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A city for the senses

The political and cultural capitals of Oklahoma are both in Oklahoma City, a place that seems to remember its past and celebrate the present all in a rousing way.

This small metropolis is the starting point for many tours in Oklahoma and is a great place to get an introduction to both the serious and the fun sides of the state. Visitors can learn about momentous events of the past at the Oklahoma History Center

Thoroughbreds and quarter horses race at Remington Park. Courtesy Remington Park

and the Oklahoma National Memorial, or let their hair down to enjoy fun spots such as Bricktown and Remington Park.

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Perhaps no other single event has affected Oklahoma City as much as the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Today, the Oklahoma City National Memorial is a touching tribute to the 162 people who lost their lives that day, as well as to the blast survivors and rescue workers.

The memorial’s outdoor portion is highly symbolic: Two large Gates of Time mark the minutes before and after the bombing occurred. In between, 162 empty chairs inscribed with the names of the victims sit in front of a large reflecting pool.



You might know Norman as the home of Oklahoma University and mecca to thousands of college football fans. But if you visit with a tour group, you’ll come to know the city for much more.

Groups can tour three industrial and academic centers in town for a fascinating look inside a number of diverse fields.


• National Postal Training Center — Post offices from around the country send their employees to be trained at this 72-acre facility, where they learn about subjects ranging from building maintenance to sorting-machine design and troubleshooting.

During a tour, groups can learn about the postal system that delivers 213 billion pieces of mail annually and see a number of the high-tech machines used to sort and route the mail. Groups can also stay in the on-site Marriot hotel and take advantage of its extensive dining and recreational amenities.


• National Weather Center — This complex on the University of Oklahoma campus is home to 12 organizations that are among the worldwide leaders in weather tracking and storm prediction. Tour guides take groups to see some of the massive radar trucks and other equipment used to track storms through “Tornado Alley.”


Visitors also see some of the massive data centers where weather experts monitor conditions across the country and send out severe-weather alerts.


• The Crucible — This foundry uses complex molding processes to pour bronze sculptures based on models created by artists. Visitors learn about the process and get a tour of the shop, where workers use 2,300-degree furnaces to melt the metal before pouring it. There’s art for sale in an on-site gallery, as well as a sculpture garden on the front lawn.



Groups get facinating behind-the-scenes insights during tours of the National Weather Center, top, and the National Postal Training Center, bottom, in Norman.


The memorial’s museum is full of exhibits about life in Oklahoma City before and after the attack. Artifacts include fragments of rubble from the surrounding area, as well as uniforms worn by rescue workers at the site.

“The museum is really interactive,” said Nancy Coggins, the memorial’s director of marketing and communications. “People can come in and read the stories of survivors or rescue workers, or stories of the people that were killed written by their families.”

When groups visit, guides also take them to the museum’s archives, where more than a million items left by memorial visitors are cataloged and stored. Groups can take part in a Preserving History program that gives examples of how items are cared for.

Oklahoma History Center

Another museum, the Oklahoma History Center, gives a broad overview of the past of the city and state. A new series of exhibits, Another Hot Oklahoma Night, takes a look at one of the more fun sides of the state — its rock ’n’ roll history.

“A lot of people don’t realize how many musicians are from Oklahoma or have Oklahoma roots,” said the museum’s Robbin Davis. “The exhibit starts with the earliest roots of rock ’n’ roll music, like Wanda Jackson and the Collins Kids.”

The Oklahoma History Center tells the story of the state’s rich heritage. Courtesy Oklahoma History Center

Throughout the exhibit, displays contain information and memorabilia from the many Oklahoma musicians who have had success on the national stage, including artists such as Leon Russell, Hanson and the Flaming Lips. Visitors can see instruments like keyboards, drums and guitars used by the artists, and try their hand at playing these instruments themselves in the interactive “garage band” area.

Another section of the exhibit documents the fashions of rock ’n’ roll, with examples of typical outfits worn by musicians in every decade from the 1950s until today.


For a day or night of fun in Oklahoma City, there’s no better place to look than Bricktown, a former warehouse district downtown that has been turned into the city’s premier dining and entertainment district.

The district gets its name from the red brick of the old warehouses, which sat empty for much of the past 30 years. But a new development surge this decade brought a number of high-profile entertainment venues, such as The Brick, home of the minor league Oklahoma City Redhawks.

Water taxis transport visitors along the canal that runs through Oklahoma City’s Bricktown. By Brian Jewell

Today, Bricktown is a hip nightspot, with a variety of specialty restaurants, bars and other entertainment venues. Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill is a favorite restaurant of locals and visitors alike, as is the on-site Bass Pro shop.

The signature feature of Bricktown is a one-mile canal that winds its way through the district. Water taxis take visitors from point to point throughout the area, with informative and humorous narration from the boat pilots.

Remington Park

There’s more fun to be had at Remington Park, Oklahoma City’s horse racetrack and casino. Horses have raced at Remington Park for 20 years; in 2005, the park added a casino with slot machines and video-based poker games.

Visitors can see live horseracing at Remington Park during two seasons. The spring meet features mixed-breed racing from March through May, and thoroughbreds race at Remington from late August until December. Most races take place in the evening, and groups can arrange to have dinner at the track while they’re watching the races.

Even when racing is not in session, groups can take behind-the-scenes tours of the park. Guides take visitors through the paddocks and stables, where they can talk to trainers and learn more about the historic sport of horseracing. The tours also include visits to the press box and a racing hall of fame on the grandstand’s club level.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.