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A modern frontier destination full of unique attractions

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Chad Huntington was on the opening day crew in 1999 when the first water taxi launched into the newly constructed Bricktown Canal in downtown Oklahoma City. He loved telling the city’s narrative in his role as executive director of another nearby fledgling district, Automobile Alley, and figured a part-time gig navigating and narrating a sightseeing boat would be the perfect extension of his passion.

You can take the Bricktown Water Taxi to see the Centennial Land Run Monument at the lower end of the Bricktown Canal. Oklahoma-based artist Paul Moore and his son created this work from 2000 to 2020. There are 45 bronze sculptures of cowboys, horses, and wagons stretching out 365 feet long depicting the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder.

In 2019, as the canal and the taxi service turned 20 years old, Huntington purchased the Bricktown Water Taxi operation. We visited Oklahoma City that summer and took the 40-minute narrated water taxi, learning what there was to do in the district and hearing a mostly lighthearted history of the city and the canal, though our guide had not yet been born when it was built two decades earlier.

We got a chance to meet Huntington while there and learned that not everyone thought it was a good idea to turn a street into a waterway to spark visitation numbers. Those skeptics called the canal a ride to nowhere. But two decades later, the taxis have carried more than 2 million passengers, numbers that have helped attract development to transform blocks of historic warehouses into an entertainment and dining destination.

Some of the early passengers were locals, perhaps coming to discover a part of the city they haven’t ventured to before or in many years, and now nearly three of every four on board are out-of-towners as Oklahoma City has become more of a tourist destination.

What has the canal done for this capital city of 1.3 million, the largest in Oklahoma? I live within two hours of Oklahoma City and can say that nearly all of my 20 or so visits have included at least a few hours in the Bricktown area. Sometimes that’s grabbing a meal at one of the restaurants where you can sit on expansive patios along the canal, other times it’s to attend a minor league baseball game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

And development in Bricktown spawned the revitalization of other districts and transportation between the districts, including the Oklahoma City Streetcars. There are 14 unique districts in the heart of the city and it’s been fun to watch them evolve over the years as a frequent visitor. Recently, I’ve explored:

The headquarters for the international organization of women pilots, The Ninety-Nines, moved from New York City to Oklahoma City’s Will Rogers World Airport Terminal Building in 1955. In 1999, the organization opened The 99s Museum of Women Pilots. Photo courtesy Visit OKC.
  • The Boathouse District, where you can get adventurous at the nation’s only urban whitewater rafting and kayaking center.
  • The Arts District & Film Row, home to many of the city’s visual and performing arts venues, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and the site of one of my favorite hotels, 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City, housed in a historic Ford Motor Company assembly plant on the west end of downtown.
  • Automobile Alley, once the primary location for the city’s car dealerships and now a collection of eclectic restaurants, shops, and attractions like the immersive art collective Factory Obscura.
  • The City Center or Downtown District is in the middle of it all and is home to some of the city’s must-see attractions. The newly created Scissortail Park, which has 70 acres of public space; the Myriad Botanical Gardens and Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory, which will reopen in the fall of 2022 after renovation; and the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, a moving tribute to those lost and affected by the 1995 bombing of the city’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

You can easily fill a weekend staying in the center of the city, but you’ll want to venture to other areas to see some of Oklahoma City’s one-of-a-kind museums. In the Adventure District, where you’ll find Science Museum Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City Zoo, you won’t want to miss the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, packed with Western history, art, and culture, and the American Pigeon Museum & Library, where you can see 12 different breeds of live pigeons and learn the interesting history of the birds’ wartime efforts.

This year the First Americans Museum opened not far from the Bricktown District. It shares the collective stories of the state’s 39 federally recognized tribes who were removed from their ancestral homelands to what is now Oklahoma.

In the south part of the city, the Museum of Osteology displays more than 300 skeletons ranging from a tiny hummingbird to the framework of a 40-foot-long humpback whale, many normally not seen in museum exhibits.

Among the options for flying into Oklahoma City are Wiley Post Airport and Will Rogers World Airport. A bonus to flying into Will Rogers World Airport is that it’s also the home of The Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots. The headquarters for the international organization of women pilots moved from New York City to the Will Rogers World Airport Terminal Building in 1955, and in 1999, the museum opened to offer research and exhibits on the history of women in aviation.

Oklahoma City bills itself as The Modern Frontier, and everywhere you venture you see new development with nods to its history as a frontier city.

The Bricktown Water Taxi operation in Oklahoma City has carried more than 2 million passengers since the canal opened in 1999. The canal was created by turning a street into a waterway to spark visitation numbers and development in the historic districts of the city. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder. Factory Obscura’s “Mix-Tape” invites visitors to walk, crawl, climb, and slide through a 6,000-square-foot immersive art space in Oklahoma City’s Automobile Alley neighborhood. About 30 artists make up the collective known as Factory Obscura. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder. “USA Today” readers voted Oklahoma City’s public art the best in the country in 2021. Among the art installations in what the publication called “a veritable outdoor gallery” are murals, including this one on the exterior of Exhibit C Gallery, an art gallery and retail space owned by the Chickasaw Nation in the Bricktown District. Mary Eddy’s Kitchen x Lounge  is inside the 21c Museum Hotel Oklahoma City. The hotel and restaurant fill the 1916 building that was a former Ford Motor Company assembly plant. One of the plant’s first employees, Fred Jones, worked his way up from production line worker to owner, purchasing the building in 1968 and becoming one of the largest Ford dealers in the world. The restaurant is named for his wife, Mary Eddy Jones. This is one of many refurbished buildings that serve as emblems of industrial innovation in Oklahoma City. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder. The outdoor component of the Oklahoma City National Memorial is on the ground where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building stood before it was bombed on April 19, 1995. The granite used on the pathway was salvaged from the building. In this view, you see the reflecting pool and 9:01 gate, representing the innocence before the attack at 9:02 a.m. To the right is a field of 168 empty chairs in nine rows, representing the number of lives lost in the bombing, and a survivor wall. To the left is the survivor tree and rescuers’ orchard, just in front of the Memorial Museum. The museum offers a self-guided tour sharing those who were killed, those who survived, and those changed forever. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder. “The End of the Trail” is a striking sculpture in the entry of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The work by James Earle shows a Native American and his horse, both weary in body and spirit at the end of their journey, and represents a childhood spent on the American frontier. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder. Among the unique places to stay in Oklahoma City are the Conestoga wagons and teepees at Orr Family Farm. The 107-acre family fun farm in south Oklahoma City is open to the public in the spring and fall but offers year-round overnight stays. AOPA included them in this article on glamping. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder. Oklahoma City Streetcars make it easy to travel from one city district to another. There are 14 unique districts in the heart of the city, including the Bricktown District shown here with a streetcar passing through. Photo by MeLinda Schnyder.
The view of the Oklahoma City skyline from above Scissortail Park in the capital city. The park is named for the state bird of Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Visit OKC.
The view of the Oklahoma City skyline from above Scissortail Park in the capital city. The park is named for the state bird of Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Visit OKC.

MeLinda Schnyder

Aviation and travel writer
MeLinda Schnyder is a writer and editor based in Wichita, Kansas, who frequently writes about travel and aviation. She worked for 12 years in the corporate communications departments for the companies behind the Beechcraft and Cessna brands.
Topics: Travel, US Travel

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