Oklahoma keeps giving groups new reasons to visit.
Oklahoma travelers today have their pick of new experiences, from two museums dedicated to the history and culture of the state’s Native American tribes to Reba’s Place, a live music venue and restaurant that will open later this year. Legendary musician Bob Dylan has a new museum dedicated to his life and career in Tulsa, and Western enthusiasts will want to meet the bison at Old West Buffalo Co.
Here are five new attractions to check out next time your group travels to Oklahoma.
Bob Dylan Center
Bob Dylan wasn’t from Oklahoma, but he chose to sell his archives to the George Kaiser Family Foundation because he liked Tulsa’s vibe. (Tulsa is also home to the Woody Guthrie Center, which made Dylan’s decision that much easier, because Guthrie had a major influence on Dylan’s work.) Now, Tulsa’s new state-of-the-art, 29,000-square-foot Bob Dylan Center displays artifacts from Dylan’s life and career, along with videos, photographs, handwritten song lyrics, notebooks, journals and film clips.
After seven decades in the music industry, Dylan’s archive includes previously unreleased recordings, never-before-seen film performances, visual art and priceless items spanning his career as a singer, songwriter and cultural icon. The center also features rotating exhibits, a 5,000-square-foot archive and a 55-seat screening room.
The center, which opened in May, serves to educate, motivate and inspire visitors to engage their own capacity as creators using interactive exhibits such as chalk and magnet walls and a typewriter. The permanent exhibit is about the life and work of Bob Dylan. A re-creation of a recording studio gives visitors a chance to experience one of Dylan’s historic recording sessions. A screening room showcases Dylan-related scripted films, documentaries and concert performances, and the Columbia Records Gallery provides an in-depth look at the creation, performance and production of timeless Dylan songs, such as “Like a Rolling Stone.” An immersive film experience presents archival music and film from his life. Group rates are available.
First Americans Museum
The First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City has been in the works since the 1980s but only opened to the public in September 2021. The museum tells the stories of 39 Native American tribes that are native to the area or were forced to relocate there from all over North America.
People tend to lump all Native American tribes together, but indigenous cultures are just as diverse as European cultures, said Shoshana Wasserman, deputy director of the First Americans Museum. Oklahoma has more cultures in one geographic area than most places in the world, each having different languages, people and cultures.
“During the forced period of removal, we were located to Indian territory, Oklahoma,” she said. “So, while this seems to be a very regional story, it is America’s story. It is our shared national history.”
The museum’s exhibits, programs, demonstrations and culinary experiences take visitors on a journey through Native American history and experiences with both indoor and outdoor interpretive areas. One of the highlights of the new museum is the mound incorporated into its design, which pays homage to America’s mound-builder cultures.
The Tribal Nations Gallery shares the collective stories of 39 tribal nations that were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands to what is now Oklahoma. Another gallery features selections from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. A Family Discovery Center is coming soon. The 5,000-square-foot immersive space will be designed like a pop-up book with interactive and experiential learning centers and activities for all ages.
Old West Buffalo Company
Neil and Teresa Fischer started Old West Buffalo Company in Colorado in 2017. They have raised bison for 25 years and knew visitors would love to be able to interact with the large animals in a more personal way, and even feed them, if it could be done safely. The concept was really catching on pre-COVID, but once Colorado shut down due to the pandemic, the duo decided to leave the state for Oklahoma.
They opened their new location in Pawhuska in the summer of 2021, with Neil Fischer describing it as the “ultimate bison experience.” The company produced a 12-minute film that takes the story of bison from the Ice Age through modern times and includes stories of the individuals who saved them from extinction in the late 1800s. The film is shown in the facility’s theater, which also hosts dinner theater shows.
The couple built an 80-foot Old West storefront, called Buffalo City, with an apothecary, saloon, bank, jail and trading post, which is great for taking old-time photos. If the weather is good, guests can take a wagon ride out to meet the bison herd, including Woody, a 6-year-old, 2,200-pound bison who loves to be the star of the show, or feed the animals from the back deck.
Groups can visit a small history exhibit and even organize an old-fashioned brisket barbecue meal for lunch or dinner. Check the website to see when the facility is showing “The Bison Story,” a dinner theater show featuring Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Goodnight, two of the heroes who saved the bison from extinction.
Choctaw Cultural Center
The Choctaw Cultural Center has been in the works since 2012. After exploring other cultural centers across the country and hosting numerous community meetings, tribal leaders created plans for a 100,000-square-foot center with two exhibit halls, an art gallery, auditorium, children’s area, gift shops, classrooms and outdoor areas to watch native dances and stickball demonstrations. The center opened in Durant in 2021.
The center tells the 14,000-year history of the Choctaw through interactive and immersive exhibits. One exhibit was built to look like the village of Moundville. Visitors can follow a path around the mound, exploring the dwellings and culture of the Choctaw people. The center sits on 22 acres of native prairie and grassland.
The main permanent exhibit is a four-part story focusing on the history of the tribe from 1250 to current-day Oklahoma. The exhibit uses “lifecasts,” mannequins cast from real Choctaw people, dressed in traditional garments, to tell the stories of those places in time, from the tribe’s origin story and what life was like after European contact to how the tribe changed and adapted to life in the U.S. Group visitors can take advantage of the many classes held at the center as well as purchase tickets to the myriad special events that take place there annually. The gift shop offers Choctaw-made items, and the café offers traditional Choctaw food, along with more modern fare.
“We try not to focus on the sad part of the story,” said Cady Shaw, interim senior director of the center. “We are still thriving and here. We want people to walk away with a sense of home and understand the resilience of the Choctaw people.”
Fans of country music legend Reba McEntire will want to head to Atoka to visit Reba’s Place, a restaurant, bar, live music venue and retail store set to open this fall. Constructed in a 100-year-old masonic temple, the venue will feature two stories of dining space that open up to a central stage, which will host live music performances.
McEntire, who was born in McAlester, Oklahoma, was raised on an 8,000-acre ranch in Chockie, Oklahoma. Her father was a world champion steer roper, competing in rodeos. Reba’s Place will tap into her ranching and Western past with a collection of memorabilia from the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s personal archives. Reba’s Place was created in partnership with the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and the city of Atoka.
“We are working very hard to create something not only for the local community but that will also bring in folks from across the country,” McEntire said during the announcement for Reba’s Place.
The restaurant’s menu will include everything from the “fancy” steak dinner and street tacos to chicken fried steak and Reba’s favorite pinto beans and corn bread. The restored 100-year-old antique bar on the main floor will offer beer, wine and spirits, and the retail space will feature merchandise created for the new venue along with Reba favorites.