximately 40 Art Deco sites. The Tulsa Union Depot, built in 1931, is on 1st Street; the Philtower, known as the “Queen of the Tulsa skyline,” can be found on 5th Street near Boston Avenue; the Mincks-Adams Hotel, with its terra cotta facade, is at 4th Street and Cheyenne Avenue; and the 320 South Boston Building, formerly the National Bank of Tulsa, containing a lavish lobby, is at 320 S. Boston Ave.
Visit Tulsa has maps detailing a walking tour of the Art Deco District; check online or phone (918) 585-1201 or (800) 558-3311.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Several events keep Tulsans in touch with their heritage. The Tulsa Indian Art Festival is held in February in nearby Glenpool with Native American tribes participating from across the country. The city celebrates the arts in mid-May with Tulsa International Mayfest , held in the Main Mall downtown.
The Pinto World Championship Horse Show in June features more than 2,000 colorful horses and riders; the event is held at Expo Square.
More than 400 independent artists and retailers display arts, crafts, antiques and collectibles during An Affair of the Heart , held in mid-July at Expo Square. The event also returns to Expo Square in mid-November.
The Intertribal Indian Club of Tulsa Powwow of Champions held in mid-August attracts dancers from throughout the United States to participate in contests and other cultural activities.
Scotfest is held in mid-September at River West Festival Park. The festival includes a Scottish athletic competition for both men and women plus Scottish entertainment, whisky tastings and dance workshops. Tents are set up by Scottish clans, food vendors and various Celtic merchants.
The Brush Creek Bazaar held in the fall features more than 80 arts and crafts exhibitors, live music and youth activities, as well as clogging and other dance performances.
The Tulsa State Fair is held at Expo Square starting in late September or early October. The fall season also brings Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa , with German folk bands, European food, arts and crafts, a dachshund race and a carnival.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Places in Vicinity