We were in Tulsa in early November 2022, as part of Big Trip #4.
Tulsa’s not quiiiite on the way home to VA from AZ, but it’s well worth the extra hour of driving if you’re traveling I-40 through Oklahoma, as we were when heading from Sayre to a lakefront park in western Arkansas. In addition to its important African-American history, it has neat Art Deco architecture, a healthy brewery scene, and the nicest city park we’d ever seen. And Tulsa is the birthplace of Route 66, who knew?
Tulsa is the second-largest city in Oklahoma, and is the center of the state’s arts and culture scene, with museums, ballet, symphony, opera, theater, and music festivals. There’s a zoo, aquarium, the incredible city park, and miles of paved multi-use paths. We were delighted by how cool Tulsa is and how much there was to do there!
We stayed at West Bend RV Outpost, one of the quirkier campgrounds we’ve visited. It’s a self-described “intergalactic RV outpost” on the grounds of a large art-focused shared warehouse/co-working space/event venue. The campground itself is basically a parking lot next to the compound’s refurbished industrial buildings. We had full hookups, friendly neighbors (our fellow campers seemed to be mostly long-term residents), and a short drive into town. From the campground you can easily jump on Tulsa’s awesome network of bike paths to ride/run/walk downtown or along the river.
The folks behind West Bend RV Outpost were putting the finishing touches on a new campground just up the road, Honcho Park, and it seems to be open now. It’s bigger than West Bend, next to a dog park and 80-acre Newblock Park, and even closer to town on the bike path. We’ll try to stay there next time we come through, and if you want to visit Honcho Park without an RV, you can rent a vintage yacht!
Only having an afternoon and a morning to see the sights, we crammed in as much touristing as we could and explored Black Wall Street, the Art Deco district, and Gathering Place, an incredible city park.
Our first order of business in Tulsa was a walking tour of the historic Greenwood District, also known as Black Wall Street, one of the most affluent African-American communities in the US before it was destroyed in 1921. We stopped into the Greenwood Cultural Center to look at the photography exhibit and pick up a brochure for a self-guided walk through Greenwood, which introduced us to eighteen important sites in the history of Greenwood and the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Over two days in 1921, white rioters attacked Black residents of Greenwood and burned down more than 35 blocks of the community, killing up to 300 people and leaving 10,000 Black residents homeless. Survivors rebuilt the neighborhood and Greenwood thrived until the 60s, when integration and urban renewal led to a slow decline. Greenwood is now home to two universities, a minor league baseball team, a history museum, and numerous monuments and memorials.
From Greenwood, we headed downtown for another walking tour, this time of Art Deco buildings in the Central Business District. In the 1920s, oil barons in the “Oil Capital of the World” poured a lot of money into their flashy buildings downtown, giving Tulsa a high concentration of fun Art Deco examples.
Just east of downtown, along the Arkansas River, is an incredible city asset: Gathering Place, a 100-acre park with a massive and crazy-creative playground, ball fields, tennis/pickleball courts, a couple cafes, a picnic lawn, a pond with free boats, educational activities… It’s really something and we were in awe as we walked around.
I’ve mentioned Tulsa’s super bike paths a few times already, and they really are super. We could have ridden all over town from our campground if we’d had bikes; instead, we went for a run from Honcho Park campground on the Newblock Trail to the Riverparks East Trail along the Arkansas River. The Riverparks East and West Trails follow the river on both sides for miles and we saw lots of people out enjoying the scenery.
Eating and drinking
J had identified eleven breweries in his research, and narrowed down his top three: Welltown, American Solera, and Heirloom Rustic Ales. He bases his choices on beer lists (we favor hazy IPAs and sours), a cool atmosphere (pictures look like it’s a taproom and not a family restaurant), and a functional and not-ugly website (which demonstrates pride in the business–you’d be surprised at how many terrible brewery websites are out there).
Our first brewery was Heirloom Rustic Ales, where we tried one gose, and they didn’t have any hazy IPAs on tap, contrary what their beer list said. The beer was ok, but the taproom was gorgeous–I would like my house to be decorated that way.
Next, we went to American Solera where they had a bunch of beers we wanted to try: three sours and four hazies, including a collaboration with our favorite Charlotte brewery, Resident Culture. The beers were yummy, and this taproom was also lovely. I wish more breweries would put plants and funky furniture in their taprooms!
We didn’t get to Welltown; someone at our campground said to skip it, but a patron at Heirloom said to go, so we’ll keep it on the to-do list. Plus, they have a rooftop bar, and I’m a sucker for a rooftop bar.
A few restaurants had appealed to us when googling, and we landed on Palace Café for Tapas Tuesday. Not sure if it’s every Tapas Tuesday or just ours, but the entire menu was vegan. J was disappointed, but I was perfectly happy eating veggies and drinking fall-themed cocktails and admiring the Christmas tree and listening to Christmas music. The Cherry Street corridor outside seemed to have a lot going on and might be worth more investigating.
Don’t worry, J got his meat. Before leaving town, we went to Ike’s Chili, Tulsa’s oldest restaurant, to stock the Airstream with chili. Ike’s has been using the same chili recipe since 1908, and it still feels like a cool old-timey greasy spoon. Bonus for RV travelers: they sell 2-lb. bags of frozen chili that are perfect for stacking in a tiny freezer.
On the way to Gathering Place, we stopped at Foolish Things for coffee/matcha and breakfast burritos. The veggie burrito was delish, and the cafe looked like a good place to chill with coffee and a laptop. They run several different pop-up restaurants out of their kitchen in the evenings–checking those out is on our to-do list.
We’re happy to now have Tulsa as an option for a fun stop when crossing the country! Here are some activities we missed this trip, or tips we were given by locals:
- Stroll the gorgeous Philbrook Gardens
- Play with the acoustical vortex at the Center of the Universe
- Obsess more about Art Deco at Tulsa Art Deco Museum
- Check out the Blue Dome District for food/drink/fun–is it cheesy or cool?
- Shop and eat local at Mother Road Market
- Try one of the et al. pop-up restaurants, operating out of Foolish Things Coffee